No Fear of Music: Fear’s multi-talented founder, Lee Ving, is more than just a punk icon
By Jaime Lees
Published on March 30, 2009 at 5:08pm
As the lead singer for the punk band Fear, Lee Ving earned a reputation as a sharp, acid-tongued agitator. His commanding, drill-sergeant vocal delivery and surly attitude helped to build a new breed of bad-tempered hardcore. With songs like “Let’s Have a War” and “I Love Livin’ in the City,” Fear put on a legendarily abrasive stage show, disguising complicated music beneath a blanket of punk-rock attitude.
Still, Ving is not at all what you might expect. College-educated and thirsty for theoretical physics, the clearly intelligent Ving runs his own MySpace page and is starting a record company to release his many musical ventures — everything from out-of-print Fear albums to new recordings by his bluegrass band.
We caught up with him in early March to ask about his history and upcoming solo shows. Warm and enthusiastic, with a voice like sweet honey whiskey, Ving is honest and funny, offering up quotable bits like “I have to say, I was really overjoyed when Guns N’ Roses recorded a cover of ‘I Don’t Care About You.’ That was…lucrative.” And: “I like that John Mayer. He’s a good player, and that’s the kind of thing I respond to.”
Jaime Lees: Aside from Fear, you have a rich musical past. How did you get into playing these solo shows?
Lee Ving: I’ve been doing it for a while, and I get to do a lot of different kinds of music. I don’t try to stick to the Fear format, or try to be Fear all by myself. I do other kinds of music. You know, pop tunes, jazz standards, solo tunes, songs that I liked over the radio — things that the Fear crowd might not readily accept. But they’re songs that I like to sing; I sing them well, so I really want to do them. It gives me an outlet to do it. I’d been playing for a while when I started Fear. I didn’t learn to play as Fear began, as some other groups did. Some of the first bands I was ever in were blues bands in Philadelphia — we played with Buddy Guy and B.B. King and Junior Wells. I was in this band in Philly called Sweet Stavin Chain, and it was a full-on blues band. Michael Brecker would come and play with us on weekends. Let me tell you, as a blues soloist, there was no one better. So that band really smoked. Now many people mention Michael Brecker and John Coltrane in the same breath. I mean, Michael Brecker had Junior Walker down so good. He played better than Junior Walker. You know who Junior Walker is, right?
Yeah, I love all those old Motown guys. So how did you transition from blues to punk?
OK, so I moved from New York to Los Angeles, and then eventually I discovered this punk-rock thing. And I thought that the players I saw were beginners and that the shows weren’t thought out. I knew that I could put a band together that had far superior players, and I knew that I could incite better than the people I was seeing. But what I really liked about it was the audience! The band starts playing, and the audience starts jumping up and down and bashing the living daylights out of each other! With punk you could say whatever you want, play whatever you want and give the audience a hard time if you wanted to. I thought, Wow, this is great. So that’s what inspired me to start the Fear thing. And we’ve been at it ever since.
See, but I think that all of your different musical training came through in Fear.
Absolutely. I was in New York and Philadelphia listening to these jazz musicians play live three to six nights a week for most of my life, and that still comes out of every pore when I write something. There’s no way to keep that under wraps, and that education is priceless. I mean, I heard Charles Mingus play live many, many nights. And Stanley Turrentine many, many nights. And Freddie Hubbard. And Archie Shepp and Art Blakey and Beaver Harris and Clifford Jordan and McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, Rahsaan Roland Kirk… I could just keep going all night. So it was a very advanced musical platform that gave birth to this punk-rock band. Which I think is reasonably unusual.
How did Fear relate to the other bands in the punk/hardcore scene? Many of them were straight-edge and writing songs like “TV Party,” but you were singing about wanting more beer.
Well, you know, I was aware that there was this straight-edge thing, but it just seemed ridiculous to me. I didn’t believe it for a minute. And it’s OK to say what you believe in, and it’s OK if you do that. It just didn’t seem like something that was real. I couldn’t believe that none of these people were having any sex or drinking at all or taking any drug. But maybe they weren’t.
Also, I think that the idea of being cloistered or monastic in some way may free the mind to concentrate on some things; maybe there’s benefit in it. But you know, we just did what we did. And we wanted to say shit that was funny to the audience — and we certainly consumed our weight in beer, no problem. [Clears throat] But if we weren’t going to be accepted among bands that didn’t seem like they had a sense of humor, then so be it. Black Flag said they didn’t like us because we were telling jokes. They didn’t think that there was any place for that.
Well, Black Flag was serious business. I love them for it, but most kids just want to laugh, scream at people and be loud.
Yeah, you’re a kid! That’s what to do. That’s what feeling good is all about! So it all just seemed funny to me. The fact that there were causes also seemed funny to me. For people to try to say that their band really stood for some sort of political movement or something? I didn’t believe any of that shit for a minute, either. I thought that the band stood for, you know, trying to make some money — if it was getting paid $17 or $10,000. And we wanted to put across entertaining shows musically and verbally, you know, the banter between the band members and the back-and-forth with the crowd.
That’s why it was so great! Because you never knew if you were joking, and it made it very confusing and very excellent.
Yeah, that’s right! That’s exactly where I wanted it! I wanted the boneheads to think that I was completely serious, that I really wanted to “have a war,” and I wanted those that were capable to see the satire in those sort of ridiculous statements and song titles. That way, everybody could go home happy!
8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 4.
Deluxe, 2733 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood.
$15 advance, $17 day of show. 314-646-0370.
Concert Review: The Breeders in St. Louis
Saturday, May 10, 2008 – Pop’s
(setlist by RØB Severson, review by Jaime Lees)
It used to take a lot for me to drag my ass to the East Side. But after last weekend, good ol’ Sauget, Illinois, might be one of my favorite places to hang out or see a show. Saturday the Breeders played Pop’s, and the whole experience was just so damn pleasant. One would never know they were mere yards from the terrifying, toothless tranny hookers that congregate just on the other side of Route 3.
Before the show I was disappointed to hear that Pop’s was going to close off half of the venue (something the venue does at certain shows), but when everyone made it inside, it was clear that this was the right decision. Floor space was tight, but not smashed and the balcony was cozy.
Sure, drinks are always more expensive on that side of the Big Muddy, but the staff was helpful and laid back, showing no signs of the aggro tendencies I’ve witnessed there during other shows. The staff seemed to recognize that this was a show for sleepy indie folks and acted accordingly. I asked a bartender if he caught the sound check and he said, “I didn’t. And you know, I don’t know anything about the band. But I’ll tell you what: those sure are some nice people. Great smiles, too.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Watching the band is like catching up with old friends. Older songs (“I Just Wanna Get Along,” “Divine Hammer”) induced much heart-swelling and the newer songs from latest album Mountain Battles (“German Studies,” “It’s The Love”) blended perfectly into these live sets. On stage, Jose Medeles and Mando Lopez, also of pumped-up punkers Fear, kept the rhythm section bumpin’ and thumpin’ while remaining mostly heard and not seen. New kid Cheryl Lindsay hopped in where needed with extra vocals and instrumentation, and mostly stood calm and still on the side of the stage.
Predictably, Kim and Kelley Deal (and their mega-watt smiles) took center-stage. Both seemed at ease, happy and comfortable with the audience, sharing jokes and answering questions. In addition to Breeders jams, the Deals sang quite a few songs by the Amps (including “Empty Glasses,” a rarity), Kim’s other band. Kelley graciously stepped into the wings when she wasn’t needed during Amps songs, but could still be seen through a rip in the stage curtain rocking out and enthusiastically singing along as if she was a mega-fan.
1. Tipp City (Amps song)
3. Bang On
4. Shocker in Gloomtown (Guided By Voices cover)
5. Divine Hammer
6. Night Of Joy
7. No Aloha
8. Pacer (Amps song)
9. We’re Gonna Rise
10. It’s The Love
11. Walk It Off
12. New Year
14. I Just Wanna Get Along
15. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles cover)
18. German Studies
19. Empty Glasses (Amps song)
21. Fortunately Gone
22. Here No More
She’s Crafty: The Breeders’ Kelley Deal talks knitting, nudity and Steve Albini’s bodily functions
By Jaime Lees
Published on May 07, 2008
Kelley Deal co-leads the Breeders with her sister Kim, who’s best known for being a member of the Pixies (and later, the Amps). The Dayton, Ohio, quartet first found fame in the early ’90s with songs such as “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer” and is in the midst of a most welcome comeback thanks to a new album, Mountain Battles.
Its first release since 2002’s Title TK, Battles displays all of the familiar Breeders qualities — i.e., sugary vocals and inventive songwriting — while highlighting genre experimentation and improved instrumentation. Written and recorded over years with quite a few influences (most notably, engineer Steve Albini), Battles is an album that becomes more accessible with each spin, as its dazzling subtleties grow more prominent.
The sisters’ voices together are as striking as ever, producing Phil Spector-worthy harmonies that sound angelic in any language. (No, really: The Deals sing one song in Spanish and another in German.) Other album highlights include “Here No More,” a simple, prairie-style folk song and “We’re Gonna Rise,” which is a shifting and hopeful ballad. “It’s the Love” sounds the most like a classic Breeders pop tune, and seems to be a crowd favorite.
We caught up with Kelley last week while she was on a tour stop in Las Vegas.
Jaime Lees: Tell me about when you were recording your album. I love Steve Albini and obviously you like him, ’cause this is the third Breeders album you did with him.
Kelley Deal: Well, here’s the thing: We did not do that much of this record with him. But people read his name and just go [with it] because he’s such an interesting character, and he has such an interesting history with the Breeders. The thing is, on the album credits, we don’t go through everything, ’cause we went to a lot of places and worked with several different people.
The guy we worked with most on this record? His name is Manny Nieto. We met him in East Los Angeles. He had a studio there and his people call him “Albiner” ’cause he’s a huge Albini fan. He knows Steve, he talks to Steve. Now, we did go to Albini’s and we recorded. “Here No More” and “Walk it Off” were recorded and mixed by Steve. He recorded “Overglazed” and “It’s the Love” and he mixed “Regalame Esta Noche” and he did some other stuff. But “Overglazed” was mixed by Manny, “Bang On” was recorded and mixed by Manny. “German Studies” was recorded and mixed by Manny. So he actually did most of the work.
And there’s this other woman, her name is Erika Larson, she recorded “We’re Gonna Rise” and “Regalame Esta Noche.” But it’s interesting, I’ve noticed when I talk to people they say, “So you worked with Steve Albini again on the record.” And I explain it, but a lot of times they just say “worked with Steve Albini” and I don’t blame them, ’cause Steve Albini is a freak, basically. He’s a wonderful character to talk about.
Yeah! I always wanna know if he’s as serious as he leads on. I’ll watch him in interviews, and he’s just so serious.
Oh, totally. You know, in the middle of a serious discussion, he’ll lean over a cheek and fart without blinking an eye. And it’s not like he’s doing it to get a reaction, and it’s not like this huge stinky thing. [He’ll say] something about, “It’s a natural bodily function.” He’s just gonna give it a poot! If you did the same thing, he wouldn’t blink an eye. He’s just the weirdest guy. He’s so smart, too. He’s so smart it’s weird.
All of the records he makes always sound really good in my car. Does that make any sense?
Absolutely! That’s the mark of a great engineer.
OK, so, tell me about your knitting book. [the forthcoming Bags that Rock: Knitting on the Road with Kelley Deal]
[Laughs] Yes, you know, I like to knit. I did an interview with somebody in San Francisco, and when we got there I saw the interview [in print] and the caption said “Kelley Deal knits up a new record.” And I started blushing. ‘Cause, you know, it’s so uncool. But on the other hand I’m like, fuck that, man. I’m not gonna be embarrassed by it. You know, I’m gonna let my freak flag fly. You know, I like to knit, fuck everybody else. But just the word “craft.” “I craft.” It’s so lame. But anyway, yes, I like to knit. And I have a book coming out in October. Enough said about that.
What else are you doing on tour to just, like, chill?
Let’s see, what else are we doing on tour? What do I like to do? You know, I do a lot of reading. When you’re on a bus with a lot of people, when you get some time, you kind of just want to have “me time,” whatever that is. Also, I’m in Las Vegas, I’d really like to hit up a meeting, as they say. A twelve-step meeting. I’ve been to a meeting before here in Vegas, and there’s nothing cooler than that, go to an AA meeting in Vegas. You can bet it’s raw, you know? [Laughs] Like, “Oh, look at that guy. He sold his car. He gave his baby away.” But I want to go, even though I feel like I’m just an observer. I mean, and I need to go, I think it’s a good idea.
I think it’s great that you talk about stuff like that.
I never… everything is kind of open, it’s all up for grabs. I’m totally, I’m so Midwest, you know? Like, Chatty Cathy. I don’t feel like people hold back or, like [whispers], can’t ask me something because it’s inappropriate.
I’m glad the tour is going well. When I saw you guys in Austin in March you seemed kind of nervous. Oh man, but the audience was freaking out. They were really stoked to see you.
Oh good. Damn! Good! You know when we play the new songs, people love ’em. They fit right in. It’s not like people are just sitting there looking at us.
So you’re gonna come here to St. Louis. Do you know about the place you’re playing? It’s kind of like that place you’d go to see a Journey cover band.
Ha! The place that we’re playing there? Really? Oh God, I hate when you tell me shit like that, it’s so weird!
No, it’s a fun place, but it’s in East St. Louis, and it’s sort of like, you have to stay on that street or you die.
So don’t go roamin’ around there.
OK. I mean, will people not come because of the location?
No, you can totally go there, you just have to go straight there and then leave. Its like, in the middle of a couple of strip clubs.
I can take my clothes off, that’s what you’re saying?
Well, uh, next door at least. Or, uh, probably there, too. It’s your show.
I’ll just take ’em off there, too.
8 p.m. Saturday, May 10. Pop’s, 1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois. $17 in advance, $18 at the door. 618-274-6720.