Interview for Jellybrain #11, November 2002
1) What is a Zatopek?
A Zatopek is many things. The one we had in mind was the Czechoslovakian athlete Emil Zatopek, who died last year. He was big in the middle of the last century, and was famous for how strange he looked when he ran. He is also known for having been a really cool person, and when he publicly denounced the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the Dubcek regime fell, he was put into hard labour for years. I read his obituary and thought that we should name the band after him. Originally we weren't gonna swear in this band, since we were using his name. We still don't much. But Zatopek is a common surname in that part of the world, so it'll be weird if we ever play in Prague. They'll think we're taking the piss.
2) You're influenced by Buddy Holly and Ramones, right? What do you think was so special about both?
With Buddy Holly, the music still says it all. I can say what I like, but listening to his records is the best way to understand what was special about him. He died at 21, and we lost out on all the rest of the songs he would have written. We're going to see his band, The Crickets, on Sunday night. We're fucking hyped!
Ramones still sound great, of course, but their importance goes a lot deeper than that. We need to remind ourselves of the context, and the state of music at the time. They were particularly necessary because they reminded us that you don't need ten minute solos or a music degree to write a great pop song. That's lucky, since we still struggle on the ten second solos. Seriously, rock n' roll would have been fucked without the Ramones.
3)What's the deal with the Zatopeks and 3 1/2 Inch Floppy?
I don't know. Floppy was our first band, formed in 1999. We were in the band before we really knew each other... I remember pointing to Pete in a pub and telling Sebby "I think that's our drummer over there" (I can't remember faces). The only thing that's changed in that band is that Rachel left, and Sam joined on second guitar and did lead vocals while I was living in Germany. We haven't recorded since March 2001, and I don't know if we will again. Zatopeks formed out of Floppy, and started out as a complete joke. Our first song titles were drawn up one night, dumb Ramones take-offs like "The PTA Took My Baby Away", "Japanese Rock" and "Pet Crematorium". We wrote them all in the practice room in an hour, and played them at a Battle of the Bands. I was playing bass by sliding my thumb up and down the top string. But we had a lot of fun and decided it was easier to arrange gigs than it was for Floppy because there were fewer of us, and Dave and Jo worked. So we asked The Giant to play bass, and got this gig in Rotterdam in summer 2001 with Ragin' Hormones and Turbo AC's, and started to feel like a real band, although we still used the same shitty songs. So when I left England, I started writing new ones, with serious lyrics. It took off from there and I'm really proud of what the Zatopeks have recorded. Everything we do starts as a joke, gets out of hand, and suddenly becomes serious. It's weird.
4) Terrorist attacks on the USA... you reap what you sow and chickens coming home to roost... or atrocious acts of murder?
Both. The loss of innocent lives is appalling... and the notion that somebody gets to heaven by massacring others is fucked up beyond belief. But we should be equally disgusted at the (larger) number of civilians who were killed by reckless bombing in Afghanistan, or are going to die in Iraq. American lives are worth no more or less than these other victims.
The problem is that September 11th was perceived it as "an attack on our way of life". If we're gonna be that stupid, we may as well give up now. Our "way of life" depends upon others being kept in abject poverty. Bombing people wins votes for Bush and arms manufacturing contracts for his mates, but only increases hatred of America/The West and therefore the risk of terrorism. If this was really a "war on terror", we wouldn't use bombs. It explains why so many people hate us, and I don't blame them.
5) Joey Ramone's death... a sad loss for punk rock or just another dead rock star. Why?
C'mon, you're asking a Zatopek. I've already mentioned why I think the Ramones are so important, and Joey was their voice, their frontman. He loved 60's girl-pop and brought that element to the Ramones. I dunno. He was Joey Ramone. The big guy. When I heard he was dead it was 3am, and I tried to force myself to shed a tear. You've GOT TO cry the night Joey passes away. But it didn't work, so I just sat there feeling gutted all night.
6) Dee Dee Ramone's death... the loss of one of punk's greatest songwriters or just another dead junkie? Why?
Well, Dee Dee was great, his songs were (sometimes) great. But I'd never have wept over it. My dad came in and told me he was dead, and I just felt pissed off. Like I was his grandmother. Dee Dee what WERE you thinking? Man, you survive all that and then die in your kitchen at 50. Of course he wasn't just another dead junkie. He was Dee Dee Ramone. Maybe that's why I was so annoyed he went out like that.
7) Would you have sex with a whore... even if someone else paid? If no... why?
No. Not so much out of some kind of moral viewpoint, though a lot of girls in that situation are pretty desperate and it would feel a bit like taking advantage of that. I'm sure some prostitutes enjoy their job but it's a bit of a last resort for most, I think. Also there's the ego side of things... if I'm having sex with someone, I'd like to know that they want to shag me for reasons other than the fact that I, or whoever else, was paying them to do it. Maybe I'm insecure or something, but it wouldn't be a turn on. She'd probably be lying there thinking about what she's gonna watch on TV that night or something, or what a bastard her pimp is. It doesn't do it for me.
While we're on the subject, I think it's pretty fucked up that prostitution hasn't been completely legalised, de-stigmatised and unionised long ago. Get government-sponsored brothels so that at least they can work safely and have rights. Tory party Headquarters, maybe. Save them the journey.
8) Is the Osbournes TV show just a way of having a voyeuristic laugh at a rock n' roll casualty... or valid and harmless entertainment?
I was subjected to it once. I dunno. It's just Ozzy, whose antics are a permanent reminder for us to regulate our drug use, and the three most annoying people in the world. If people find it 'valid and harmless' it's their business... personally I started to notice that I was nurturing an ever-increasing desire to kill as the show progressed. So I never saw it again, though I still saw the adverts where they were sitting on the clouds, which irritated the living shit out of me. What's wrong with chairs? It's just one more reason to leave the TV off and go for a walk in the park instead.
9) List 5 of your fave bands and say why you like them.
1. The Beach Boys were my first love. The melodies are easy to pick up on when you're a kid, and it happened to me so early on that every single Beach Boys song is linked in with everything that's happened to me. When I turned twelve I started buying my own tapes and I realised that nobody at school liked 'em. I couldn't understand that.
2. Green Day is an obvious and unpopular choice, but (like many others) their records were a starting point for my descent into the Lookout! Records stuff, Weasel, Queers, Op Ivy. That's where my life's been for the last six years now, so even though I don't listen to them too much anymore, they needed a mention.
3. Screeching Weasel was another important one for me, probably THE most important. I loved the music, but I've always been drawn to punk bands through their lyrics. The alienation and wit in the lyrics played a good part in showing me that isolation is cool. "If I wanna do something right, I gotta do it myself or someone else'll fuck it up."
4. Gerry Mulligan meets Ben Webster. This isn't really a band, but a jazz collaboration from the 1950's. It started my jazz obsession a couple of years ago. I'm not a jazz critic so I can't say much more. Just listen to it, it fucking rules.
5. Tom Waits isn't a band either. He's a person, but I can't shut up about him so I won't here, either. He's been making records for thirty years and never went shitty and new wave. His 70's stuff was primarily folksy, jazzy odes to being a bum, a drifter and an alcoholic. The 80's stuff got weirder and... fuck, like I can describe it! The more recent stuff is just fucked up and the work of a genius. "Misery's the river of the world, everybody row!" I love Tom Waits. He's a one man Screeching Weasel. Kind of.
10) What's happening with the Zatopeks then? Reveal all.....
Good question. In the next month or two, our split 7" with The 20Belows from Denmark is out on Sebby's new label, All-Nite Records. Also very soon the Whoa Oh Records four-band split CD is coming out, with us, The Apers (Holland), Twentyearsold (Spain), and The 20Belows again. We've got one song on the forthcoming European Pop-Punk Virus 2 sampler on Stardumb Records (released in December), and in early 2003 we're doing a split 7" with The Spazzys, an amazing all-girl pop-punk band from Australia. To say that we're excited to be on records with these bands is an understatement! It's taken a while for us to release stuff but it looks like we'll be flooding the market pretty soon.
In Summer 2003 I'm leaving the UK for good, and will be living in Poland so things are gonna get a bit difficult, but the plan is to do something like two European tours and one record per year. Maybe for the rest of our lives. Either that, or there's Plan B. That means the following: The Giant dies of a drug OD (he shotgunned that one, since it's the most rock n' roll), Pete converts to Islam, changes his name and grows a beard, just like Cat Stevens did; I'm gonna release a string of unsuccessful solo records and then do a Robert Maxwell off my yacht in the Mediterranean, and Sebby is gonna be the normal one who appears in all of the documentaries.
Until then, we'll be gigging in the UK and Europe, and people should come and see us. Before it's too late...
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