ou have to wait until it's about half the size of a golf ball," Tom Hazelmyer says, lighting a cigarette. While patrons are still trickling into Toomer Gallery's event for A Purge of Dissidents—the recently released CD/DVD/book collaboration between Dalek (the visual artist, not the hip-hop duo) and the storied founder of Amphetamine Reptile Records, the Grumpy's bar nanochain, and Ox-Op Gallery—closing time approaches and post-viewing overflow is peaking. A few dozen scruffy smokers and drinkers are gathered in front of the gallery, many around Hazelmyer, who, knowing a captive audience when he sees one, is explaining how he self-lanced a rectal boil earlier in the week. "Then you heat up a needle, dip it in alcohol, and get it over with as quickly as possible."
Tipsy, I interrupt. "Why didn't you ask Lisa to do it?" I ask, referring to his svelte, red-clad spouse, laughing with friends on a bench in a scraggly patch of boulevard a few feet away.
"I'd like to keep having sex," he says, "and I didn't think that exposing her to that particular part of my anatomy would be conducive. Plus, this was my second time—I'd gotten one about ten years ago—so I felt like I knew what I was doing."
Tough talk from a laptopper, to be sure, but Hazelmyer—a burly, square-jawed 42 year-old who favors black attire and short hair—has pursued a long and circuitous route to electronic music-making. (He's also been tracing a similar, if shorter, path through SooVAC—the hanger-sized arts space that shelters Toomer, all night—discreetly refilling his highball glass with whiskey stashed in back.).
In 1990, he disbanded Halo of Flies—the band that got Amphetamine Reptile off the ground in the late '80s— abandoning the frontman racket in favor of the record business. A few months later, Helmet popped and money started pouring into AmRep; one thing led to another, and another, and another. Moving on to parenthood, artists' Zippos, saloonkeeping, and curatorial shit, he hardly thought about playing again until a couple years ago, when he started learning his way around software-based composition.
"Finally, everything I hated about making music was gone," Hazelmyer (who goes by "Haze XXL" professionally) says. "Bandmates, producers, collective decisions. I could do everything myself, exactly the way I wanted, whenever I wanted."
Grant Hart in tow, we head inside to shoot some photos. While Hazelmyer prizes his digitally-endowed autonomy, he's not one to pass on a chance to collaborate with somebody whose work he admires…or several somebodies. Along with Melvins guitarist Buzz Osbourne and a few like-minded colleagues, the former Hüsker Dü drummer—now a singer-songwriter and visual artist—plays on parts of Purge’s soundtrack. He's also contributing guest vocals to one of the Purge spin-off singles Hazelmyer is releasing on the newly remobilized AmRep. (The ones featuring Craig Finn, David Yow, and ex-Cow/Heroine Sheik Shannon Selberg are already out.)
"Weren't boils called carbuncles in the 19th Century?" he asks, "and gems, too?"
I reply with, "as in Nathaniel Hawthorn's 'The Great Carbuncle?'"
"When opened, my great carbuncle yielded a rainbow of infection," adds Hazelmyer.
"I think it's great that Tom's doing this," Peter Davis tells me by phone from his home in Los Angeles, a few days after the release event. "While he's a great businessman, he's always been an artist first and foremost." A resident of Minneapolis for 18 years, the founder of Creature Booking, and long-time editor and publisher of Your Flesh, Davis first met Hazelmyer, then guitarist for hardcore band Todlachen, in 1981. "He was hanging out in front of Goofy's Upper Deck, at an all-ages show I was promoting. I don't even remember who was on the bill. Right away, I picked up on his sense of purpose. We've been friends ever since."
Davis and Hazelmyer stayed in touch after the latter left Otto's Chemical Lounge—a psychedelic garage rock band that had started living up to its name too vigorously for Hazelmyer—in 1984, and joined the United States Marine Corps. "I wasn't really surprised when Tom went into the military," says Davis. "He'd been around with profoundly undisciplined people for way longer than he'd cared to, when what he wanted was more discipline. My impression was that he'd been considering the move for quite some time."
Being stationed at a base an hour and a half north of Seattle worked out to Hazelmyer's advantage on three fronts: In the '80s, no Minneapolitan knew more about the Pacific Northwest music scene than Davis, who recommended Hazelmyer when the U-Men announced they were looking for a bass player. He was a shoo-in. While his government gig restricted touring, he played with the proto-grunge band as often as possible, meeting quite a few musicians destined for his label's roster in the process. While home on leave, Hazelmyer pursued Halo of Flies, who recorded and released their first two AmRep singles while he was still in the service.
"It was in the Marine Corps that I started getting good on guitar…as good as I was, anyway," Hazelmyer tells me on the patio of the downtown Minneapolis Grumpy's, also a few days after the release party. (While he has a stake in each of the three bars, the Hazlmyer-designed flagship is his center of operations.) "I wasn't much of a drinker back then, and I wasn't into Jesus. I came from a good Republican atheist home. The only thing I really had to do in my free time was sit in the barracks and noodle."
Even then, rock wasn't his only passion. Hazelmyer started collecting toys during his tour of duty, acquiring some of the savvy he'd later bring to play as a gallery owner. "I started with Madballs," he says. "You remember them? Really poorly painted, but they had these great designs. It just escalated from there. I bought Garbage Pail Kids by the box at the PX. The people behind the counter would give me these weird looks, like "who are you buying these for?" They knew I wasn't married."
Military life in the '80s also afforded the lifelong design fiend the opportunity of a lifetime. As his four-year stint's end and marriage approached, he started acquiring furniture—including a $1,200.00 Noguchi sofa that consumed the better part of his savings—like crazy.
"I owned next to nothing," he says, "little beyond what would fit in a single duffel bag. Then, I found out that when you got discharged, the government paid to move your stuff—all of it—back to wherever you lived. This was when you could still find killer mid-century modern pieces in junk shops, so I started hitting the shops whenever I was on leave and storing as much as I could in the garages of friends who lived off-base. When I got out, I had all this furniture; Lisa had an apartment to put it in." He pauses, stubs his cigarette out, and says, "let's take a break and get some booze."
Hazelmyer puts his glass on a counter when he, Hart, and I enter Toomer, where A Purge of Dissidents is showing simultaneously on two walls. "What do you want me to do?" he says to the waiting photographer, then, without waiting for an answer, starts mugging furiously.
Hart ambles over, and after striking a couple obscene poses, the duo settles on a strategy. Slipping off his sandals, Hart stretches out on the gallery floor, his left leg extended upward. A look of abject horror on his face, Hazelmyer stands above the shaggy joker, pointing at Hart's left middle toe, which overlaps his second. They're getting weird looks galore from people who don't know them from Vince Neil and loving every second of it.
While APOD looks great projected on Toomer's walls, it's a shame the gallery isn't selling the artifact. (Isn't out until June.). Beautifully designed by Hazelmyer with a pocket inside each cover for the DVD and CD, the 5 9/16" x 7 5/8" hardcover book provides as thorough a chronicle of the recording sessions as anyone can remember and is an excellent intro to Dalek's work.
As with the ten short films on the DVD, the book's focus is on Dalek's "space monkeys." Big-eared and brightly colored with a single, complex eye, a mechanical-looking nose, and a thoroughly deranged grin, the street artist turned gallery and museum darling's signature creation boasts massive knacks for killing and being killed, even on the page. The films are literally awash in cartoon mayhem (and variously colored body fluids). Animator Jesse Olanday endows Dalek's monkeycidal critters with gleeful nonchalance and a fluidity of motion that suits their murderous dispositions (preferred weapons: butcher knives and mallets) to a tee.
The CD offers 20 tracks above and beyond the DVD's ten—all 30 run in a similarly diverse vein. The careening "Chromed Smoked" suggests No Humans Allowed-era Chrome (one of Hazelmyer's favorite bands) with guest vocals by a few lowing heifers. "Space Monkey Theme" apes '60s kids' show themes in part, its recurring full stop complete with comic croak. "Hippy Death Fudge" finds Hazelmyer in grand processional mode, laying asynchronous, looped creaks over wheezy organ tones." Featuring guest vocalists Craig Finn, David Yow, Grant Hart, and Jon Spencer respectively, the final four tracks offer the album's only hint of exactly who's doing what when sonically. Branding for the project is an altogether different matter: right next to the Ipecac logo on the book's back cover is a bold, red-and-black "Ox-Op."
"We recorded the basic tracks in three jam sessions," Hazelmyer explains after we reconvene on Grumpy's patio, "and switched instruments a lot. I edited everything down, added instruments, and messed with everything till Dalek and I were happy with it."
He's been working with the artist since March of 2003. Along with the likes of Frank Kozik, Vicki Wong, Chris Mars, and Coop, Dalek (whose given name is James Marshall) had a piece in Ox-Op's opening group show. He did a solo exhibition—the gallery's first—the following month, and another in December of 2004. One of his first vinyl toys found its way into Qeedrophonic, the Hazelmyer-curated toy exhibition that opened at Ox-Op before moving on to Los Angeles and Tokyo.
Not surprisingly, Dalek also contributed to the Juxtapoz 10th Anniversary group show in March of 2006. So voluminous, it filled both Ox-Op and SooVAC, the exhibition was the gallery's biggest...and its last as a brick-and-mortar entity, almost three years to the day after opening for business. (It lives on in luxurious pixels at Ox-op.com.)
"We had a great run," says Hazelmyer. "I got to work with all kinds of people I liked and respected. I got a great art collection out of the deal and didn't really lose any money. But I couldn't keep spending 25 hours a week on a break-even proposition." Plus, while he doesn't say as much, he was getting restless...not for the first time, either.
"Tom has an excellent sense of when to get into things and when to get out of them," Mike Wolf explains by phone from his Manhattan apartment. Now Time Out New York’s music editor, the former Minneapolitan became Amphetamine Reptile's first lasting employee late in 1990, replacing Tom Greenwood, who later moved to Portland and formed Jackie-O-Motherfucker. "His last day was my first," says Wolf, "which, as he'd been fired, made me a little uncomfortable. But he was very gracious about it."
In the beginning, Wolf's responsibilities at the burgeoning label were nebulous. "Apart from interning at Twin Tone (the Minneapolis-based label that launched the Replacements and Soul Asylum's careers in the '80's) and doing a college radio show, I had no experience. All Tom knew was that he needed someone to handle press and radio. Not long after I started, he decided to experiment with selling directly to stores, and Pat Dwyer (still a Hazelmyer employee and one of his most trusted friends) came aboard, and we pieced our jobs out as best we could. Then Helmet broke, and we all had more than enough to do."
While Helmet's move to Interscope flooded AmRep with cash, the label had been solvent from the beginning…surprisingly, given that all its early releases were 7"'s. On paper, Hazelmyer's timing couldn't have been worse. While 12-inch vinyl still sold vigorously in the mid-'80's, its little equivalent was quickly drifting toward the land of residual media, with vanishing outlets choking on records hardly anybody wanted. Mostly non-returnable, 7"'s multiplied like cockroaches, especially at adventurous stores. The more overpacked bins got, the worse they and their contents looked, making it even less likely that non-diehards might come to give a shit…or even browse for a minute. Hazelmyer's solution was simple, yet elegant: “Rubber Room,” Halo of Flies' debut, came out in a numbered edition of 200 and popped like eggs in a microwave.
Hazelmyer milked the trick for all it was worth, breathing new life into the format in the process. But he wasn't married to it. While the label continued to release 7"'s until 2000, the '90s saw Amphetamine Reptile releasing albums by Helmet (duh; they even did the vinyl for Meantime), Cows (the definitive AmRep band), Surgery, Unsane, Chrome veteran Helios Creed, Australian sludgemongers The Lubricated Goat, Boss Hog (partners Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez's mutual side project), Today Is the Day, Servotron, Supernova, Nashville Pussy, Calvin Krime (Har Mar Superstar and Sean Na Na mastermind Sean Tillman's first band of note), and a slew of likeminded leasebreaking monstrosities. Often, Peter Davis—who turned Hazelmyer on to Supernova and Nashville Pussy—handled the booking.
After the label struck a manufacturing and distribution deal with Atlantic in the mid ��90s, expansion was both inevitable and necessary. Hazelmyer bought a building, put a studio in the basement, quintupled his staff, and ran AmRep like a mini-major…a move he now calls "disastrous." He even had a staffer whose sole responsibility was Flame-Rite, the company devoted to Zippos designed by artists, many of who'd already done posters for AmRep and would go on to show at Ox-Op.
"Disastrous as it may have been," says Wolf, who left the label in 1996 to run Flying Nun's stateside operations, "it was necessary. Tom's choice was either to expand or take the money and run. I'm glad he chose the latter, even though, by the time I left, I was ready to leave. While I didn't learn anything about writing from Tom, I learned everything about music, and how the industry worked. I wouldn't trade those five-and-a-half years for anything…well, maybe a few billion and my own country."
Like Davis, Wolf applauds Hazelmyer's return to music, AmRep's remobilization (a brace of reissues is in the works), and the return of Halo of Flies (as H.O.F.), although Davis insists that his old pal should use the entire name. Hell, the ex-Marine (a discussion of his sophisticated Libertarian politics would easily triple this article's pixel count) has always been into acronyms. Plus, the experimentaltard vibe the band's exploring now is universes away from the old Halo's visceral garage punk.
Most importantly, the band's lineup is different. While original drummer John Anglim—now living in Baltimore—travels to Minneapolis for the jam sessions that Hazelmyer's digitally mutates, bassist Tim McLaughlin has been replaced, not by a machine exactly, but by Dillinger Four bassist and seven-year Grumpy's veteran Paddy Costello. I caught up with Costello on the phone during a vocal tracking session for a forthcoming 7" (you're surprised?) at Hazelmyer's office. A partial transcript of our conversation follows.
TH: Dude, I tried to email you a while ago and the message bounced. We're too fucked up to talk now.
Stylus: Lemme talk to Paddy.
PC: Is this the interview? Have I been duped? I'll talk about anything but rectal boils.
Stylus: How did you get sucked into H.O.F.?
PC: Tom and I got loaded at the northeast Grumpy's one night. I sang, and he realized that I had a song in my heart. It was kinda like some “American Idol”-type shit. He heard my pipes. He was wearing these sunglasses and smoking a big cigar and he said "I'll make you a star,' and I said 'let's do it.' I didn't even know I was in Halo of Flies until Tom showed me the mock-up for the first 7" cover. Up until that point, I thought the name of the band was Tom Thinks Paddy Wears Big Pink Panties, which I was totally copacetic with.
Stylus: What are you working on tonight?
PC: We're gonna do a split 7" with Billy Childish's new band, so we wrote a song about how much we hate the British. (Note: Hazelmyer and Childish are dear old friends, to the extent that the former picks up canned herbal tea—which he calls "hippie supplies"—for the latter at Whole Foods and ships it to England. Still, you can rest assured Costello isn't kidding.)
Stylus: What do you like best about Tom?
PC: How he never lets on what he's planning…or what he's done. He can be standing next to some chowderhead in a white baseball cap on backwards at a bar, and the guy'll be talking about how Meantime is his favorite album, and Tom won't say shit.
While Costello is 90% on the mark. Hazelmyer does let a little something about the future out now and then. He had Dalek have already taken A Purge of Dissidents on the road a little, with showings at Galleries Magda Danysz in Paris and Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York, and plan to do more gallery shows. In the, um, meantime, the video will be providing support on the Melvins' fall tour, with Hazelmyer along to take care of the screenings. The label? Who knows? He's having fun with it now, and as he says "I've learned never to say 'never' to anything." Meanwhile, Davis wonders when he's going to start painting again. Painting?
By: Rod Smith
Published on: 2007-06-04