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Motormags

Interview by Tony Gerardi

It’s a good thing I called Scott, the bassist, to confirm the rendezvous time and the directions given to me by lead guitarist, Jonny. “There’s no Al’s Place under directory assistance for Portsmouth,” I complain. “That’s ‘cuz he’s an idiot!” Scott retorts, referring to his band mate with faux annoyance. 

Apparently, Jonny had mistaken the name of the bar where we were to meet for another favorite watering hole in Boston. 

It’s all good-natured ribbing, of course. These guys are the best of friends. With the minor setback resolved, I find myself at Jo’s Place, a postage stamp-sized bar with just enough space for a few stools, Christmas lights, and a billiards table. Over the next two hours I will feel as if I’ve known them for years. Of course the two pitchers of beer and kamikaze shots may have augmented this instant camaraderie. This wasn’t my first time meeting these guys. I had met Jonny and Scott before. I was meeting drummer, Mike, for the first time. After randomly running into them at Providence’s Green Room I attempted a first pass at an interview months ago. Unfortunately, the tape recorder I had at the time malfunctioned and not even a fresh set of batteries could resurrect it. My beer-addled memory and chicken scratch precluded me from producing any kind of lucid document, let alone one that could do the band the justice they deserve. Nine months passed and Jonny called me up. I was glad he did.  This time around I would not be hoodwinked by faulty electronics! I had a new tape recorder pre-tested with back up Evereadys just in case. 

So here I was sitting with Jonny Jones (lead guitar), Scott Shuttlesworth (bass), and Mike Fleming (drums). I was with three fourths of the band. Mark Tomis (rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist) was notably absent. Rumor had it he would possibly join us before the interview was over and they would all head over to practice together. 

I pull out my twenty-odd interview inquiries and Jonny sets the stage for levity, “We only answer yes and no questions.” Before I can really begin I am swallowed up in a five-minute conversation about the rhythm guitarist’s name. I wasn’t sure if I had spelled it right. Mark Tomis is not here to defend the pronunciation of his name, so the three present Motormags are quick to run through every possible permutation, the more juvenile the better. Mike teases me, “He’s mad because you compared him to Axl Rose.” In a previous live review I did make a hasty judgment solely from a first impression of his long blonde hair and overall look.  

Mike: He really looks like Gunnar Nelson. 

Author’s note: Mark never showed at the bar but I met him afterwards at their practice. He’s since cut his hair and, for the record, I hereby denounce any comparisons with the volatile front man of Guns N Roses.

 Scott: On the same token, Jonny doesn’t like anyone to put the ‘h’ in his name.

Tony Gerardi: How long have you been together as a band?

Jon: We started about three years ago… are we gonna count it with Johnny D? 

Tony Gerardi: Count it however you want.

Jon: We started as a five piece with a friend of ours, John Davis, then went to a four piece. He ended up quitting three years ago, back in ’98. 

Tony Gerardi: Now is there an ‘h’ in his name?

Motormags (laughing): Yeah, he’s got the ‘h’.

Jon: He was an old school punk rocker from Newport in the ‘80s and was a great singer. He’s still one of our best friends. Motormags did not start up right away; it was like six months writing and then six months playing out. Mark sung backups and we made Mark the new singer.

The original singer, Johnny Davis, left due to musical differences after one year and then Mark took up singing. This lineup has lasted two years. The guys tell me that Mark Tomis has changed their sound for the better.

Tony Gerardi: How did you get the name Motormags?

Scott: Remember BMX bikes when you were a little kid? Motormags were big rims that were like 20 lbs. each. Any guy remembers when they were 12 years old, the rim and spokes on BMX bikes.

I’m thinking how I wasn’t that cool. Of course I remember the BMX bikes, but before my tremendously heavy Huffy ten-speed, I was the proud owner of an ALL-Pro with a sparkly red banana seat. I also never had Atari or MTV until most of the kids on the block had already declared these things ‘old hat’. 

Mike: Since Motomags was taken by the bike company we figured we’d just throw the “r” in there. I originally wanted to name us Clubber Lang after Mr. T’s character in Rocky III.

Tony Gerardi: Have you been in any other bands? If so, which ones? How were those bands different from Motormags?

It’s only three songs into the interview and Jonny excuses himself from the table. He’s on the verge of puking from a whiskey shot he just did. When he returns, he answers…

Jon: I was in Mother Jefferson when Motormags formed.

He was in both bands simultaneously until the recent dissolution of Mother Jefferson who he describes as “more rock less punk than Motormags, more Aerosmith-y.” Key members left for various reasons. There was no animosity; they just wanted to move on.
Jon has recovered and is ready for a shot when he sees I agree to one.

Mike: Oh, you want a pussy shot?

Mike is referring to my ‘lame selection’ of a kamikaze! I defend my status as a marathon drinker rather than a shot enthusiast.

Jon: Mother Jefferson was more rock and roll, more polished, but both bands had a lot of the same fan base. Six months ago Mother Jefferson broke up.

Scott: One Ton Shotgun. Same thing – no animosity. You plug away for so long you expect something and nothing happens or you begin to have musical differences. We started moving towards hardcore.

Jon: Motormags now is where I want to be. Punk rock with a huge rock n roll overshadowing. It’s like ‘rock n roll punk’. It’s what we call it. It’s not punk rock. When I was in Mother Jefferson I’d write songs for one band or the other and if it was a really good song I felt bad for the band I didn’t give it to.

Tony Gerardi: It must be tough being in more than one band.

Jon: At one point I was in four bands. Mark used to be in Chaos Twin and Uber Alles. Then he was in One Ton Shotgun with Mike and Scott. It was punk/metal. F’n awesome!

Scott: After ‘Shotgun broke up we went from punk metal to rock n roll punk.

Jon and Mike also played in Step Forward in 1985 with Tom Gorman (of Belly fame). Boofish was the singer, who is now in Brunt of It.

Tony Gerardi: In general, how long have you been singing, playing, etc.?

Jon: A long time. I should be a lot better than I am. I started when I was 13. I’m not a very technical player, I play whatever sounds good.

Scott: I played punk rock in high school. Me and Mark took a music class in college. We dropped out. Fuck college, let’s go to work.

Mike: I started in the 6th grade.

I brag to them about my one guitar lesson and my consequent ability to play the first five notes of a select few Rush songs.

Mike: Let’s give credit where credit is due. I was turned on to punk rock by his [Jonny’s] brother.

Jon: My brother is Chris Jones of Verbal Assault. I’ve been playing so long without lessons that I can’t change my technique if someone comes along and tries to teach me something. I’ve been playing since Jr. High. I grew up on the punk scene on Aquidneck Island in all sorts of bands.

I am thinking how esoteric this sounds, the ‘Aquidneck Island punk rock scene’, now that’s “local” rock.

Jon: We played the old Lupo’s and The Living Room in Providence.

Tony Gerardi: Ahh, the old Living Room?

Jon: Yeah, you know “the bubble.”

We reminisce about the old club on Promenade St., which was very warehouse-like, had great bands, cute waitresses, and a prominent plexi-glass bubble window. About the only thing the ‘new’ Living Room on Rathbone St. offers to compete with its former legacy, is the door-less graffiti-covered Men’s Room complete with a conversation-friendly trough to pee in.

Tony Gerardi: Is being in Motormags your full time job? If not, would you give up your day job for the band’s success?

Jon: I definitely fashion my life around being in a band but right now we all have day jobs. This band costs us money! Please send donations. [laughter] We don’t make any money off the band. If I could live the way I do now and pay the bills…

Scott: If someone said you could play every night, then yeah… If it paid the bills, then absolutely! I’ve always tried to sell out but nobody wanted to buy.

Jon: Mike’s an engineer.

Tony Gerardi: What kind of engineer?

Scott: A shoddy one!

I share with him the joys of my real job as a technical writer and working with engineers.

Mike: Engineers lack certain skills.

Scott: starting with ‘social’.

Mike: Would I give up my day job? Those guys [motions to his band mates] want to hear the answer to this also, I’m sure. I take things as they come.

Tony Gerardi: If you had to describe Motormags in a few words what would they be? Ya know, suppose you’re in Ohio at a truck stop and someone says, “Oh you’re in a band, what kind of music do you play?”

Jon: It makes you drink more, fuck longer, and drive faster.

Tony Gerardi: That sums it up.

Jon: I call it ‘rock n roll punk’or ‘rock punk’ instead of punk rock.

Mike: I think about it a lot ‘cuz it’s a tough question. The best I can come up with is punk rock and roll. It’s general to say it that way, but that’s what it is.

If I may surmise, I think what the band is trying to convey is that they aren’t punk, they aren’t straight rock and roll, but some amalgam of the two.

Jon: When we say punk we’re talkin’ old school: Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, SNFU, Black Flag, Dead Boys. We’re not talking kiddie punk.

Mike: Actually, I played with Scott and Mark in ‘Shotgun and Jon brought a lot of rock n roll to Motormags and we’re better for it.

Scott: We were headed towards hardcore.

Jon: Mark’s a big punker, into thrash. No ballads.

Scott: Let’s put it this way - if you’re looking for a fight, pass the bar. If you’re looking for a smile and a shot, come on in.

I like these guys’ attitudes! I tell them that I was very impressed when I happened upon them in the Green Room ten months ago.

Tony Gerardi: How does being in a band affect your personal or family life?

Jon: It enhances my personal life. I meet new people – like when you and I met.

Tony Gerardi: What do you like best and least about being in a band?

Scott: If we get your fuckin’ money.

Jon: [laughter] We used to berate the crowd. Actually, best is when the songs turn out right and you’re fucking rocking. It’s when everything clicks like our Vegas show (with The Supersuckers and Street Walkin’ Cheetahs). We were prepared, everything went as planned, and we connected with the crowd. It’s an unbelievable feeling to rock out to something you created. Worst is when you have technical problems.

Scott: Sometimes it sucks. You move all your equipment to play for three guys or you play like shit.

Mike: It’s depends on the level of fun versus the level of work [he holds out his hands varying them in see-saw fashion]. The level of work and fun is probably even right now. When it gets like this [alters the see-saw towards a work-heavy scenario] you can’t do it anymore.

Jon: Ya gotta keep that balance. When bands break up it’s ‘cause the fun part doesn’t outweigh the work part.

Mike: It happens to every band even if you get along and are friends. We know.

Tony Gerardi: How often do you play out?

Jon: Ideally, two or three times a month. The plan now is to keep every weekend open. It depends. Sometimes a month goes by with no gigs.

Tony Gerardi: Who writes most of the music? The lyrics?

Jon: Mark is our main lyricist. We all collaborate. We bring something half done to the band and everyone offers up their own contribution.

Scott: If you go to any of our houses we’ll be listening to different shit.

Jon: But the core music is the same.

Mike: Jon and Mark write the guitar riffs. I write all the lyrics. [laughter]

Tony Gerardi: What do you do for fun when you aren’t playing out?

Mike: Most of us are working and when we aren’t working we go out and just fucking relax.

Jon: I’m a big fan of sitting on the couch and watching TV. Actually, I sky dive too!

Scott: Work and swim. Cliff diving too.

Mike: Drums and basketball.

Tony Gerardi: What kind of equipment do you use?

Jon: Gibson guitars… we want a Gibson sponsorship. A Gibson SG Les Paul, Marshall amps, plug it in and rock and roll! Mark plays a Les Paul and a Gibson Explorer and plays on a Boogie amp.

Scott: I want a sponsorship from anyone other than Ampeg. I play Fender Jazz bass and an Ampeg SVT bass amp. All vintage – all my shit is older than I am.

Tony Gerardi: What kind of equipment would you buy if money were no object?

Jon: More Les Pauls and Gibson guitars. Mark would buy a roadie.

Scott: A Gibson bass.

Mike: My only comment is that cymbals suck for one, sticks suck secondly. I’ve been playing the same Tama kit since 1985. It’s just now starting to crumble to pieces.

Tony Gerardi: Who do you like in the local rock scene?

Jon: M80, The Moneyshots, The Peasants, No Means Yes, King Pin.

Scott: The Upper Crust. We all love these guys. The Upper Crust is like AC/DC but they dress up in Rennaissance clothing and wigs.

Jon: The bands from Providence? The Magnums, also Medicine Ball, Suicide Liquors.

Tony Gerardi: What was your favorite decade for music and why?

Jon: I should have been born ten years earlier when Johnny Thunders was playing during the NYC/CBGB’s hey-day.

Scott: The ‘70s.

Scott (elaborates): You had Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on the one hand and ABBA on the other.

Tony Gerardi: Did you say ABBA?

Scott: Yes but today’s music – every song sounds alike, it’s all screaming. Why the fuck is everyone so mad?

Jon: The ‘80s, not because of the popular stuff, but because of the punk rock scene that started in the ‘70s. New York City bands, Boston bands like Gang Green.

Tony Gerardi: Is this band a democracy? How do you resolve conflicts or disagreements?

Scott: Step up and throw your blows.

Jon: That cliché about being in a band is like having three girlfriends is true, it’s very intimate. You have to be able to get along.  

Tony Gerardi: Do you get nervous on stage? How do you prepare for a show?

Scott: Booze.

Mike: The short answer is no.

Scott: I’m nervous every time but I know whenever we open up it’s like, “Boom!” I’m nervous until the first note and then the music takes over.

Jon: I sit around and tune my guitar and when I am getting ready I don’t like people talking to me. You can’t be a dick to people that want to talk to you but I really like to be alone before I go on stage… I get anxiety before I play.

Tony Gerardi: I saw Axl Rose (Mark) and Keith Richards (Jon)… any other rock star comparisons?

Jon: I get Jimmy Page, some weird ones, some girl said Bob Geldof. Mark gets Kurt Cobain, Tommy Miner (a local Newport guitar hero).

During the first attempt at an interview Scott and Jon told me (in Mike’s absence) that Mike resembled Sasquatch.

Tony Gerardi: What was that song about looking for some love? What are your favorite songs to play?

Jon: Pop songs that rock. “Harvey” was our first hit. We wrote it in like five minutes. We love playing it.

“Harvey” was randomly named from a Saturday Night Live skit in which Jon Lovitz mimics real life actor Harvey Firestein and exclaims  [in a whiney voice] “I just wanna be loved.”

Jon: Others we like to play off the CD? TV Zombie, Note to the Folks, and Sugar. Mark wrote TV Zombie about me, actually no, about someone who is even more of a couch potato than me. It’s super heavy metal rock.

Tony Gerardi: Are there lyrics in the CD?

Mike: Unfortunately.

Tony Gerardi: How often do you practice as a band?

Jon: Once a week. I write songs at home and bring ‘em to the band.

Tony Gerardi: How do you decide which songs you will play on a given night?   

Jon: When we make the set list we play the hits and the best of the new stuff.

Scott: Your answer is whoever has the magic marker that night…

Mike: …which is usually me. If I have to kick all the ass I will!

Tony Gerardi: Which do you feel is most important part of your performance, the music or the presentation?

Jon: The perfect balance.

Scott: For him [Mike] it’s the music. He’s the drummer, there is no presentation.

Mike: I think it’s my lyrics.

Scott: That’s the second time you mentioned your lyrics.

Mike: I’m a closet singer.

Jon: As for drummers, I’ve been lucky that in all my bands we’ve had some pretty exceptional drummers. You take it for granted. In Mother Jefferson our drummer left and we tried out so many it was insane - you really appreciate a good drummer.

Tony Gerardi: Have you played out in Boston or New York, how far would you like to go with this band?

Jon: Yes. The Hard Rock Café in Vegas, Boston, Arlene’s Grocery in NYC

Scott: We’ll play about anywhere on a weekend.

Tony Gerardi: Where would you like to see Motormags in 5 years?

Jon: Actively touring, recording, the band paying the rent.

Scott: Everything past that is gravy - like jet planes and shit!

Mike: I have no expectations.

Jon: (referring to Mike) He’ll do what I fuckin’ tell him.

The conversation degrades into vulgar allusions to explicit sexual acts. All in jest of course, it’s the typical banter between guys that have been friends for years.

Jon: (to clarify any doubts of his heterosexuality), Hey, that’s my wife on the cover!

Author’s note: Buy the CD, Jon’s wife is very attractive.

Tony Gerardi: So, how does someone get a CD?

Jon: CDs are available through us. Go to a show! Or you can pick them up at The Music Box in downtown Newport. You can also get them by writing to myself or Scott. Check or money order. And send booze.

“Slummin’ with the Riff Raff” is a kick-ass 10 song CD available now! Go to a show or write to these guys, they’d be glad to give you one. T-shirts too! For CDs and shirts, write to: Scott Shuttlesworth, 23 Silva Ave. Portsmouth, RI 02871 or Jon Jones at 1 Willow St. Newport, RI 02840, Check availability first by emailing the band at motormags@yahoo.com

After a couple of pitchers and shots they were ready to go to practice and I was invited to tag along before heading out on my own Saturday adventures. As I expected, even at practice in Scott’s basement, these guys rocked like nobody’s business! Make sure you check out Motormags at their next show!

 

 

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