Jeff Pinkus is one of my favorite bass players on the planet. After reading his interview in Brian Walsby’s new book Self Empunishment, I pondered over a theme in the book regarding interviews of famous drummers. I thought to myself if I ever had the chance to do a similar book, or a similar theme in any manner it would probably revolve around my favorite bass players. I ran into Jeff at the post office and pitched an interview idea to him. He obliged and we had a chat to discuss his solo banjo project as well as his bass projects with numerous bands including the Melvins, Butthole Surfers, Honky, and Helios Creed among others.
DJStrangeblood: I want to ask about your newest album, Keep on the grass, it was produced by Danny Barnes from the Bad Livers. Their first record ‘Delusions of “Banjuer’ was produced by Paul Leary, so you guys go back a bit?
JD Pinkus: Yeah, actually I brought Paul out to come watch them play and he liked them so much he was willing to invest thousands of his own dollars to do it and I wasn’t quite that enthusiastic about producing a band , but he did an amazing job on it, and the stuff they did before that, you know Lust for Life (Iggy Pop cover), I used to go see them at Saxon Pub every Monday and all of my friends would get up on stage with them. You know, when we took them on tour with us (Butthole Surfers) for half of the tour, they just never stopped playing, especially Danny. He’d be busking outside of the bus and he’d be playing backstage before and after the show. He would just never stop playing. I don’t know if it’s a nervous habit or what, I love my banjo too so I can kind of relate.
DJ Strangeblood: You have completely different styles of playing but I can hear your influences on one another. I can remember buying the first record when it came out. They did a cover of Pee Pee the Sailor and in the album photo Mark Rubin had a Butthole Surfers sticker on his bass.
JD Pinkus: Yeah, those guys were pretty punk rock. You know Danny’s been sober for quite a while, he was wrestling some of his demons back in those days. You know I played in a guitar, drums and bass band back in those times and we called it the Danny Barnes Experience. We played at Emo’s. I have a live recording of it. I always knew the nice Danny Barnes, I never knew the Bad Liver demon that made him probably want to quit drinking. He’s never been nothing other than an extremely solid individual. His Barnyard Electronics record was really when I knew I wanted to work with him that way. Everytime I would say “Hey man, show me something” he would say, “Naw man, I like what you do”
DJStrangeblood: Well I do too
JD Pinkus: Yeah, well it was really fun to see the way he picked apart my songs, he took them back and mixed them himself and I liked everyone of them. And I was impressed with the attention he payed to every detail, and I used the guy that he liked for mastering and I thought the mastering was amazing. And that was all on him. You know it’s kind of hard to go back, you know with everything that’s going on now and with the distance and the time I might just end up mixing mine now. You know he’s doing his own little art trip right now. I don’t know he’s actually got the time to mix but we were actually working on the next one, before all of this happened. We’ve got about 5 or 6 songs and he was gonna come down. I was actually gonna record with both Mark and Danny in the middle of April and do a Stanley Brothers styled (group) is at least what was originally planned but with this whole thing (Covid 19), you know, he doesn’t want to leave his house now and he’s got people around him at his house that he can’t risk coming back from doing shows, but he’s been starting to do these kind of comic book kind of art pieces and also doing some block printing and and some other things. I got one of them from him he did, it’s got mushroom banjos, it’s got water colors. So, that’s doing really well for him. That can keep him at his house, you know up where he lives, so he can just jam with (David) Grisman and stay with his wife and all. Hopefully someday we’ll get to record but I’m not counting on it at this point.
DJ Strangeblood: Yeah, the West Coast is pretty far away.
JD Pinkus: Yeah, we were going to do it in Austin. There were going to be some Bad Livers shows. They were going to do some different guests for different nights. With both of them playing. They don’t play with Ralph anymore, the original fiddle player. He was on a couple of my Honky records playing fiddle. He’s a really amazing musician, has an amazing fretless banjo style. He plays the accordion, plays the thumb piano. He doesn’t like using even mics if he can help it. He’s a purist. It was fun playing with him because I’m so not the purist.
DJ Strangeblood: Well, getting back to Keep on the Grass, there are a few songs from Daddy Longhead and some from a band you recorded with recently, called Pure Luck, can you talk some about how the songs came together and (about) Pure Luck?
JD Pinkus: Pure Luck was a direction I had wanted my band Honky to go into a while back and we (Honky) ended up going a little bit more in the metal kind of world so it was nice to have something a little bit more laid back and tonally not as harsh and concentrate on singing and it was also fun because I had two other songwriters that I liked the way they write and when I asked all of these guys to play I asked one of the guys if he could play lead guitar and he was like “Yeah” and it turned out he really couldn’t, but he was a really great songwriter and it turned out that he became a pretty badass guitar player.
It’s been alot of fun doing that but these are alot of the songs I wrote on guitar and banjo especially so it’s good to kind of take them apart and play them on my solo stuff.
And the Daddy Longhead stuff, that was just alot of fun and they’re aren’t alot of folks who’ve heard of Daddy Longhead or know any of the songs on that so it was kind of fun to take a twist on that and I guess repurpose those songs in a way because I still enjoy playing them.
I couldn’t have picked a better time to do a solo thing (laughs) I mean its hard enough to get people to go to practice when there isn’t a pandemic going on. And I’m doing alot of songs that no band has done, that would just be Honky songs or Pure Luck songs. And since I’m not really around anybody right now, maybe I’ll repurpose my solo songs to rock songs later.
I was really looking forward to meeting some musicians out here (Asheville) and playing some new stuff. I’ve been actually meeting a few. Speaking of Pure Luck, Claude Coleman Jr. played on that record and I was just actually at his birthday party yesterday. An outdoor socially distanced Mexican themed birthday party. It’s fun to know he’s here in town. I know one good drummer. So that was one reason to come here to Asheville, was to be in a more banjo environment and also to meet a few players so I can explore some different shit. So, hopefully that opportunity will happen when things get a little bit easier.
DJ Strangeblood: Well, that’s interesting that you mention that, because the band you were in Daddy Longhead while you were in the Buttholes with Rey Washam and Jimbo Young did a cover of the Allman Brothers song Whipping Post. I was wondering if you could talk some about that band and if you and Warren Haynes from Asheville have ever met?
JD Pinkus: No, I’ve never met Warren Haynes. I know Bobby (Landgraf also in the band Down) from Honky is a huge, huge fan so I’ve heard the stuff plenty. But, playing with Rey Washam (Scratch Acid, Daddy Longhead) was quite an experience, because King from the Butthole Surfers, well he calls his playing primitive and he learned to play on phone books and playing with a monster primitive drummer as calls it and then playing with an extremely technical drummer like Rey Washam who could read music and write his drum parts out and he’s got like 8 different drum parts in his head for every song that we played, so its kind of fun going from a band who was less concerned about some of the musical aspects to be in a group with these guys who were kind of like savants, and were amazing musicians, so it really pushed me, to play with some folks that were so musical. I was playing in a band that was say, theatrical and artsy maybe, more than a lot of technicalities. So, to play with Rey Washam, you had to be tight and to push it to another level.
I just can’t imagine being in one band. I just think people have more than one side to them. You know, sometimes I want to play banjo and sometimes I want to play bass with the Melvins. You know there’s different sides to people and we’re not so cut and dry. There’s people who are just metal, and that’s interesting. I don’t understand how people can just be a purist at one type of music or at least have some other kind of art, maybe painting or something to show the other side of art, but yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to have played with some folks that, well, we must’ve covered about every emotion.(laughter)
DJ Strangeblood (laughing also) I have some close friends who are related to Warren, and I think we need to get you both in touch with one another. He does this concert in Asheville around Christmas called the Christmas jam where he performs with alot of guests. I think they were saying it might be streamed this year, but that’s still kind of up in the air…
JD Pinkus Yeah, man that would definitely push me out of my box man, you know, I mean I always admire people that can jam, because you know, I like to write songs and so when I see people that can just play with anybody at any time, know where they’re going, and be able to make something musical out of it, and not just kind of barely tag along, I know quite a few players like that, it just blows me away. I wish I could be more of one, to me I just really enjoy writing songs and there’s something about that to me, you know that’s what I get my satisfaction out of. I understand why people get together musically, to create something no one has even thought of before they start playing it. I’ve done that before but I can’t say I’m really good at it.
DJ Strangeblood: Could you elaborate more on the artistic side of your work in your bands through cover art or by using films? Were those films created by you?
JD Pinkus: I collaborated with my buddy Pat Casey on that stuff. He did alot of that stuff. We kind of talked about what we were going for and he’s done it for me live before and we’ve talked about which parts we like and I gave him my set list and we talked about some things. It was pretty general and I did one on the West Coast, I did 58 shows and I changed it in between the two tours because there were certain parts of it that I liked and certain parts that I didn’t so I re-edited it. I don’t always play with the movies. I enjoy playing with the movies and I set up myself to do a soundtrack with it. I actually time myself with it and I do pretty well with that, I give myself a little bit of space in between songs so I can kind of fudge around if I want to. I like the videos because there’s not to much to look at when I’m just sitting there playing the banjo, I’ve got my pedal boards so I’m not out there dancing around or anything like that. One time my wife told me, and she wasn’t even talking about me when she said it, “It’s just kind of weird to have to look at one person on stage for 40 minutes” and maybe if you’re not a huge fan or you don’t know someone’s music it’s hard to pay attention to just one person, you can’t shift your attention to anybody else and that might make the audience feel uncomfortable. I never thought of that. So it’s nice to have a distraction with the movies and to try to sync them up with it and a lot of the stuff came out really nicely when I played it right, when I got the timing right that is.
DJ Strangeblood: Honky had a song called “Smokin Weed with Helios Creed” and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about you time playing in his band? Did you travel to the West Coast for that?
JD Pinkus: No, He’s also been in Kansas is where his family is from. Manhattan, Kansas where there was that church that got burned down with a bunch of people in it a long time ago. Its close to that little college town of Lawrence, Kansas.
So, he’s lived there a couple of times, he went back there when he had some bad health, but other than that he’s been on the West Coast for a long time. And when I went to record with him for Activated Condition was the name of that record. We’d talked about it and he’d sold the record to Tom Hazelmeyer, so it was going to be an Am Rep record and then he sold it to Kozik for the same amount of money. I think he was selling records but he was just a little behind on projects and product so he was selling an album that was not made yet and he was getting ahead of himself. But at that time Hazelmeyer was like “you know, I don’t care, I’ll let Kozik put it out” so it came out on Kozik’s record label. We had the drummer Frank Gary Martin, he’s now playing the band We are the Asteroid from Austin. I brought him up there. He’s got a really tribal drumming sound, he’s even got a tribal tattoo. He played in Daddy Longhead at the end of Daddy Longhead. We worked out about 11 songs before we went up there. We had two weeks to go up there. Helios was like, “hey, lets jam” and so we played this song and he was like ”that’s cool” and we played this other song and he was like “that’s great” and we were like “What do you got man? I mean lay something down for us” and he was like “oh, I don’t have any songs”. So we did all 11 of our songs, but he did have one that was my favorite on the record and I believe it’s the last song on there but it’s an old one called Spacefirewater, it’s an old one from the Chrome era and it came off really fucking cool, but the other stuff, he sent it to me and I mastered it in Austin and I wanted it to be like a Chrome record where there were no gaps in between the songs and I had fun doing the mastering on that because I was a hug fan of Half Machine Lip Moves. It was a ground breaking record for me as far as opening up my head so I kind of went with that vibe with it. So, it was an interesting experience and he used some of those songs on different albums. And I played on another one that he did where he recorded in Austin. I played on a couple of tracks on (Deep Blue)Love Vacuum or something like that and then he used some for “NUGG” the transport but it was an interesting experience, it was fun to work with him, looking back at it, that I got a chance to do that stuff. But, everybody’s got their own style. It was fun to hear those tones and to see how he works. You get better and you just feel better the more people you work with and just jam with musically. Some people are jamming and some people are just writing songs or you seeing how you play on someone else’s songs, so I think it’s real satisfying rather than just playing with the same people.
DJ Strangeblood: So, I know you mentioned playing with the Melvins and there was one song ‘Bride of Crankenstine’ that was on Keep on the Grass and it’s so different from the Melvins version. I was wondering if you have banjo versions of all of the songs, because the record it’s on, you did alot of the writing on?
JD Pinkus: Well, not really, but I could and it’s alot of fun to do that. Right now, those guys are just starting to get together to work on another thing that got screwed over by the pandemic, to work on an acoustic record with the Melvins and its actually in the works and Buzz just did a solo record with Trevor Dunn and Toshi, and they’re behind on touring to support that. And Redd Kross just released a bunch of shit that Steven and Dale need to go out and support as soon as it’s possible. As far as the time frame goes on when this will go out and when the tour will happen it will probably be well off in the future, but at least I know the talking is over and the work is starting to happen on it. Those guys are a few albums ahead of themselves. Those guys have like 10 albums ready to come out at any time. So, I’m really looking forward to that because what little we have done together was a lot of fun and it’s definitely in my wheelhouse with the banjo. They want to do a song that I did with them called ‘Don’t forget to breathe’ and I’ve kind of redacted that song to a 3 part song, that’s 9 minutes long. So, I’ll probably have to go back and re-edit it to a 3 minute song to do it with them, but I think a lot of it’s not going to be new original songs but older songs.
DJ Strangeblood: Well I hope you guys play Asheville, I know Redd Kross was supposed to play here and Dale had some back issues, that would be an amazing night.
JD Pinkus: You know I hadn’t seen those guys in a long time, but when I saw them play with Dale they just had so much power. It was really cool. We used to play with them with the Butthole Surfers but it was a long long time ago.
DJ Strangeblood: You played banjo in the early 90’s on the single for the Flaming Lips’ song “Turn it Up” and you played banjo on that song if I’m correct. So, which came first, the banjo or the bass?
JD Pinkus: Oh, I messed around with the banjo when I was a kid, but the bass. I have a sister who was playing piano when I was growing up. My parents aren’t really musical, but my sister was musical. So I grew up hearing her play Elton John, songs like ‘Levon’ and ‘Bridge over troubled water’, that kind of thing, hearing lots of melodies and lots of keys. She was older than me, and she would go through instruments and we both got acoustic guitars and a guy tried to teach us ‘Puff the magic dragon’ and I told my Mom I didn’t like the dude and now I love that song. For some reason I didn’t think that was cool. I was really young then. My sister didn’t really play so she ended up trading both of them in on an electric guitar and she didn’t play that so I started playing on that a little bit and then I traded that in on a Fender Mustang bass and I had a bass amp that was owned by some guy who played for Paul Revere and the Raiders. I bought it at Rhythm City in Atlanta, Georgia. I just fell in love with it when I heard that low end and I could feel it in my gut. Some of the stuff that was on the radio was bass heavy so that was that tone. The guitar didn’t really do it for me. That tone that I was hearing from the bass, I didn’t really know where it was coming from when I was a little kid until I realized it was the bass guitar. I’m not one of those frustrated guitar players that was forced to play bass. The guitar kind of bores me because its tough to hear someone do something on it that I haven’t already heard a bunch of times on it. Which it’s kind of sad to think of it because it’s really not too different than a banjo. You know you can just tune a guitar differently. I guess there’s just way more people doing different things and that’s why you’ve heard it on guitar before. But, I was up for something new I guess. So, yeah, bass before banjo.
DJ Strangeblood: You played in the Butthole Surfers during my favorite period of that band, the Touch and Go years, The last time you played live together at the Growler’s Beach Party in 2017 and I was wondering if you think you’ll play together again sometime?
JD Pinkus: There’s definitely nothing in the works, I know we’ve been approached about doing the online shows and with the technology getting better that might be a way for some of the folks to feel better about doing it but that wouldn’t be the same thing. So, unless there’s a large festival out there that offers an extremely large amount of money I can’t see it happening. I think the days are done.
DJ Strangeblood: Did you know that the book written about the Butthole Surfers entitled ‘What does regret mean’ is out of print?
JD Pinkus: That was the one written by James Burns, right? I didn’t know that he had sold out of them. I thought maybe the hardback one, but, yeah, I bet he would love to sell more. I don’t think he meant to make it a limited edition thing. I talk to him, quite often actually. So, I’ll ask him about that. I gave mine to my kid, I think I read mine up to the part when I left the band and he said he wanted to read it, but I thought it was pretty accurate, and James liked something I said that someone’s book was total shit because they didn’t talk to us, but James Burns’ book is extremely accurate as far as I can tell and in fact it was so accurate in the beginning it was like reading Leviticus in the Bible, and then they begot whence on the bass…It was pretty accurate. James is a great guy. I know he did it out of the love of his heart because I don’t think he much money on it.
There’s somebody who wants to do a documentary now on us. This guy named Tom Stern, he did the 10 minute long Butthole Surfers movie years ago. The Entering Texas (Bar-B-Que Movie) one. It was actually Alex Winter (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure). It was Alex Winter and Tom Stern and his partner Glasshouse Productions and they both wrote that up and did that in like 3 days, and having not talked to them in a while, they did the movie Freaked. Gibby was involved in that and Paul did some soundtrack stuff. It turns out he wants to do a documentary now and it may be some animated recreations and maybe that will spur something new to happen. I know me and Paul wrote songs thinking we were doing Butthole Surfers music. Now, he’s got a solo album and I’ve got about 6 songs I’ll figure out what to do with some day, so maybe a show will come out of it, who knows.
Paul was the one who said we’re going to do one for sure and then he was the one who said its not going to happen, so I don’t feel bad talking about it. I’ve got some really cool songs and I’ve got some great musicians to play on mine. I want to try to find someone who’s really badass at making videos and do video singles of the songs, I want to try to find some good visual artists that can work with me. The one guy I was trying to (use), the guy who did some of the bouncing cows, this guy Cyriak. He’s done some Residents stuff and all that. He was nice enough to get back to me, and said, I’m taking a break on doing consignment work, because my lazy ass needs to work on my own shit and knowing me it will take a really long time. He was my first choice and now I have to do some research.
Hopefully now that Gibby is done with his kids book he’ll get back into making some music. You know he does a dj show at private parties and stuff like that.