As the longhairs know, Brutal Truth was never a band to stay contained to one genre. The grinders kept their love of all extreme sounds alive through covers, split releases, and tours, including a legendary one in 1993 with Houston noise rockers Pain Teens and Japanese experimental noise band Boredoms.
As with all good tours, there were acid-drenched ghost sightings, Henry Rollins run-ins, and Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker waxing poetic about “crusting.” We caught up with Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp, Pain Teens vocalist Bliss Blood (who recently put their material up on Bandcamp; head here to hear more Pain Teens), and Boredoms vocalist Eye to see what they could remember of this most extreme of tours.
How did this tour come about?
Kevin Sharp: I was talking to John Zorn about it; at the time, he was helping the Boredoms out. I was doing some stuff with him in that world, like the old Knitting Factory scene. He had done the Naked City record; I had done a couple shows with Eye in Naked City, his English wasn’t so good back then, but between John and I we kinda worked it out. At the time, Yoshimi [P-We, one of Boredoms’ drummers] was doing all that shit with [Sonic Youth’s] Kim Gordon as well, like Free Kitten, so she was in New York a bit as well. Timelines are kinda hazy, but that’s roughly where that was at.
Bliss Blood: Well, I got a call from Kevin, I think he was working at CMJ, and he had this brainstorm to try to put a tour together with three bands. Pain Teens had already toured with KK Null from Zeni Gava. Our first west coast tour, we were really green, we drove out to Los Angeles and played a couple of shows on the way, and met KK Null, who was just basically playing guitar feedback for 45 minutes [laughs]. So the first show we played with him in LA we decided after that he could be the headliner, because he basically cleared the room. So we had experience playing with extreme Japanese noise bands, but I wasn’t really aware until we actually got on the road and heard them that the Boredoms were doing something much more like heavy rock than the noise stuff that we would later be known for. It was really cool; it was great. It was a great combination. The hardest thing for the Pain Teens was to headline after them, because they put on such an amazing show. They had two singers running out into the middle of the stage and bumping chests and falling over backwards, the two drummers, one of them, Yoshimi, played the trumpet but the other guy didn’t but he still had a trumpet and he faked it while she was playing trumpet so it looked like both of them were playing trumpet. Two drummers, two singers, it was just an onslaught. I dunno, it’s hard for women, just culturally, to be dominant, after a sausage fest like that. Our best show of the tour was actually New York City, when we opened for them; they were the headliners, and then Painkiller played after them with Eye singing with those guys, and they cleared the room in 15 minutes. I think [bassist Bill] Laswell had five Marshall stacks for his bass or something, it was just outrageous. We played Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis, had a great show. It was really interesting; they basically spoke extremely limited English. It was kind of a challenge communicating. They didn’t drink at all. They would have maybe a beer after everything was loaded back in the van, but Brutal Truth, on the other hand, were just a bunch of pot smoking, beer guzzling freaks [laughs], and so were the guys in my band; not so much me, but they couldn’t play until they had a joint apiece or something before they went on stage. But the Boredoms were totally professional. I think in Chicago we played at the Metro and their male drummer, Atari [Kazuya Nishimura], got so whipped into a frenzy by the audience just loving it that at the end of the show he did a stage dive, and they had a big meeting at the hotel room afterwards to, like, whip him with a cat of nine tails because if he got hurt it would screw it up for everyone else. Which is actually really refreshing. Back in those days, everybody was pretty much… American bands were pretty wasted and sloppy [laughs]. But it was fun, it was the whole idea of, “I don’t want to have a real job, I want to be a freak and ride around in the van and meet people every day.”
Eye: John Zorn had a connection with Brutal Truth—Earache released Naked City, John’s unit I joined as a vocalist. Kevin joined the live performance of John Zorn, and Danny Lilker came to see John’s performance at Knitting Factory. I think John was talking to Brutal Truth when Boredoms was going on the US tour. Brutal Truth was, like, not only sensitive to the movements of new experimental grind but also sensitive to the music derived from it, I think. The cassette of Monastat 7, Danny Lilker gave me on the tour, [it] was really stunning, and Kevin bought the cassette of Cheap Trick at a gas station; [it] was shocking, in a good sense. Pain Teens was playing mixed noises by cassette for their performance. Full of memories about cassettes.
Were you worried at all that the tour was going to be too weird for audiences?
Sharp: Not really. Brutal Truth was always that kind of band that we did our own thing. We were horribly unsuccessful in units sold kind of thinking, and we sort of made that call earlier on: the first 7”, there was some noisy shit on there. Extreme Conditions [Demand Extreme Responses] was like us doing brutal death metal, and then it just sort of evolved, or devolved, whatever you want to call it, from there. So we were always pretty good about just playing with whoever. Also, being from New York helped with that, because it didn’t really matter, you know? We’d do bills with Murphy’s Law then we’d do shows with… I remember one time we did one with Joey Ramone and Cheetah Chrome and KRS-One. So we always did weird shows, it’s just that people didn’t really do that kind of shit outside of New York.
Blood: Well, we played for a variety of crowds. In Texas, everybody was there to see us at the shows. We got there at the first show, I think the first show was in Dallas, and Brutal Truth were warming up, doing their soundcheck, and it was so ungodly loud, we were like, “What the fuck?” [laughs] I mean, we were loud, but it was just out of control, you know? It wasn’t too much for people, more like certain people were there to see one of the bands and perhaps would be enticed by the other bands being in the same vein, sort of. Some places, everybody was there just to see Boredoms and they left right after they played, they didn’t even stay to see us. Brutal Truth had the best slot, because no matter what, everybody heard part of their set, usually. At that point, we had done three or four tours, so we had a lot of fans all over the country. I think it was right after our album Stimulation Festival and right before our album Destroy Me, Lover, so it was a really prolific time for us, and when Destroy Me, Lover came out, I think it shipped like 4,500, which was pretty unheard of at the Touch and Go level, except for somebody like the Butthole Surfers or Jesus Lizard. It was really good that we toured that much. But I think anybody who was a fan of any of those bands was ready for a night of extreme sonic pummelling.
Eye: It was really weird bands together, but almost all of the audience seemed to like grind and death metal. I could meet a member of Anal Cunt, and a member of Gonkulator came to see the performance. I was glad that people I’m interested in came to see it. Brutal Truth pushes the grind to a new dimension; Pain Teens, heavy noise rock in Texas; and Boredoms, abnormal junk in Japan. We are different but it was common in the extreme point that it has a leading edge in the madness of the era of those days.
How did the audiences react to the mix of the bands? Bliss, did you see any confused metalheads watching you guys or anything like that?
Blood: No, people like that will just leave. “Okay, we saw Brutal Truth, this is bullshit.” The majority of people at that point were pretty adventurous, musically, especially if they liked any of those bands. The Boredoms, it was cool, they were like metal crossover. They weren’t really that noisy, except for the singing. It was that album Wow 2; basically, if you listen to that CD, that’s exactly how they sounded on stage. They were really tight, and we were really tight because we had been touring a lot. I think maybe for some of the industrial crowd, hearing Brutal Truth was the first time they had heard any death metal. I think we played in Milwaukee and it was a metal fest thing and those people were probably the least interested in the other bands. They were just there to see Brutal Truth, and I think maybe Brutal Truth headlined that night.
Sharp: You know, it went really well. It was one of those tours where pretty much anyone who was around at that time and checking out music and stuff probably went to that show. In the grand scheme of things, everyone on the front end said we were completely fucking batshit crazy doing it, but, literally, it was the show. One of the things that was really cool about that was, at the time there’d be these AmRep packages or Sub Pop shows or whatever, where three or four bands would roll in and they’d all sound the same, and this was sort of the opposite, the backlash to that kind of thing. Pain Teens, I was a huge fan of the first couple of records, that whole Texas, Butthole Surfers vibe, which, to go further back in the vault, we did a Butthole Surfers cover on the first 7”. So there were a lot of commonalities in it, but in terms of being successful, it was freakishly successful. Every night was cool, every night was sold out, and every night there’d be a fourth band on, the local, that would totally be the grab bag, brutal death metal band one night, and a noise band the next night… it was cool in the sense that every night was not boring. If you’ve ever done a tour, it’s like, by 20 or shows in, you’ve fucking seen it, man. But it was never like that. Every night was different, every night was interesting, there was lots of weird shit outside of the tour as well.
Eye: Their reaction was cool and it seemed like they enjoyed it, I think. The audiences looked relaxing.
Was there kind of a black sheep band on the bill or did all the bands go over more or less the same with the audiences?
Sharp: It all went over really well. The guy who booked the tour was the Pain Teens’ booking agent, so it was his first time doing something out of that world, so he was a little bit nervous about that. Pain Teens were billed pretty heavily, but depending on where we were at, one of the bands would go on last, that kinda thing. But it was always kinda difficult, I ain’t going to lie, going on after the Boredoms was fucking not a pleasant thing. Obviously Eye’s fucking mental, but the whole band was out of control. [Ex-Boredoms drummer/vocalist] Yoshikawa [Toyohito] fucking running around with a toilet seat on his head, there are only so many things you can do bar lighting yourself on fire to entertain yourself after them. They were really at their apex right then. That Shimmy Disc record had come out; they were very cult. This was before Nirvana took them out; they were cult, and that tour pretty much set up their cult status pretty good.
Blood: I don’t think so. Maybe Brutal Truth. Out of all of us, they were probably the most extreme. But they were playing first, so people could just go to the bar if they weren’t into that. The next tour we did was with Fudge Tunnel; they were the same kind of heavy, screaming [laughs]… It was really fun, but once again, as a girl, I felt kind of… I don’t know, the testosterone level was what most of the audience was into, and it was hard to come up to that level. I’m not really a screamer, and I always had a hard time hearing myself in the monitors, because the stage volume of the amps were so loud it was basically drowning the monitors out. That’s why I got tired of playing that kind of music: no one could ever hear me.
Bliss, was being female on this tour a struggle for you?
Blood: Well, it was cool because Yoshimi from the Boredoms was the other female, so despite the language barrier, we sort of bonded; girl power [laughs]. We held our own, especially being a drummer, she’s a super badass. It’s just always challenging, you’re hearing sexist jokes and it’s just different if you’re a girl. If you’re a guy hanging out listening to that, it’s “Hahaha,” but if you’re a girl, it’s kinda like, “This sucks.” But I’ve got to say, most of those guys weren’t that kind of sexist. If they had been, they wouldn’t have had a female in their band. Surprisingly, the guys in Brutal Truth were probably less sexist than the guys in my own band [laughs]. The metal dudes, they were these pussycats, really nice and sensitive and considerate. Their problems were basically with disagreements with each other. But they were always really cool with me. In fact, after the tour their drummer left, and I hooked them up with their next drummer, Rich Hoak; he was a friend of mine because he worked at a record distributor. I used to work at a record store in Houston, and I bought records from him. I recommended him to try out. He tried out for the Pain Teens but he wasn’t really… he was like [mimics blast beats], the egg beater [laughs].
What kind of crowd was it? Metalheads, weirdo alternative people… who came out?
Sharp: It was everyone. I met everyone from Rollins to [Jello] Biafra… everywhere you went, people would go, because it was something different. Occasionally you’ll see something really cool roll around, like when Napalm rolled with the Melvins, but I really don’t understand why that thinking never really catches on. The furthest people will stretch is, “Oh, we’re going to get a black metal band and we’ll put ’em on with a death metal band.” But at the end of the day, and if you think about it, with Brutal Truth we always did things with Eyehategod and it was the subculture with the Buzzovens and shit like that. We were outcasts so we didn’t fit in. There was a subculture of anti-formula; the old Today Is the Day stuff, we did tours with them… you would think that thinking would have stretched, but it just doesn’t. To me, if you don’t find new ways to bring kids out to gigs, man, they’re just going to get bored with it. Like, “Okay, I saw Cannibal two times this year, I saw Immolation last year, blah blah blah.” Just the turning of the switch, man: so many people got turned on to different stuff on that tour. I’m included: Public Hanging in Buffalo, they were fucking wild. I can think of a handful of shows that were completely extreme. And if you think about it, sit down and think about it: you’re fucking Joe Head that just rolls in to go see fucking Brutal Truth and all of a sudden you see those other two bands… But the thing was that they were all sort of used to that sort of thing with Brutal Truth. We did our first tour with Pungent Stench and Incantation, we always rolled around with different kinds of bands. It’s just more interesting to us, and being as unsuccessful as we were, it sort of gave us the freedom to do whatever the fuck we wanted to, really. There’s absolute liberation in being a cult band. You don’t have any fucking obligations to some company.
Blood: Well, back in those days, everybody who came to shows like that were weirdo alternative people [laughs]. It was hard to tell the metalheads from the Skinny Puppy fans. Then there were a few nerdy intellectual guys with glasses who liked our band or the Boredoms that seemed totally out of place. Those days were fun because people would mingle and it was very inclusive. People were raving into it. That’s what was so fun about that era. People were really vehemently into the music and enjoying themselves.
What was the relationship between the three bands like on the tour?
Eye: Everyone is so kind and [there was a] good relationship between us. The van of Brutal Truth was so well air-conditioned like we were in the Arctic, but Danny Lilker always wore sleeveless T-shirt, definitely.
Sharp: We all rolled together. We had just done a tour with Napalm where we went across Canada. And we drove from fucking Vancouver to New York, took two days off, picked up two vans, and drove down to Dallas and met with the Boredoms. Our drummer didn’t have a driver’s licence, so there was three drivers. That’s a fucking drive, I’m not even joking. So we get down there, those guys are splattered too because the flight from Japan’s harsh, man. The only people who are fresh and clean are the fucking Pain Teens, just down the road [laughs]. I guess that’s the glories of your agent being the head lead on the fucking booking. But we all rolled together; on our time off we took the Boredoms everywhere, man. Nothing’s cooler than dropping acid with the Boredoms in the fucking Redwoods. That is a fantastically hilarious story [laughs]. We were all riding together, and the Pain Teens van broke down, and you know, the Portland-San Francisco run is kind of a long drive so people break it up with a day off. We had a day off and their van broke down in the middle of the Redwoods, so we all stayed in these little cottage things and fucking dropped acid in the Redwoods. It was total Alice in Wonderland, fucking madness, you know? [Boredoms guitarist Seiichi] Yamamoto thought there was fucking ghosts, they were all seeing ghosts and shit; it was fucking insane [laughs]. Then there was the Grand Canyon, that was insane, that was a really weird experience. We had a lot of fucking good laughs, man.
Eye: We arrived in Texas at first and I was surprised because a member of Cannibal Corpse picked us up at the airport, and then we had the first live performance in Texas. When I listened to Danny Lilker playing bass at the soundcheck, I was completely blown away. The sound was like aerial bombing and I was just shitting on the bathroom without toilet seat and door… it was stunning. I was glad that the audiences told me “You are acid punk!” after our performance. [A] Texan said it, so I was so glad, especially. Another audience told me “Drink the liquor that I made!” I didn’t know what was in it, so I didn’t drink it, though… When we stayed at the house of Sepultura on the tour, they took us to Grand Canyon. There was a mural painting like UFO. I was naked to the waist, kneeled down, opened my arms, and then crackling sound came out from the top of my fingers. I wasn’t sure if my fingers became an antenna or discharging, but it was a precious experience. The van of Brutal Truth stopped in midnight, so I got out of the van. It was a incredible starry sky. I’ve never seen such a starry sky in Japan. I watched the video of S.O.D.—Billy Milano wore a skull mask and he jumped off from the speaker—at Sepultura’s place. The footage was too great and then I could notice that Danny Lilker was the member of S.O.D. for the first time! I thought the name was just the same… I like S.O.D. so much and I sampled S.O.D., so I still remember that I thought again it was a great situation.
Blood: Well, Brutal Truth had brought on this guy named Philly Phil to be the soundman, he was this older kinda hippy guy with hair down to his waist and a beard, and I guess he was the soundman for everybody. Sometimes the Pain Teens could use the house sound guy because he knew the room and wouldn’t just push all the faders up to max. So Phil was hanging out with them and the Boredoms; we all had our own van, so there was a caravan of three vans. Kevin was sort of everybody’s pal and coordinating everything, but they needed us, basically, because we had a booking agent. All the guys in the American bands bonded over getting high and the Japanese people kinda kept to themselves, because we really couldn’t talk. Apparently, in Japan, the shows end by 10, and the band takes their money they made and go out for a big banquet to celebrate the successful show. There was a time when Yamamoto, we were in some crazy place like Columbus, Ohio or something, and he was like, “I want to go out for fish dinner!” [laughs] So we were like, “Okay, a couple of us will go with you.” There was no place open but Denny’s, so he gets, like, fried fish fillets [laughs]. It was kind of sad because that norm in their culture is just not the same situation. One time I went out with a lot of the Boredoms before the show for some sushi in San Jose or some place. They all got their food except for [Yoshikawa] and everybody ordered food but him, and when they were finished, he asked them if he could eat their shrimp tails. And he was a chef in Osaka, I think, so I was really always mystified by that. Later on, Zeni Gava came to Houston and they were with this American guy who was their road manager, and I said, “Do you know why he did that? It was really weird.” And he said, “Well, that guy is from an upper-class family, so for him to be humble like that was sort of a gesture to the rest of them that he didn’t feel above them.” So there were all kinds of these deep, cultural things that they had going on that we didn’t really understand, or the guys in my band weren’t even paying attention to. I was interested; I brought a Japanese language book with me that I found at a thrift store or something; I showed it them and they were like, “Haha, this is so old, this is from the ’50s, nobody talks like this anymore, it’s very formal.” But I tried to learn as much Japanese as I could. A couple times I rode along in their van. We stopped at the first rest stop, halfway between Arizona and California, and Danny Lilker came and hung out in our van while we were all getting a beverage or something, and he goes, “Are you guys crusting yet?” And we all said, “What’s that?” He was like, “You know, you don’t wash for, like, three days and you start getting sweat crust” [laughs]. We were like, “We live in Houston, that’s a daily phenomenon” [laughs].
I was going to ask what kind of crazy stories you have from this tour.
Sharp: I think we’re just going through them [laughs]. I got to meet longtime fans; I grew up on L.A. punk, and all those guys were out there, Rollins and the drummer from the Germs, that kinda stuff. “Oh, this guy’s from Flipper, holy fuck. That’s weird.” You know? The tour went from the Texas area all the way up the west coast and out to the east coast, and I think we might have gone down as far as DC. You know, your standard five-week thing; we would have gone longer, but everyone thought it was going to fail miserably. This was before Nirvana was popular and all that shit; there was really no great success other than the whole initial Grindcrusher thing, which was kind of wild. But indie rock hadn’t really taken off, there was a bunch of bands that were signed on to majors that had expectations, but nothing had been proven, so there was no reason for it to be successful.
Blood: Oh, god. There are millions. When we played that metal show in Milwaukee, we stayed in the hotel where Jeffrey Dahmer had killed one of his victims, so Kevin was telling these creepy stories about Jeffrey Dahmer. Here’s a great story: we had van trouble right in the middle of the Redwood forest, driving from northern California to Portland, so we had to stop in this crazy little motel in the middle of the Redwood forest. There were separate little cabins for everybody. There were like seven people in the Boredoms entourage, including the soundman, so they got the biggest cabin. Apparently, in the middle of the night, they all ran out and slept in the van, and we said the next day, “What happened?” And they were like, “It’s haunted!” Apparently they got spooked by some demon in the hotel.
The missing link to that story is that they were on acid.
Blood: Oh, they never told us that. Cool. That’s even cooler. Why wouldn’t they have told us that? We were a bunch of acid freaks, too. Another funny story is that when we got to New York City, I think we only had one more show left, in DC, then this tour was going to break up. Phil had to leave and go work for another band. In his passport he had a joint, which was really stupid, then they went some place to get a pack of cigarettes or something, and he stole some candy bars and got caught, got arrested, then when they asked him for his ID, he pulled out his passport and a joint fell out [laughs]. So he was screwed, I think he missed his plane or something. New York was crazy, Sonic Youth showed up, the place was packed. It was this huge venue, one big flat area, it must have held 500 people. Like I said, when Painkiller cranked it out, the room cleared in five minutes.
Eye, was it difficult for you, not speaking English too well, and being so far from home?
Eye: Everything I saw was new anyway and we sometimes performed twice a day, so I didn’t have a time to be worried.
It’s easy to look at this bill and think, here’s three totally different bands, but how do you feel the bands are similar? What threads run through those three bands?
Blood: At the time, the whole hardcore/metal crossover thing was really happening. Industrial metal crossover, and hardcore rock, bands like Helmet, in Houston there was a great band called Dead Horse; they were amazing. Like I said, everything was really inclusive. You couldn’t really color outside the lines, because the more weird and crazy and experimental things got, the cooler it was, because people were very thirsty for fresh assimilation of genres. Unlike now, where it seems like everything is very demographically split into little boxes. I saw a show in Minneapolis, we had a night off there, it was Green Day opening for the Jesus Lizard, with the Melvins in the middle slot. Green Day was doing stuff like spitting in the air and catching it in their mouths, just really juvenile bullshit, then the Melvins were just kind of this metal monolith, and the Jesus Lizard was drunken mayhem. I don’t know, it seemed like people were open to anything at that point, which is why it worked so well.
Sharp: Well, the things that were similar would be, to describe it, okay, there’s your basic song structures, but there’s actual rhythmic or whatever elements on top of it layered through the song. Okay, there’d be the noise rock here but there’d be the tape loops of the Pain Teens, shit like that. Eye would be carving on a car door with contact mics while the band was playing a song. The Boredoms had two singers that were fucking 10 times more brutal than me, and two drummers, and trumpets, and all sorts of shit, man. It was a three-ring circus. I think that that’s what everyone had in common: we were uncommon.
Any final thoughts on this tour?
Sharp: Bliss Blood rules.
Eye: We didn’t have any places to stay at the first Boredoms US tour and we lay down on the living room of whom we had met at the venue, so it was good for us to be able to stay at a [Super] 8 [motel] on this tour every time. And it was a warm season. What we ate was almost [all] fast foods, though. I was looking forward to taking photos of the bathroom without doors and spray graffiti of the backstage at venues every time. I could find extremely dangerous one sometimes. I connected the oil feeder at a gas station to the microphone, and the stuff sold at gas stations, such as trucker tape, duct tape, and nonsense postcards had a big influence on me, actually.