Q&A: The Go's Bobby Harlow Makes Music to Screw To

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:51

    The Go by Tanya Richardson & Lisa LeeKing They're from Detroit, and the original bass player's name was Dave Buick. Their debut album on Sub Pop, Whatcha Doin', is raw, dirty and sounds like it was recorded in your parents' basement. They are the Go, and they're gonna make you want to get loaded and fuck?a lot. And that, in case you've forgotten, is rock 'n' roll. Time to stop thinking and start living again, if you can remember how. Tanya Richardson: Hey Bobby, this is Tanya and Lisa from New York Press.

    Now wait, who are you?

    TR: I'm Tanya.

    Lisa LeeKing: And I'm Lisa.

    Oh, there's two of you?

    LL: Yeah, can you handle that?

    Yeah. Well...I think so.

    TR: We're going to talk to you a little bit before your upcoming show.

    Good. I'm looking forward to it. It's my second time ever in New York. I fell in love with it the first time we went there. I was standing on the corner with a big piece of pizza in one hand and an egg cream in the other.

    TR: Like, "Here I am baby!"

    I was like watching the street at 3 in the morning like I was watching television.

    TR: That's so New York.

    No, that's so Midwestern!

    TR: I was talking to Willy, the guy who runs Gutter Fest [Detroit's annual garage-rock festival], and he was telling me that the music scene in Detroit right now, especially the rock scene, is really amazing.

    It's great, but it was better a year ago because the Detroit Cobras were still together.

    LL: How did Sub Pop discover you guys?

    Our producer Matt Smith ran into Sub Pop's A&R guy Dan Trager when he came into town to see his family. Matt gave him a tape that we did for Kim Fowley. John, the owner of Sub Pop, really like dug it and insisted that these demos were on the record.

    TR: This album does something I have always thought rock should do. It's that raunchy, early Rolling Stones sound that makes you want to fuck. This album makes you wanna have sex.

    Oh really? Well good. I think that's what rock 'n' roll should do, among other things.

    TR: And then get a slice of pizza and an egg cream after.

    Sure, but the secret is the roll. There's no shortage of rock bands, but there really aren't any rock 'n' roll bands.

    LL: You have a couple of songs on the record, like "Tired of the Night," that are so timelessly 60s. How did you arrive at that sound?

    We just made a record like the kinds we like to listen to. Unlike most bands who walk into the studio and make records they think will get on the radio, and it just sounds like 90s bullshit.

    TR: I just discovered that in my own writing. I was trying to do something that was current and then I realized I'm reading novels that were written 150 years ago, so I'm just going to write like that. I understand what you're talking about. But I wanted to ask?

    Whoa! Well wait... I mean congratulations. That's a fabulous revelation to have.

    TR: Isn't it? I couldn't believe that it never fucking dawned on me before. Do you know what I mean?

    I know exactly what you mean.

    TR: You were saying that there are a lot of people who know how to rock, but don't know how to roll. It seems to me that you guys have almost a Southern, very laid-back and relaxed style. And you say "y'all" sometimes. Is that what you mean by rolling?

    Yeah, it's the hick in us and being from the Midwest. We share a certain Southern twang.

    TR: We're really excited that rock is coming back. You guys epitomize that?"Julie don't cry/Baby it'll be all right/Rock 'n' roll will give me what I need." I think that should be the anthem.

    Well, Julie I got from Van Morrison. Listen to "T.B. Sheets." He's talking about his girlfriend Julie. In the song, Julie dies of tuberculosis, but it's such a beautiful song, so I just took it. But I mean that's mine, "Julie don't cry, rock 'n' roll will give me what I need." But the whole thing with "open up the window and let me breathe, it ain't natural for you to cry at midnight," that's Van Morrison.

    TR: We've gotten a lot of good art out of TB.

    Yeah, we had Edgar Allan Poe's mother dying of tuberculosis, or consumption. They called it that too. It's the whole tragic childhood that creates or helps the child to develop some strange creative talent, and they're just bizarre. Weirdos. Because they grew up like...weirdos [laughs psychotically] you know, goofy brains, and they can't...communicate [more laughing].

    TR: I was watching Sessions at West 54th the other night, this show on PBS hosted by John Hiatt who's this old white rocker guy, in his late 40s or something. And he was interviewing George Clinton, and Hiatt told him that with hiphop "white kids have totally abandoned rock 'n' roll." I think that's changing, and you guys could play a big part in it.

    It is changing. There are people that have been doing it for a while, like Mick Collins, who's from Detroit. Back then I guess Mick would go onstage and play rock 'n' roll to 10 people in the audience, and now 300 people will show up. I think rock's coming back because people are ready to go for it again.

    TR: Why are they ready to go for it again?

    It seems like every 10 years there is a rock 'n' roll movement. You know you start with Chuck Berry chords and when you get bored you experiment, but you never lose those Chuck Berry chords. That's why all the 60s bands were so great because all they had was jazz, blues, Motown and Chuck Berry.

    LL: You mentioned that Kim Fowley is working with some of the bands in Detroit. Would you say that he's like the Berry Gordy of 2000?

    No. He came to Detroit and did a record. I've had a couple conversations with Kim, and he's an interesting person, extremely articulate, and just a blown-out creative mind. But you know, I don't know what he's doing. He's got a really good ear for what's going on, and he can spot all the good stuff quick, but that doesn't mean he works with it. He seems to walk away from the really hot stuff.

    LL: What's up with the Motorcity Blowout that Detroit has every year in March?

    That's the Hamtramck Blowout. I don't even know where the Hamtramck is. It's like this chaotic place that dogs like run the street. It's weird. Seriously, there's like coyotes in Hamtramck. I don't like walking around that place. I like Gutter Fest better.

    TR: It sounds like Gutter Fest is this lowdown, dirty, get a two-dollar-drink-and-rock-out-all-night deal.

    Oh yeah. I don't know how [Willy] does it, but he brings in bands like the Pretty Things and Wayne Kramer. He got the Sonic Rendezvous to reunite. It seems like these older rock 'n' rollers are into what's happening now. And I just heard that Mick Farren of the Deviants is still writing with Wayne and they're in California. He's also got a band going with a bunch of young guys...some members of Brian Jonestown Massacre... I watched them fight on television. They had this special on how rock 'n' roll bands don't get along.

    TR: The MTV thing?

    Yeah, they were punching each other in the face...so that was kinda silly.

    LL: I think a match between two bands would be funnier, like tag team wrestling, but with the entire band.

    Ya think so?

    TR: I have this pet theory, although you are kind of messing this theory up, that to be a really good rock 'n' roller you have to be either stupid or crazy. I mean, you might be crazy.

    The greatest rock 'n' rollers are the ones that you think are really stupid, but they know exactly what they're doing. Iggy was like a stoned genius. Everyone thought they were just a bunch of dumb hicks, but they had it nailed. They pretty much fooled everybody. For John Cale to come and produce the Stooges, that right there should tell you something about what was going on.

    TR: Not to say that they're dumb, but it's almost like a Dionysian artist thing. Like they're just the conduit, and everyone around them is wowed and overanalyzing what they're producing, whereas the artist is just kind of living. I think a lot of bands don't ever realize how amazing what they're doing really is.

    I think bands like that just go unnoticed. How many people were into the Velvet Underground at the time? I don't think they had any idea of the kind of impact they were going to make.

    LL: What about bands like the Creation? It took reissues and Rushmore to make the band known. Now people are buying their stuff more than 30 years later.

    Yeah, that's weird.

    TR: Hopefully that won't happen to you guys.

    I hope not. I have no idea what's going to happen. Some people say this record's the greatest, and some people say it's the absolute worst.

    TR: What are their main criticisms?

    Mainly production. And some think we're ripping off the 5 and the Stooges.

    LL: I grew up outside of Detroit, and Tanya and I are the same age as you guys. Your raw sound reminds me of driving around in the late 70s with my father in his Torino and listening to Detroit rock radio. I'm not criticizing the production, though, because too much production gives you that sleek, corporate bullshit sound you hear on the radio now. I don't think that's the sound you're going for.

    I can't listen to the radio right now. I don't even turn it on because it's just disappointing. If we do what we like to do, maybe record labels will say, "Oh, we can make money from bands that are just doing their own thing." Then they will start signing rock 'n' roll bands that are like White Light/White Heat compared to everything else that's around. It would be amazing if there was a radio station that would focus on what's happening with this sort of underground rock 'n' roll movement that's going on right now.

    LL: What about Ted Nugent? Doesn't he have a radio show out there?

    Yeah, but you know, he's crazy.

    TR: He is such a lunatic. The funny thing is he gets on these debate shows and acts so calm and tries to come off as an expert on everything.

    He just doesn't make any sense.

    LL: He also teaches hunting and gun classes to kids.

    TR: Somebody should teach him how to use a guitar.

    Yeah. The Amboy Dukes were really cool, they had a few fantastic songs, but what did he do? He came out onstage in a caveman outfit and a jock! What a total moron.

    TR: What are you guys like live?

    Loud. You know, pretty loud, but we're still developing and trying to find out what we're like live. We finally have a solid band and everyone can play their instruments, which is a good thing.

    TR: You get a new bass player yet?

    We got a new bass player. Steve Nawara. He was in a band called Rocket 455. He basically turned me on to the fact that there was a scene in Detroit. They were so loud and heavy. It sounded like r&b. Revved-up r&b, like the Flamin' Groovies or something.

    TR: Revved-up is an appropriate word because you're in the Motor City and that's what the rock is like out there?really supercharged.

    Yeah, and Rocket 455 had this drummer that was just crazy. He hit those drums so hard. And he didn't have a shirt on, and he had these tight jeans. He was beating this red, white and blue drum set and it just blew my mind. I immediately knew that there was a place in Detroit for what I wanted to do.

    LL: What about John Golden? He's produced some of my favorite records. How did you guys hook up with him?

    Sub Pop works with him a lot, so they sent us over to him. He did a really good job, and the mastering job on the vinyl is incredible. We're doing some more recording in February, then in March we're touring with Nebula and Zen Guerrilla.

    TR: Their album reminds me of this metal radio show that a friend was telling me used to be on the air in California. It was on from 6 to 9 in the evening, drive-time, and it was called, "Dude, You Rock!" That's all I can say about Zen Guerrilla.

    Live, they're just really bizarre. Their lead singer is just...

    LL: He's like Frankenstein onstage.

    Seriously, if Joe Cocker and [MC5's late singer] Rob Tyner had a baby, it would be Zen Guerrilla. He's just really nuts with those sunglasses.

    LL: Yeah, and that hair. We're into big hair.

    TR: You guys have great hair, it's that nice floppy 60s look.

    We've got a great hairstylist here in Detroit.

    TR: Oh, you get that shit styled? That's disappointing.

    LL: So anyway we'll see you at the Continental on the 28th.

    The Continental, what's that?

    LL: That's the venue where you're playing.

    Oh, I had no idea.

    TR: Who are you playing with? Oh let me guess, you don't know. We'll find out.

    Okay, ah, Tanya and Lisa, right?

    TR: What a gentleman! The Nebula guys refer to us as those New York Press girls.

    Oh no.

    TR: Well, that's what we like about them. They're kind of uncouth.

    Yeah, kind of! They look like the Allman Brothers' roadies. All of 'em.

    The Go plays the Continental this Friday, Jan. 28. 35 3rd Ave. (St. Marks Pl.), 529-6924.