Monday, June 9, 2014

New Wet Kojak's "Nasty International" - Rediscovering a Sleaze Rock Classic

Head Medicine presents:

New Wet Kojak's Nasty International

Rediscovering a Sleaze Rock Classic

writing and illustration by brian "kojak" koschak (no relation to New Wet)

New Wet Kojak's Nasty International is one of those classic records destined to live its life hidden in the shadows. Released discreetly by the legendary Touch and Go Records in 1997, New Wet Kojak's enigmatic masterpiece was just too strange for mass consumption. Music "for the clinically odd," said one reviewer.  Without any  singles, videos, or extended national tours to support it, Nasty International remained almost completely obscured from sight ever since its release, existing only by word of mouth from those weird or lucky enough to stumble upon it.  New Wet Kojak was a supergroup of sorts, featuring several luminaries from the fabled Washington DC hardcore/post-hardcore scene of the 80s and 90s, but the band was never designed for material success. From their inception in Amsterdam in 1992 until their cryogenic freeze a decade later, New Wet Kojak remained a pet project in contrast to the band members' more demanding musical day jobs. Nasty International was the band's second album and is a snapshot of the group at the height of their experimental powers. The music is sleazy, decadent, incredibly self-indulgent, and relentlessly cool... like a freakier, more pornographic Morphine to get you in the rough ballpark.  Seedy lounge lizard/drunken beat poet vocals... lyrics that are equal parts sexy and seductive, awkward and ridiculous... scuzzy bass lines slithering through stumbling drumbeats... crooning saxophone... and abstract washes of guitar with feedback squalls and white noise blasts. The songs themselves are stream of consciousness oddities, but the performances are tightly focused, and a thick atmosphere coats everything.  Nasty International is a compelling album from the first note to the last, and sounds like very little else before or since. 

New Wet Kojak was the brainchild of singer/guitarist Scott McCloud and bassist Johnny Temple. The two were bandmates in Washington DC since the mid 80s with their post-hardcore group Soulside, which dissolved and morphed into the criminally under-appreciated Girls Against Boys in 1990.  GVSB went on a fucking tear through the early part of that decade, consistently cranking out their strange brand of filthy, sexy noise rock, and they were known as one of that era's hottest live bands. The group relocated to New York City and stood on the peripheral of superstardom, hailed by many as the Next Big Thing in the post-Nirvana alternative rock world.   But while GVSB toured the world and major labels came knocking, McCloud and Temple hatched a plan for a new project in the summer of '92... something stranger... more off-kilter... a project that was more laid back and experimental to counter the growing seriousness of their Girls Against Boys duties.  The project drew in several important DC musicians:  guitarist/keyboardist/engineer Geoff Turner of the influential band Gray Matter and founder of WGNS Studios, one of DC's most acclaimed independent recording studios (it is worth noting that Dave Grohl's pre-Foo Fighters demos were crafted here with Turner's help), Turner's WGNS engineering partner and area saxophonist Charles Bennington, ex-Edsel drummer and Fugazi's sound engineer Nick Pellicciotto,  and Shudder to Think's Nathan Larson on trumpet.  The group was christened New Wet Kojak, of all random things.  Music was recorded off and on throughout '93 and '94 until the self titled New Wet Kojak album was released in 1995 (Larson would leave the band soon after). That record dimmed the lights and set the mood, acting as a rough template for what was to come with its nocturnal, nicotine-stained sound.  In the fall of 1995, Girls Against Boys were writing and recording *House of GVSB*, their fourth and arguably best album. Even as GVSB fired on all cylinders and major label contracts with Geffen were being signed, somehow, simultaneously, more New Wet Kojak music was being created for a second album.  It was an amazingly fertile creative period for McCloud and Temple, to say the least.  From the start, the recordings that would evolve into Nasty International were more intense than NWK's self-titled album.  There was a wider range of experimental sounds. The overall mood was heavier.  Everything seemed more opiated and paranoid, with a strong cinematic feel to the entire thing.  New Wet Kojak were in top form, and Nasty International became a timeless sleaze rock classic, regardless of how few people have appreciated it over the years.

Scott McCloud and Touch and Go Records were gracious enough to post a six song sample of Nasty International to accompany this article, but i would highly recommend spending the $9.99 and downloading the full album HERE.  It's one of those records that needs to be heard in its entirety to get the full effect.

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Nasty International is an intoxicating swirl of sounds, especially if served under the proper conditions. I suppose this album would sound great at the gym, or deadlocked in rush hour traffic, but you are not really enjoying the record to its full potential, in my opinion.  This is an after hours, loose-tie kinda album.  The deeper into the late night/early morning, the better.  Ideally, the party has finally cleared out and the cool people are all that's left. Maybe you finally have that special someone right where you want them and you are ready to make your move, or you finally have some drunken, horny alone time....whatever... the addition of warm, consenting adults is encouraged, but not necessary.  A few too many tequila shots are required, additional stimulants are optional. Porn with the volume muted is  recommended.  Serve chilled on a hot night. Good times are fully guaranteed... ~ the editor]

Nasty International sounds warped and off-balance right from the start with the opening track "Cool Heart."  Dripped over a murky beat and slurred bass is McCloud's ridiculous opening lines, "I'm gettin' happy/I'm gettin'... slappy,"  spoken/sung with a loose, shitfaced swagger.  It's immediately obvious that this album is going to be pretty dark and weird, but it's also refusing to take itself too seriously.  It's an odd balance. McCloud establishes himself as a charismatic host, even as he constantly tries to get in our pants, and the band sounds skanky as fuck behind him.  It's an unusual mix of sounds, for sure, so you need to buy into New Wet Kojak's musical snake oil scheme early or the album will lose you. It's a fun ride and worth the investment.  "Stereo Explosive" straightens things up a bit, but has a deceptively weird ebb and flow that builds some subliminal tension leading into "Get the Curse," which boots the club doors down and hijacks the dancefloor. Pellicciotto's huge drum beats and Temple's porno bass lines are up front and obvious while McCloud shows a knack for memorable one liners/come on's, but the performances of Turner and Bennington are much more mysterious. With Turner's unconventional guitar/keyboard noise and atmospherics, and Bennington's smooth sax skronk, the two often merge in the ether to form a tranced out smear of abstract color washes.  It sounds like nothing i've ever heard.  Things cool off  with "Hot Sparks," an album highlight.  Perfect dive bar slow dance muzak, with McCloud's best drunken pick up line yet, "You've got a fucked up dance styyyle/that's what i neeeed..."  With the noise settled for a moment, you can quietly take a moment to appreciate how beautifully the album was recorded, how nuanced the performances are, and how creatively textured and layered the final mix sounds.  Headphones are highly recommended to hear these subtleties.  Remember, several members of NWK were seasoned sound engineers. They were having fun experimenting here, and it shows. The album perks up again and pours a fresh round of drinks with the swanky "Love & a Sick Beat" before side one climaxes with the savage white noise blasts of "Sugar X" and crumples in a heap, exhausted.  Side two starts off with the ridiculously filthy sounds of "Kick Some Life." A sloppy drum groove and a melted bass line form it's core while everything else swirls chaotically around it.  This is the soundtrack for drugged up/blacked out good times, or muzak for back alley sex with strangers.  Nasty stuff.  The mood lightens considerably for the next few tracks: The voyeuristic "Code Windham," the slinky lounge jazz of "Limelight Feel," and "Miramax #1," with McCloud advising us,  "It's your movie/stay cool/stay crazy." These songs relax and come up for a quick smoke before Nasty International retreats back to the shadows.  The smoky lounge sounds of "Blue Magic" starts off with a creepy beat poet dedication over  brushed drums, "This one's for all the dead babies/ch-boom-ch-boom boom/for all the dead babies."  It's a quietly unnerving track.  McCloud sounds like a guy who has officially had several too many drinks, bitterly mumbling to himself "Las Vegas is gone/Los Angeles is gone/and all the bad luck dead movie stars/they still got it better than where we are/... over the rainbow," and when he tells us "I'm your number one fan," he sounds like a lecherous creep. You realize he's harmless tho, as the song quietly passes out with its head on the bar.  A silent minute later, the album's hidden track, "Rub That Paste," wakes up, belligerent and ready to fight. It's a noisy, nihlistic freak out with McCloud drunkenly howling, "Style/No talent, baby/Rub that paste!/Taste the Life!/TASTE THE LIFE!" until the bouncer grabs him by the neck and tosses him out into the alley to sleep it off.  So ends another night in the life of New Wet Kojak.

After the album's release, critical reception of Nasty International was widely varied.  Pitchfork (in their early days), notoriously gave the record a rare, near perfect score, while other reviewers gave it a hopeless D-. There was rarely any middle ground, either this album was beloved or it was deemed unlistenable.  New Wet Kojak toured the East and West Coasts, as well as Europe, (here's a vintage recording of an entire live performance from '97, just prior to NI's release) but the band was never allowed a full time commitment with Girls Against Boys active on a major label, so the album quietly faded from view. In the years after the album's release, New Wet Kojak moved away from the murky experimentalism of Nasty International.  The music scene had abruptly changed soon after the record hit the racks, and, realistically, there was just nowhere left to go in that direction.  Alternative/indie rock music was out, and electronic club beats were in.  NWK merged with the times and made some interesting sounds over two more full length albums, Do Things and This Is the Glamouous  and an EP, No. 4, but the band called it quits in 2003, around the same time that Girls Against Boys disbanded and all but vanished from the public consciousness. McCloud moved to Paris and formed a more intimate sound with his Paramount Styles project. Johnny Temple became the founder and publisher of the highly respected Akashic Books. Geoff Turner and Charles Bennington continued with WGNS, and Nick Pellicciotto continued on into sound engineering.  A decade passed and New Wet Kojak had quietly disappeared from sight. There were no hints at all of a New Wet Kojak reformation until it was announced that the band would be performing at the 20th anniversary celebration of the classic Washington DC club, The Black Cat, in September 2013.  The bill would be shared with equally surprising re-appearances by Gray Matter, Shudder to Think, and the now-fully reformed and active Girls Against Boys. NWK, with only a single sound check as preparation, took the stage that weekend and showed little evidence that this was the band's first live show in 11 years.  The crowd was stunned, and, by many accounts,  New Wet Kojak stole the show that weekend.

a high quality, multi-camera video of "Kick Some Life" from the Black Cat reunion assembled by Geoff Turner

and here's a nearly 20 minute audience field recording from that show

Maybe now that this great band has finally stirred from it's sleep, reconnected to the past, and planted seeds for a possible future, New Wet Kojak can step out of its shadowed obscurity and into the spotlight for a change after all these years.


An Exclusive Interview with Scott McCloud

Head Medicine recently had a rare and comprehensive discussion with Scott McCloud about his experiences with New Wet Kojak and the recording of Nasty International.  We are honored to share it with you.

HEAD MEDICINE: How was New Wet Kojak conceived? What were the early days of the band like, and what was your mission/objective?

SCOTT McCLOUD: It started as a studio thing between Johnny and I... and developed from there with the very notable inclusion of the DC sector (Charles Bennington, sax, Geoff Turner, lead guitar/keys, and Nick Pelleciotto, drums)... I think mainly in the beginning it was a way to blow off steam and experiement in the studio in different ways with very skeletal songs.. In the bigger picture, alternative music was very serious business back then, so while I enjoyed all the success we were having with GVSB I wanted that band to maintain its heavy distorted sounds and use other, stranger ideas, for a different project so they would not interfere. Basically GVSB had settled down into a loud rock band, which is exactly what I wanted, and NWK would now be the weird little brother band.

HM:  Did New Wet Kojak develop from unused/rejected GVSB ideas, or was it formed as its own individual beast right from the start? Was there any interplay of ideas between NWK and GVSB, or was there a clear division between the two?

SM:  Yes, there was a clear distinction. There may have been basslines JT would try a couple times with GVSB and they didn't work, so they'd be backburnered for the Kojak, or for me, lyrics I felt were perhaps too obnoxiously childish to include... I took GVSB very seriously, we all did... . A song like NWK's “Freak Now” comes to mind. That would just not have been something everyone in GVSB would have elected to pursue I don't think, and we were a democracy... meaning what that means, we'd all lobby for what we thought was right, and in the beginning GVSB had plenty of ideas so there was no shortage of motivated material for either band really. And that's not to say NWK was not a democracy, in the end, but maybe of a different sort.

HM:  What did New Wet Kojak offer you creatively that GVSB did not?

SM:  Well, I could diversify in terms of instruments. I wanted to play drums, as well as guitar, and I could do that in NWK... for the recordings I mean.... It would have been undiplomatic to attempt to play some drums in GVSB..... after Nick P came into the fold playing great drums in NWK, he didn't mind, and I think enjoyed playing my drum beats on the songs which feature them... I'd always liked that simple drumming that inexperienced drummers sometimes do.... and I was not a good drummer, by any means, but that was the was the sloppiness I liked. Same thing with the lyrics. I laboured long and hard over lyrics for both bands really, but in NWK (as there were no real expectations, mainly my own expectations) I could go a little easier on myself... Live a little. A lot of the NWK lyrics are phrases and non-sequiter repetions, etc (not that different in many ways to GVSB stuff) but I allowed myself a little more liberty for whatever reason. NWK became the little thing to have fun with and not worry (at all) about. Actually I remember being in the studio for the GVSB Geffen record and Nick Launay, the producer, telling me at one point “why don't you a try a little more of that kind of thing you do with New Wet Kojak?” and I didn't understand it at all at the time. I was, I think in retrospect, withering a bit under the pressure and expectations of a major label album and he was just trying to loosen me up.

HM:  What were some influences/inspiration/reference points you guys looked towards while developing the sound of New Wet Kojak?
SM:  I was a big Morphine fan, and wanted to try some stuff with Saxaphone... and Charles is a great sax player (even though he might claim, at times, that he has no idea what he was doing)...of course we weren't going for an E Street Band vibe, or a Bryan Ferry faux late night vibe where the sax kind of bleeds in to somehow show you “see its the end of the night in the big city, things are getting jazzy”... I never liked the assoctaion to “jazz”.... Its like, when you hear a saxaphone why is it jazz suddenly? Its just another instrument. There were very few bands using sax. Charles had a way of keeping it experimental, but also melodic at times. Later I used to say we were influenced by No wave type groups (James Chance and the Contortions, etc) but that's not really true, I didn't listen to that much. I don't know why I said that, I probably just couldn't think of anything else. It probably was a sort of perverse “Walk on the Wild Side” type of idea... but with the idea of stretching the limits of that into more noise. I think we wanted to challenge ourlselves, and to allow ourselves, to let it be as strange as possible... while keeping in mind they were still hopefully “listenable” tracks. I remember the New Musical Express review of Nasty International was like “NWK has made a record that only disgruntled record store employees will appeciate”.... meaning a record that only people who hate everything will like... and while this was maybe a bit disappointing, because it was the NME, and I did hope to bend some ears and such, it was more or less correct. Nasty International is not for everyone.
Part of this band, for all of us, may have been our own little protest of sorts, but I honestly forget what we were protesting against. Maybe we had no idea ourselves but just felt like being ornery.

HM:  Girls Against Boys' *House of GVSB* and New Wet Kojak's Nasty International were recorded within weeks of each other.  Was the writing of these albums running parallel to each other or was Nasty International born after finishing *House of GVSB*?
SM:  I guess they were. I remember finishing House in Hoboken at Water Music in autumn 95... we'd just signed the Geffen deal. It was a heady time, I felt like I could do anything, accomplish anything, if only I put my mind to it... (ha) so why not also finish up Nasty? Also I think unconscously, I was revelling in being right where we were. Top of our game at Touch & Go, and more to look forward to... or be nervous about, but that's a good feeling when you're making music. The idea that people might actually listen to it. I remember sitting on a plane off to a UK/Europe press tour and listening to House and Nasty sessions on my DAT player (free gift from Sony) and thinking to myself, 'you better enjoy these next couple of years, it's not something that always happens.' I was very proud of both albums.

HM:  I feel that Nasty International is your finest, tightest work with New Wet Kojak. Compared to the self titled album, NI was far deeper, more atmospheric and more sonically dense. What kind of creative head space were you guys in when creating this material and how had it evolved since the first album? Did you have a clear intention of what you wanted this album to be or did it just sort of happen?
SM:  I agree. Funny note on this Nasty International received a 9.8 rating from Pitchfork when it came out in 1997 But the review was later deleted.  But anyway, yes, the full five piece band had really come together, for one thing (the first album is less fleshed out)... Everyone was excited, we knew it would be released on Touch & Go, so we had a home to be on, and could do what we wanted. Still, we never wrote a song as a five piece in a room together... we tried one and I think someone commented “it sort of sounds like the theme to Taxi, the TV show... and not in a good way... it's pretty dry”... I think with Nasty everyone felt pretty comfortable with the way things were working... taking liberties with the tracks, etc... there were more overdubs, more excentric ideas. And the clear intention, if there was one, was to sort of enjoy the situation, perhaps revel in it, and experiment. It was like someone would go in and do an overdub and you would think “that was the craziest, dumbest thing I have ever heard” but when listening back you would say “I dunno, its pretty cool though.” So it was this little trip we were on, the five of us. We laughed about it a lot, we were having fun. We were also maybe a little full of ourselves for no real reason, but that can also be an advantageous feeling.

HM:  How did these compositions take form? Were the songs clearly mapped out beforehand or spontaneous pieces? Was the recording done live or overdubbed and pieced together?

SM:  Usually two people, maybe three, would lay down the basic track,... like a skeleton. That could be anyone, Geoff playing the keyboards parts to “Code Windham” with me on drums. I think even “Freak Now” was tracked maybe with just me on drums and Charles on sax, I can't remember if Johnny put the bass down as an overdub or during. I think it was just afterwards. And I liked that, I had never tracked a song playing drums with only a sax player. Or Nick would take over drums, with Geoff on Guitar and Johnny playing bass. “Stereo Explosive”... On that song I don't do much at all, aside from breathing into the mic and whisper/shout/scream something or other. So it was all over the place. However, Johnny and I would usually have a handful of basic ideas to bring for the sessions, I didn't like arriving in the studio and leaving everything to chance. That never worked very well. Because if the spark wasn't there you needed a few basic ideas to fall back on just to have something to do. ... sometimes, it probably goes without saying, things did NOT work out and we spent hours diddling around (fucking the flies, as the French say) on something which only got scrapped in the end. I didn't want things to get overly complicated. The idea was that in staying rudimentary, the songs would remain performable without arduous rehearsals (we never rehearsed, I never wanted to rehearse, even for tours) and always be open to some improvisation. Sometimes Nick would say things like “man, I want to do some like Ethiopian drum patterns on this” or something....and we'd go down that route for a while. But two hours later I'd be like “OK, I'll step over to the Cat and come back in a bit.” I sort of liked it when somehow the idea stayed simple, and everything came together in a more sripped down way, very quickly. Which was usually the case with the songs we kept.
Since this was the way we recorded the songs, with very little editing if any back then (I think no digital editing at all) often the live versions were better later on. The ideas wouldn't change that much but the overall performance improved.

HM:  What are your strongest memories from those recording sessions? Any interesting stories of extracurricular activities after hours?

SM:  We did recordings in NYC and WDC, mostly in DC. Geoff and Charles had their studio WGNS next door to the old Black Cat... so we'd be pretty loose about things. I hadn't really recorded with anyone like them before. I remember once taking the train down to DC and they met me at the station and Geoff said “so we have a sort of alternative plan for this weekend, first of all we want to drive around for a couple hours with you playing guitar in the backseat of the car and just record you.” I liked the unconventionality of that. On the other had, of course nothing was used from that. But it went with the whole idea. I didn't want to be all work no play, so it was far from that. Sometimes we'd all come in the first night and just sort of mess around for hours, doing nothing, talking, making jokes, having some drinks, and... well, nothing would get done. But it was still useful because we were all sort of bonding on whatever this band was supposed to be, what it was all about, the attitude. But it was the sessions inbetween these extremes that were the best. Every night we'd take breaks, wander over and see what Dante was doing at Black Cat, watch a few songs from whatever band was playing, then head back over to the studio to re-enter our own world. This was cool, being in the studio was always a bit numbing to me after many hours, just stepping out and seeing a band for 20 minutes (any band) was refreshing.

HM:  If i may be blunt, how much chemical inspiration was fueling the sessions? This does not sound like music performed by musicians on the straight and narrow.
SM:  We drank, yes. Maybe occasional other stimulants, but not that much. I do remember one weekend we brought some more recreational stuff down, but I think it was such a disaster we never did that again (ok maybe we did it twice). I mean if we drank too much we just couldn't do anything, but it did seem that some was required to set the right mood. It seems almost shameful to say these days, given the relative sobriety of rock, but I suppose back then it didn't seem much of an issue. Drinking in 90s rock was pretty much everywhere it seemed to me. Maybe its the same now for some people? I don't really know. But yes, if you are a band who take this route (Not that I recommend it) you will find its all about timing. Too much is not a good thing, at all. Total abstinence, on the other hand, can make one feel despondent, perhaps hopeless, as to the nature of what is being endeavoured. But yes, this was not music that was ever recorded in the morning.

HM:  What do you feel were the strengths of everybody's performances on this album? yours included.

SM:  I feel like Johnny really got to shine on a lot of the Kojak stuff, he is a great bass player and NWK always had these very sort of sinister sounding bass lines which often drive the songs... they were almost pornographic sounding to me... low budget porn riffage. Cheesy sexy, or something. Nick P is a great drummer... as evidenced by the recent Kojak show in DC... I could turn around and just watch him. The way he keeps it all together, occassionally using a free hand (without losing a beat) to push his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose, is amazing. Also Nick's sense of humor kept the whole thing going more often than not. I think for Geoff, who is a great songwriter (Gray Matter and all the other bands) it was a chance for him to really let his hair down in a wildly experimental way... his guitar set up in Kojak was always a source of amusement... so many effects, but he always seemed to be on the edge of it all breaking down... which is musical tension, which is of course great... and Charles, who has such a laid back stage persona... He'd sometimes just stand there smoking on stage. Charles also held a lot of the sessions together and did some of the harder technical work. For me, again I think some of my drum parts are pretty good. I think vocally I did a decent job of sounding like a person on the edge of sanity (easy to do at the time) … but also I did a good job guiding the ship, bringing in the skeletons of songs with lots of space for everyone to go wild on, and having the sense to not be overly critical....titling the songs, including Touch & Go in the process, all the other work, dealing with everything. I don't know, I had this sort of bravado, I think to pull out these songs and get them done took some of that as well.

HM:  Nasty International has an almost cinematic feel to it, and a lurid, dark, sexy vibe. What kind of image does this album paint in your head, and under what conditions/situations should this music be played for maximum enjoyment?

SM:  The image I get is yes, perhaps the cinematic dark side to even being in an alternative band... all the attention/fame seeking... the alcohol, the desperation to be liked, and the desire to be disliked at the same time, the bravado, the pride, the fears... and it all sounds dangerously like its going off the rails. You want it too much, so you can't have it. The high of the evening is perilously close to turning into a very bad low vibe indeed... I always perferred to listen on headphones while travelling somewhere (plane, train, automobile). Airports= best.

HM:  These recordings sat on the shelf for quite a while... most were recorded in december of '95, not mixed until a year later, and finally released in june of '97. I am assuming the delay was due to GVSB responsibilities? How did the performances sound to you when the recordings were finally dusted off and finished up? In your heart, which bands' work were you more excited about at this point and were you ever unhappy that NWK had to be done in the shadow of GVSB?
SM:  I don't remember comparing them too much, although yes I suppose they were recorded in parts more or less in tandem. I was very pleased with both records. I think for me, though, the main thing was that while heading towards an unknown future at a major label, I felt like relishing the moment with these albums... To have two active bands on Touch & Go? I mean, this was very sweet indeed. I was a bit concerned about the pressures we'd face with Geffen... so really, I sort of wish I could have, or would have, stayed in this situation for at least a few more years. Somewhere in-between expectation and just having fun. Probably should have done that, in the end. I think GVSB was not really ready to record the major label album...

HM:  Did New Wet Kojak get to tour or perform very much in support of Nasty International?
SM:  We did tour, quite a lot.. We didn't do full US tours, East and West Coast instead. I remember a couple trips to SXSW, at least one. And even more European shows. For a band like we were we played a lot. Some festivals here and there. We were active and I remember good audiences. [again, here's an entire performance from '97 to get a taste of their live sound back in the day]

HM:  The sound of New Wet Kojak changed pretty dramatically after Nasty International. How did the band evolve after that album's release?
SM:  I agree, it did change. I think a part of that was just the general climate change in music circa 1997/1998... to the millenium. The future was happening and it was going to be ironic. Electronic music was coming to the front. Whereas a year or two previous GVSB and even NWK was sort of edgy, overnight it seemed this changed. Everybody wanted to be a DJ suddenly. 90s alt rock was sort of passe.... replaced by a sense of irony, distance, novelty.... Groove Armada "I see you baby, shaking that ass, shaking that ass"  I thought, fuck I can do this too, why not? Honestly I felt like we had some of that anyway, already in the music.  I was hoping with both GVSB and NWK could assimilate/update... whatever... be a part of it. Have fun with it.  But somehow that ironic distance didn't really work, in the end, it was a sort of self-sabotage.  At the time I thought "Do Things" (first NWK Beggars Banquet LP) was our strongest to date. But looking back, I can see... its sort of like the best part of the whole thing, maybe the pathos of it (musically and lyrically), was replaced by a more tongue-in-cheek supericiality. It did not translate, and sucked a lot of the power out of the music. On the other hand, NWK also did a 12" remix vinyl release... a ten minute version of "Stick Out Your Tongue" by Charles, which I am sure would still rank, in my view, as one of the best remixes of all time.  [listen to it HERE as well as a nine-minute remix of "Miramax"]

HM:  When did NWK decide to hang it up and call it quits?

SM:  We played some shows in 2002 in Europe, ending at a big festival in Belgium (I remember Coldplay was on the bill very early in the evening, New Wet Kojak and Blonde Redhead were the headliners... ) and that was it. Pretty much the same time GVSB stopped recording as well, I think. Or close to that. I moved to Paris, I was burned out by then. I don't remember exact dates.

HM:  Recently, New Wet Kojak reconvened for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Black Cat club in Washington, DC. Can you tell us a bit about how that came together? What are your thoughts on the performance? By the way, i recently spoke to craig wedren and stuart hill of shudder to think and they both agreed that, hands down, NWK turned in that weekends most impressive performance.

SM: Well, I was visiting DC and Dante  told me he was planning a Black Cat anniversary weekend and asked me if I thought NWK could play. I was a bit worried about it, but there could have been no better occasion for NWK play again.  As per our usual selves, we did not rehearse apart from once on the Black Cat stage during one afternoon for a couple hours. Basically an extended soundcheck. And this is not a reflection of our ambivalence, on the other hand, it is sort of the very essence of the band. For us to rehearse for a week would be antithetical to the idea and nature of the group.  But I was amazed. Both that audience was so attentive and that I think we played perhaps the best set I ever remember the band doing in its existence...  I think it opened my eyes. I could see it from another angle. Not as a personal failure, but as something special indeed. It's taken me awhile to get that distance. I'm sincerely flattered Craig and Stuart would say that about the performance. It was great to play with Shudder as well. I'm surprised they would say that.

HM:  Is there anything in the future for New Wet Kojak?

SM:  The Black Cat show was recorded and filmed, apparently in high quality, so there is maybe something happening with that coming up... which I would like, as I think live the songs are better than some of the recorded versions.

We'd always talked about doing a reunion tour someday, but limiting it to exclusively dates in Poland and Florida.

It seems like a better idea than ever.


a very special thank you to Scott McCloud, Geoff Turner, and the fine folks at Touch and Go Records for their invaluable contributions to this piece.

writing and art by Brian "Kojak" Koschak

©2014 brian koschak

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