Swinging Modern Sounds #70: Alien Now!


There are moments, these days, when I hear the popular song, and I think, uh, no thank you. When the ideas that originally motivated this column seem obscure to me, or quaint. When I feel as if everything truly important that can be said musically has already been said. I don’t see how I can ever put my hands on a guitar ever again, nor do I imagine there’s much of a point in, for example, singing. In these moments of doubt, it’s a good idea to talk to someone whose commitment to the craft of art-making is such as to ratify the very idea of doing it, whose commitment is unyielding enough, in the telling, that I feel like if I am patient I may come back around to rhythms and melodies. Zack Wentz is one of these people.

I can’t remember how we got in touch originally, but it was a long time ago, maybe ten years ago. Zack is a fiction writer, too, of a dystopic sort that I associate with writers like Steve Erickson or Samuel Delany or cyberpunk, though more linguistically restless than those comparisons might suggest, and I think maybe that’s how we met, talking about his fiction, which I admire, but the conversation quickly grew to include his musical capabilities as well. He seems to be able to play anything, and to spawn new bands with great frequency (I know of at least four that he’s been in: Kill Me Tomorrow, Tender Buttons, The Dabbers, and (Charles)Book&Record). There is no idiom that he can’t rehabilitate as a musician, and he’s informed on everything, in part because he works in a record store (see below), but also because he’s just one of those people. So when you want to inquire about whether the young people in California are really obsessive (again) about soft rock? Zack is your man. He can make the case, and give you supporting material. My conversation with him has been going on for so long that it appears now, in retrospect, like one long amble, rather than occasional short sallies, and what follows below is therefore more like an excerpt, into which I forced inclusion of his bandmate in The Dabbers, who is also his romantic other, viz., Shelby Gubba—for a more freewheeling whole.

The Dabbers consist of only drums, bass, and vocals, and they are therefore stripped way down, as few things are. Shelby now does all the lead vocals. Maybe, in terms of idiom, The Dabbers are like a thrash rock and roll version of the Cocteau Twins, or what the This Mortal Coil would sound like if the Dead Boys tried to cover one of their albums. Or like Rage Against the Machine if fronted by Nancy Sinatra. But these fanciful descriptions don’t really get to the excellence of The Dabbers. What is admirable, in part, about them is that you can kind of hear everything that’s happening. They don’t need twenty-four tracks to get there. They could probably get by with four tracks. They play rock and roll, that form of music that Lemmy Kilmister died for, and which is now mostly a kind of cottage industry, and which few people are able to defend against the predations of teenyboppers. Except that maybe Zack Wentz could defend rock and roll somehow, as he manages to perform all such articulations. As preliminary evidence of his rhetorical incisiveness, e.g., I asked him for a bio and he submitted the following:

I started Kill Me Tomorrow in 95-96, moved to San Diego in 1999, re-formed the project several times until we became the full-fledged touring/recording outfit that went from 2000 until we took a hiatus in 2008-9? Played All Tomorrow’s Parties twice, probably the neatest thing we ever got invited to do. Tender Buttons were in there somewhere (side project—one album, two EPs, a handful of tours). Shelby was in a horror punk band called Braaiins! (They recorded a demo, and played a LOT of shows). I’m from Oregon. Shelby was born in Hawaii, but raised in San Diego/Southern CA.

I’ve never owned a cell phone or a car, and, in spite of having once been in a horror punk band, Shelby can’t make it all the way through so much as Creature from the Black Lagoon without having to cover her face. Shelby is a full-fledged Trekkie (original series). Her license plate is actually: SPOCK V. I have a tattoo of the Groucho Marx cartoon-face from the animated intro of You Bet Your Life on my right forearm. We have two cats. One of them plays fetch like a dog, and will not stop once he’s gotten going.

I think it would be easy to make some haiku out of the material above. The second Dabbers album, I Am Alien Now, is not quite finished yet, but there’s an EP on Bandcamp with the first three mixed songs available, and the link is here. The career-model of music-making is the kind of thing that makes me despair about music and those in pursuit of music, and the reason that Zack and Shelby, with their vast assortment of ambitions, are so admirable is that they make the music as part of their daily fare, rather than viewing it as a profession that is somehow separate from their daily lives, and they do it very well, and with great joy, and it shows. This interview, then, which was ping-ponged back and forth in October and November, is about making art and life, as an outgrowth of being in love and being together, and also about making music outside of the machinery, and so it’s about music and people, in a way, I hope, that can help us all with whatever doubts might next arise.


The Rumpus: Okay, you guys, I love the EP, love the space in it, and, well, these questions are meant to be like splatter painting, not like an interview, and either of you can answer any question, at any time. What stuff are you doing, right now, that has nothing at all to do with music?

Zack Wentz: Ah, thanks, man. Very gratifying to hear you say that about the jams. We wanted it to sound as heavy and loud as possible with just bass, drums, and vocals, so we pushed the mix pretty hard, but we did want it to sound as roomy and “live” as we could manage also. Tracked in the same room, same time, with rough vocals. Live-ish.

Yes, I am into some splatter-painting. Let me know if I get too babbly.

Dabbers_Mosh_PhotoCredit_LukeBrownWhat we’re up to that doesn’t have to do with music… Well, the Dabbers have been dominating a bit, since we’re getting ready for some shows, rehearsing a lot, but there is always other stuff.

I just finished a new novel, and I’m trying to resist the OCD urge to re-rewrite it to death. Shelby’s helped me a lot there, got me to quit overmasticating, and go back a few drafts.

Getting the next New Dead Families together, and helping some friends edit early drafts of their novels. Some tinkering on a comic idea. Also doing my part in keeping the oldest record store in San Diego going strong. Challenging, but feels good. I suppose that’s music related, though.

I started walking a friend’s dog, which is an entirely new experience for me. Raised Orthodox Ailurophile. Fortunately, he’s a very small dog. No music involved there, although he does seem to do something like singing, occasionally. He’s a good dog. Or at least seems to be, from my limited experience. Terrible singer, but a good dog.

Shelby Gubba: I just published the third issue of my online quarterly arts & culture magazine, Goblin Reservation. The magazine title is named after a book by Clifford Simak, my most favorite sci-fi author. Seriously the best, for me at least. I just can’t get enough of his stories. This last issue of GR featured a few friends of mine, so although it was stressful pulling together, it was gratifying to hear how it affected people. That’s the kind of thing I have to remember when I’m cursing at my computer four hours into an editing session.

I also threw my first solo art show in years at the Disclosed Unlocation Gallery in San Diego. I drew about 115 little creatures using Copic markers and Micron pens on small baseball card-sized paper. A lot of cute stuff. Possoms, boats, UFOs, monsters, vegetables, birds, asteroids, and others. It was (what I would consider) a successful show. I sold about sixty pieces which was incredible. I was a little overwhelmed at the support. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to send a little drawing to a new home. Even if I will miss it a little.

Those two tasks consumed my summer; everything else is mostly a blur. I know that I somehow managed to start going to the gym again, be a better vegan (whatever that means), take my multivitamins regularly, and deal with work-related stressors from people who have nothing better to do than make fake non-profits and lies. No further comment on that.

The soundtrack of this summer was our new album. I’m so proud of what we made together. Zack and I have recorded two previous albums, so now it’s like we have a third child. No real kids, just music kids. And two cats, of course. It’s all I ever wanted out of life, even if I didn’t know it before. Oh, and vegan mac & cheese, which I’m eating right now (thanks, Husband!).

Rumpus: Zack, can you talk a little bit about the store in San Diego and its merchandising strengths and weaknesses in this horrible market? As you know, I have been writing a bit about “the distribution problem,” and like everyone else I am very worried about the local store. Even Other Music, the store I usually go to in NYC, is challenged these days, and trying to make the move more aggressively into vinyl. So what kinds of issues do you notice on the ground there? And, Shelby, I want to know more about your website. Are you open to submissions? What is the idea of the site, and did you know that its initials also stand for Gravity’s Rainbow?

Wentz: Off the Record’s been around since the late 70s. At one point we even had two locations. The early aughts hit all record stores pretty hard. Especially with CD sales, since people were starting to get the idea that they could just rip everything to a hard drive and ditch the discs. Vinyl still had a following, of course, but then there were only a few vinyl lathes and just a small number of plants still operating in the US. If someone back then would’ve told me that in a decade or so you’d be able to buy new LPs at Whole Foods and turntables at Target, I would’ve asked if I could maybe sample whatever they were on.

Anyway, we narrowly escaped our digital demise by chasing cheaper rent, and managed to cram everything we had into a new location in North Park. That was ten years ago, and many of those years were frighteningly lean until the idea seemed to collectively dawn on everyone that vinyl was going to be the last “physical” archival format for music. Curious and discerning online kids who grew up regarding CDs the way some of us might 8-tracks or wax cylinders decided vinyl actually sounded better. Them, along with a few generations who were nostalgic about the stuff, plus the hardcore who never quit, and next thing you know we’ve sold the 5,000 copies of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and The Eagle’s Greatest Hits we had gathering dust in the basement.

Vinyl’s pretty much it, although it’s still more about vintage stuff than anything. New releases are much tougher to sell, but we try to pick up a couple copies of whatever more than a few people have asked about, and do special orders. We also hunt all over to find the cheapest reissues possible. All the classics still sell, but postwar jazz, early hip-hop, and punk records do really well also.

CDs are in a sort of semi-zombified state. Used ones sell better than anything. Far cheaper than paying for downloads, if anyone actually does that—sincerest thanks, if you do—and then you’ve got a back-up. Some of the smarter big labels make significant parts of their back catalogs cheap enough that we can sell copies of, say, most of Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s CDs for less than five dollars. New copies. For that price, you can rip it and give it to a friend, if you don’t want to keep the thing. Personally, I like CDs. I love vinyl, and yes, it sounds best, but if I decide I want to hear some Skinny Puppy or Thelonious Monk or whatever on repeat when I have a day off to write, I can do that. And I do do that, actually.

At any rate, a lot of people are asking about cassettes now, but we can’t carry them, at the moment. Used, they’re too hard to troubleshoot. New, we don’t have anywhere to put them. They’re too easy to swipe, unfortunately, and we still have to worry about that. I imagine all those cassette anti-theft contraptions went the way of the landfill decades ago. If cassette demand keeps up for a while, though, I think we’ll find a way to carry them again. I’ve still got most of mine from middle school and high school. Made a (Charles)Book&Record one as well. Cassettes are fun. They wear out quicker than any other physical format, in terms of sound quality, and they’re way too easy to break, but that’s part of the appeal. Every time you listen, that’s a little bit of this object’s life being spent. Your machine might decide it’s hungry, and start eating it, and you’ll only have a few seconds to rescue your little cassette before its tape-y innards are mortally chewed. These precious time capsules are mortal. Same with vinyl, of course, but hey, vinyl’s a bit more difficult to listen to in your car.

Gubba: I started Goblin Reservation in January of this year because I was ready to start being a curator instead of just posting my own art on my own site. So many people I know are doing such great things. Paintings, photography, music, etc.

I haven’t thought about taking submissions, actually, because the last three issues have been such an adventure—finding new artists and interviewing friends and strangers. The whole idea of the site is to share art from around the world that catches my eye. When I read the book Goblin Reservation I was struck by the idea of having this big community of creatures coexisting, but all doing very different things with their lives. In the book it’s goblins and tree creatures, and in real life we are all just a bunch of weird, unique humans doing weird, unique things.

It’s my gallery of sorts to showcase some of the humans who are making great things. Great by my own standards and aesthetics, which might be a little hard to describe. When I see it, read it, hear it, I just have this sense that it’s meaningful to me for some reason. Sometimes it’s as simple as one photograph. I found Gretchen, the photographer from the April issue, on Instagram. A friend of a friend of a friend had liked her image and I loved it. I viewed almost every photo she had up, and then contacted her. She’s an incredible photographer.

I would be open to taking submissions, but I admit the idea feels a little uncomfortable for me. There’s something about reaching out to people without them expecting it that makes it fun for me. Having others reach out to me with expectations—that is such a reversal of what I’ve been doing with the magazine so far. But I am open to it! It could be interesting. I don’t expect to always have such good fortune in finding unique artists every four months.

And I haven’t read Gravity’s Rainbow, but I know Zack loves it.

Rumpus: So you both are working in the arts broadly speaking, in media other than music. Do you prioritize which things you work on first, whether songs or writing, or does the movement between the media happen fluidly? Music obviously requires studio space, especially when your ensemble is bass and drums, so how do you rehearse and get that done alongside all your other commitments?

Wentz: For me, it’s always been a fairly fluid thing. Messy fluid. Growing up I worked on whatever made me feel “right,” or at least “better,” and if I got tired of whatever I was working on, I’d switch to something else. Then go back. Or not.

My bedroom was more like some horrible work-in-progress installation piece than a normal, adolescent refuge. It’s difficult to describe how much junk I made and, somehow, lived in. When I moved out my parents actually peeled the walls with a flat Dabbers_PhotoCredit_LukeBrownhead shovel, rolled the strips up like hay bales, and stuck them in the attic in a trunk labeled “Zack’s Walls.” They were too thick to pick apart. My sister’s room was even worse, since a lot of her interests involved sharp things you might step on, and stuff that could actually decompose.

That probably sounds a bit ADHD, or whatever—I don’t know if that term even existed then—but the point is I really only made things because I felt like I had to, or I’d get sick in some weird way, and maybe die. When that urgent feeling wore off, it was usually because I was overwhelmed with a new urge to make something else. It took quite a while before I discovered the satisfaction in actually finishing something. Get past the angsty obsession, and smooth the contours of a shape you’ve built. Enough to where you can semi-comfortably nap in it a little. Dream from there into something else, rather than just thrash-discard, thrash-discard. Accumulate, accumulate.

It’s juggling. If something’s tasting stale, or I feel truly stuck, I’ll pick up something else, and a lot of the time the answer will be there. Usually the solution to a problem you’re having in one medium can be solved in another. Sort of a palate cleanser approach, or like a few different brands of rechargeable batteries you swap out of yourself.

And you’ve got to give projects a break when you’re polishing. You lose perspective when you’re so in there. When the mix is close, but you just can’t tell anymore, or you’re on draft 206, fiddling with commas, just save the work, play with something else, and go back when you’re coming at it fresh from working in a different mode.

I think there are other ways that are good. I mean, when you’re really obsessive in the way you create, insanely immersed in a medium, your work can become too much like writing-for-other-writers, band’s-band jams. It’s always important to be craft-conscious, of course—genuinely informed by the history of the craft up to now—and I’m sure a lot of my favorite stuff to consume is probably pretty cryptic to most people, but I think it’s good to, say, make an album that might for some reason accidentally appeal to cartoonists and poets, or a novel that really works for people who are super into programming esoteric goth-pop. Not like you’re just speaking to their niche occupation with a different medium, but you’re not just solely speaking to peers working in the same medium—fellow craftspeople, speaking in techniques. It’s great when you pull off something that someone who understands what’s involved admires, but it’s really great to have someone whose life is maybe all about restoring 18th century weathervanes say, Cripes, I absolutely love this. I listened to this album on repeat for two days while I worked on this beautiful weathervane, see?

It takes longer, but work can be more generous when it’s interrupted by other media. Not like you need to incorporate all those media into one massive, multi-faceted, multi-media project, but like you’re breathing different atmospheres, and letting the wind mix when you exhale.

And, sometimes, you even breathe outside.

Deadlines dictate more now, though. Never had those as a kid. If we have a show coming up, recording date, or if I’ve promised someone a story, some editing job, the new NDF is about ready to go, then there’s no floating. Get ready, get it done. Feels even better when you’re free to do something else.

As far as rehearsing goes, we’re compact, and live near a freeway and a flight path, so if we don’t go too late or too long no one seems to mind. Can take an hour tinkering on a new song, or an hour running through the set. Just have to choose.

Gubba: I need deadlines to get things done. In a way, procrastination is part of my creative process. If I start too soon, the stuff I’m making feels dull. When I get close to the end, say, two days before something is due, I get frantic and excited and really explodey with creativity. Stressed too, but I’m able to block that out and forget about how stressful it is until I have another project.

We don’t procrastinate with the band, though. We spent months practicing the songs we had developed over the last two years. Then we practiced some more. Then we recorded, mixed, and mastered the whole album in seventeen hours over one weekend. No procrastination, just work, work, work. It was intense—but I had so much fun. Dizzying, intense, mind-losey fun.

Music really was the first priority this summer, since the studio time was booked. Second to that was traveling to the Northwest, because we had plane tickets. I really needed a vacation, and so it felt like if we did that first, I could set everything else in motion after we returned because I (hopefully) would be inspired—and it worked. On the plane back from Oregon I drew some of my favorite pieces for the art show, which was coming up soon. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the pieces drawn 10,000 feet in the air were some of the most well-received (and first sold) pieces. There was a lot of happiness and love in those drawings.

After the art show the next priority was Goblin Reservation. I hustled on the issue because it was a bit overdue. It was perfect timing though, because the few months prior had been so focused on our music, our travels, my art… it was a relief to turn the focus outward on what others were doing. More than a relief, it was a palate cleanser. After the issue was done there was this period of happy inactivity. Doing laundry, eating dinner at home, playing/napping with the cats, binge-watching X-Files, reading new books—a nice little end to the summer months.

Rumpus: How do you make decisions about which band you’re working on? There is The Dabbers, and then there’s (Charles)Book&Record. They have very different flavors. Is there an intuitive sense of moving from the one idiom into the other? Are your rolls dramatically different in the two bands? Is there a possibility that there’s a third band ever? Or do these two, for the time being, express all that there is to be expressed?

Wentz: If we had the time, space, and appropriate folks available, we’d probably have half a dozen bands going. I’m constantly thinking up fantasy projects, tinkering on different things. I’ve been wanting to play bass or guitar in a band again for quite a while, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do that. Might happen. Still, we already have loads of other songs and albums we’ve recorded in different arrangements that haven’t even been released, so…

The Dabbers is essentially our best arrangement for getting certain ideas and sounds across with minimal set-up, minimal schedule conflicts, but still 100% live. No backing tracks. Not that we have anything against people using backing tracks, or playing with them ourselves, but we really want to have at least one self-contained song/noise-making unit that can be loose, immediate, and live. It’s important. We both need that. For our own bliss and balance. We’re just a punk band, really. Or at least we work the way being in a punk band always was for me growing up. Experimenting with what you have, live, at a volume you can feel pushing your face a bit. Lots of jamming and forgetting whatever that brilliant part was we had last week. That said, if we work in some loop pedal, sampler, or something, nobody freak out, okay?

(C)B&R is a different thing. It’s a studio project that would probably be impossible to do live without backing tracks, or at least ten musicians who have learned their parts perfectly. It’s also all about working with Taj Easton. Our ongoing collaboration with Taj. He’s the heart, and a dear friend. There’s at least a few albums’ worth of (C)B&R material done, and more lined up to work on, but a lot of that’s about releasing when it feels right. Cohesive, and polished. Taj had to head back up to the Bay Area the other year, so we haven’t been making as much, especially in the video department, but there is new stuff in the works. Long distance, it’s an almost “virtual” project. The opposite of the way The Dabbers works, really. The second (C)B&R album is sounding pretty close to me, though. Hopefully we’ll put it out next year.

Rumpus: Does the writing happen in the same way in each band?

Wentz: It’s similar in that everything starts with a part someone has. A riff, rhythm, melody line, sketchy composition. Still, the songs tend to belong in groups. There’s a central mythology or concept, usually paired with some new piece of gear, and then there’s this big rush of material generated.

With (C)B&R it’s more conceptual. We’re all in a place we’ve come to know as the Dream Gulag, being guided by some potentially malevolent entity. We layer our work, and submit it, hoping to graduate to another level, or at least keep things functional where we’ve been contained. Thank you, Charles.

Most of the Dabbers stuff we craft in the practice space, on bass and drums, although we have an acoustic resonator bass in the living room we write with sometimes.

I’m really awful at sleeping. I have epically disorienting, serial waking dreams pretty much every night and every morning. Sometimes in the afternoon, if I accidentally pass out. I hear a lot of songs when I’m under, read and watch and see a lot of things, and I try to get the best of that stuff scribbled down on paper or sung into this old micro-cassette recorder when I wake up.

A lot of work gets seeded that way. More with stories and novels and lyrics and drawings, roughly in that order, but I’ve gotten tons of song ideas that way over the years too. Kind of feels like stealing, but I’ve grown more comfortable with it. Collectively, we seem more comfortable with stealing than ever before, so I guess that’s made me feel better about stealing from the stuff my dream-selves experience and consume.

Rumpus: Is Zack always responsible for lyrics, or does Shelby write them too? Are her strategies different?

Gubba: I write all the lyrics for The Dabbers now, and Zack comes up with some of the titles. When he used to sing lead vocals for The Dabbers, he wrote all the lyrics. When we’re practicing or coming up with new songs, I first start singing melody. Something that sounds pretty. No words, just little blobs of fake words getting mumbled. Once we start getting a song ready for its live debut, I form words, sentences, chorus hooks.

The lyrics relate to the way a song makes me feel when I play it. “Hidden Tin” was moodier than some of the other songs, the happier ones. It’s about these little tins my mom lost around the house that held bits of weed and rolling paper. Altoid tins were the most common. The whole song is about finding them, knowing where they were, and feeling a little guilty about it when D.A.R.E counselors came to my elementary school and told us drugs were bad. I still think it’s funny that there were so many little tins hidden in our home. I wonder if any were left behind when we moved out of that apartment.

Rumpus: Zack, what are you techniques as regards lyric writing? Are you mostly responsible for (Charles)Book&Record? Do you think the lyrics are markedly different in each project?

Wentz: I’ve developed a lot of different techniques over the years. Back in the peak of the KMT/Tender Buttons era, some of these approaches got downright witch-y and esoteric. With (C)B&R I am indeed responsible for all the lyrics, but how we create them is fairly consistent. Sort of deliberate dreaming.

While we’re building up a composition, Taj gives me a working title or two. Listening to the stages of the composition hundreds of times, it gets to the point where the music is pretty much in my body, and I can play it in me at will. It becomes like an internal soundtrack, and from that and the seed of the title I start conjuring a story.

It has to be very visual. Like a vivid dream, or at least a murky film or cartoon. Not necessarily a linear thing, but all the parts have to be there. I have to be able to see it over and over. The setting, scenario, situation, animals, aliens, spirits, people, technologies, politics, religions, or lack thereof. It’s not so much plotting, but worldbuilding, or “world-discovering,” really. I take notes and make little drawings. At some point I tell Taj the story, usually over email, sometimes over the phone or in person, and that makes everything more real in words.

With all that, I do a thing that’s kind of like aural squinting. Like when you paint something, looking for values, or just trying to force a hallucination, you squint and let your imagination churn with the visual information. I do that with my ears at the music. Playing it off my crappy computer speakers, spacing in, singing over, and taping that with my old micro-cassette recorder. It’s like trance dictation, the vocal equivalent of making semi-blind contour drawings.

After I’ve got a good sketch captured, I have patterns to work with. The story, dream, film-thing is already super lived in, kind of myth-y, so I can pull images and phrases from it very naturally to blend into the patterns. Not “narrating,” but singing “of” or “from” the story. That’s usually the easiest, flowiest part. I sing the words and write them down over a few runs, and then live in them, practicing, until the vocals are ready to track.

It sounds a bit involved, now that I’ve described the basic process, but most of it is second nature, and happens pretty quickly. And yes, like I said, there have been other techniques for other arrangements, and that always makes the lyrics end up different. But that’s how they happen for Charles, and that’s the only project I’m singing for right now, so I hope he’s happy.

Rumpus: How did you guys meet?

Gubba: The short answer? Potato salad. The longer version is better. I had just moved into my own place for the first time. It was a small apartment, but I was pretty proud of being able to afford it on my own. In the same summer that I moved in, my car broke down. I wasn’t able to get groceries without hitching a ride, and I had to bike and bus to work. This matters because I ate out a lot to feed myself, and ate many, many sandwiches from a coffee shop down the street called Krakatoa. This is where I first fell in love with Zack. He did kitchen prep and made buckets of potato salad by hand. From the first boiling to the last seasoning. The sandwiches all came with a side of this famed potato salad. Just one ice cream-sized scoop. It was incredible. I craved it. It haunted my food dreams!

One day that summer, I was playing croquet outside with friends, I think for the 4th of July or something. I was talking about the potato salad, and my deep love for it (yes, it was worth talking about) and my friend told me he knew who made it. His buddy, Zack. I said something to the effect of “next time you see him, thank him for me.” I can’t remember his response, but he alluded to the idea that I would probably meet him/see him one day. The famed potato salad-maker. Then I could thank him in person for his culinary skills.

Dabbers_DetroitBarAnd as luck or fate or the food gods would have it, I went to a Casbah show that Zack was playing in his band Kill Me Tomorrow. I had never seen them live, but had heard of them. I thought Zack was an incredible performer, and absolutely loved their music. After the show, my aforementioned croquet friend introduced Zack to me as “the potato salad guy.” I’m pretty sure I squeaked out something awkward like “Ohmygosh I love your potato salad! I eat it all the time! It’s the best!” We shook hands, and Zack nodded in this really cute squinty-eyed way, and then he wandered off. I felt pretty silly, but I really wanted him to know—his food was the best.

A few weeks later they played again. It was another awesome performance. My friends and I went to an after-party and shortly after I arrived, Zack walked in. I introduced myself again, shaking hands, but this time I didn’t mention potato salad or the previous meeting we had. It seemed like awkward timing.

Zack left a little while later, but returned. I’m sure I had a big stupid smile on my face when I saw him come back. We started talking. And talking and talking and talking. And laughing. And talking until the next day. We have been together ever since. We never “dated.” That was just it. That one conversation lead into a million more and counting. Love at first potato salad, perhaps? And yes, he still cooks for me every day, and it’s still the best.

Rumpus: What are the advantages of your relationship with respect to your musical collaborations? Do you think it enhances musical telepathy?

Wentz: Well, it certainly makes scheduling rehearsals easier. We’re consuming and talking about a lot of the same stuff. Introducing each other to things we discover. Re-discovering things. We’re the first to hear each others’ ideas, when those ideas are still at their most fresh and vital, malleable.

But none of that matters all that much if you don’t have some fundamental bonds regarding the way you work and what stuff has resonated through your life, you know? Developmental material and experiences. Background that isn’t so obvious. We were both really into SF and jazz. Both of us started with bass as a first instrument, mostly self-taught as teenagers. Big on the melodic qualities of it. Weird little coincidences. De La Soul is Dead was a lifelong, top-ten album for us both, for instance. A ton of those sorts of things.

When we started playing it was with two other people, and Shelby was actually on drums. I was playing guitar. We’d show up for practices for that band early, and mess around on other instruments, just the two of us, and the ideas came really easily with me on drums and Shelby on bass. It sounded like a band. The only thing that took a while was getting to the point where Shelby could do all the lead vocals, but we still made it work. Everything else felt pretty much instantly lived-in.

There is a couple-telepathy that extends into the music. The “finishing each others’ musical sentences” phenomenon so many people talk about, but it’s also easier to throw things away. You can tell what clicks quicker, and what doesn’t. It’s easier to talk about, but less needs to get talked about.

And you make tons of wonderful stuff that only gets played once or twice, and then is gone. Drives me kind of nuts to lose some of that stuff, but at the same time it’s really beautiful. We were the only people to ever experience that music.

Rumpus: What’s next musically and non-musically?

Wentz: ‪Musically, looking forward to making a Dabbers video with some friends. Some new song ideas we’re working on. Probably some shows early next year, and the whole I Am Alien Now album will finally appear, one way or another. More (C)B&R coming, and, believe it or not, Tender Buttons are going to release a long-lost track. We’re doing a split 7″ with our old friends Slowcoach. Some new jams as well. Perhaps some super secret shows.

Non-musically, NDF10. And I need to get back into a very long novel. About 250k words. I put it away after the second run-through to get some perspective. Longest, most involved thing I’ve ever attempted. It’d be nice to get that feeling done-ish in 2016.

Aside from that, we need to get the cats to the dentist.

Gubba: Aside from The Dabbers, I’m working on new drawings for a holiday craft show. I have some pieces left from my solo show in September, so I’ll be including those and making prints of the more popular ones that sold. “Pete the Prawn,” “Ol’ Possum,” “Brostrich” (an ostrich wearing a trucker hat, holding a beer), and a set of tree drawings inspired by trips back to Oregon.

I’ll be hand-making magnets and pins, and just ordered 200 pocket mirrors, 100 smiling pizzas, and 100 foamy beers (also smiling, of course). They’re super cute. I can’t wait to see them.

In 2016 I want to start on a children’s book—or an adult/children’s “crossover” type book. That’s the biggest goal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told this exact sentence: “You should make a children’s book!” So, what am I waiting for?

In February, the next issue of Goblin Reservation will be posted. Nothing else firmly on the agenda. I really like taking afternoon naps with Zack and the cats whenever we get the chance. So I’ll probably do that. And maybe eat more potato salad.


Feature photograph © O. Second and third photographs © Luke Brown.

Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →