Whip it Good: Prepare to be Dominated by the Coachwhips
When I called to schedule this interview, I got an answering machine, which, in the spirit of George Castanza’s answering machine on Seinfeld, is a reworking of a famous pop tune (only in this case, the message is about “walking on down to K-Mart to buy some shoes” set to the music of “Electric Ave.”) Just as I was about to hang up, a “Hello?” stops me from doing so. “Hi, is this John?” I ask. “Maybe,” the voice replies in a half-whisper, “Who are you?” Befuddled, I explain myself and ask how he’s doing, to which I am told, “High as a kite and about to crack open a beer and listen to a test pressing of a record.”
[The Coachwhips at SXSW 2005 playing The Velvet Spade]This was my introduction to John Dwyer of the Coachwhips. When next we spoke, he had just gotten through eating and was enjoying watching a Buster Keaton film (of whom I am also a fan). Turns out the record he was listening to earlier in the week was one of his own, the third release from an acoustic/noise side-project called OCS (or Orinoka Crash Suite) titled simply, 3, which should be coming out shortly on Narnack Records.
Narnack is also home to the new Coachwhips album, Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge, recorded by Chris Woodhouse (guitarist for the now defunct FM Knives and producer of, among other things, the A Frames, The Dipers and The Hospitals). When asked how the Coachwhips teamed up with Woodhouse, John says that he had “actually tried e-mailing that dick a long time ago and he never got back to me. It was before Coachwhips had gotten any press or anything like that. And I was like, “I really want you to record my garage band and I like your old band and I really like the A Frames a whole shit-load- and all that. And then he ended up contacting me out of the blue after Coachwhips had done some stuff with Weasel Walter (of The Flying Luttenbachers).” A match made in garage-punk heaven!
Woodhouse definitely brought an added touch to the San Francisco trio’s sound, making their fourth album (third for Narnack) their best-sounding yet. All 21 minutes of Peanut Butter and Jelly is crammed with thunderous drumming from Mat Hartman, Val-Tronic’s discernibly haunting organ chirps, and LOUD, blusterous guitar-playing from John Dwyer himself. Not to mention Dwyer’s bizarre, Billy Childish-from-outer-space vocals to which, I am told, are filtered through “the earpiece from an old Bell phone that you kind of just screw apart.” Not fully comprehending how merely singing through such a device can produce this strange effect (also a noticeable quality on the recordings of Bob Log III), I ask John to instruct me on how to make a Coachwhips-patented microphone. He tells me that it involves “two screws; you just put the two wires on the two screws.” “And then hook it to a normal microphone?” I ask. “No,” he says, “you just cut one end of a guitar cable, fray out the wires and put it on there. I’ve gotten better at making them over the years. Now when I make them they last more than one show.” At this point, you might be wondering where this endless supply of telephones comes from. “Hotel rooms,” John says, “that’s why every time a place puts us up in a hotel, we’re usually not invited back.”
Dwyer moved to the Bay Area in the mid-90s from Rhode Island after running out of prospective people to play music with. He chose the liberal San Francisco because he had “heard the drummer from Deerhoof, Greg, and really liked his drumming a lot.” He says, “I figured I’d either try and play with him or there’d be more people like him out here. [I] moved out here and realized that it wasn’t going to work out between me and him and I just ended up playing with Jeff Rosenberg from Pink and Brown.”
Formed from the ashes of that particular costume-wearing noise deconstructionist duo, the Coachwhips started up because “I always wanted to play garage rock,” says John. “I always liked The Mummies and The Gories and all that shit a lot. And eventually I had to find people that didn’t know how to play music to make it sound right. I started with a couple other people before [former members] John [Harlow] and Mary Anne [McNamara] and they were too good.” This respect of the minimalist 90s “budget rock” aesthetic, combined with the blatant noise rock ethos of Dwyer’s previous outfits such as Landed and the aforementioned Pink and Brown, have garnered the Coachwhips quite a reputation as a force to be reckoned with.