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Askew Review 15

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Just so you know; yup, Medved singer/guitarist Ben Hunter writes for Askew Reviews. However, Ben and I had never met until we did this interview. It was only after this interview that he began contributing to the zine. So there... you kiss ass conspiracy theorists!

The Medveds were introduced to me about two years ago when Ron Lacer of Fan Attic Records sent me a few of their 7”s to review. After listening to the records a few times, I was really perplexed. I loved the music, but I had NO idea how to review it. It was punk, but unlike any punk I had ever heard. The vocals consisted of Adam’s melodic, strong voice and Ben’s growling, half in the bag sound. Strangely, the two very different singing styles blended perfectly together and the rest of the band just made things better. Only after reviewing the two 7”s, did Ben enlighten me to the term “Nautical Punk.” That is a perfect description of the music The Medveds play. Just imagine staggering into a seaside punk bar at the end of the dock and seeing Popeye and Bruno brawling to the sounds of the band. Get the picture?
My love for The Medveds only increased after seeing them live. Not only are they great sounding, but they are a bunch of nice guys. They are just out to have a good time and play some good music. Watching Adam sing is also a treat. He is full of energy and doesn’t let the confines of a small stage hinder him at all. The band is also releasing their first cd. I have listened to the rough cut, and it is great! After promising Mean Russell Taft a 12-pack and some cheap pornography, I interviewed The Medveds.– denis sheehan (photo from the band's website)

The Medveds

Left to right
"Mean" Russell Taff – Manager (not pictured)
Ben Hunter- guitar/vocals
Adam Thorsell- vocals
Eric Altieri- drums
Larry Ramona- bass
Jeremy Brady- lead guitar

Please give a brief history of the Medveds. Where you came from, how long you've been together, etc...

"Mean" Russell Taff: This current group of assholes got together in 1995. The Medveds originally began back in 1986 as a joke band, not much has changed, in Cleveland, Ohio. Ben was the only member from that time who is still in the group today. Larry joined in 1987, Adam in 1992 and Eric and Jeremy rounded out the current line-up in 1995. There are probably about 8 people who could call themselves "former Medveds," but I doubt any of them would publicly own up to it.

Ben, what brought you to Boston from Ohio?

Ben: I came to Boston in 1986 to go to college. I've lived here mostly ever since, but I did move to Columbus, New York and had a brief, disastrous yet fun stint in England. Larry and I went to high school together, and he eventually moved here in 1990. He was also involved in the UK fiasco.

Feel like letting us in on your’s and Larry’s UK experience?

Ben: The story of our attempt to live in England and/or Wales would take about 10 days to fully explain, but I'll try to give you a rough breakdown. In 1991 Larry and I sold most of our belongings and bought tickets to England with then intention of staying there as long as possible. We had friends in Wales who we could stay with for awhile, so we figured we could at least start there. I had about $400 total to my name at the time and Larry had about $30. When we were going through customs initially, I gave Larry half my money so we'd both have an even chance of getting in. Larry made it through no problem. My guy was a real bastard though, and almost didn't let me in. Then he limited my stay to 6 months, but in the end I only used one of them. Once through customs, we had to hitch out to Wales and almost were killed by an insane, wreckless Spanish driver who picked us up. From there we hung around awhile in Cardiff, but we couldn't find a job anywhere for the likes of us. Luckily our Cardiff friends knew some people in London we could hook up with. We hitched back out and stayed with one couple for about 3 days until we somehow, someway spooked them and they kicked us out. We desperately called our pal Jon back in Wales and he hooked us up with another friend of his in London named Steve. Now the only reason Steve, who was a snappy young businessman, decided to have us at his place was because he'd gotten a hold of a prank phone call tape that Larry and I had made while living off an accident settlement in Columbus, OH a few years before. Steve and his friends loved the pranks we'd done and when we got there they were quoting them left and right. It was funny as hell to hear them imitate us in their British accents. Anyhow, we searched for jobs everywhere, but the only offer we got was at a rough looking leather gay bar. We weren't really into that, though. Then we met a guy in the subway who claimed to be an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who was in London to advise Scotland Yard on weapons. He had a real grudge against English people but seemed to like us because we were American. Before we parted ways he'd given us a way to fake work ID numbers and also enough money so we could get lunch at an all you can eat for $2.50 restaurant. It turned out that the fake ID number scam really did work because we eventually found jobs that accepted them. At this point, however, we had to leave because we were completely broke and the jobs we'd just found entering figures into a computer type-thing wouldn't be able to pay us for 3 weeks. At that point, we decided to use our round-trip ticket back. We hitched back out to Wales to say goodbye to our friends there, then hitched back to London. At this point we seriously had no money. None. There's a lot more to it, but that's sort of an overview.

How did the rest of the gang hook up with Ben and Larry?

Ben: We met Adam through a roommate of our’s after we got back from England. Her name was Sabrina and Adam was going out with her at the time. We'd known Jeremy since around '90 or '91, but he eventually moved away to New York. He came back in '95 and joined the band then. We got Eric by putting up a flyer that said we need a drummer.

What is a Medved and how did you come up with that name?

Ben: Medved actually means "bear" in Russian, but we didn't learn that until years after the band started. We just received an e-mail from a guy in Russia who somehow stumbled upon our webpage and was very interested in hearing what we sounded like. He titled the e-mail "From the land of Medved" and went on to ask for a CD, saying he'd review it in some underground Russian 'zines and send us copies of the reviews. I'm not sure how we'll understand what he writes about us, but what the hell. Anyhow, we got the name by ripping a random page out of the phonebook, taping it to a small child and then throwing a dart at it. The dart landed on the name Keith Medved. It seemed like an appropriate name at the time.

Since the vocals are shared between Adam and Ben, are the lyrics written to suit the different voice styles, or does all that work out naturally?

Adam: It works out naturally.

Ben: Truthfully, Adam, who has a great voice, should be singing all the time. Sometimes I write stuff that I'd really like to sing, so I make myself the lead vocalist on certain occasions. When the other guys write material, they wisely designate Adam as the primary singer.

As the Medveds, where have your travels taken you?

Adam: Boston, Boston Harbor, Cambridge, Lowell, Allston and Somerville.

Ben: We went to New York once. It sucked.

What sucked about the trip to New York?

Ben: We were booked at a place called The Pyramid Club in New York. The booking agent told us we'd be headlining at midnight. I guess this should have raised a red flag if she's having a Boston band no one's ever heard of headline a Saturday night. We rented a van for all our stuff and another car to hold some friends who wanted to come with us. When we got to the club, we found out that they were clearing it out between each band. I have no idea why. By the time we got our stuff in there, the place was empty. Luckily, we have some friends in New York, some of whom we stayed with that night, and we brought about 25 people to see us. Everyone, including the non-band members who came with us and were helping load our equipment, had to pay $8 to see us. After a half hour they kicked us off the stage and told us to get out because the place doubles as a late night gay dance club. As we were being hustled out, the booker handed me $15 and said that we should do this again sometime. After a heated debate, I was able to talk her up to $25. We went out afterwards and had a good time, but I wouldn't recommend playing there to anyone else.

How do you keep the band going?

"Mean" Russell Taff: Guns, pussy, hot rods and beer.

Is there a beer of choice for The Medveds?

Ben: The beer of choice for us generally is whatever's on sale. A liquor store just opened up within 5 feet of our practice space, so it's kind of given us an extra incentive to practice these days.

The Medveds are described as the inventors of "Nautical Punk." What is nautical punk and do you think it's an accurate statement?

Ben: Since we laid the term on ourselves, we're pretty comfortable with it. We picture Nautical Punk as being something Popeye would enjoy- the kind of music that makes you swing your arms back and forth from side to side. One of our more nautical songs is called "Mercy Fuck," and we decided it should be former Cleveland Indian Matt Williams' unofficial theme song; not because of the lyrical content but more due to the fact that he seems to walk to the rhythm of that song. He also kind of looks like Popeye.

Are you an Indians’ fan? If so, what did you think of the Red Sox spanking them 3 straight and knocking them out of last year’s playoffs?

Ben: Larry and I are huge Tribe fans, Adam and Jeremy, but especially Adam, love the Red Sox. I don't think Eric could care less about either. Obviously, it sucked for me when the Indians completely fell apart in the playoffs last year. I have to give the Red Sox credit for playing very well, but Goddamn, Indians pitchers gave up like 27 runs in the last 27 innings or something? For me it's usually natural to wish ill on a team that knocks mine out, but I have to admit I was rooting for the Sox to beat the Yankees. I think it's once again going to come down to the Indians, Red Sox and Yankees as AL Champs. I don't think anybody in the West can compete, especially with TX losing some of their best players. Anyways, I am very happy that the baseball season has begun.

Concerning "Aging Failures," who did the freaky cover art of the two dudes scrapping and is there something to the title?

Ben: Larry did the cover art. Larry didn't draw those fighting guys we're using as the cover- he found an old picture and fixed it up for our purposes. He's done that with all our covers, except "Gilded Cock," our first single, which he did draw himself. He also did all the artwork and layout for the "Hepcats Took My Baby" compilation CD, which was a CD of a bunch of bands that used to play at the Kirkland Cafe.

Adam: Larry does all our artwork.

Ben: He does want people to know that they should use violence responsibly, though -cue NBC music and flash that "The More You Know" icon. As far as the title, since 4/5 of us are on the wrong side of 30 and have very little to show for it, the title seemed sadly appropriate.

The CD includes some previous releases. Will it also include new songs as well?

Ben: 8 of the 25 tracks haven't been released before. The rest have only come out on vinyl or on CD compilations, so this is our first official CD. We didn't re-record any of the older stuff, but Eric did beef up some of the earlier songs that had been recorded on 16-track with his computer, and he added a couple little extras to a few of the songs as well.

On the inside of “My Mom Smoked My Stash,” there is a picture of a kid wearing a vest and plaid shirt, who is that dude and does he know about your usage of his image?

Ben: The guy shown on the inside of "My Mom Smoked My Stash" is named Don Hall. Larry and I went to high school with him. I think he was 20 in the 11th grade. Anyway, we got to know him because he rode the same school bus as us. One day he seemed really down, and when we asked him what was wrong, he said, "My mom smoked my stash." A year or two after I moved away, I came back to visit and noticed that the city knocked down his house. I have no idea where he went or what became of him, so I'd imagine that he doesn't know he's been featured in a record cover. On a side note, I noticed a few weeks ago that there was a quote on the front page of the Sunday Globe attributed to "Poet Donald Hall." We like to think he's the same person.

Have any feminists ever given you flack over the song "She Won't Shave Her Legs"?

Ben: I'd imagine since not too many people have heard us in the first place, very few of those have been militant feminists. So far we've gotten no complaints, but one reviewer did describe the song as "Dumb Guy Rock." Oddly enough, I think that song contains some of our most creative rhymes and intelligent lyrics, and I can say that because I didn't write it, Jeremy wrote it. And fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Were there any real life experiences that influenced the song "BC Headache Powder"?

Ben: BC Headache Powder is the finest aspirin you can buy. It's aspirin and caffeine crushed together in powder form. Since your body doesn't have to break it down, it gets into your system much faster than normal aspirin. It comes wrapped in these little wax paper rectangles that look very illicit, but I think this only adds to the mystique. The primary downside to BC is that it tastes like hell. I've been taking it so long and so often now that it doesn't work as well for me as it used to, but I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to you beginners. It's quite popular in the South, but one of the only places you can get it around here is at the Osco on Brighton Ave. in Allston.

How did “Mean” Russell, eh-hem, Mr. Taff get his name?

Ben: He has a cousin whose name is also Russ. His cousin is a hell of a lot nicer than he is though. To distinguish the two, we started calling him "Mean" Russ and his cousin "Nice" Russ.




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