As one of my favourite underground Washington DC bands from the early ’90s, Bluetip were on the same label as indie champs – Fugazi. Their music consisted of shoebox angular recordings that often veered towards the oblique, with a strange sense of urgent heaviness mixed with a dash of emo tinged fuzzed up scuzz. Suffice to say, when Bluetip decided to reform for a handful of dates around the UK in September 2008, I just couldn’t bear the thought of not interviewing my favourite other Dischord band.
Can you please tell us as to what the inspiration was for calling the band Bluetip and how did the band form? Who were the key members and what roles did they play within the band?
I wanted to call the band “The Ohio Blue tip” because I liked strike anywhere matches. I liked to play with them. I would try to figure out new tricky ways to light the matches, the best of which was to strike it on my teeth using only my lips and tongue; no hands. I was successful only a few times; a majority of my attempts ending with a soggy match and/or a burnt tongue. I used to put them in my mouth like toothpicks because i thought it was cool. I stopped chewing on the matches when I started getting sore throats because sore throats aren’t cool. Anyway… the rest of the band was not into “The Ohio…” so we simply went with “Blue Tip”… and later it got squished to “Bluetip”. Dave Stern (gtr) and I (vox gtr) started the band, we found Jake Kump (bass) and Zac Eller (drums), wrote songs, put out a single and went on tour. Zac quit soon after recording our first album, starting a bad trend of temporary drummers whose death toll eventually reached seven. Dave Bryson eventually got behind the kit, and became an integral part of the band. By the end, Jake and I were the only original members.
In terms of musical and stylistic influences, who has been a strong motivator in determining the band’s look and sound? Where do you draw inspiration from for your songs and lyrics and what steps do you take to evolve as artist musicians?
Conflict and compromise were the strongest motivators in determining our sound.
When reviewers were nice, they said we’d forged a new niche of swaggering angular rock-punk.
When reviewers were mean, they’d accuse us of ripping off Fugazi.
Never thought much about our look (if you mean clothes). But I did have a vested interest in our graphic look, and spent a considerable amount of time (and money) on our album layouts, trying to reach some perfect synthesis of reid miles blue-note sophistication/simplicity with a jetsons-like mid-sixties futurism.
Lyrically I pretty much mined one particularly bad breakup and its ramifications to exhaustion.
Steps to evolve usually led (unnecessarily?) towards complexity.
Given that Bluetip were once associated with Fugazi and its Dischord record label, and knowing that Ian MacKaye took you under his wing by producing your record and provided mentoring and counselling to the band, why do you think Bluetip never became superstars in the music industry?
Not enough people liked us
Given that Bluetip are one of the better bands on Dischord, have you ever been approached by any major label A&R reps and did you ever consider signing to a major label? Why did you decide to stay with Dischord and how do you think Dischord operates in the context of other labels in the music industry?
First of all, thank you for putting us in the upper-fifty percentile on the Dischord roster! There are so many great bands and albums on that label, we were simply honored to be a part of it. Dischord was (and is) an amazing label run by amazing people. Even so, we were younger and antsy, so we bitched a bit and felt frustrated at times.
In our most envious/frustrated moments we would have considered signing to a major label, but no major label ever approached us, so we never had to deal with that dilemma. In hindsight, we should have shut the fuck up and enjoyed what was going on, because we had it great.
For those of us who aren’t aware of your band, how would you describe your music?
“Swaggering Angular Rock-Punk”
Where do you think you’ve fitted in the Washington DC cultural canon? What was the extent of your involvement within the scene, and how do you think the scene adapted in order to accommodate your band? In short, what made you different from all the other bands out there in Washington DC and on the Dischord label?
Our distinction within the DC scene was that we were seldom home. We toured a lot, travelled all over the world. We weren’t the first or the only Dischord band to do so, but the archetypal Dischord band is thought to stay within the beltway and break up after 2 years… we dragged it on for 6.
How do you think Washington DC compares to other American cities (such as Los Angeles) in terms of music and culture and what do you think of the Washington DC scene now?
The DC scene has a mistique to it. Such a rich history. I was so engulfed in it for so long that I didn’t really pay enough attention to other cities’ scenes to make a fair compare/contrast. I left DC 8 years ago, so I don’t know much about what’s going on there now. I do know Dischord is still at the center of it after 28 years
With the internet, MySpace and file-sharing activities arguably sounding the death knell for the Washington DC “scene” and the record label industry as a whole, what steps do you think Dischord is taking so as to impede these threats and remain a viable force in 2008?
I don’t think MySpace is killing the DC scene. Sure, no one sells near the number of records they used to (hence the dying off of so many labels both big and small), but I would imagine Dischord will do what they’ve always done: document the DC scene. If the scene dies out, so does Dischord. That was the plan all along… like life.
Similarly, how do you think the internet has affected you as a band and as artists?
For those without corporate sponsorship or major label backing, what advice would you impart to bands wishing to maintain a sense of identity and self whilst finding support so as to succeed on their own terms?
My advice has only gotten me here, so not sure I have some secret recipe for success. But the best way to keep your sense of identity is to write what comes naturally. And the best way to be successful is to lose your sense of identity and write what sells
With so many bands splitting up amid band members not getting on well and individuals citing creative differences, what do you think the reasons were behind Bluetips’s original demise and disbandment?
Bluetip broke up because band members were not getting on well and individuals were citing creative differences.
What have you enjoyed most about being in Bluetip? Do you have any memorable stories that you can tell us, and what would you say have been your biggest achievements to date within the band?
Hands down the bast part was the travelling. Getting to see the world in a very unique way, very much in touch with the people in every city… eating at their favorite restaurants, seeing their houses, sleeping on their floors, waking up next to their dogs, butchering their languages, grinning from ear to ear for no other reason than I was not home.
What bands are you listening to right now and who would you say are your favourite bands on the Dischord label?
Current bands: I like Riddle of Steel (they are breaking up… sad).
This week, I’ve been listening to some older stuff: Metallica, Love and Rockets, AC/DC.
All-time Dischord favorite: The Faith
Other Faves: Rites of Spring, Minor threat, Void.
What have all the ex-band members been up to since the band broke up and what were the reasons for the recent reunion shows that you guys did? Have you now gotten back together permanently, and if so, what can we expect from Bluetip circa 2008?
Jake, Dave and I all randomly and separately found ourselves working in the film industry. Dave as a Key grip, Jake as an electrician, and me as a writer/director of short films and videos. Joe Gorelick (Bluetip’s second-and-current drummer) and I have been playing in RETISONIC since Bluetip’s dissolution.
Dave has a baby girl. I have a baby boy on the way. We’ve been doing life things.
We got back together because we have remained close friends and wanted to connect musically again
What do you think of the Sex Pistols reunion?
Considering that Jason Farrell was once a member of Swiz and is now actively involved with Retisonic, how do you think those bands compare to Bluetip and how would you describe those bands to someone who has never heard of them? What albums would you recommend and how do you think Jason Farrell’s role within those bands relates to what he does in Bluetip?
Swiz was more metal/hardcore and retisonic is more stripped down.
Not sure of my exact role, but the general gist of it is “Jason plays guitar in all the bands and sings in two.”
SWIZ: No Punches Pulled cd (Jade Tree Records)
BLUETIP: Join Us (Dischord Records)
RETISONIC: Return to Me (Silverthree Records / Moderncity Records)
Retisonic has a new album coming out very soon that we are very excited about. our best stuff yet, etc…
Visit www.retisonic.com or myspace.com/retisonic for details.
What tips would you give on playing guitar and what do you think of musicians turning to music production programs such as Pro-Tools, Logic and Cubase in order to improve their sound? Do you think these packages aid the artist, or do you think they make up for a lack of talent? What is your opinion on these pieces of software, and based on your experience, which music production programs would you recommend and why?
I love computers. I love Pro-Tools. It won’t make you write songs any better, and might not make them sound any better, but it does make a few aspects of recording a hell-of-a-lot easier. You still need good mics and good songs.
I’ve found these programs don’t really make the process go any faster: I get way into alternate mixes, editing, trying every possible avenue because I can. Digital knob-tweaking ad nauseum…
What do you think of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band where they take the glamour of playing music and being part of a rock band as the source of their inspiration?
Can you please tell us as to how your recent co-headlining tour with Hoover went? How was the show in London, and do you have any plans of returning to the UK any time soon?
Sooo glad we got to play with Hooover. They are a great band and great group of people. As for Bluetip, the London show was such a good feeling on our end. I hope the people who came had half as much fun as we did. I don’t care if that sounds like a cheesy stock answer, it’s true. I had so much anxiety and stress leading up to the show.. with such a long lapse in our existence and with relatively few practices it could have gone horribly wrong or been marginally passable… But it felt very natural and very good in a way it didn’t for the last half of Bluetip’s original run. Refreshing to play a show when you aren’t angry. I’d love to play more shows, but I am unsure how we could fit it into our lives. I’ve already maxed out my vacation time for the year!
Finally, what’s the best and worst piece of advice someone has ever given you?
“Eat shit and die”