Sooterkin - the Rolfing Sfone Interview

Freelance journalist Manny Waldheim recently traveled abroad for a rare interview with Sooterkin in their secluded suburban studio. They discussed their recent separation, reformation, and name change, among other topics. Here are some excerpts:

Manny Waldheim: What's your life like right now?

Sooterkin: It's like life. It's 2005, isn't it? Almost 2006? We've just settled all the lingering legal issues from the separation and reformation. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Then we get back to the business of art. Today is the first day that we've reoccuppied the studio, here in suburban Dogtown. So we're settling in, and preparing to get back to work. This (interview) is one of the first steps.

MW: You're essentially a solo artist. How did you manage to separate from yourself? And how does one person manage to reform?

S: It's not a matter of managing to separate. We did it. The separation occurred. Once that happened, it was simply a matter of deciding what to do next. And the thing that made the most sense, after some thought, was to reform. In the words of John Lennon, "The separation didn't work out." Of course, were it all properly thought through from the begining, the same conclusion may have been reached with much less fuss. But less publicity (chuckles).

MW: I love that line: "The separation didn't work out."

S: It's an excellent line. Worth stealing. Hence stolen.

MW: What was the final settlement?

S: Since the reformation occurred, it's really irrelevant. In addition, part of the settlement included essentially a "gag order" on the terms of the settlement. Of course, I've violated that by disclosing its existance. So I guess I'll have to sue myself, unfortunately. "The first thing we do...."

MW: What was the reason for the name change?

S: Our old name was a very formal, very tight-assed sounding name, and not at all the name that one would associate with music of any sort. Always a shortcoming. A good friend of mine, G. K. Wicker (which is a bit more rock-and-roll sounding by itself) got very seriously into making a go of techno music in the 1990s, and named himself X-Eleven. This name fit his work very well, and it worked out well for him. He's had another recent fit of creativity, and rebranded himself yet again (Concho - ed.). It's all very exciting and new.

So, faced with our own burst of creativity, and having little to lose, we embarked on a lengthy process of reidentifying ourselves. The criteria was fairly simple - it had to have balls, had to roll off the tongue, and the URL had to be available. We managed some of that, at least. Our other favorite was Vivian Stoole, but someone thought that was too dirty. So we ended up with Sooterkin. So the new material will be Sooterkin. But only the new material.

MW: Do old records still go in a pot?

S: Actually, more of a bucket. They're all crap, and vinyl is so 20th century.

MW: There's still a good feeling among the guys?

S: Of course, and we're all still on speaking terms, within the confines of the Dennis exclusion principle. So that means any two of us are not on speaking terms at a given time. For example, A will talk to B, and B will talk to C, but A will not talk to C. It's moderately complicated, and a little difficult to remember. The venn diagram over there on the wall helps to keep it straight.

MW: You went to an X-Eleven show, what are your thoughts on his (Wicker's) tour?

S: That's been what, twelve years ago? History. X-Eleven is also history, and all so history. Speaking of rebranding, X-Eleven is now Concho. I like Concho much better than X-Eleven, even though they're the same person. Except that there's 10 years and 1500 miles between X-Eleven and Concho. Which I think is both perspective and growing up. As much as we hate to admit to growing up. I would like to see a Concho show, however. If there is one.

MW: Wicker told us that if you wanted GWEC, go listen to Wings. It seemed a bit of a putdown.

S: Being familiar with both, it's hard to decide who it's more of a putdown to.

MW: What do you think of G.K. Wicker's work with Concho?

S: I think it's great. It's also inevitable, since they're one and the same. Almost. Wicker is always Wicker, but he's only Concho right now.

MW: Wicker said at his press conference that he could play with you again but that he wouldn't let you play with him. How do you feel?

S: I'm feeling quite well, thank you very much.

MW: In retrospect, what do you think of the whole "Sooterkin Remembers" episode?

S: Being as it was "Sooterkin Remembers" it may speak for itself, retrospectively speaking. Is that circumulocution?

MW: Your new material seems to have a period feel to it. Is this intentional?

S: Of course. And not. A part of my audience has been clamoring for less "electronic" sounds, whatever they are. The paradox is that since it's recorded music, in a digital format, it's all electronic. But in an attempt to whore myself and please the audient, I've changed sounds somewhat. And the sounds influence the music. I'm really just glad to be producing something again, whatever it is. Eventually it will come out. Hopefully they won't make me put it back in.

MW: Something I'd like to clarify. I'm talking to one person. Sometimes you refer to yourself as "I", and sometimes as "we" - can you explain?

S: You are interviewing Sooterkin, are you not? Sooterkin is a collective, even though right now I am the only member of that collective. At least the only member in this room. That you can hear and see, anyway. Hence the "we." Some questions are too grammatically cumbersome to answer as "we," at least without a great deal of thought. So I lapse into "I" from time to time. If you like, you can edit my answers either way to suit your editorial tastes. (We chose not to, so the reader may decide for himself - ed.)

MW: What was it about the year? Do you want to try talking about it?

S: Which year was that? That's something akin to a pronoun without an antecedent, if I remember my grammar school grammar correctly. Or maybe more of a poison without an antidote. Would you like some? Oh, never mind, I don't want to talk about it. I'm feeling much better now, thank you.

MW: Why do you feel better?

S: Probably because I'm moderately potted. How about another drink?

MW: Certainly.

S: I meant for me, actually. But you may get one for yourself too, if you like.

MW: Tell me about the "Rock 'n' Roll" album.

S: Which "Rock 'n' Roll" album is that, actually? We have several. Some are better than others, but most are crap. Actually, we loathe music, which is why we make our own. It's the old engineer thing - "I can make one of those." But it's still crap.

MW: What about the stories that (Phil) Spector's working habits are a little odd? For example, that he either showed off or shot off guns in the studios?

S: Not that we have any firsthand experience, mind you, but it does seem to have caught up him recently (A reference to Spector's arrest for murder in 2003 - ed.). And we do recall reading Lennon mentioning some "awful loud" noises in the toilet at Record Plant West. But that could be merely scatological speculation.

MW: What actually did happen those nights at the Peppermill Lounge when you heckled Cat Daddy and went walking around with a pool ball triangle on your head yelling "King's Lead Hat" at the top of your lungs?

S: Good lord - where do you dig this stuff up? It's all horribly true, but so, so long ago. It was a joke. I guess. It seemed to be the right thing to do at the time, whenever that was. Somewhere between the first set and last call. And I was there with Robert Jutson, who was no help at all (laughs). Antonio Novello said that people who drink have accidents - they fall, get shot or drown. I've managed one and a half of those.

MW: What's your relationship with Nilsson? Some critics say that he's been heavily influenced, maybe even badly screwed up by you.

S: Nilsson Schmilsson.

MW: ...and that you've also been influenced by him.

S: Ah - Nacogdoches is full of Roaches. Marx said that. Groucho, not Karl. Very early on.

MW: You mean in his primal period?

S: Well, their Vaudeville period. Something like 1912. Is that primal?

MW: Wicker has described you as a superb producer but maybe in too much of a hurry.

S: That's very kind. It would also be generous, except that I paid him to say that in a letter of reference. But it got me the job.

MW: But supposedly, you're actually painstaking and slow.

S: The slow part for sure. But it may be more slipshod than painstaking. It's all just turd polishing, anyway - no matter how much you polish, it's still a turd. But you have to stop eventually, or you'll end up with nothing. On the other hand, nothing is better than a turd.

MW: Is there anybody that you'd like to produce? For example, Dylan?

S: Watch me pull a rabbit out of my ass! I'd like to resurrect Elvis. But I'd be scared of him, too - the undead Elvis, that is. But it would be fun to try. Know any voodoo priests that practice east of the Mississippi? (sings) "...going to Graceland, m'mm, Memphis Tennessee."

MW: Elton John has revived "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." How do you feel about him as an artist?

S: Some turds are better left unpolished. Did you see the wedding?

MW: I read somewhere that you were very moved by the whole thing.

S: I was moved to turn off the television because I had finished my exercises, is all. But I imagine it was very moving for Elton and what's-his-name. They never mention him on the television. (Canadian David Furnish - ed.)

MW: There seems to be a lot of generosity among the artists now.

S: It seems that way. Among the folks you've never heard of, I think it's very real. Among the folks that have it made, it's for publicity. At least that's what I think. Does that mean I'm cynical?

MW: How do you relate to what we might call the rock stars of the Seventies? Do you think of yourself as an uncle figure, a father figure, an old gunfighter?

S: Lordy. I don't think of myself in that light at all. Or even presume to think of myself. I think of them as kindly old grandfathers, actually. If I think of them at all. Hopefully there is some music from the 70's that hasn't been reissued in some digital format or another, so it can gently fade from the public conciousness.

MW: Do you think of New York as home now?

S: Of course not. Home is here. Here is home. And here we're planning to stay. New York is out west somewhere, right?

MW: In view of the immigration case, is one reason you've stayed here so long because if you left, they'd pull a Charlie Chaplin on you and not let you back in?

S: That really Charlie Chaplin's my ass. The immigration case was settled, more-or-less, years ago. It rises up again from time to time, but we've found that if we ignore it it goes back down. Somewhat like piles. We'd prefer to discuss something else, like how much money we're going to make.

MW: Right. And the government doesn't choose that Sooterkin make money. The people who buy your music do that.

S: Actually, the people that don't buy our music choose that we don't make money. But that's ok - we're not in it for the money.

MW: You went through a period of really heavy involvement in radical causes. Lately you seem to have gone back to your art in a more direct way. What happened?

S: Art pays crap, but it pays better than radical causes. We're only in it for the money. Backed with Lumpy Gravy, of course.

MW: How did all of this affect your work?

S: The involvement in various causes was blurring the line between art and journalism. It was part of what caused the separation. Once the separation occurred, there were no more causes, which in part aided the reformation. It may be a continuing cycle. Or it may not.

MW: Is it called growing up?

S: It may very well be. As much as we dislike admitting it.

MW: Do you think much of yourself as an artist at fifty or sixty?

S: We don't think much of ourselves as artists now, actually. But we feel the same now, more or less, as we did twenty years ago. We behave the same, though we're more careful not to get caught. We work in the same way, but with better equipment and usually with more patience. It's difficult to envision being any different in twenty more years, except older and probably fatter. The medium may be different, the message may be different, but we'll still be at it. Or we could toss it all, and simply spend our time watching television. It's pretty good, you know.

MW: Is there anything left to say about the immigration case?

S: Not really. Unless you have money. Then we can talk.

MW: So nothing has changed with the departure of Nixon?

S: I got somewhat lighter, is all. Other than that, no.

MW: Does the case get in the way of your work?

S: The immigration case, no. Now when the other guys locked me up in the tuba case, that was a problem. But when I got very still and very quiet, so that they thought I was dead, then the problem was theirs. Pretty funny. Can we wrap this up? I need to pee.

MW: Very well. Have you made any kind of decision not to ever go on the road again?

S: Ever? That's a very long time. Almost as long as forever. Time will tell.

MW: Will you ever be free of the fact that you were once a Beatle?

S: Only having ever been a Beatle for Halloween, it should be no problem. So we'd have to say that we're free of that fact as of right now. Let's forget the whole thing, shall we?

MW: So this last year, in some ways, was a year of deciding whether you wanted to be an artist or a pop star?

S: It's not up to us. The decision to be an artist is clearly ours, provided that we have the resources necessary to create something. The rest of the world can decide if what we're doing is art or not. They also get to decide the "pop star" bit, though we suspect that the answer will be a rather quiet no.


Many of the questions here were borrowed from Hamill, modified slightly where it made sense to do so, but mainly left alone for more hilarity. Other questions were added for clarity or continuity. If you haven't read the original interview, it's very interesting, especially 30 years down the road.

Hamill, Peter. "Long Night's Journey Into Day: A Conversation with John Lennon." Rolling Stone, June 5th, 1975.