Sunday, July 14 marks the long-awaited homecoming of a San Antonio-bred creative anomaly. In 1981, Big Boys bassist Chris Gates mistakenly introduced a fledgling San Antonio band as the Butthole Surfers, which was actually just a song on their set list. Butthole guitarist and co-founder Paul Leary recalls, "Back then we changed our name every night. That was our excuse for having a band — to make up names we thought were funny, like Nine Foot Worm Makes Own Food, the Dick Clark Five, the Vodka Family Winstons, or the Ashtray Baby Heads." Hypothetically, had Gates read off a different line, I would now be heralding the homecoming of the Inalienable Right to Eat Fred Astaire's Asshole.
The Buttholes began making music for the purpose of pure self-entertainment and somehow managed to protract the longest-running private joke in rock 'n' roll history into a career. This band has singlehandedly elevated prodigal perversity and borderline mental illness to an art form, and inspired countless musicians to shitcan the status quo. Internally, teeter-totter label dalliances have been an incessant source of irritation for the last decade. Relationships with Touch and Go and Capitol both ended in lawsuits, and Hollywood Records, who put out Weird Revolution last year, recently cut them loose. Leary seems relieved, like an ugly chapter in his life has finally drawn to a close, and the band can get back to what they do best — confusing the masses. The Buttholes are touring to promote their new, self-released CD, Humpty Dumpty LSD, a collection of rarities — outtakes, compilation tracks, and live cuts.
Anjali Gupta: How would you describe your own music?
Paul Leary: I don't know. I've never really described it.
AG: How do you approach the creative process?
PL: We've spent so many years having to deal with and live with each other, that part is easy now. Now that we're all grown up and have our own places to live. We're so thrilled to be able to be apart from each other. We only get together for about three hours a day, unless we're in the studio cutting an album. I think that when we got together, we were young, angry, and confused. Now we're old, angry, and confused.
AG: How important do you think environment is in the creative process?
PL: At one point Gibby and I were sleeping in a tool shed behind our studio in San Antonio with a pet cockroach pinned to the wall. We could make it dance by holding a lighter underneath it. The thing stayed up there for about a week — still alive. We did some of our best work during that period — Psychic, Powerless ... Another Man's Sack came out of those recordings. When we were working on Independent Worm Saloon, Capitol brought in John Paul Jones to produce. That was a hoot. Sitting around in a nice studio jamming to "Kashmir" with John Paul Jones. That experience made for a very different album.
AG: Do you consider your early work to be revolutionary?
PL: No. Certainly not. More like reactionary. I think ultimately we were a reaction to all the bad music that happened in the mid-to late-'70s. You know, back when Journey was big. I think music is moving back to those Journey days. What is the current Journey? Creed?
AG: Maybe Pearl Jam?
PL: Could be ...
AG: Which of your albums are you most proud of?
PL: I've pretty much hated them all, but I guess Rembrandt Pussy Horse and Locust Abortion Technician are my two favorites.
PL: I don't know. It seems like that's when we just really didn't fucking care. We didn't give a fucking shit. We were just amusing ourselves. I think we strayed from that somewhere along the way. Everything changes when people start to have expectations.
AG: Do you think there are any taboos you haven't tackled — considering when you guys started out, nobody would even print the name of your band?
PL: Well we weren't real smart about picking a band name, were we?
AG: At least you didn't call yourself the Fuck Emos.
PL: That's true. We could have shot ourselves in both feet from the get go. I really don't think that our name is a problem these days. We've come back around so far into the mainstream that our name is now considered more cute than offensive.
AG: Mainstream? It's not like you did Pepsi commercials.
PL: I wanted to do Pepsi commercials, dammit. I'm still pissed off at whoever queered that deal.
AG: How has dealing with major labels effected the music making process for you?
PL: I know it has been a humbling experience. It's definitely having an effect on us right now. We certainly found out how hostile life gets. Things can become unstable. Very unstable. It was pretty freaky and certainly wasn't that much fun. After "Pepper" became a hit song, we went from being a band that could do whatever we wanted to a situation where someone was looking over our shoulder all the time saying "we need that radio hit." Hollywood decided not to exercise any options for a second album, so we're basically back to where we were before we signed with Alternative Tentacles years ago. We are free as birds.
AG: Is that liberating or frustrating or both?
PL: Oh it's very liberating. It's great! We've had a long string of lawsuits and legal hassles that were pretty grueling and unbearable for several years. All that legal wrangling is behind us now and that's definitely liberating. I really had no desire to jump back on the major label thing again anyway. We're an old band. It's not like we're going to be the next hip thing again somehow, so why torture ourselves to come up with a radio hit? It really wasn't what we were about in the first place, except as a joke. The joke is over, and we're still the Butthole Surfers.
AG: Has fame been of any use to you at all?
PL: I get some free pants from time to time.
BUTTHOLE SURFERS WITH DANIEL JOHNSTON
Sunday, July 14
1174 East Commerce