An interview with Liquid Liquid
by Carlo Maramotti
(Copyright © 2000 Carlo Maramotti | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
An Introduction to Liquid Liquid

Could you give me some notes about group's birth?
Scott Hartley and I first put together a band called Liquid Idiot. It was a ridiculous primitive band. I played a keyboards and we had a guitar player (Ken Man) and a saxophone player (Bob Jenusitis) we were all very primitive musicians with the exception of Scott who had played in bands while growing up. The music was largely improvised usually with chunka-chunka rhythms. We weren't trying to sound like anyone because none of us had the ability to imitate anyone anyway. We were just being ourselves which in retrospect was the best thing we could have done. We recorded a 7" single as Liquid Idiot. It was entirely instrumental. All the songs were very short. I think there were at least 10 songs on this little record. It was recorded in my living room on a small tape recorder, the kind with a built in microphone. This was while we were still in school (at Rutgers University in New Jersey) that was 1978. On our posters we would invite the audience to bring instruments along. There were some shows that got really crazy. We would leave the stage and the show would continue going. Dennis (Young) showed up at one of these shows along with his marimba, playing in the audience! By 79 we moved to New York and we invited Sal to join. I had known him since I was sixteen years old. Sal at this point was writing a lot of poetry and was heavily influenced by The Beat poets and Patti Smith. We played our first shows in NY as Liquid Idiot. The sound eventually evolved and became more groovy. Then we eventually asked Dennis to join, this was in early 80.

What were your musical influence?
That changed over the years in the beginning we would be listening to Eno, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television, Devo, The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, The Sex Pistols, The Clash. We listened to a lot of non-rock things too like Bob Marley, Gamilon Orchestras from Bali, Fela Kuti. But I think the whole punk thing, the whole spirit that you didn't need to be a trained musician to play music was at the root of why we started playing. We were just having fun. By the time we moved to New York we were listening to Linton Kwesi Johnson, Augustus Pablo, Curtis Mayfeild, Issac Hayes. We liked Public Image , The Slits, Wire, The Young Marble Giants. tons of other stuff but alot of the above would be in a typical rotation. As far as local bands DNA were my favorite. They were an incredible band to see live. Arto Linsday on scratchy guitar. Ikue Mori on drums, Tim Wright on bass. They created some strange demented soulful blues. It was an absolute thrill to see them. There were other American bands , Pere Ubu was a band with passion. We all liked Tuxedo Moon too. Other strange things like Yma Sumac. Sal says she was an influence on his vocals. The whole hip hop thing started popping up around us. So we were buying all that early stuff like "Rappers Delight", and "The Breaks". Our music evolved into what we were always referring to as "body music". We knew a song was a keeper if it made you want to move. I think living on the lower east side of Manhattan and being surrounded by hispanic culture had an influence. We would hear merengue and samba music coming out of radios everywhere. It all would enter into what we were playing. I think of a song like "Bellhead" as some kind of warped samba.

Have you had some contact with ny scene groups?
In NY, in the 80's, there was a great artistical scene(Schnabel, Haring, Basquiat, graffiti-art).Have you ever had contact with these artists? I think Glenn Branca was one of the first musicians we had the good fortune to meet. And it was he who told us that Ed Bahlman from the 99 record store was going to release his record. So I was there with a tape shortly after. Later we became friendly with other bands who joined the label like Y-Pants and ESG . The band Konk were friends of ours. We played a few shows with them. We played a New Years show in 1980 opening for Suicide, it was at a party in a loft. Alan Vega was incredibly nice to us. He even came backstage to say hello the first time we played Paris. I remember Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth stopping me on the street once asking me if we needed a gutiar player. He was in a band at the time called The Coachman they sounded like a Talking Heads. I knew Kim Gordon a tiny bit because she worked in the same toy store that Sal worked. Much later we opened for the Talking Heads, they were all as shy as we were and we barely talked to each other. I remember playing the Roxy and Afrika Bambatta jumping up on stage with us when we played "Cavern", I was kinda annoyed but that, but now I think it's kind of funny. I remember Madonna was in our dressing room when we played The Fun House, she was going out with the DJ, Jellybean Benitez. I don't remember her being too friendly. I was friends with both Basquiat and Haring. I was a big grafitti fan. I was very into what Jean was doing with his Samo tag. They were very poetic funny and intelligent. In response to his work I made drawings and I would paste them around the city along with the posters for the band. We played a show with Jean's band Gray at a loft party, this must have been in 1980. I was so happy to meet him. In my eyes he was a star, but he was still living on next to nothing selling t-shirts that he had painted in the streets. I remember bumping into him once when I was on my way to a rehearsal with the band and he came along with me. We all decided to all improvise very short little songs, it was really hilarious. I don't think it was ever recorded I've searched all the tapes from that time. I met Keith at a party at the artist Jenny Holzers loft. He was going to the School Of Visual Arts at the time. After I was already pasting up my drawings in the street a friend of mine said they wanted to introduce me to a fan of my work and it turned out to be Keith. I remembered him from the party. He invited me to his first show at Club 57 and he gave me a drawing. He was a very generous guy. In1981 Jean, Keith and I were all in a huge group show called New York New Wave that was at PS1. This was the first major show for a lot of people, the show included everybody from that time, Robert Mapplethorphe, David Byrne, Brian Eno, Futura 2000, so many others. Later, after Keith was becoming more successful he introduced me to his gallery and I had a show of sculptures there. This was at the same time that Jean was working out of the basement of Annia Noisi gallery, I guess '82. The gallery was right around the corner and one day he invited me over to see what he was doing. He was working on a few canvases simultaneously. I remember him setting up two enormous lines of coke! It was hard to keep friends with them after a while because the circles they were traveling in. I remember going over to a party at Keith's place and opening the front door and banging it right into Andy Warhol! This was in a tiny East Village apartment. Madonna was also there. She was just starting to become famous. I remember they hooked a microphone up to the stereo and she was kinda singing along. I never met Schnabel, I really wasn't interested in what he was doing. I did meet Francesco Clemente. He even painted a fresco of me. It was in a show of large almost life size portraits , in the same show he did one of Jean-Michel, Keith, Fab Five Freddy, I can't remember who else.

You told me about your contact with NY group.So,have you had some contact with english groups?
English groups... We played a show with PigBag at a club which doesn't exist anymore called the Peppermint Lounge. They were incredible. Nice guys too. But I honestly can't remember any other English band we ever played with, or any interesting story to tell you! Of course all the English bands coming over in the 80's were getting huge press and local bands like ourselves were never given the same respect, it's the same old story. I remember seeing The Clash at the Palladium, The Cramps opened. I remember being at the Public Image show that turned into a riot at the Ritz. That was fun. I tagged along with ESG when they played the Hacienda in Manchester on opening night. I was introduced to some of the guys from New Order at the show, nothing note worthy to say about them. I do remember seeing Nico walking around, it was also great catching a glimpse of her. I saw her a few times walking around the East Village. It's funny, we only recently played our first show in England.

I think you have played in England now, because there is a great interest for the new- wave sound. What do you think of "punk-funk" revival? Do you like some group in particular?
People now should go out on a limb and take more chances. It's just not that interesting to be reproducing an 80's sound. Groups I like?, I like "The White Stripes". I think they have plenty of soul. I saw them play at the Bowery Ballroom a few years ago and it was one of the most exciting shows I ever remember seeing. I think it was one of the key things that got me interested in playing live again. Jack White totally gives it up and is amazing. Meg gives the music a feeling of honesty. They are amazing to watch. I like the "The Yeah Yeah Yeahs" I haven't had the pleasure of seeing them live but I hear good things and they totally deliver on record. Each member is so vital and It's feels emotionally true, and soulful. There is a band from England called Big200 who I think are are great. I like James Murphy's band LCD. It's happy stuff, he's having a really great time making that music and it's infectious. I love what DFA is doing and I'm excited and honored to be included in that company. I like " Lightning Bolt". I like that they play on the floor with the audience rather than on stage. It's such a simple thing but it changes the dynamics of everything. That's all I can think of at the moment.

Talking about New York wave scene, very different groups are put under the same label. Did you actually felt as part of a wider scene or there was a gap between the major groups and those more underground-related ones?
The "Punk, No Wave, New Wave" whatever you want to call it scene was very small. They were only a handfull of places to hear any new music . There were only a few good record stores. Manhattan is an island after all and the Downtown music scene was small enough that many people were aware of each others work, even if they were dissimilar.

Is New York changed much from those years?
New York has changed enormously. When I arrived you could still get a cheap apartment! I think it really was the last bohemian scene Manhattan may ever see. You need cheap places to live for any scene to develop. Now Brooklyn is more where it's at, but even there it's not exactly cheap.

Listening to your music I believe you took to extremes the Talking Heds lesson, i.e. the supremacy of rythm over melody. Removing the guitar you were closer to hip-hop sound. What do you think about it?
We didn't set out with any plan to create this music. We were always primitive musicians and we approached making music in the simplest way we could.

I think that you are an expression of New York melting-pot. Are you agree?
I think New York definitely influenced what we were playing. You can't help being influenced by all the music surrounding you. You pass through a park and hear congas the next thing your thinking is " yeah, conga drums would be perfect on this song". We couldn't help pick up on so much that was around the streets. I mentioned before that the lower east side of Manhattan where we were living and hanging out was a very hispanic neighborhood, less now then it was then, but the influences just creep in. There was a studio there we used to practice call "Tu Casa" (Your House) samba bands used to play there. How could you ignore that kind of sound! Of course all the music we listened to went into the mix as well.

What did Liquid Liquid do, now?
Well, last March we played one show in New York. It came about really natually. First I got a call from Scott (Hartley, drums) to see if I had any interest to play and we got together and it was fun. The next thing I know Sal (Principato, vocals) calls and asks if I would have any interest in getting together to play. He didn't know I had gotten together with Scottt already. So we got in touch with Dennis (Young, marimba) then we all got together and it was really a lot of fun. Out of the blue we got an email from the Knitting Factory that basicaly said if you ever want to do a show you have an open invitation. We took this as a sign and decided to do it. Well the show sold out so they added another which sold out too. Then suddenly there were offers to play in Europe. There is a club in Glasgow that is named after one of our songs called "Optimo". These guys flew over for the gig and then asked us to play at their club. An impossible offer to refuse! Also present at the show were James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy of DFA. I had met them both before and invited them to the show and they were so completely overjoyed by it. It was unbelivable the reactions we got from people, so embrassingly over the top. I just stoped beliveing anything anyone said after a while. So that one show lead to doing shows in London, Paris, Berlin, "The Montreux Jazz Festival" , and the "Movement" Festival in Detroit. We went into the studio with DFA and recorded a few songs we that had been written back in the day but never recorded before and we did some experimenting as well. A 12" will come out soon and possibly more later this year but for now we are taking it one step at a time . I usually hate it when bands get back together, it's often for the wrong reasons, and often pathetic. We did it because it felt fun, but i want it to STAY fun. Which means we won't play out that often. We are taking it one show at a time. To play this music with the intensity and passion it deserves to be played with it always has to possibly be the very last time we will ever play together.

As far I know, there was a struggle between 99 recs and Sugarhill because of Optimo sample's in Grandmaster Flash song's White Lines. What's happened?
I knew you would get around to asking me about that. First, the song you're referring to is called "Cavern", my bassline was taken and used for "White Lines". (There is another song of ours called Optimo , it's the first track on the "Noise NY" CD.) I guess My initial reaction was that I was flattered we were already fans of Grandmaster Flash's. It got complicated very quickly. Sugarhill were already notorious for being evil, with rumors of Mob ties. I remember Ed (Bahlman, our producer and the head of 99 Records) telling me that Sugarhill called him and said they would be sending a car over to pick him up and they would " take a drive and talk about it" so Mafia like! It eventually led to a lawsuit which we won and then Sugarhill filled for bankruptcy so we never collected. Our label was exhausted financially by the experience and never recovered. A settlement only happened years later after. A DJ friend told me that Duran Duran had just covered White Lines and was about to release it that I hired a lawyer and went after THEM, which made the whole thing come to a head and everyone had to be brought to the table. An out of court deal was cut and we are all much more happy now. The song really refuses to die, it's gone on to be used in films and is on countless compilations. It's a bona fide Hip Hop classic and I'm proud of it, and the bassline continues to be sampled which continually amazes me!

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