Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fix: 'It had to be loud, it had to hurt,' says vocalist Miller / Interview

The Fix (Courtesy of Touch and Go Records)

By Andy

My family never had a dog ... we opted for frogs, goldfish and guinea pigs.

However, one day in 1982, a snarling and ferocious beast in the form of The Fix came to my house and figuratively ripped my eardrums to shreds.

The Lansing, Mich., foursome were the standout band on a mixtape sent to me by Tim Tonooka of Ripper fanzine: their six tunes were equal parts lunacy and proficiency. Eye-opening and eye-gouging. Fucking delightful.

Thirty-four years later, Touch and Go Records reissued the brutal "Vengeance/ In This Town" single and "Jan's Rooms" EP as a 7" double-pack, gatefold treat -- 1,000 copies strong. Originally released in 1981-'82, the exact replicas hit the streets on April 15 of this year and quickly sold out.

Vocalist Steve Miller of the long-defunct band weighed in via email on the Record Store Day release (most of the copies were gone via direct sales or from distributors in the first day or two).

"What a great honor to have that demand. I don’t care about the collector thing. We made the music to be listened to. Some folks are acquisitive. I hear people bitch about that, but I have no concern," said Miller, whose band's original single sold for $3,500 on ebay in recent years.

Miller added: "Corey Rusk is a visionary who knows everything about the record business. He came to me and asked what I thought and my first concern was 'will anyone buy this?' I would hate to waste his money and time. Corey was sure it would move but he didn’t know how many copies (they had 3,000 in mind, but stuck with 1,000). He had the idea that 1,000 would be signed, at first by just me. Then he had the notion that (Craig Calvert, guitarist) might do it. Well, if I was gonna sign one, Craig wouldn’t refuse to sign the other. I was moving around as usual and ended up signing the things in a Florida hotel room. Tesco (Vee) and I spray painted the 'Jan’s Rooms' lyric sheets in my living room the day before I left. This was all in a week span -- the signing, the spray paint."

Miller: signing session. (Courtesy of Touch and Go Records)

So, while Miller's on a roll, we'll let him give us the lowdown on The Fix story, shall we?

** Give us a history of The Fix: influences and anything that stands out from the early days.

Started in Lansing, Mich., March 1980 –- first rehearsal in a basement at 1435 Roosevelt. Mike Achtenberg on bass, Steve Miller on vocs, Craig Calvert on guitar and Jeff Wellman on drums.

Wellman had a tight perm and a bad mustache when we first met him and we made him get rid of both –- he could drum like a motherfucker right outta the gate. Craig drove a red Cutlass with white leather seats and carried his Strat in a beautiful case along with several joints that he would go through as quickly as he could.

Mike and I were pals from high school who loved the blitzing rock starting with the Stooges and Five in the early-mid-'70s. We read Rock Scene and Creem and rarely looked at Rolling Stone. Separately got the first Ramones album in the first week it was out, and started scoring British stuff distributed by Jem. Kept digging into the music, then we saw the Stranglers in April 1978. The next day, I sold a stack of collectors Sporting News and bought a $35 guitar at Kmart. Mike bought a bass at Wilcox, a used store in downtown Lansing.

We practiced, writing our own songs since we couldn’t play anyone else’s. I had to drop guitar when we started The Fix because Craig was so damn good. So I had to be the singer. It was like all those guitarists got so discouraged after seeing Hendrix. After we heard him work out a couple songs he had in the can, Mike said, “why would you want to play with us?” He liked our bad attitude, he said.

One of those songs was “Vengeance.”

** What were Fix gigs like ... chaotic? What were some highlights from the live performances?

We quickly realized that we wanted to get up and get it on and get out fast. 25 minutes was fine, because we would string songs together and keep moving. The Ramones had done it and we took it from there. There were no sloppy Fix gigs, we rehearsed quite a bit and if anything, we could be guilty of being like a machine. If we started getting too much in that mode, I’d use that as a license to have more than two beers before a show just to make things looser. Usually it was never more than two beers because we moved so fast and you’d end up lost.

The volume was always a big deal to us and if a soundman was being a pussy, we’d ridicule him and try to intimidate him into what we wanted. It had to be loud, it had to hurt, and we loved the volume in our own ears. Why would the crowd be any different? Craig had a transistor head –- Fender? -- and a 4 x 12 cabinet and he was great about keeping the speakers reconed. A few shows and those things started to sound muddy, that was the volume level. Shortened their little lives. Mike had a Kustom cabinet, I think a 2 x 15. We had no idea that was what country music people used. It looked pretty cool, we thought, and you could sleep on the padding –- these things all came padded –- in the van. Mike used a Peavey head. He played a Fender P.

Jeff had this little drum kit, like one size smaller than a big pro dude. We played the Eastern Front in Berkeley, Calif. in 1981 and he had set his drums up and was cooling out and the stage manager came over and asked who the drummer was; he thought it was some little kid. Then he saw Jeff play and came back and told him how sweet that shit was. Jeff could roll with one hand.

The shows were always a blur of noise. We never let up once we got out there. We didn’t write songs as well as Black Flag but our stuff worked better to keep things moving along.

Best show we did was in Seattle, toward the end of the first tour. We had gone to the local homeless place to have some hot dog stew earlier in the day, as money was a little tight. No big deal, none of us ate all that much. Got to the venue, the Gorilla Room, and got a free beer deal, which was rare. Here we were at the end of the road and we’d already spent some time at the homeless place. We’d been on the road for a few weeks and could communicate pretty well without speaking; it’s something you learn in secret societies. The consensus was: Make sure the shit’s straight onstage. The backstage of this place was an unfinished frame at the back of the place with rugs and drapes tossed over the 2 x 4s. An anarchy punk spray painted the side of his shaved head and writhed in agony on the concrete floor. That was a first for me. We had mostly hardwood floors where I came from.

After we had a bunch of beer, The Fix were amazingly proficient and looser than usual and it worked that night, felt like magic. The PA was perfect, the volume intense as shit and it was an amazing feeling. I’m sure the 40 people there had no idea. I mean, "when the fuck are the Fartz coming on?" I had hoped to find someone from Solger around, but asking got me nowhere. Good show that night.

We played a homecoming show in East Lansing after the first tour and wrecked the place. Cops came, etc. That was a good one. We played a particularly good show in Fayetteville, Ark., in a theater in December 1981. The promoter paid us half of the $100 guarantee. I ran into the guy two years later when I was playing for a band called Strange Fruit in Tulsa, Okla., and he was there in the crowd and remembered. He paid me the other $50. We did a good show in Reno, Nev., in summer 1981 in some pool hall. These little shows stick out, but I’m not sure we ever did a horrible show. Early on, we’d take shows in unusual places like redneck bars, and they’d make us stop.

** Those singles just jumped out of the speakers and headphones and throttled you ... what do you remember about recording them and did you feel you had something special on your hands?

The first one was recorded in Chillicothe, Ohio, four songs. The studio was real easy to get used to, and we did it in 48 hours, record and mix. It was this place where they allow the bands to stay on premises in a little shack with barely any heat in the dead of winter. I don’t remember thinking anything special except that it was pretty decent. The Touch & Go guys loved it, though, and that meant something.

"Jan’s Rooms" was recorded in Los Angeles at the Music Lab on Hyperion with Spot. We were really tight from touring and had been scheduled to play some place in East LA with the Circle Jerks but the place got closed down by the cops. We met some girls there who were staying in a huge house in Pacific Palisades, and they invited us to hang there while we were in town recording. I think one of their dads was some exec who was traveling out of town. The place was luxe, you could see the ocean out the front door. We were astounded anyone could live in such a house. The recording was again easy, we wanted a noisy thing that was less like Black Flag and more like a noisy burst of energy and Spot understood immediately.

** How many copies were printed of each record and why that amount?

200 of the first single. We accidentally melted 15 copies on the heat vent. The Fix house had a huge furnace and the vents were located in the floor and blasted warm air. I would just hang out on them in the winter. I thought the singles would enjoy that warmth, as well. They got all crinkled. The second one was 1,000 press.

The reason for the low press is that no one gave a fuck on the outside. It was cool with us, we never expected to make a record. Or tour. Or have anyone respond if we did either. We were OK with being hated and pissing people off. Being honest. That shit didn’t sell records in the Midwest. Tesco tells the story of having both the Necros and Fix singles out and going to the local record store to check on sales. Nothing doing.

**You got rave reviews from all over the US ... what did you think of the attention? 

We’d get some tear sheets. But we didn’t take reviews all that seriously, as the field at the time was scarce. Just putting something out there was rare enough. We were proud to be doing music that we truly believed in and that someone would listen. Job done.

I read some of the stuff when "At the Speed of Twisted Thought" came out and it was nice to see some folks getting off on it. That’s better than any kind of financial reward could ever be. That’s the major change in music, this idea that money is the ultimate reward. For art, it just isn’t, and in fact may be a sign that you’re not on the right track.

** How do you feel about those songs when you listen to them today?

For the first 10 years after the band, I never listened to the material, although I had a tape of it. Never had the original records for more than a couple months. Remember, we couldn’t give them away, and the second EP came out after we had disbanded. A defunct band back then, with the flurry of great new stuff, just wasn’t that important. So later I started to listen and compare it to other stuff, how it held up, etc. There was never this bursting of pride or anything, but I was amused that it held up pretty well.

**  Is there anything up your sleeves regarding future Fix gigs?

Not going to happen.

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