I’m not even sure how to begin this one because I’m still not convinced it’s even real. A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from my good friend Vivek who puts together the Grimposium panels (including one where I got shit faced, showed up late and basically ruined for everyone but myself, sort of like when I write, play music or have sex). He was sending out these messages to people to talk about the crowdfunding that was going on for the Longmont Potion Castle documentary. We got to talking about the project and later on that day I received an introduction to the man himself.
I might be getting a bit ahead of myself. For those who might still be in the dark, Longmont Potion Castle is a series of recordings from over the last few decades. To call them simply “prank calls” would be understating it because unlike some kid in Philly calling people and making amateur dick jokes for the enjoyment of his few friends and the disappointment of his parents, LPC has taken this format and turned it into an experiment in the absurd. There isn’t one specific thing that I can point to that makes what he does brilliant and funny as hell but rather the mixture of absurd situations, a quick wit and an obvious endless stream of patience. LPC has a rabid cult following because of this, from bands as diverse as Jimmy Eat World to probably most metal bands you enjoy. The DIY aesthetic gives LPC a familiarity to punk and metal culture, while not immersing itself in any of our ridiculous clichés. I asked LPC why he felt he was so welcomed by punk & metal’s sometimes damp subconscious.
He responded, “I love metal and punk rock. I have heard people say that they think LPC is very punk in nature, and the interludes that pepper the albums are thrash metal. But I really don’t know what people’s deal is.” Longmont Potion Castle is a ritual shared by many a band out on the road, in shitty vans nationwide trying not to succumb to the sights and smells of America and choosing to end it all by going into oncoming traffic. It’s as if he’s a shadow member of some of these bands without ever even meeting them. I ask him how he feels about being the patron saint of traveling assholes: “Hard to believe. I mean, I believe you and everything. Look, are you calling me dishonest?”
As he said, there are a lot of musical interludes on his records, obviously not done as a goof but an extension of his creative side. He’s an obvious music lover and as a fan I’ve always been curious what he listens to on his downtime. “It goes way deeper than downtime. I have music in my head all day and all night. Always. When I like a band, I tend to latch on to them forever. Only sometimes do I change my mind and not listen to them anymore. I will listen to thrash metal forever. Right now I like a lot of Stock, Hausen and Walkman. I always have liked them, but now I have all of their albums and they find their way into my stereo a lot. Glitchey, surreal, dance rock.“
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who revere his work. Unlike when you listen to people talk about “Mall Cop” or whatever shit people laugh at these days, LPC is spoken of in nearly academic terms. He doesn’t just use his voice to abuse people at record stores or give Eddie Money a nervous breakdown; he uses a Kevin Shields-size arsenal of effects and loops. All of this put together shows a deep creativity and a love for experimentation. One could consider LPC almost a neo-Dadaist project.
“Seeing LPC albums in the ‘Comedy’ section of the music store or the radio station always makes me go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot about that!’ I agree with the ‘experimental’ tag, too.”
But does calling it “prank calls” cheapen it? “Not really. I am not hifalutin about it but also not embarrassed, either. The term ‘Crank Call’ I don’t really like, but that’s more of a pet peeve than anything. ‘Prank Call’ is quite alright.”
With comedy today being mostly about cheap laughs from the lowest common denominator or being increasingly careful as not to offend any special snowflake’s delicate sensibilities, it’s still special to see someone being so completely subversive in an intelligent fashion. Not saying that juvenile humor doesn’t have its place (I wouldn’t have a job otherwise) but LPC manages to keep himself out of the gutter, even when his conversation partners don’t. I wondered if it was difficult not to just cut corners and tell people to fuck off every once in a while?
“When listening to other phone recordings I tend to admire the person doing it, even if they chuck out expletives. I guess I just don’t go there, myself. Why is it that in the middle of getting cursed out big time, I usually continue on in a ‘plainspoken’ manner… probably because doing so gives credibility to the absurd scenario I have set up. But sometimes I just have to tell a person’s ass that a horsewhip is coming up pretty quick.”
I’ve always felt that comedy should open people’s perception and try to make them think, a la George Carlin but we are left with absolutely asinine shit like the guy with the racist puppets. I asked him when he views humor in 2016 is he happy with how the world has progressed or does he think people are way too concerned with offending people over incredibly trivial things?
“I sort of stopped going to comedy shows a long time ago, but always watch them on TV. I am happy with the world sometimes, I go through ups and downs like anybody would. I think those peaks and valleys are probably what first led to me doing these albums as a teen. As an older friend once told me, “it doesn’t really get any clearer.” Although things like evaluating and sussing up situations become easier. I am never concerned about ‘offending’ anybody with these recordings. I would never put myself in league with George Carlin. Mush Mouth, maybe.”
Longmont Potion Castle has always been an incredibly secretive thing, partially for legal reasons and partially because of reasons only known to him. Would doing something like a documentary put too much of a public face to the whole thing, ruin the mystique?
“It isn’t going to be that kind of documentary. ‘Factual Fiction’ would be one way to describe it. When I made an obscure VHS release years ago, I asked the label to put it out and their first response was, ‘Ugh… this isn’t going to be some big, behind-the-scenes type of thing, is it?’ Not only was it not like that, but I realized that to ever do that type of thing would not be a great idea. If someone enjoys LPC, this movie would strive to do justice to that experience.”
But why now? His answer is simple and direct: “I like the idea of commemorating 30 years of LPC with this movie. The folks behind it seem like the best possible moviemakers for this project. I want to achieve a balance between documentary, surreal cinematic comedy, and a poignant romp.”
Thirty years is a long time to do anything, let alone keep the integrity behind it and continue to improve with each successive release. I would have to think there would be a time where he’d have said “fuck this” by now but I’d be wrong (not the first time).
“I have done that periodically. The longest period was after LPC 3. Then I came back around. There were also recent times with the past few albums that I struggled to finish them, I don’t know if that’s audible or not. This new album, 13, made me really happy to create. I don’t know if that will be audible or not, either. Look, are you pissed off at me or something?”
At the end of the day any one of us who has enjoyed his work owes him at least a simple “thanks.” After all, people like Longmont Potion Castle offer us a reprieve from our shitty lives, a glimpse at something that isn’t depressing or miserable for once. I tell him this and ask what we could do in return.
He replied, “Thank you. If you are so inclined, please contribute to this LPC documentary, Where In The Hell Is The Lavender House? We are prepared to work hard and make it be really good. I really hope this happens. And please check out LPC 13 when it comes out. Don’t just wait for YouTube all the time. The album was way fun to create and that must be why it is almost 180 minutes long.”
I have a confession to make here: I never went to journalism school. I have another obvious confession: this interview was honestly just a way for me to ask all of the questions I’ve ever had when listening to LPC. LPC means different things to different people but all that’s required is approaching it with an open mind. To put it simply: shit’s funny. And different, and worth digging into. I figured since I’d wasted so much of his time I’d end it with a cliché: any final words? “Just that LPC was founded on a simple principle. I don’t remember what it was, but that isn’t important right now. I just think that a good thing to remember is that it’s “never odd or even”. A palindrome to believe in.”
You can help make sure this film gets made.