Interview by Wendy WWAD, Photos by Gwendolyn Norton (Shots #2, 4, 7), Vlern (Shot #1), Icedrelics (Shot #3), and Richard Smith (Shot #5)
WW: How did you guys hook up?
Charlie: Well, Richard had been talking about getting a band together, nothing too serious…And he had some guys that were interested but that fell through. So he asked me if I knew anyone that played bass and I said well, Jimmy plays bass. We showed up and made some rock music and it went from there.
WW: How do you and Jimmy know each other?
Charlie: We’ve been playing in a band together for about 15 years calledDown Syndrome Army.
WW: Who was singing at that point?
Richard: Well, you have to scroll back about 3 years. I met Jessie when she was singing withBoxcar Satan. We met at Taco Land (rest in peace, Ram!) and started conversing back and forth online. So when we got this together, I invited her up to sing some songs and write some lyrics. She came up and we recorded the first song over at Hawkins’ house. Then we recorded the next several over at my house. This was when we put together the Swastikittens, which was me, Jessie, Kevin Stack (Gorch Fock) and Joey Whip. That ended up being 3 rehearsals, 2 gigs and then Kevin moved back to L.A. So when I started jamming with Charlie and Jimmy I got back in touch with Jessie and said we’ve got this little thing we’ve started and some new stuff, do you want to come up and check it out? We started with a couple of Kitten tunes and she came in and rocked out. It went from this is kind of cool to this is REALLY cool. I remember Jimmy saying after the 1st rehearsal, “I’ve never been in a band with a real lead singer before…it makes a huge difference!” Basically we did that every Sunday for 6 weeks, then we recorded the demo, then Jimmy went on an anthropology trip, and when he got back we played our first gig. One of the goals for me from early on was to put this together for fun. We started in Jan. 2011. We did the demo, by the end of the year we had about 10 gigs under our belt and since then things have really started to pick up. At the end of Feb. we finished recording our first record out at Yellow Dog Studios and we’re just waiting on the final product.
WW: Yellow Dog Studios?
Richard: It’s normally a country studio and the guy that’s producing it is predominantly a country producer. He had 20 songs chart last year. One of them made it to top 40 on the country charts.
WW:How did you hook up with him?
Richard: Through electrical work and my good friend Dr.
Edward Robinson who kind of pulled the strings to get this thing
WW: So when is the release date?
Richard: I’d say 3 weeks to a month.
Jimmy: The thing is, it’s not coming out until we think it’s right!
Charlie: We don’t know!
Jimmy: We’re not giving our public an inferior product.
Richard: And we’re doing digital download and vinyl only. We’re not going to mess with CD’s.
WW: How did the recording go?
Jimmy: Well, Jessie is amazing. I’ve never ever in my life seen someone recording live tracks over instruments in the studio that cut all the right vocals…every fucking song.
Charlie: No scratch take…take 1.
Jimmy: No one does that. It’s unheard of…
Richard: Yeah, when we were setting up in the studio he asked if we wanted to do a scratch track on the vocals and I said, “No. She wants to do the vocals live with the band”. He looked at me like, oh okay. But then when we were doing playback it was spot on. Raw talent…I recognized it right away. The first time I recorded with her I thought, that was really easy. I thought it was going to be an all-day thing and a couple of hours later we were just sitting there going wow!
Jimmy: Yeah, I’ve never been in a creative environment where I can bring all my, Whoa! Wacky! odd ideas and feel okay about it. It might get vetoed later but this band is a great mixture of creative problem solving and the freedom to be creative.
Jessie: It’s like rock-n-roll therapy.
WW: Earlier, you guys mentioned Thunder Points. What are Thunder Points?
Jessie: Well when the band does good or somebody does something real good then they get like 50 krillion thunder points!
Charlie: It’s 1 or 2 thunder points, sorry.
Jessie: No, sometimes you can get a krillion.
WW: Who has the most of them?
Jimmy: Well, we don’t really keep score. The point is getting the thunder points. It’s not really about how many you have.
Charlie: Like if we’re working on a song and somebody throws in a really good idea or a cool part then they get a thunder point.
WW: How does the song writing process come about?
Richard: It’s very much collaboration. Usually what happens is one of us will bring in an idea, either a recorded sketch or just an idea, that may show the parts. I don’t think anyone ever intentionally brings it in as a complete thing. They bring it in as an idea that’s not fully realized, and although it may be in our minds we don’t present it as such. We throw it out there and things happen by accident and things happen by intention. The last song we wrote I brought in a pretty complete idea and immediately Jimmy threw a key change into it. I would have never thought to do that but it was totally cool.
WW: Did he get a thunder point for it?
Richard: Most definitely. Jessie writes most of the lyrics, I’d say 99% or 90%…whatever. It’s a very collaborative effort. If we run into problems, we’ll pull out one of Brian Eno’s oblique strategies and see if that solves it.
Jimmy: Richard is obviously such a master at percussion, but
it takes someone equally as good, and adventurous to play these parts. If
Charlie was less of a drummer, Richard would be sitting there saying, here…do
Richard: Charlie’s awesome! I often like to joke that I got demoted to guitar.
Jimmy: Everyone is unique and brings their own thing to the table.
Jessie: But we all come together and have this…
Jessie: Synergetic, that’s the perfect word.
Richard: I see us all as equals. It’s a 25% contribution although it might be different contributions and different jobs at different times. What matters is that we’re all contributors and that everybody’s happy with it. It’s not the Richard Smith band. This is not Crust Jr., this is the Bipolar Gentlemen.
WW: How did you guys come up with the name?
Richard: The name strikes really close to home. We’re all a little off. We’re all probably bipolar, and two of us (Jessie and Charlie) are clinically diagnosed bipolar.
Jimmy: And I’m dateable!
Richard: And we all try to be polite.
Jessie: So we’re the Bipolar Gentlemen.
Charlie: When Richard first came up with the name we thought, well that’s a joke! That’s not real!
Jessie: We hated the name at first.
Richard: We actually used an oblique strategy. We talked to someone else about it and they said it’s a unique name, it’s appropriate for the band, no one else has it and I think it’s a good name. Also, when you Google a name like Crust you come up with the earth’s crust, pizza crust, pie crust…as much as Crust is a unique name, it was watered down from Church of Crust or Jesus Crust…
Charlie: It was Body of Crust.
Richard: That’s right.
WW: Where do you guys come up with all your crazy instruments?
Charlie: Well, Richard used to be in this band called Miracle Room which was a very interesting, and they had all kinds of crazy percussion and just weirdness, and we incorporated that with a standard trap kit.
Jimmy: We throw in some dump truck equipment.
WW: And the slide guitars?
Richard: Well, remember in Crust (there’s that name again) we used a spring and played it like a slide guitar? It works really great when you’ve got a guy up there in a diaper screaming at the top of his lungs. It does not work when you’ve got a beautiful woman that sings on pitch and in key. Basically, with the bass all the strings are tuned to the same note, is played like a spring but it’s actually in pitch. The guitar is like a lap steel but is really a beat up Telecaster. So that’s kind of a Texas thing.
Charlie: And you get a lot of subtle nuances out of that. Richard does this thing where it sounds like a guitar but when you watch him play it’s like, what the fuck is he doing? What is that? And Jimmy plays bass with a pencil…how fucking cool is that?
Richard: There’s a lot of stuff from Home Depot in there, and I design and build the tube amps. My amp is an old Montgomery Ward amp on the outside, but is all Richard on the inside.
WW: So if you were on the road and something broke you could fix it?
Richard: I’m pretty amazing with duct tape.
Jessie: He is amazing with duct tape.
Charlie: Winging it is definitely one of our stronger points.
Richard: We call it residential music. We’re going to expand on it too. It comes from the Home Depot, not the industrial depot.
Jessie: But nobody knows what residential means!
WW: Do you guys have plans to tour?
Richard: We want to go to Europe really badly. We’re working on the regional thing, but it’s just not economical to tour the states. We’re not going to go to Chicago and play for pizza. Going to Houston and playing for a pizza? That’s doable. At least you’re not going to come back pawning stuff.
Charlie: We’re open to booking and management.
Jessie: Plus we’re waiting for our record to come out!
Charlie: If we get some good promotion…that’s one of the biggest setbacks for every band, even good bands. And I can say with pride in my heart that we’re a good fucking band.
Richard: The other thing is that the market is down.
Jimmy: But we’re trying to adapt to that.
Charlie: That’s the whole reason we’re not going to do the CD thing. We’re going to do vinyl. If you want to purchase a physical representation of what we are you’re going to get artwork, you’re going to get lyrics, and you’re going to get an album of kickass fucking music. We do have a website (http://www.bipolargentlemen.com/) with a downloadable demo on it now.
WW: So the Austin music scene has changed quite a bit since back in the day. What do you like / dislike the most about it?
Jessie (from Satantonio): You guys go ahead and get this one. I’ll sit here and quip.
Richard: Nah, you can I answer it.
Jessie: I just want to quip. Quip!
Charlie: What I like about Austin is that there’s really beautiful people, really beautiful people.
Charlie: Men, women alike.
Charlie: Which is a perfect recipe for a great fucking crowd…What pisses me about fucking Austin? Is that you get treated like a piece of shit. It didn’t used to be that way. It used to be that if the band was fucking awesome you were probably going to get laid and it’d be fucking cool. Now, and I don’t know what happened and I’m not trying to be negative or anything but what I’ve noticed is that it’s almost like you’re a pain in the ass for showing up to play. I think that people are obsessed with over stacking bills just because it’s fucking Austin and there’s a thousand fucking bands chomping at the bit to play.
Richard: I want to chime in on this. I think it’s a matter of supply and demand. Austin’s always had this great supply, but there’s not so much of a demand now. When I first moved to Austin and you wanted to play a show you only needed to know one guy, Brad First. Now I have a 2 page list of clubs that we could play in this town. There’s a huge supply but not as much demand. There’s so many bands and so many of them are willing to do it for free that that’s what they’ve come to expect. The thing that makes me the maddest is pay to play.
Richard: The first time I was approached with this via email
was when a club said if you don’t bring in this amount of people, you’re going
to owe the club this amount of money. I just about lost it. I was so happy to
get a response and was like, cool! We can play there? But then I’d have to put
Charlie: The other thing is that there’s a gap. There’s the old school fans that know all the bands we do, from the 90’s on. Like our own band, it’s always the same fucking people that show up.
Jimmy: There’s a disconnect between Austin music and the newer, younger crowd. I don’t know where the disconnect is. We need to connect to the other audience. We’re at the point where we have a good draw; we don’t have to prove that we can draw. Our problem is getting across to the new dynamic.
Richard: One cool thing about the music scene is that there’s still new bands springing up. Angel Babies yesterday blew me away. I had never heard of them, I’m 48, I walked in and Boom! There’s a cool band right in front of me. So Austin’s still got that. I don’t get out as much as I used to but when I do there’s usually some good surprises.
WW: Jessie, the first time I saw you onstage, you were so intense it was almost scary. Is your intention to scare the audience?
Jessie: Naw, I’m just who I am. I’m an intense person. The reason I think I’m so intense is because of my dystonia, which is a neurological disorder. I’m actually disabled because of it. I think the dystonia kind of fuels it. I’m very passionate about music and am actually a classically trained opera singer. Combine that with the dystonia and the goddammit I’m fucking disabled and…
WW: When I first saw you I thought she’s so hot and so scary.
Jessie: When I first saw you I thought she’s so hot and so scary!
WW: When I first saw you I told Richard, “Wow, your singer is a great actress!” And he replied, “Oh it’s not an act. That’s just Jessie”.
Jessie: No it’s not an act. It’s just me purging my fucking shit out.
Richard: She’s just naturally gifted.
WW: Do you use any effects on your voice.
Jessie: Just a little bit of reverb.
WW: If you were on tour do you think you’d be able to maintain that vocal level and still be able to sing every night.
Jessie: Traditional, medicinal throat coat tea. It brings your voice right back. If you scream, drink that and your voice comes right back the next day. That and ensure, the best hangover cure ever!
WW: If Bipolar Gentlemen had a mission statement what would it be?
Jessie: I’m going to go with Charlie and say, “To confuse and enlighten”.
Richard: Think and have fun.
Jimmy: Wrangle honeybees and get them back into a happy place.
Jessie: We care about the bees!
WW: What can we expect from Bipolar Gentlemen in 2012?
Richard: A really good record!
WW: What would you like people to leave a BPG show with?
Jessie:I would like audiences to leave in an extreme state of confused bliss.
Bipolar Gentlemen are: Front Freak Femalian Jessie – Lead Vocals & Keyboards, Richard Smith – Guitars, Jimmy St. Germaine – Basses, and Charlie Void – Percussion