le_redacteur | Tuesday, der 20. October 2009
Interview with Galen Buckwalter, Protagonist of the Documentary ROLLING from aversion.com
I’m Not Working For the Pose-Down
Aug. 23, 1999
by Matt Schild
Siggy Sometimes it’s the little, almost logical, coincidences helping a band continue. From the random chance of finding band mates with the same vision to work with to the random possibilities of finding fans able to tune into a band’s sound, it’s as much the small bits adding up for a band as it is big pieces. At other times, it’s a band’s tunnel-vision commitment to its music helping it endure its harder times. For Los Angeles’ Siggy, it’s surely been a symphony of good luck, coincidences and moxy holding things together.
A five-piece following in the sonic footsteps of bands such as Television and Richard Hell, Siggy’s members’ ability to hang their futures on pegs outside of the music world has helped it to flourish, said the band’s front man Galen Buckwalter.
“At this point, I almost feel like we’re in the catbird’s seat,” he said. “All of us have lives outside of music, and we have what I think is a pretty interesting product out there, so let’s just wait and see what happens. If nothing happens, it’s still happening for us, because we’re having a good time.”
The band’s lack of total devotion to its musical future may have paid off. Though breaking from the convention of easily assimilated punk or indie styles, Siggy’s brand of music pulls heavily from early punk acts, giving its style a flavor distinctly different from most of its counterparts. Where most acts champion acts such as the Ramones or Black Flag as their prime influences, Buckwalter draws from a completely different set of sounds, pulling in the more ethereal sounds created by Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, pulling in the classic sounds of New York punk acts.
“There was some stuff on the West Coast that I like, like Gun Club, but that was pretty much it for the West Coast,” Buckwalter said. “I was always much more in tune with the New York stuff.”
While Buckwalter, one of the band’s key songwriters, draws heavily on older punk influences, the rest of his band pull from more contemporary material, drawing on everything up to the Stone Temple Pilots. It’s this mix of influences that keeps Siggy’s work on track, sticking to a more solid organization than if left to Buckwalter’s own devices. “I’ll be the one who has the background that is what we sound like,” he said. “The other guys are younger, so their influences don’t go back to the old New York punk scene like mine do.”
Though the band’s life span has been relatively short, Buckwalter isn’t as reserved and polite as most spokesmen for startup bands. In fact, he proves as outspoken about the world outside his band as he does when describing the dynamics of Siggy’s songwriting and performance. It’s a sense of spunk not often found in fledgling acts. It’s not surprising, however, considering his band’s place in the music world, or its unrepentant debut release.
Titled Harlow’s Girl the band’s self-released debut enters the ideological fray in a way usually reserved for veteran acts. Named in conjunction with one of the band’s songs, “Wire Mother,” the album’s title is an attack on the experiments done by Harry Harlow, where baby monkeys were raised by surrogate “mothers” made from chicken wire. When grown, the monkeys showed socialization and parenting problems as results of the experiments done upon them. Decades later, researchers still continue to retest Harlow’s experiment, thus psychologically wrecking countless lab animals.
Not since Peter Tosh’s No Nuclear War (1987, EMI) or the Clash’s Sandinista! (1980, Epic) has an album tied itself so tightly to an ideological struggle, though Buckwalter explains the band’s beef is with irresponsible research rather than a call-to-arms for animal rights groups.
“It was just kind of an elliptical reference to that whole screwed-up scientist mentality, where they care more for the pathology of the scientist than anything about science,” Buckwalter said.
It’s a criticism less than a little ironic coming from Buckwalter, a Ph.D. researching Alzheimer’s disease at the University of Southern California. The irony isn’t lost on Buckwalter.
“I’m totally into research, but hopefully I can keep some critical eye,” he said. “I have some humanistic ends to it all. There’s a lot of bad research still going, a lot of animal stuff going on, and I’m not into a lot of research.”
Buckwalter doesn’t confine his critical eye to research-related issues, however, and growing up as a band in Los Angeles provides him with more than enough material to discuss. One issue he delves into is the current state of the music scene in the City of Angels. What’s often seen as one of the most thriving music scenes across the country isn’t nearly as hot as it’s cracked up to be, Buckwalter said.
“I’m not like the ultimate scenester, like five nights a week at the clubs,” he said. “For a while there was a big hubaloo about the Silver Lake scene. Even that now is like nowhere, there’s a couple cool clubs there, but that’s it. What’s the latest thing L.A. has produced? Buckcherry or something? The clubs are just a pose-down and that’s not a way to enjoy music.”
Buckwalter cautions that everything in Los Angeles isn’t as rotten as he may make it out to be, hoping that the different sounds his band makes may flush the ultra hip scenesters out of clubs, making room for more musically inclined attendees. To some degree, the band’s efforts took root, most notably at its CD release party in June.
“Our CD release party was great. I hadn’t seen a show in L.A. like that for years, where it was just packed down and people were having fun. It wasn’t like a scenester-posed down kind of thing.”
The band’s off-beat sound doesn’t make it an easy first listen for many ears unused to the strains of the Blank Generation, though Buckwalter said crowd reaction is usually polarized one way or another.
“I don’t think people understand the influences and stuff. Once they get over the fact that it doesn’t sound like everybody else, it’s pretty catchy,” he said. “Peoples’ heads start snapping to it pretty easily if they let themselves go. It’s not terribly inaccessible. People despite themselves get into it. The total trendy crowd don’t seem the kind to, really. Like I said, it doesn’t sound like what they are used to. They’re not going to give it a second chance. It’s kind of a diverse reaction.”
Fresh off the release of Harlow’s Girl, Buckwalter said his band’s future isn’t set in stone by any means. Balancing their musical accomplishments against the rest of their lives, Siggy’s members are content to sit still and simmer, letting their buzz grow, waiting things out to see what develops.
“I would talk to anybody, but I’m not going to sell our soul to the corporate machine. Even things like getting stuff like management-so far we’ve been doing okay ourselves. It’s not our goal to jump out in the indie scene as quick as we can.
“As long as we’re having fun, we’ll keep doing it.”