An interview with Victims Family

This is an interview from MAXIMUMROCKNROLL issue Sept, 1991.


Hailing from Santa Rosa, CA, Victims family has earned the reputation as one of America's most innovative, thoughtful and genuinely sincere underfground bands. Combining terse, powerful bursts of hardcore, jazz and metal, this trio has released three great albums on San Francisco's Mordam Records as well as a few singles and compilations. Although one of the most witty, sharp political bands around, this brief dialogue centered more on what it is to be Victims Family. Interviewed by Andrew Asp on March 31, 1991, in a van outside of Gilman.

Tim- drums; Ralph- guitar, vocals; Larry- bass

MRR: Lets start off by talking about the tour...
T: We're going to be gone for eleven weeks. We started up in Eugene, OR, and we've done four shows, with sixty one to go.
R: We're going all the way across the States, and eleven of these dates are with NoMeansNo. Then we fly to Europe from New York, do three weeks over there, and then we fly back and do another five weeks in the States.
MRR: You do pretty well over in Europe? Big crowds?
R: Yeah, in Holland and Germany we're playing for like 400-600 people, and Italy's like maybe 200 people.
L: You play these villages where there's only so many people... there's like 600 people in the whole village.
MRR: I hear from a lot of bands who say they can't make a red cent over here, but seem to do really well in Europe.
R: Yeah, but there's a lot of bands who have been really persistant and manage to eek out a decent tour in the States. Like Coffin Break, they've never had a really bad tour over here. They tour incessantly. I mean, you gotta make money to survive, but playing the States is so much more rewarding because it's our own culture. All of our songs come out of this culture, and to play for people in this country and have them hear our words is really rewarding.
MRR: This album (White Bread Blues) is doing pretty well, and Mordam is doing their job. Have you ever had plans to jump ship?
R: There was a time when we weren't that happy with it, but things started turning around a lot. It was about two years before we saw a cent from Things I Hate To Admit, and we knew it was selling. We had a lot of debts we had to pay off, so that worked to do it.
MRR: Mordam is primarily a distributor, and it seems like the label is kind of a secondary thing.
R: It's a really great thing that Mordam is doing, getting all the smaller labels together and giving them one voice to speak with so they can get into all the shops. I think with our next record, we'll probably end up making it ourselves and end up licensing it to Mordam.
MRR: What do you guys think about Santa Rosa?
T: Don't live there.
MRR: But you stayed...
T: Sonoma Country is a wonderful place!
R: I don't know if I would have stayed if it wasn't for the band. It's not that I don't like it, but it's sometimes kind of boring. But there's so many great bands, and they've all gone out of their way to be pretty original. You don't see really derivative hardcore bands.
MRR: People use the word jazz to describe Victims Family, but it's not like a swinging, improv kind of jazz. It's more of a tight, spastic kind of jazz...
T: That's the fallacy of the whole jazzcore thing.
R: It's not jazz in the sense that it's improvised. There's a little, tiny room for improvisation. I'm just really into writing songs; I get really bored listening to a bunch of musicians jerk off. It's not my thing.
MRR: I've always found it weird that you guys get tagged onto the Bay Area funk scene, too.
R: That element's always been in our music, but there's also been hardcore elements, metal elements- a lot of differents stuff making up the sound. Seeing a lot of those bands and playing with them taught me a couple of things. First, people really do respond to a groove, wether it's a punk rock groove or a funk groove. The other thing is that we hate playing big rock'n'roll clubs. It totally reaffirmed my faith in the whole do-it-yourself kind of thing. I mean, even now we play some shows where the door might be too expensive, and that's kind of a drag. But I think we're doing a lot better than we were for a while.
MRR: You guys have been going since 1984. How would say the scene has changed?
L: Well, we've got Krishna bands and baseball bands...
R: There's healthy changes and there's bullshit, too. There's still the whole underground thing, which is gonna be there anyway. Occasionally it attracts a lot more people, and then it falls by the wayside for a while, but it never dies off. Right now, every fucking band in the Bay Area has some guy who think's he's Les Claypool (of Primus). It's just pathetic that people try to gain an identity off someone else's trip. They can't go out of their way to be themlselves. They try to play metal and funk and do a disservice to both.
T: The worst is all the old punk bands that turn metal, and now they're turning metal with a funk edge.
MRR: Let's talk some more about touring. How do you deal with staying together in a van for great lengths of time?
R: When you hang out with somebody for as long as we have, you just know when not to push their buttons. You know what sets them off. You just have to respect the people you're playing with. Also. we fuck around with each other a lot to break the tension...
L: We get totally insane. We're not even the same people by the end of the tour. But I think it's really healthy to put yourself trough that. You learn so much, and think we get stronger every time. When you're out there, nothing is certain, you've just gotta plan your next move.
MRR: And that's the best way to really see what tahe heartland is like, with a band to move you through...
T: That's the best thing about it.
L: When you've got the opportunity, you can't waste it by fighting among yourselves. I mean, how can you say anything about world change if three people can't get along. We've got such a good thing going.
R: And we love to travel. That's one of the funnest things about being in a band.
MRR: When you made the decision to play this kind of music, did you get a lot of flack from your parents?
r: Yeah, I still get that shit. We got interviewed in BAM, and my brother showed it to my dad, who was just beside himself. I'm sure if Victims Family breaks up and I end up in the gutter, my parents will be there saying "I tolf you so..." But that's something everybody deals with. I was like 20 units from getting my B.A. and I just said "fuck it." I just hated it.
L: It's funny how college is such a commonly respected thing, when half the people are just getting loaded, fucking, and cheating their way through it. And we're out here working our asses off for little reward, and you always look bad. It's the no respect thing.
MRR: What words of advice could you offer a new band?
T: If you've got a band, just get off your butt, get a van and just go!
L: I'd say that it's easier to sound like yourself than to sound like someone else...
R: Definitely. That's the main thing, man. There's so many people just milking somebody else's trip. The best bands come from people who just express their own shit, whether it's Poison Idea or R.E.M.
L: I think a lot of people's perception of us is that we go out of our way toincorporate all this difficult stuff, when we really don't do anything to, like, "create a sound."
R: I never say, "I'm gonna write a 6/4 thing or a 7/8 thing." If I have to break it down, it's like "that's a riff and that's a rhythm." We're not as jazzy or trained as as people think.
L: It's just that there's hardly any limit to what you can do.
MRR: Okay, you've got White Bread Blues: what kind of compilations will there be in the near future?
T: Well, we got Sasquatch on Kirbdog records.
MRR: And a split 7" with...
All: Coffin Break!
L: "Sinatra" is going to be on a Flipside comp.
T: And there might be European live recording coming out.
MRR: What's up with that?
T: These guys in Munich have this really cool set-up to record bands. They recorded us and we told them we might do it but not to do anything with it yet. But we couldn't get a hold of them, so we don't know what happened...
R: So there's probably a cool boot running around in Germany now.
MRR: How would you feel if you saw a cool Victims Family bootleg record floating around?
L: We'd sue them!
R: If it was a live record, I'd feel a little queasy about that, but less so than if someone was copying our actual records. That's much different.
MRR: Any last comments?
T: The drummer from Nuisance rules!
R: I never have anything to say that question.
L: There is nothing more to say...