An Interview with Janeane Garofalo
Janeane Garofalo is well-known for her various film roles and her razor sharp wit, but she's also a connoisseur of indepedent music. She hosted a show on MTV for a bit called Indie Outing and has followed indie music since her days at college in the early 1980s. What follows is a brief discussion of music in New York, the corporate prerogative, and what she's currently digging (minus the obligatory fawning and slobbering that comes along with interviewing an actress like Garofalo).
Otis Hart: What are you listening to nowadays?
Janeane Garofalo: I‘d say my new favorite album is the Reindeer Section, Son of Evil Reindeer. I’d say that’s my #1 new album. I love that one. I’ve always loved Jawbox. I just got an album of their's from 1991 called Grip which I like a whole lot. I really love Guided By Voices' Isolation Drills…the Gossip Arkansas Heat.
OH: How did you get into this kind of music?
JG: Pretty much like anybody else. My first entrée into indie rock, or "alternative" or what ever you want to call it, was in 1982 when I went to college in Rhode Island there was WBUR (Brown University) which at the time was one of the first independent alternative radio stations which would only play punk rock or indie rock, things of that nature. When you first get exposed to it, if you respond to it, it becomes a lifelong commitment. Obviously you’re not really into mainstream music anyway if you are going to respond to that in a really positive way. In the 80’s, especially in Boston and Rhode Island, there was this really amazing music scene going on.
OH: That’s funny, because Rhode Island is going through a renaissance right now. There’s all these avant noise rock bands coming out of the Providence scene, like Black Dice and Lightning Bolt.
JG: I know about Lightning Bolt, they were just playing here…Anyway, it’s just one of those things where you make it your business to stay interested because you’re not going to get any satisfaction from mainstream radio, unless you stop listening to music all together. You just make it your business to listen and stay involved in it. I also like to go and see bands a lot.
OH: Do you have much time to do that?
JG: Yeah, I’m not that busy at all, I got plenty of time, believe me. There’s a couple of great singer-songwriters I like to see here, like Amy Miles, and Jedediah Parish, former lead singer of the Gravel Pit. I like a local band around here called Muckafurgason. I love Aimee Mann, Sleater-Kinney. I’m also interested in lyrics, or singer songwriters. I can’t stand people who have nothing to say. It’s just a waste of everyone’s time.
OH: That’s basically the way Top 40 works.
JG: Mainstream Top 40, along with mainstream media, is a way to throw a national narcosis into play – a way to keep people completely deadened.
OH: What do you think of this whole rock revival thing that’s crossing over to the mainstream, like the Strokes or the White Stripes?
JG: I’m all for the Strokes and White Stripes, I think that’s fantastic. Anything that is outside the Top 40 realm, which I consider them to be – I’m a bigger fan of the White Stripes than the Strokes – I would also put the Gossip in with the White Stripes – but I think what the Strokes are doing, what the White Stripes are doing and what the Gossip is doing is absolutely wonderful - kind of a refreshing sorbet to cleanse away all that’s gone on before. I think it was inevitable considering how bad mainstream music has gotten between Britney Spears and the date-rape rock of Limp Bizkit. The pendulum had to swing the other way.
OH: Rolling Stone even featured White Stripes on the cover this month.
JG: I think that things are finally turning around again, going back to 1992 again. 2002 will be like 1992 and then it’ll go back to Britney after we get a brief respite with the White Stripes breaking mainstream radio play. Then it’ll go back to as bad as it was before, then around 2014 it’ll get better again. When I started getting involved in 1982, a lot of people were saying what these guys were doing was a rehash, but I’m always interested in people who are doing something different like Aimee Mann, and way back in the late 70’s, early 80’s Richard Hell.
OH: He’s got a renaissance going as well.
JG: Yeah, I just read his latest book Hot and Cold, which is okay, I prefer Go Now, but I’m interested in people like him and writers like him – writers who are also musicians as opposed to entertainers. I consider mainstream people like J-Lo and Britney entertainers. They’re not artists and they’re not musicians, they’re entertainers and performers. I guess there’s a place for that in mainstream. If you don’t have discerning taste, that’s fine, if you enjoy it, that’s fine, but I find it unfortunate this kind of stuff dominates the airwaves.
OH: The way these things have to appeal to the most amount of people as possible, that’s bound to happen.
JG: Well, I don’t know, the prevailing wisdom is that it has to be completely banal and mediocre to appeal to the most amount of people, and of course, that does work, but I bet if you put the White Stripes into maximum rotation just as a rule, or the Strokes, kids would be buying it.
OH: But who’s going to take that risk?
JG: Exactly. See, the thing is, the top record executives can’t afford to admit that kids will like good stuff, because if you have artists, you can’t push them around. You can’t take people like the White Stripes or Aimee Mann and tell them what to do, package them and market them. That’s why executives don’t like them, but you can take Britney and you can take Backstreet and you can take some of these others entertainers and you can push them around, and that’s why they get the airplay.
OH: Most of these bands applied for the positions (in the band) anyway. It’s all put together by corporate execs.
JG: Exactly, exactly, that’s why they love Britney. Not only are they sexually attracted to her, but they can tell her what to do and she does it. They can’t tell the Gossip what to do, ‘cause they’re not going to do it. I put Britney in the same category as the date-rape rockers like Limp Bizkit.
OH: Have you seen any good shows in New York lately?
JG: Yes, Amy Miles, Muckafurgason, the Gossip.
OH: What are your favorite venues?
JG: I like the Mercury Lounge and Brownies and the Knitting Factory. I saw Le Tigre at Bowery Ballroom, I thought that was great. I saw Sleater-Kinney at the Village Underground. Pretty much the same old same old, just like everyone else.
OH: Do you listen to any radio stations down there?
JG: I don’t really, I listen to talk radio. I sometimes listen to KROQ (old habits die hard), but mostly talk radio.
OH: Is it tough keeping up with what’s going on without being in the college radio scene, or does New York make it easy?
JG: I think New York is just as fruitful and hooked in. All it takes is keeping your ear to the ground. Sometimes I'll just go on blind faith at certain record stores, or I’ll read reviews, like the Reindeer Section. I read the review and thought that sounds like something I’d like, and sure enough I love it.
OH: The head guy in Reindeer Section is in a band called Snow Patrol, who have some good records on Jeepster.
JG: And that’s also how I stay hooked in, because then I’d go get Snow Patrol and it keeps going back and back and back. Like Jawbox.
OH: A lot of groups descended from Jawbox.
JG: Yeah, and it keeps multiplying, so it’s relatively easy to stay hooked in. But there’s so much good music out there, you can’t possibly know everything. There’s seven gagillion bands vying for your attention out there.
OH: Are there any labels you’re into?
JG: I like the Deep Elm label. I like Matador, I like Sub Pop. It’s harder for me to stay on top of a label, but even if you read magazines like Punk Planet or Adbusters, you can pretty much trust their advertisements. Like, if this band is in Adbusters, I’ll probably like them.
OH: What are some the bands in New York City that people outside the city woudn’t know?
JG: Like I said, Muckafurgason and Amy Miles, and maybe Jedediah Parish. The Gravel Pit is one of those bands that are a no-brainer. There’s no way you can’t respond to that kind of power-pop and great songwriting. Jedediah is a great writer.
OH: Is that that kind of music you stray towards? Are you into power pop?
JG: I absolutely stray towards a) bands that sound like Husker Du and b) bands that sound like Belle and Sebastian. Those are the two ends of the spectrum. But I have to have some melody in there, as hard as it gets. That’s why I like Husker Du and Bob Mould, or Jawbox. I find that it’s hard but melodic. Hard, yet catchy, plus I love (J. Robbins’) lyrics.
OH: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
JG: No problem.
Sites of interest:
By Otis Hart