Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tru Fax and the Insaniacs – "Perfect Day" (2015)

It was a perfect day
You were alive and so was I

Michael Mariotte, who's been the drummer for Tru Fax and the Insaniacs since the band formed in 1978, wrote "Perfect Day" just last year.  It’s one of the four songs on TFI's brand-new EP, 4Shadows.  

Michael wrote both the music and lyrics for “Perfect Day,” and he plays guitar on the recording of the song – the first time he’s done that as a member of TFI.

Michael, who is battling cancer, wrote “Perfect Day” for his kids – especially his four-year-old and five-year-old daughters, who are both named in the song.  “My cancer may leave them without a father at a too-young age,” Michael told me, “and I wanted them to know, when they are old enough to understand it, that these days we have together – even the crappy ones – are precious for me, and I hope for them.”

Here's part two of my interview with Michael about the history of Tru Fax and the Insaniacs.  Click here if you missed part one of that interview and would like to read it now. 

2 or 3 lines:  I understand that Washingtonian magazine named you the worst band in Washington without ever hearing you perform.  How good was Tru Fax when you first started playing in public?

Michael: We weren't great at the beginning, but we weren't bad either.  Alex Eldridge didn't last long as our first bass player – he was a student and he went back to Harvard after our first few gigs.  Libby Hatch replaced him, and while she wasn't technically that good, she had a presence and a style that people liked.  

TFI, circa 1982: Diana Quinn, Michael
Mariotte, Tim Carter, and David Wells
As a band, we started getting very good when Tim Carter replaced Libby as bass player in 1981, and reached our peak when Bob Young replaced Tim in late 1982 – Bob was quite good.  Here's a little-known fact: David Arnson of Insect Surfers filled in on bass for TFI for a couple months after Tim left and before we brought Bob on.

2 or 3 lines:  Did Tru Fax play mostly original songs?

Michael:  We've always done a mix of originals and covers, but always more originals than covers. A typical 15-song set might contain three or four covers.  The mix hasn't changed much over the years, though the songs themselves have.

2 or 3 lines: How did TFI create original songs?  Who contributed what?  Was there a lot of collaboration, or was each song essentially written by one person?

Michael:  David Wells was the main songwriter.  In the early days we'd sit in the living room and write some lyrics and he would put them to music.  Sometimes David would bring in a whole song, or most of one.  Most often, the song would get rearranged some and messed with during practices, and eventually would show up in live shows.

2 or 3 lines: Who were the best bands you played with? Who were the bands from that era you admired the most? 

Michael:  We played with a bunch of good bands.  My favorites were The Fleshtones – we always had a good time with them wherever we were.  Also the Slickee Boys, since they were all good friends of mine.

The Fleshtones' 1981 album, "Roman Gods"
The Insect Surfers were good friends as well.  We were on same label (WASP Records) and played together pretty often.  Beex were very fun – they were a punk band from Richmond.  The Embarrassment, from Kansas or Nebraska or something, were a band I had never heard of but still remember; they were really good.  [Note: The Embarrassment was from Wichita.  Famed music critic Robert Christgau called them a "great lost American band."] 

The bands from that period that I liked best – Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, Translator – we never actually played with.  But at least I did get to hang out with all of them when they'd come through town.  Back then the 9:30 Club gave me full house privileges.  I could get in free whenever I wanted and could go down to almost anyone's dressing room anytime . . . so I'd just go and introduce myself to bands I liked and hang out.

2 or 3 lines:  Did you ever have to perform with other bands whose music you didn't really like?  

Michael:  I really liked The Bongos on record, but they weren't that good live and they were pretty annoying people – especially when they learned they were opening for us instead of the other way around.  The Revillos were also quite annoying and I didn't really like them as a band.  Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Magazine, and Bauhaus were three bands we opened up for in bigger venues whose music just didn't work well with our music.

2 or 3 lines:  What was the highlight of your years with TFI?  Was there a particular live appearance where you felt the band reached its peak?

Michael:  My favorite show ever was at the Wax Museum with the Slickees.  That was in January 1983.  They had predicted an actual blizzard that night, but it didn't snow at all.  The place was packed – 1500 people, which I was told was the largest crowd Wax Museum ever had.  We were amazingly good and the crowd was really with us.  That was probably the only time I can say we blew the Slickees off the stage.  That was when I decided we had become a really good band and could play with anyone.

Our show with Stiff Little Fingers at the Bayou was another particularly good one, as was a July 4 show at the Bayou with the Slickees.  Almost any show with Fleshtones was great – there were a bunch of them.  

Another very memorable show was the one for the last week of the old 9:30 Club in December 1995, part of which was released as a live CD.  We sounded good, and there were lots of old friends there.
2 or 3 lines: What do you think TFI's best song was?

Michael:  I should probably say "Washingtron," since it's the only one I have co-writing credits on. But my real favorite is "King of Machines," which David actually wrote with a poet friend named Harrison Fisher before I ever came on the scene.  "Mars Needs Women" is another one that has held up well – it was also co-written by David and Harrison before I met them.

The "Washingtron" 45
2 or 3 lines: What did you want TFI to be?  Were you happy with what the group accomplished, or did you think you should have been bigger stars?

Michael:  David and Diana both had good jobs and never planned to leave them – so the idea of becoming a big touring band on a big label was never in the picture for TFI.  I had a good job as manager of the Washington City Paper, but it didn't pay that well, so I would have gone for more, as would have Bob Young.  But we knew that would never happen so it didn't especially bother us.  And we did get to do some touring: New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond, Charlottesville, Ohio, North Carolina, etc., etc.

Still, it's hard to know what would have happened had David not moved to California for 1984, when we were absolutely at our peak both musically and in popularity.  Record labels had already showed some interest.  There was a Bayou show in early 1983 where an agent for Chrysalis Records shoved their business card under the door – Diana who shoved it back.
[Note: Chrysalis Records was a major British record label whose acts included Blondie, Billy Idol, Jethro Tull, Joan Jett, Huey Lewis and the News, and Procol Harum.]  

TFI's 1982 album, "Mental Decay"
From my work at City Paper, I had good contacts with the then very new MTV, where Peter Zaremba of the Fleshtones hosted a show called "120 Minutes" dedicated to promoting bands like us, and with IRS Records, which was a major new wave/punk label.  [Note: IRS Records was an independent label with acts like R.E.M., the Buzzcocks, the Go-Go's, Squeeze, the English Beat, and Fine Young Cannibals.]  So we might have had opportunities to do more – make videos maybe, tour more . . . I don't know.  Certainly our first album, which was released in late 1982, did well in some markets and was played on some college radio stations.  An album with better distribution and promotion, maybe backed up by a video, conceivably could have done very well. 

But we never resumed the same kind of concert schedule when David returned from California, and while we had a few good shows in 1985 and 1986, we sort of faded away for a while there.

2 or 3 lines:  Looking back, what was the best thing about being in TFI?    

Michael:  Best thing was it was always a blast.  It enabled me to misspend my youth for an entire extra decade! It was nearly always fun – now and then not so much, but most of the time.  I got to meet a lot of great people from all over the place, hang out with great musicians.  What more can you ask for? And while the extras aren't there anymore – meeting new bands, having privileges at the 9:30 Club, and girls – although I'm married now, so that's not needed anymore – there is still nothing more fun than getting on stage and playing as loud and hard as I can.

David Wells, Diana Quinn, and
Michael Mariotte in 2013
Here’s some big news for fans of Tru Fax and the Insaniacs: the band is planning to release a double album that includes old and new songs before the end of the year.  

2 or 3 lines will mark that occasion by featuring several songs from the forthcoming album as soon as it’s released, as well as interviews with TFI’s two other original members, David Wells and Diana Quinn. 

Click below to listen to “Perfect Day”:

Click below to buy "Perfect Day" or the entire 4Shadows EP.

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