The Young Lions Conspiracy, I.S.A. “What Are You Doing to Participate?”
The Young Lions is a group of like-minded individuals who believe in living life to the fullest and continuing to move forward — always moving forward — because if you are not moving forward you become stagnant. It is a group that promotes an attitude of diversity in both sound and everyday life. Keep your filters wide open. You don’t have to do what everybody else does and once you realize that it frees you up to be yourself and express yourself in ways that only you can ever realize. It’s much healthier and fun to listen to all kinds of music and find the connections. The sounds with true soul will ring out loud and clear! Just keep doing your best and by all means keep pushing your expression. Stay true to the cause and don’t get caught up in any of “their” hype.
If there’s any one person involved in the underground punk/rock’n’roll scene today that is the be-all end-all to this embodiment of the Young Lions Conspiracy, capable of pulling together influences from various music styles ranging from punk/new wave, free jazz, folk blues, reggae, soul, funk and rock’n’roll and combining them to form his own unique style, it’s Tim Kerr of Austin, Texas.
I first became acquainted with the work of Tim Kerr back in college in the mid-1980s, when I heard my first Big Boys records. The Big Boys provided me hours of musical enjoyment and curiosity (hell, they played sloppy, fun, rebellious funk’n’roll better than ANY band before or since, IMHO, including the way overrated Red Hot Chili Peppers), as did other classic ’80s Texas punk bands like The Dicks, The Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Really Red, The Offenders, etc. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Big Boys had a bigger impact on me personally than similar bands such as The Minutemen or any other funk/ska/soul punk bands at the time (until, that is, I discovered NoMeansNo, but that’s another story altogether). At the time I had no idea who Tim Kerr was or that I’d be a fan of his various musical endeavors over the next 17+ years. But as time wore on, I would continually see his name associated with other bands that I liked, namely Poison 13, Jack O’ Fire, The Monkeywrench, King Sound Quartet, and most recently, The Now Time Delegation. Around the time that I first got the Jack O’ Fire Beware the Souless Cool LP, I noticed an interesting looking logo showing a clenched fist grasping a harmonica with the words “Young Lions Conspiracy” circling it and the words “What are you doing to participate?” scrawled below. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to ask Tim about the Young Lions, to find out exactly what it’s all about and where it came from. Here’s what I found out.
Interview by Kopper circa 2001/2002, originally intended for inclusion in Head in a Milk Bottle Vol. 2, #3
HIAMB: I once read an interview with someone named “Big Daddy Soul” on an insert that came with the Lord High Fixers’ Talking to Tommorrow 10″. This was from back in ’95. Who is he?
Tim Kerr: “Big Daddy Soul” is a person who has been documenting the Young Lion’s Conspiracy for some time… But the point of all of this is the thoughts and ideas and how they make you think or pertain to you. That’s what’s important, not the source-bearer.
HIAMB: Well, in that particular interview, he mentioned that the Young Lions Conspiracy was growing from that of a smaller underground organization built on the realization of facts and ideas brought about by cause and effect and demise of organizations that have come before and organizations that are happening now. What sorts of “organizations” are these? Sounds like a modern update on the word “conventions” as it relates to customary practices or rules for artistic behavior, am I right? As in musical conventions? This rings of the old artist/poet bohemians and beatniks revolting against convention, or living and creating in an unconventional, nonconforming way…
TK: Organizations as in a group of people trying to organize, get something going… Something that is growing. Conventions are stale old get-togethers, staying within the confines, conventional. They’re an excuse for funny hats and throwing water balloons out of windows when in fact, why do you need an excuse! (smile) Once again, the beauty of all this is the individual’s interpretation and yours on that interview was great!
HIAMB: It was also stated, though, that “the lack of information is in reality the strength.” How is that so?
TK: You can get bogged down with “information” and forget to really think about what is being presented to you. Really think about the words and sentences instead of where the book came from. How many times have you been at a show where people are talking about, “well, so-and-so is in this band so therefore they’re great!” instead of just listening and deciding for yourself how it makes YOU think or feel without any other outside information except what is being presented to you. Once again it’s the ideas and emotions and how they relate to you — not the bearer of the ideas.
HIAMB: How did you first get involved with the Young Lions?
TK: I read something on the back of a Sun Ra record and that’s what got me interested. It was a collection of thoughts that were exactly how I was feeling.
HIAMB: Where did the manifesto or idiom of the YLC originate? If there is a manifesto, what would that be?
TK: I’m not sure when this all first started but the main emphasis is on staying open-minded, because if you are open at all times, you are learning at all times.
HIAMB: So, obviously you must have been really moved, intrigued, and even influenced by that Sun Ra record. What other artists or musicians, like him (jazz or otherwise), did you take influence from?
TK: There is so much! I listen to different stuff all the time—John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, early John Martyn, Nick Drake, Irish traditional, Minor Threat, Minutemen, Aaron Copland, Fugazi, Curtis Mayfield, The Impressions, Sly and the Family Stone…
HIAMB: Everything I’ve read about the YLC seems to be somewhat vague, yet precise in its vagueness. Do you think that’s accurate?
TK: I don’t think it is vague at all. Bottom line: Stay open to what is happening around you and learn. You never know who will be next to be part of your family or your new favorite food or song or book or cool place and so on. Celebrate your time here. That is not vague at all, to me, and it makes so much sense that I try to apply it at all times to my time here. This original seed, or idea, is completely open to grow to become your own philosophy, coming from your own experiences, because everyone’s experiences and their interpretations will be different. The only given is if you shut yourself off from things then you shut yourself off from living life to the fullest, along with all of the knowledge and emotions that come with that.
HIAMB: Do you encounter a lot of confusion, misunderstanding or even hostility from some people regarding the Young Lions movement?
TK: I get asked questions but not a whole lot. The only hostility comes from people who think that, because a thought or experience is written down, then the writer must think of him or herself as above the one receiving the message, when in reality it’s just one thought, one person’s opinion or interpretation, a kind of “did you ever wonder or think this?” that is there for your discussion, thought or time. A human being trying to connect with another human being.
HIAMB: Some people have viewed the YLC as just another elitist clique. Why do you think that is?
TK: Well, first of all people are going to “view” what they view no matter how spelled out it is for them. I can only speak for myself, but I am not concerned with someone’s “bag it, tag it” quick attitude they may have applied to me or my choices, or anyone else’s for that matter. If you understand the “stay open” first lesson of the Young Lions Conspiracy, I personally don’t see how you can equate that with an elitist clique.
HIAMB: I don’t think they put that tag on it once they know what it’s all about—in fact, I’m sure that once they DO understand the message that these preconceptions diminish considerably—but I think that just by having a name associated with it, and a name that also includes the mysterious word “conspiracy” in it, makes them feel that it’s somewhat elitist, or an inclusive club, something out of The X-Files or something… know what I mean?
TK: Yes, I do (smile). We were having a long discussion about this question and were coming to some of the same conclusions. A name is something to rally around for better or worse.
HIAMB: List some of the best teachers you’ve encountered in helping you on the road to realizing your ideals that shaped who you are today.
TK: For me, it’s a combination of people, incidents, experiences, etc. that I learn and am learning from. You can pretty much learn from anything. There are things that have made a strong impression on me such as the original community spirit of punk/hardcore, friends and friends to come who are doing or creating different things for the right reasons.
HIAMB: What about books or literature? Who are some of your favorite authors, thinkers, or philosophers? Read any good books lately?
TK: I am reading the autobiography of (jazz genius) Anthony Braxton right now. Sun Ra’s biography really made a lot of things inside me connect. I like Brendan Behan’s stuff and the book A Prayer for Owen Meany (by John Irving) was really great. Of course Howl (Allen Ginsberg) is pretty amazing and dead on… and yes, I have read all of the Harry Potters and thought they were great! (smile) There is a guy that I read about in Shane MacGowan’s biography (A Drink With Shane) that writes a lot of stuff on zen and tao that is really great but I can’t think of his name right now.
HIAMB: I’m curious to know what other sorts of entertainment you enjoy. What sorts of movies do you like, for example?
TK: I like movies like To Kill a Mockingbird, War of the Buttons, coming of age-type stuff and things that have to do with subcultures… documentaries, etc. I like seeing old ’40s/’50s/’60s Americana “ideal”-type things… architecture, mom and pop stores, etc. I like traveling and going to thrift stores! Bicycles, skating, scooters…
HIAMB: Skating, yeah… isn’t that how you broke your wrist?
TK: Yeah, I had just landed a sweeper and after the initial stall… I went forward, and the board did not. (smile) It was bad… I have a plate. Oh well.
HIAMB: A what? A sweeper…?
TK: What? You don’t play your Tony Hawk skater game? (smile) A sweeper is when you skate up to the edge or lip of where ever you are skating and kick the board out from under your feet and while holding the nose with your hand, you sweep the tail of the board across the edge, then land your feet back on it. Uh… understand? I never thought about describing these things; it’s harder than the trick!
HIAMB: Let’s shift gears here and talk about some of your contemporaries. What do you think of Mick Collins’ work? I see a lot of similarities between the two of you. You collaborated with Mick on the King Sound Quartet project back in ’96 and recorded some amazing stuff. What exactly caused the failure of the 2000 King Sound Quartet session (with Matt Verta Ray of Speedball Baby) that was to have evolved into the second album? And do you think you and Mick will ever be able to get back together on any future projects?
TK: Uh… (smile) I don’t see any similarities at all, other than we have both been in bands. He comes from a completely different cut of cloth and I, and I will just leave it at that. The failure of the King Sound Quartet meant the birth of the Now Time Delegation. We gave 120%, Mick didn’t.
HIAMB: Sounds like you two had quite a falling out! The similarities I was getting at are the obvious connection to blues, soul and R&B that you both seem to share, how you both pull influences from classic artists to create your music, and the fact that you’ve both been involved with so many bands over the years. Sorry if that question struck a nerve. I suppose the two of you could have similar tastes/experiences in music but differ substantially when it comes to personal philosophies and ethics.
TK: Don’t worry , I was not upset (smile) and yes we are completely two different people that happen to like similar things… You were completely right in your assumption.
HIAMB: Were the songs on the Now Time Delegation album originally slated for the second KSQ LP? And does the Now Time Delegation plan on recording another record soon?
TK: Most of the Now Time songs were intended to be the next King Sound, so yeah. I’m not sure what is going to happen with the Now Time Delegation… Everyone is really busy.
HIAMB: What about Billy Childish? He seems to be continually evolving, and exploring new musical directions with his various bands over the years. His new band, in fact (The Buff Medways) seems to be heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix. AND he’s a great poet, artist and storyteller as well. Have you ever spoken to him regarding the YLC and its similarities with Stuckism (his artistic movement)? The philosophies or manifestos seem almost identical in theory.
TK: I will thank you for this one, that is indeed a compliment, and yes we have become good friends. We have talked about a lot of things and just recently about maybe doing something together at some point.
HIAMB: Please list the bands you’ve played with in the past.
TK: Big Boys, Court Reporters, Poison 13, Bad Mutha Goose and The Brothers Grimm, Seventh Samurai, Jack O’ Fire, Fist Fight, Lord High Fixers, King Sound Quartet, Monkeywrench, Now Time Delegation, and Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee.
HIAMB: You’ve been in so many bands over the years… What has been the main reason behind them breaking up? Is it differences in artistic/musical direction? Internal problems?
TK: Bands are like riding in the station wagon with your brothers and sisters when your parents took you on those long vacations… at some point you have to get out of the car. (smile)
HIAMB: What’s been the most bizarre/crazy experience you’ve had from playing in all of those bands over the past 20 years? The one that really sticks out in your memory the most?
TK: There really are too many… really! Everything from Biscuit (Big Boys) covered in motor oil and honey, the couple of, uh, small riots, and being wined and dined in Bad Mutha Goose. The first time the Lord High Fixers went to Japan, being thrown in the air like the Eskimos when The Monkeywrench played Spain, recording The Quadrajets record in someone’s house where we had the drums in the kitchen and amps in the bedrooms and bathroom, doing a question-and-answer thing at a college in Slovenia and being on their national news with the first question being ‘What is the Young Lion’s Conspiracy?’… etc… etc…
HIAMB: When and where was your best show ever? The one that really blew you away as a musician/performer… what were the circumstances, etc.?
TK: Any Lord High Fixers shows, period. Especially the early ones when no one knew what we were up to or what to expect. Just the look on friends’ faces was priceless.
HIAMB: Tell me about Sweatbox Studios (in Austin). You obviously do a lot of production for other bands that record there. What’s your philosophy on how to get the best sound out of a band?
TK: The Sweatbox is owned by Mike Vasquez. I started helping out friends there when they would record and have just stayed there. The room is great and has a really great sound! I am into getting the best sound with the mike placement and stuff, instead of using studio tricks. I’m also really big into the “feel” of the music and set it up to where you don’t have to wear headphones, which I, for one, prefer.the big thing to remember is that you want to be able to look back at that experience and smile. When you play that record 20 years from now it should bring back great memories about that one documentation at that one time with that one set of people.
HIAMB: What if a band wants to get you to produce their stuff… What should they do?
TK: I don’t do this for a living, though I do it all the time (smile), so the beauty for me is I do things I like. I also like the idea that if someone wants to work with me they have to work a little to try and get a
way to get a hold of me. That kind of weeds out the people that don’t really have their hearts into the choices they are making in the first place.
HIAMB: So, the name of your newest combo is The Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee. If that doesn’t sound like a Young Lions name, I don’t know what does! How does this band differ musically or creatively from any of your previous bands, especially the Lord High Fixers?
TK: To me it’s an extension of what the Lord High Fixers had started but just pushing it further. There is a Hammond organ that has been prominently added to the mix, along with new people and new sets of ideas.
HIAMB: Who is in the new band? Mike Carroll? Anyone from any of your other previous groups that we may know?
TK: Yeah, Mike is singing. Pat is our organ player and he has a band called McLemore Ave. He played on some Jack O’ Fire and Lord High Fixers stuff, too. The drummer is Ben who has a band where he plays guitar and sings called Attack Formation. He was in Tune In Tokyo and has played some with Sean Na Na. Nick plays bass and also plays bass for The Crack Pipes.
HIAMB: Explain the idea behind the Young Lions Conspiracy compilation CD coming out on Estrus [Note: As far as I know this comp never saw the light of day -kopper, 2011]. Are these mainly bands that hold these same artistic/creative ideals or are they mainly just your favorite bands right now?
TK: This was (Estrus head honcho) Dave Crider’s idea which (I think) started from the realization that there were some cool bands that I was talking about but he just didn’t have enough resources to help. He asked me if I would be into doing some sort of comp with bands that I knew of or felt were coming from the same sort of ideas or philosophy that the Young Lions encompassed or were part of the Young Lions. I haven’t really had a lot of time to think about it yet, but I think it would be cool to have a combination of old and new stuff on it.
HIAMB: What other current musicians, bands or record labels out there do you believe are in tune with your philosophies and are carrying the Young Lions’ torch and planting seeds?
TK: Estrus, Touch and Go, Dischord… great, great, honest, human beings! As far as musicians or bands, there are just too many to mention and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.
HIAMB: One of the best new bands I’ve heard lately has been The Lost Sounds, from Memphis. Are you familiar with them? And what’s your opinion of the White Stripes? Worthy of the hype surrounding the duo?
TK: The Lost Sounds are cool as well as The White Stripes.
HIAMB: Finally, can we ever hope to see your new band perform live in St. Louis? It doesn’t seem like your previous bands ever did much touring.
TK: It would be great to play there so who knows, maybe! (smile) All of the bands from Jack O’ Fire on have all had people from other states, cities and everyone had or have regular jobs so you can’t take off for very long. Total Sound are all in Austin so it might be easier to pull something off. What’re the thrift stores like there!? (smile)