Spit On Your Grave

East Village post-drug lords THE SPITTERS gob on you.

by Carlo McCormick

Once in a blue moon you encounter a band that so thoroughly kicks ass and blows you away to such an extent that you just have to tell people about it. Not that any of you deserve to be let in on such a well kept secret, but the Spitters are so fucking fierce that I just can't help but spread the bad news that Rock isn't dead yet. On stage, they're devastating musically, of course, but also physically to the degree that one can't help but feel a mixture of concern and morbid blood-lust as to the possibility of singer Mark ASHWILL inflicting some serious bodily injury upon himself. On record, they've as yet not fully proven themselves. Their EP on Funky Mushroom was a worthy and promising debut, their forthcoming album on that same label is already leagues beyond it, and their plans for an LP on the new Despicable Records are certainly encouraging - but compared to where they're at right now, especially in light of all the material they've written but have yet to take into the studio, we can only eagerly anticipate the future and pray that none of them gets butchered before then in some kinky sex adventure gone awry. Recently SECONDS hooked up with three out of the four band members (sans Louis Eschevarria) to get their sordid story in print. What is amply evident in talking to The Spitters is that they are a collection of individuals who were so fucked up for so long that they're just plain lucky to be alive - a fact that's not at all wasted on them. Due to their years of extreme drug abuse they understandably have a lot of trouble remembering their past, and use phrases like "it's all kind of hazy" with some degree of embarrassment when asked about how they came to be a band. From what they could recall: Tim BRADLEE was in a bunch of Boston-based hardcore bands that managed a gig or two before breaking up, bands that generally turned the amps all the way up, smashed their equipment, got in a lot of fights and as a rule were hated by everybody; Bill BRONSON was in a lot of no-name bands that sucked, and squandered opportunities to join Unsane and play with STP on their Sonic Youth tour because he was too strung out to get it together; and Mark spent a lifetime and a half in the New York noise-hate band Missing Foundation before starting up the Spitters to make music that moved away from Missing Foundation, specifically from Peter Missing. Originally an experimental studio project with Jim Waters (the Waterworks producer who worked with Pussy Galore, The John Spencer Blues Explosion, Unsane, and Shonen Knife), the rotating roster of side-people included Spoiler's Lynn Culbertson and Judah of The Blues Explosion before Mark Ashwill found the current line-up of similarly sick-minded souls. Perhaps it's due to their dark histories, but these guys are some of the of the wisest degenerates I've encountered in the NYC music scene. Admittedly at SECONDS we have a certain propensity to talk about Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll, but surely it's never before in quite the terms these folks use.

SECONDS: Mark, what exactly is going on when you put yourself in the way of physical injury on stage? When you're performing it's like you're reeling on the edge of self-immolation and impalement, but somehow it's not so much a cliche as, say, G G Allin.

ASHWILL:Yeah, I hate when people say "GG." I think that stuff's legitimate, it's just more one-dimensional. When Missing Foundation played, I knew it would end up with resentments. That was the ultimate goal of the evening. I knew I was going to end up hating more, and not necessarily other people. I knew I was going to end up hating myself more. It was an assumption. Every show starts with some premise, and because of that every show can be different. I've come to shows where it's not about giving but about taking from the audience. Sometimes I'll bring my day into a show - and I try not to do that - and it will turn into a cathartic response to what happened to me that day or that week. Generally I like to give to the audience. I don't want to hurt anybody. I'd like to help them.

BRADLEE: He's lying.

ASHWILL: No, no. It's just that sometimes the truth hurts. I think being on stage, being aware that I'm standing there without a guitar or drum in my hand, I feel compelled to offer more than just my voice. I try to show some body language, and show more than just anger. It's kind of embarrassing being in a Rock band. It's such a low form of Art, but it's very powerful at the same time. I like people to learn from it and not just assume that there's this band up there and they're better than me. I want them to identify with the feelings of vulnerability I'm working with, and of fear - it's pretty easy for me to be scary.

SECONDS: In this catharsis, how much of it is controlled and how much of it is about being out of control?

BRONSON: I like skirting the edge. There are elements of the music that very much skate the line of a downhill skier who's trying to go as fast as he can without wiping out. Lately we're trying to broaden things by keeping certain musical elements in control, then cutting loose.

ASHWILL: What happened, as we got more solidified as a band with control, was that we had a lot more intent. I don't know what it's like from the audience, but we're very controlled musically - which allows us to evoke far more emotion. As far as taking it to the edge, hopefully that's as far as we go. I don't like people getting hurt.

BRADLEE: It's usually you.

ASHWILL: I have been hurt, but that's not the point. I can sacrifice myself. That's the one way I know how to give - physically. At our last show there was this guy and I was whipping him. At first it was playful little whips, and he was dancing. I felt so bad for the guy, like "Why are you letting me do this?" I started hitting him harder so he would get mad at me - and he wouldn't. I got to hate the guy. He wouldn't stop me. I tried to strangle him, then he stopped me. It got to the point where I wanted to see what's this guy going to let me do. What's his border? I think it's important for him to know.

SECONDS: Prior to getting together in this band, you all took drugs. Drugs are conspicuously absent from the formula of where you're at right now. That abstinence seems like the primal source for all the wild-ass energy you release on stage.

BRONSON: We've each been in bands using drugs to push the limits. But the more you use a tool like that the less control you have over it, and eventually it backfires. It all comes down to shortcuts. If you want to get somewhere in terms of spiritual or musical enlightenment, I don't think it's bad to use drugs to get there. But then it's not really coming from you, it's coming from the drugs. The trouble with that is you have to take the drugs to get there each time. For me, having gone through that and having it take its toll on my personal life, I'd rather get to that place on my own, so I'm there and can work from that framework.

BRADLEE: All the bands I was in before this were about taking acid or heroin. It sounded great while we were doing it, but when you listen to it later it was a real letdown. Interesting things came up, but there was no real progression. It just ended up sounding the same -all-out noise with no dynamics and no control. It's nice working with a band where an altered state of mind isn't the basis for what we're about. We're working from more real-life experiences and contexts.

BRONSON: Which is easy to do in New York. You can have a full, mysterious, curious and violent life in New York, and draw on those experiences rather than creating that turmoil in your head.

ASHWILL: Becoming a martyr - that's ridiculous.

BRONSON: Yeah, because then your lasting power is gone. You can only do that for a couple of years. You see the wreckage of all those types of people around New York on the streets. You can run into one of the old Heartbreakers on Avenue D, or what ever fucked-up band members there are on Ludlow Street, and they're not doing anything because they gave what they could when they were on drugs. That's not to take away from what they created, but where do you go after that?

ASHWILL: My adult life, from when I was fourteen, started with acid. I learned a lot from that. I'm not anti-drug whatsoever. Quite the opposite. I used to listen to Sun Ra on acid, and it changed my life. Then I went from drug to drug, as I burnt out on acid, then speed. I went through everything. The logical conclusion of all this is when I was on crack I sold everything I owned. I sold every piece of musical equipment I had just to get high. I literally couldn't make music anymore. It ends up just being a death trip. A lot of artists go through that. I just think we're really lucky to have discovered that you don't need to get high to make art. When I got clean, I didn't know that. I just thought I wouldn't make art again.

BRONSON: When music is an extension of your life as it exists, I find that I can draw from more aspects and emotions of life the more I can remember and feel them. You can go to the studio as a junkie and make a great record about despair. The first Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds records totally changed my life. It was a perfect mirror of the love, despair, pain and slavery I was going through. But I don't want to draw from those emotions alone, and I can experience those rhythms and emotions more accurately when I'm clean and remember them.

ASHWILL: The only kind of song I used to be able to make was about despair. Now I can talk about actual things that might sound corny. You may not notice it, but sometimes I even sing about love. The best thing about working with this band is that we change and we talk about it.

BRONSON: It makes the connection deeper. No other band I've been a part of has had this kind of rapport with each other and I really think it translates when we start making music together.

BRADLEE: There's an unspoken dynamic with us because we're much more aware of each other. In other bands, I think we all derived our energies from the hate of each other, but in this band we get our energy from respect.

BRONSON: Ultimately, it's more of a freedom. It doesn't mean the hate doesn't come into play, because there are times, especially on tour, where I really hated Mark and really hated Tim. We just have more of a range of emotions to draw on.

ASHWILL: We have to live. It's life or death. If we use again, we're going to die. I don't want to live like I did ever again. Even when I'm going through a bad moment, I have to live it to get on to the next moment. Sometimes those moments occur on stage, like when I quit smoking and we played CBGB. I was so vulnerable, like "I don't know what I'm doing" and had all this rage, screaming at people and grabbing them. A lot of our music's about getting through an uncomfortable moment. I mean, try living without drugs and alcohol - things become real urgent.

SECONDS: In terms of emotions running rampant, there's something really pervy about the Spitters.

ASHWILL: Excuse me, I've got to go jack off.

BRONSON: Yeah, we're into sex. Way into sex. I think the whole sex thing going on is a cool area to explore in music and in life.

ASHWILL: Sex is a great form of education. You can read about it, but it's experiential. You learn so much about yourself. Why do you want that person? It can be like "she has nice tits" but generally there's something else motivating you. Why do you want one person to piss on you, and another you don't even want to kiss - and that's erotic? Sometimes that first initial contact of your lips is such a special thing, like a monumental event. Some people you don't even want to get near their lips but you still want them to do something to you, like beat you. That's another thing about this band - on the sexual tip, we're growing that way too. It's pretty fertile ground to hear about what everybody's into at that time.

SECONDS: You deal with a lot of the stuff we've been talking about in your music, but Mark's lyrics tend to be rather obtuse and it's often not too clear what the fuck you're singing about.

ASHWILL: It's a leap. I don't look too hard for content in its explicit form. They are linear stories, but a lot of the unnecessary words are dropped out. I tend to take a story that's very personal and translate it into metaphor. I find I can learn more from them that way.

SECONDS: So what rates on the Spitters peter meter?

BRONSON: The last couple of days I just had this crazy little one-off affair with this girl I knew who was leaving soon to go be with her boyfriend in London. It was such a thrill because we both knew what the score was for the next few days and just let it fly. Knowing that what we had was going to end in a few days, we could push the parameters of whatever we wanted to do, take chances and do things we couldn't do in a structured relationship. There's definitely an aspect of sex to our music, but it tends more towards the violent. Which isn't bad as long as it's understood and you have some boundaries set up beforehand.

ASHWILL: I kind of like it when they don't know the boundaries. Unfortunately, unavailability really turns me on. That's why I'm single and experience loneliness sometimes. I really like married women, and that's sick. I don't like that part of myself, and I'm really trying to change that. But I love them.

BRADLEE: We'll put that on your tombstone. I like women that scare the shit out of me, so I'm scared to go back and sleep with them. Like this woman covered in scars. I took her clothes off, she had a scar from her neck down past her belly button, one the length of her spine, and another across her hip. She was covered with huge gaping scars. She was a maniac and she wouldn't let me leave. I was there for twenty-six hours. Every time I tried to sneak out she'd catch me and tear my clothes off. I refused to go back to her house but I will eventually.

ASHWILL: We joke about sex, but it's real stuff and I think we encourage each other to go through the feelings involved. Personally, I like to collect scars. This one's from Kathy, don't print that, where she bit me. I smacked her after that and she loved it.

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