Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tru Fax and the Insaniacs – "Nuclear Waste" (2015)

They thought it was safe
But now something's gone wrong

"Nuclear Waste" – which is one of the four songs on the 4Shadows EP that was released last month by Tru Fax and Insaniacs – was inspired by the partial nuclear meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979.

Anti-nuke protestors at Three Mile Island
"Nuclear Waste" and "Melt Down," another anti-nuke song that's on 4Shadows, are among the first songs that TFI wrote and performed, but the band had never recorded those songs until now.

It's no surprise that "Nuclear Waste" and "Melt Down" are particular favorites of Michael Mariotte, the only drummer that TFI has ever had.

Michael speaking out against nuclear power
That's because Michael is the President and former Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service ("NIRS"), an organization that was founded in 1978 to be a national information and networking center for those concerned about the safety of nuclear power.  Click here to learn more about NIRS. 

Last year, Michael was honored by more than a dozen environmental organizations with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" in recognition of his three decades of leadership at NIRS.  That award was presented to Michael by none other than Ralph Nader.

Michael with his daughter
Zoryana and Ralph Nader
But when 2 or 3 lines recently interviewed Michael, the focus was the long and illustrious history of Tru Fax and Insaniacs ("TFI").  Here's part one of that interview.

2 or 3 lines: Michael, where did you grow up?

Michael Mariotte:  I'm an army brat.  I was born near Chicago, then lived in Paris for four years until the French kicked the U.S. military out, then moved to to northern Virginia – I lived in "Arlingtron," then Reston.

2 or 3 lines:  I understand you were the only member of Tru Fax and the Insaniacs who had been in a performing band prior to the formation of Tru Fax.

Michael:  That's right.  I started playing guitar in high school in Reston.  My first band was The Underground Cable – I was the rhythm guitarist.  Our claim to fame was beating our rock-band competition at a Reston talent show.  That was mostly because I had learned how to do a liquid light show and taught our lead guitarist's little sister how to do it while we played.  That was the first time anyone in Reston had seen such a light show.

Then I switched to organ and played in a band called the Prickly Heat, which had a few live shows.  The nucleus of that band eventually became a real band: Artful Dodger.  Ask anyone my age who grew up in Cleveland: they were huge there. 
[Note: Artful Dodger was a very good power pop band that released several albums in the late seventies.  Click here to read what 2 or 3 lines had to say about them in 2011.]

The first Artful Dodger album
I left that band to start a new band called The Street – which later became The New Street when we learned there was already a band called Street.  We played around the Reston/Herndon/Vienna area for a couple years.

I switched back from keyboards to guitar during college – I went to Antioch College in Ohio – but I wasn't in an actual band . . . just did occasional jamming.

2 or 3 lines: What kind of music did you like as a teenager? Who were your favorite groups, and which groups did you think were awful?

Michael: I liked psychedelic music then and still do.  One of my favorites was Jefferson Airplane.  I got to meet them and hang out with them backstage in San Antonio in 1971.  I also liked the Doors, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, etc. 

Country Joe McDonald
I got to meet Country Joe in 1972, during an FTA tour – we hung out together for several hours. [Note: FTA – which stood for "Free the Army" – was a group of performers organized by Jane Fonda that presented anti-war programs at Army bases.  Country Joe eventually pulled out of FTA because he thought Fonda patronized soldiers.]  I ran into Country Joe again 25 years later and he remembered our conversation.  In a very odd coincidence, he had become very good friends with former Tru Fax bass player Libby Hatch, who had been killed in a motorcycle accident by that time. 

I also liked early garage and punk rock, like the music on Lenny Kaye's first "Nuggets" compilation: the 13th Floor Elevators, Count Five, etc.  It was like the "Nuggets" album had been made for me.  

Locally, I loved Fallen Angels (still do), Sageworth & Drums, Grin, and The Hangmen, which was the first live band I ever saw.  It was a great pleasure to become acquainted with Bob Berberich many, many years later.  [Note: Berberich, who was the Hangmen's drummer, joined with Nils Lofgren and others to form Grin.]

I hated top 40. Still do.

Michael Mariotte back in the day
2 or 3 lines: How did Tru Fax and the Insaniacs – which I'm going to abbreviate as "TFI" – get started?  How did you come to be a member of TFI?

Michael:  I returned to DC area a few months after graduating from Antioch College and was looking for a place to live.  I saw a classified ad seeking a roommate who was "Devo, not disco," so I had to check it out.  It turned out that Diana Quinn, one of the people who lived in the house, also had also gone to Antioch.  We didn't know each other there, but knew a couple of people in common.  When I saw all these musical instruments in the house – which was on Jenifer Street in northwest DC – I said OK, I'm ready to move in.  So I did.

A day or two after I moved in, the other three who lived in the house – Diane, David Wells, and Alex Eldridge – said they were going downstairs to play music and asked if I wanted to join them.  I said yep, what should I play?  I had had to sell my guitar a couple months earlier, so I didn't have an instrument.  They said they needed someone to play drums, so I became the drummer. 

Michael Mariotte, Diana Quinn, and David Wells
We practiced nearly every night for six months – lots of Ramones and Devo covers.  David had already written "King of Machines" and a few others, and we wrote a bunch more that became part of our early repertoire – "Ambassador X," "Heat Inversion," "Melt Down," "Nuclear Waste," "Mystery Date," and, of course, "Washingtron."  I wrote the verses to "Washingtron" while sitting at the nearby Booeymonger's restaurant drinking a beer one afternoon.

After six months, we invited a bunch of people over for a party and played for them.  They seemed to like it, so we were ready to go public.

2 or 3 lines:  Tell me about TFI's first year.  Where did you play?

Michael:  Our first gig was at Hard Art Gallery on 15th Street, with Rhoda and the Bad Seeds in the summer of 1979.  We then played every weekend for months (and at least once a week for about three or four years).  We sometimes produced early shows ourselves at downtown galleries – we'd buy a bunch of beer and sell it for a dollar a bottle.  We played for a lot of people at Fort Reno Park, then we got into D.C. Space.    

By that fall, we were playing at clubs like Childe Harold and Columbia Station.  We also played at the University of Maryland – I remember a big, early, beer-drenched show at the student union ballroom there.  We even played at CBGB's in New York. 

2 or 3 lines:  You eventually became regulars at the original 9:30 Club on F Street.

Michael:  We headlined their first sold-out show – the first time where they kicked out everyone after the first set because there was a long line waiting to get into the second set.  We hid a lot of people in our dressing room and got in a little trouble with the club's manager, Dody Bowers, over that.  After that, the 9:30 Club did a better job warning people in advance that when a band was booked for two shows that you might have to leave after the first one.

Dody had her idiosyncrasies, but she really cared about her audience and really cared about DC bands.  For example, we were opening for the Revillos one night.  They had a huge drum set that took up about half of the stage.  They did their sound check and when we went up for ours, they refused to move their drums.  They said I should put my drum set in front of theirs and the rest of Tru Fax should stand on milk crates in front of the stage to do our set.  Dody came up and told them to get the drums off the stage immediately, or Tru Fax would be the only band playing that night.  Needless to say, the Revillos’ drums got moved.  I can't think of many club owners who would have put a local band ahead of a big-time touring bands the way Dody did.

Desperado's was another club where we played regularly.  Since we lived close by in Arlington by 1981, they would call on us whenever someone cancelled.  I remember filling in for Koko Taylor one night, and we didn't leave the crowd disappointed.  We also played regularly in Baltimore – at the Marble Bar, and Oddfellows Hall in Towson.

Part two of Michael's interview – which will feature a song that he wrote for 4Shadows – will appear in the next 2 or 3 lines

Click below to listen to "Nuclear Waste":

Click below to buy "Nuclear Waste" or the entire 4Shadows EP.

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