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The L.E.S. Stitches

by Margo Tiffen

Interview conducted at Grassroots Tavern, East Village NYC 1999.

With:
Curt Stitch (guitar)
Mick Brown (vocals)
James Baggs (drums)

How'd you get involved with playing in the movie Summer of Sam?

Curt: Louise from CBGB's gave me a call. She goes, Spike Lee came down here looking for some punk bands and I recommended you guys and Furious George, can I give him your number? I said yeah, please! Thank you very much!

Mick: Curt calls me up that day and he's like yo, Spike Lee's looking for some bands for his movie. I'm like yeah, yeah, sure.

Curt: They're all taking me like I'm a piece of shit.

Mick: Yeah, okay, I'll believe it when it fucking happens.

Curt: That's our typical attitude. Then I got a call from Alex from Hostage Productions and we went down there and had to sit there in the corner of a room.

Mick: We had to do a little mime thing. We had to pretend we were behind a wall.

James: We had to show our acting abilities to Spike.

Mick: They put a videotape on us and we had to mime. We put all white makeup on. They said pretend you're in a box. Now you're pulling something. Now you're on the ocean.

Curt: Obviously our audition went well, so we got called back again for Spike to be there in person to witness this. But this time he threw us a curve and we had to be clowns. So we all got under the table and pretended it was a Volkswagon bug and saw how many people we could pack in there.

Mick: We did the Chinese Fire Drill.

James: It was really hard as an actor because you know mimes and clowns; they don't get along.

Curt: We felt like traitors to our own kind.

James: That was our clincher though, nobody else could do that, the Chinese Fire Drill. That's why we're not the backup band for the main characters. We could do the miming and the clowning around, but writing a song was out of the question.

Mick: They asked for a song and we couldn't come up with one.

What did you think of the movie when it came out?

Curt: It was good, we saw it at the premiere. It was great that they invited us down there. We got free drinks afterwards.

James: Five open bars!

Curt: But we're in the last 15-20 minutes of the movie so the whole movie went kind of long for us because we're sitting there going - show us! Show us! It was actually pretty good, a lot of disturbing scenes. It captured what the mood was in NY at that time.

James: There were some things that were a little weird. The character that was a punk rocker wasn't really based on anybody who really listened to punk rock.

Curt: Yeah, I don't know anybody who walks around with a fake English accent.

James: The one thing that matters is that Spike Lee said in the local paper that he just hoped it helped the bands who were in the movie. Bottom line, that was the coolest thing.

Curt: Entertainment Weekly said one good thing is it finally gave punks a good name.

I didn't love the portrayal of punk rock, but I thought it was so much better than any other major studio movie.

Curt: They didn't slam it down.

They didn't treat punks like morons and make it a joke like they usually do.

Mick: That girl, Jennifer Esposito, I love her. She had the shit going on.

James: We saw her at the after party, she broke my fucking heart.

Was it a big shindig?

Curt: They rented out Roseland. They had all this food. They showed it at that big Sony theater by 46th. Free drinks. Of course us, the typical drunks we're up ordering two drinks at a time just to make sure we get our fill.

Mick: We got a bitch session going on cause we were up in the nosebleed seats sweating our fucking asses off!

Did you yell when they showed you?

Mick: We were so high up, no one would've heard us.

Curt: Nah, we didn't. But you know how people clap at movies now? It doesn't make any sense to me. But there it made sense cause all the actors were there.

Mick: The coolest thing about it was walking to CBGB's and looking at it like 1977. They set that shit up. That was cool as fuck. You know, we've played there many times before, there's just grafitti all over and whatever. But they put up real pictures. They made it look like it used to. Like when I've seen pictures of the Ramones onstage back then. It looked like the stage where they played.

Curt: I heard they actually cleaned off like 20 years worth of dust to get to the original dust from the 1977 era.

They had those specialists come in who do the Vatican. Chip down to Joey Ramone's original sweat. The weird thing about it was that all the punks were dressed in the style of '99, not like back then. That's been happening in movies a lot lately.

Curt: Yeah, nobody had mohawks back then. The fucked up thing is that when we were on tour we ended up shaving our hair into mohawks, me and Lauren, and Damian already had one.

When you write lyrics, most of your songs are about New York City and there's a really good feel for this area in the music. It seems like a lot of your inspiration comes from the more gritty punk bands like the Dead Boys and the Stooges. Can you talk about writing the lyrics?

Mick: I'm a little psychosomatic. I'm fucking insane a little bit. I'll write parts here and parts there and luckily it'll work out as a song. When I'm bartending, maybe I'll smoke a joint and usually when I'm stoned I'll come up with good ideas. I'll write phrases.

Sometimes when I'm at band rehearsal, I'll come up with something better and then I can mix something I wrote at work with it into a song. I read somewhere that David Bowie would write one liners and then scramble them all up and put them together in a song. It's almost that kind of a method. But it's a little weirder I guess because it's not preconceived. I'm just trying to find a method to my madness.

Curt: There have been times we've been writing a song and he'll come up with words right on the spot. To the whole song.

Mick: 'Stuck In A Phase', 'Snapped', 'Could Just Die'. I wrote just like that.

Curt: It's really cool because the same time we're creating the music he's creating the lyrics. We've had some magic moments like that. The stuff that comes out about New York, it's because it's what he sees. Someone in Ohio could look out at a cow and write a song about a cow.

Mick: Those times are few and far between, I wish that would happen all the time. As we get older and we're doing this more often it seems it gets harder to write songs. I want my next record to be killer and it's going to be. I won't release another record unless I think it tops this one.

Are you happy with this record? (STAJA98L.E.S. on Ng Records)

Mick: I love this record.

Curt/James: Very happy.

Curt: Our first record is really good, but the production is not what we wanted. This one was recorded under an optimal situation. We did it really quick, we were all playing at the same time, it was all right there, it captured the moment. We recorded it at Baby Monster. Daniel Rey just pushed us, it was killer.

The first record, it was a problem. James' ears were bleeding. We had to record it separately.

James: The first one I had a ruptured ear drum and I couldn't hear anything out of my left ear. So we had to do it with just me and our rhythm guitar player because that was all I could hear.

For months I couldn't hear at all out of one ear. The second album was so much easier because to start with, I could hear. The music itself sounds better because with everyone playing together it's a different energy. Daniel Rey is fucking amazing.

Curt: He captures you. He gets to know who you are.

James: There's no bullshit about it. When he came in to listen to the songs initially, we thought he wasn't even paying attention. He was reading magazines like 'that's good, that's fine'. He knows what he's doing, though. He knows how to make you sound like you want to. There was no changing around, no weird production guy going -- you know what I think we should do? We should take this part and put it here, etc.

The first time I saw you was at the Rat in Boston a couple years ago and I loved the energy. Mick was writhing around in the beer on the floor, it was great. I didn't know who the hell you were.

James: Was that with Murphy's Law?

Mick: Nah, it was probably just one afternoon show where I was on the ground, not very friendly.

Curt: (Sarcastically) Oh, what show was that? (Laughter)

Mick: Very often.

A lot of times I see bands and they're so excellent live and then I get the record and it just doesn't capture them at all. It's unfortunate because people can't always go see bands live and you can't explain how great they are. Then you get the record and it doesn't work.

Mick: Sometimes people say that about us.

I really think the new record is a good representation of your music, though.

Mick: Daniel Rey did a good job, yeah. We produced our first record by ourselves. We didn't know what the fuck we were doing.

Do you guys have other jobs outside the band?

Mick: I bartend.

Curt: Some of us did, but Coney Island High closed, so we don't have jobs anymore.

James: Yeah, I used to bartend.

Mick: We played at the club where I work at recently and I'm a little bit of a high strung alcoholic... (Laughter)

James: To say the least.

Curt: Wow, candy coat that!

Mick: You got a problem with that, little tape recorder?

James: Stop threatening the electronics.

Curt: The tape player is shivering.

Mick: I'll smash it through the wall, end of interview, squash!

Curt: It's okay, little tape recorder.

Time for stories.

Curt: Give 'em the Naked A story -- it's from the record and on tour.

James: Go ahead.

Curt: We got a song 'Naked A' on the record. It's a true story.

James: I'll give the basis of the initial name. On our first tour we had two roadies. Tiger Boy was our merch guy and Naked A was the guy who kept us all in line.

Curt: He totally made shit happen. He was great at everything he did.

James: But he busted my balls every fucking day. Every day! We're down in Florida, I had this brilliant idea, I saw this airplane commercial $79, we'll send him back to New York. I was like, Little Fucking Adolph. Everyone was dying, like Little Adolph! They changed it to Little A and that's how he was Little A.

So we had a couple shows down in Florida and one of the shows is by Mick's sister's house in West Palm. We wind up staying at his sister's house, everybody gets fucked up.

Curt: Drinking ping pong.

James: I pass out and this is where Curt starts.

Curt: We had played the show and we'd been drinking, playing death dart games.

James: Death darts! I forgot!

Curt: It starts off as like a little joke. I go up to one of the guys from No Fraud and go 'I'm really good at darts and throwing knives and stuff. Just go in front of the dart board and cover your eyes with your hand.' There's another dart board on the other side, and I say 'in case I miss cover your eyes'. I start throwing at the other dart board so he hears them going past. Then I go 'There! I did it!' He peeks out and goes, 'oh, you bastard!' Through more drinking, we end up starting to do it for real.

Mick: They were throwing darts at my fucking head!

Curt: We're like maybe we'll get him in the throat, get his voice really raspy!

Then Mick's sister's husband Lance is there. We're getting ready to leave and we have these big gallon water jugs. They take the gallon jugs and fill them up behind the beer taps.

We're going back to the house in the van. We're drinking this stuff, got the Replacements blasting. Little A is sober at this point, driving, totally taking care of us, stressed out to the max.

Mick: We were driving around West Palm Beach looking for a goddamn party.

James: Yelling shit at people in cars, stupid shit. We didn't find a party, we went home and right as we pull up, everyone's like -- I gotta piss! Run to the house next door and decide to piss all over their flowers and everything.

Curt: Finally get everyone inside. There's a ping-pong table in the garage. Now this house is really nice, white carpet, very clean, beautiful. The only thing not white was the ping-pong table. It was green. Lance has got this drinking game. So both sides of the ping-pong table has triangles of cups of beer. There's two teams.

I played this before.

Curt: Lance has got Todd, our old guitar player on his side. They're both really good. Brian (Little A) is sober. Soon to be Naked A -- very, very soon. He gets me as a partner. I'm fucked, I'm shitcanned. I'm standing on the side of the table, my only contribution was - 'I'll serve.'

I served and then I stood on the side of the table and waved the fucking paddle hoping the ball maybe pops into it. So needless to say, we're losing bad. The ball is going into the cups and we have to guzzle the cups. So Little A is guzzling cups. Finally, after about four games of this shit...

Mick: Precurser! This kid had never drank until about a month before he went on tour with us.

Curt: Exactly. So he gets loaded. At this point, things go black for all of us. Me and Mick are in one room passed out in our beds. In the middle of the night, Little A gets up, he's gonna get sick.

James: He wakes up, he's gonna throw up. He's like holy shit. He starts to run outside, he throws up all over the white rug. Outside, throws up in the bushes. Pukes all over his clothes, goes to the bathroom, takes off his clothes, leaves his boxers on. Throws up again on the toilet, throws up on his boxers.

Curt: So now his boxers are fucked. So the guy has got no clothes, he doesn't know where he is, where his clothes are.

Mick: All he knows is, those tiles are cold, and nice.

Curt: And we're in Florida in the summer. So he just washes his little shorts out, hangs them on the rail and lays on the tiles. He's out. Morning comes. Mick gets up, he's gotta go to the bathroom.

Mick: First of all, Lance wakes me up and goes, 'get up, someone puked on the rug, you gotta clean that shit up.' 'Okay, Lance, no problem.' I'm fucked wasted, I stumble out there. I'm out there cleaning it up with fucking Resolve. My sister comes out -- 'did Lance make you do this?' My sister wants to fucking kill her husband. My sister looks out for me, cause I love her. She's like, 'go back to bed, Mick!'

I get back up and I have to go to the bathroom, and I open the door and there's dead weight in front of it. So I'm pushing and I see -- holy shit, there's some feet there! So I'm pushing and I see legs. I push a little more, holy shit, a male's lower extremeties! Who the hell's this? I look in, and it's Naked A.

Curt: Now Naked A.

Mick: My boy Naked A. I go 'holy shit!' He's waking up and he's all startled. I pull the door closed. I go to my sister -- yo, you got another bathroom? She goes, what's wrong with that one?

Curt: There's a naked guy on the floor!

Mick: I go, my roadie's in there naked on your floor. She's like, uh-oh. He comes out all dressed.

Next thing you know, all the boys are over by the birdcage talking and laughing.

Curt: We're trying to teach the bird to say Naked A.

James: So we go through the whole rest of the tour, no problems. We have a couple days off before we go back to New York.

Mick: We don't call him Naked A before we leave the house, but we're all laughing about it.

Curt: He knows it's coming.

Mick: We're driving and I'm the driver and I like Elvis Costello. I'm playing Armed Forces and there's a song on there 'Oliver's Army'. So we change the lyrics to 'I was only in my underwear and I would rather be anybody else but Naked A.'

James: We actually had lyrics for the whole song, every verse.

Mick: He was about ready to cry.

James: So for the rest of the tour we went to the Southwest, through California, back through the Midwest, coming back to New York.

Curt: You think somebody would learn their lesson by then.

James: I said to everyone 'listen, we're going to my mom's house and me and my mom have had problems in the past.' This is kind of a weird thing, for me to show her that I'm doing something with my life. I'm really nervous, scared about going. This is kind of rough for me.

Mick: Then we got there and his mom was so down, she had beer and fireworks for us.

James: What I told everybody before we got there was if anybody makes an ass of themselves I'm going to kill you. You can't do this, this is my fucking mother. So we're there for a couple of days and the first night we're there my mom and her husband pull out this moonshine. We're all sitting out in the patio area drinking. She lives in the middle of nowhere in Illinois.

Curt: Burning our guts out in a cornfield.

James: Her husband's an ex-chef, he makes this amazing dinner. They're feeding alcohol to us after the meal, saying 'just get drunk, have a good time.' I'm fucking wrecked, I'm going to bed. Damian and I are sharing a bed that night.

So I'm up there in my favorite bed, it's really comfortable, there's a bathroom down the hall. We're sleeping and I see our other roadie, Kevin (Tiger Boy) and our old guitar player Todd doing this fucking ballerina act around our bed trying to wake up Damian. All I hear is 'he's doing it again! He's doing it again!' I'm like 'what the fuck is going on here?' Turns out they got the camera out already and they took pictures of him.

Naked A returned. At my mom's house.

Curt: At his mom's house Brian's naked on the bathroom floor and they got a picture of him with this petrified look on his face and a hand going up to the camera.

James: So I get up and I had just gotten a tattoo and my mom hadn't seen it yet. I wasn't going to show her because my mom hates tattoos. I'm like 'what the fuck!' And he comes out in a towel, like 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.' So we go back to sleep.

The next morning we're all downstairs. He's still upstairs sleeping. A lot of us were at the breakfast table and somebody brought up the idea that we should tell him that my mother saw him and she caught him. And that I had to deal with her while trying to hide my tattoo. Everyone's like that's great, you got to do it.

Curt: Brian was so ashamed of himself, too.

James: So I went up there and I told him 'my mom saw you and she says if you don't apologize we have to leave before she gets home from work.' He was like 'holy shit.' He stayed up in his room the whole time.

Curt: The worst thing is we got his mom involved in it.

James: I called my mom up and said 'yo, mom, I told you about Naked A and the whole story, right? Well, he did it again last night.' She's like, 'oh, no.' I said 'when you get home you have to tell him that you saw him naked on your bathroom floor.' She's like, 'I can't do it.' 'Well, think about it, maybe you'll be able to do it.'

We're all laughing all day. Every time we see him we're just laughing. All day he's sitting up there and he's fucking miserable. He thinks that he really did something so bad this time that he can't replace it. My mom gets home and I run out there and I'm like 'are you going to do it or not?' She's like 'yeah, I'm gonna do it.' Yes!

So I go upstairs I was like 'my mom's here! You gotta go apologize!' So we're all in the living room and he walks in and goes...

Curt: Well, we told him he had to say exactly what he did. So he had to say 'I'm very sorry for being naked on your bathroom floor' to James' mom.

James: So he apologizes and she says 'well, that's okay.' They're in the kitchen and meanwhile we're in the living room on the floor crying, silent laughing. We can't even take it. He's like 'if there's anything I can help with dinner.' After dinner we're all sitting outside, he's like 'I'll clean the dishes, I'll do everything.' He comes outside and I'm sitting outside with my mom and I'm like 'you know what Brian? She didn't see you.' He goes 'what?!'

Curt: He's like YOU BASTARDS!

James: And that's the story of Naked A.

(Laughter, another round of drinks)

What are your influences, as musicians and in general?

Mick: Taxi Driver, the Dead Boys, NY Dolls, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino shit. Kiss, I can't deny Kiss. When I was a boy I remember sitting in my room going, shit, what the hell am I gonna do? Looking up at this picture of Peter Kriss, you know in 'Alive 2' they had the booklet? I had it up on my wall and I was like 'maybe I'll play some drums'. So I started playing drums. Kiss influenced me to play music.

Curt: I was a big Kiss addict myself when I was younger, Ace Frehley was the shit. Then I found the Pistols, the Ramones and The Clash and I was like, this is fucking great. It just threw me into fucking tizzies. The moment I learned three chords I started my own band. I wrote all my stuff.

I never covered anything except maybe Clash songs or Pistols or Johnny Thunders. I like a lot of reggae, Black Uhuru, Bob Marley. I like early Aerosmith, the Replacements were killer at a certain point, the Dead Boys. Just the pure honest energy of rock n' roll, punk rock. Iggy Pop, Gene Vincent. You can tell they're playing their fucking heart out, they've got their whole soul poured into it. Threw all their apples in one basket and said 'this is what I am, take it or leave it and if you leave it, fuck you.'

James: I was the same way with the Kiss thing. Got my first Kiss album when I was three, got my first drum set when I was five. Just the whole bit. I loved Kiss, that was all I wanted to do. I went through my early metal phase. I never got too far into metal but then once I got into punk, I was like holy shit.

Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Dolls, Heartbreakers. I was living in California and I was into all New York music so I was like fuck it, I gotta live there. If all this music can come from there, I gotta go there and try to be a part of it. It's kinda cool now that I am a part of it.

Curt: The city infects you that way. They say we got a New York sound it's like yeah, it's what we see outside our window or when we walk down the street. So that's what we write about. You can be political, but there's not really any political bands out of New York, it's mostly social politics. What everybody's gone through -- a broken heart, friends betraying you, lovers betraying you, life sucking, being depressed and being down and out. Funny little tour stories or just wanting another beer or being so fed up and sick with your work. That's the way New York is. Jobs here suck, you get paid like crap, you gotta pay a shitload for everything. It's real stressful in New York.

James: But there's a lot of people that don't deal with the same things we do because they don't look at it from the same perspective. I mean, we're drunks, more or less.

Curt: More.

James: But we have our own problems and we pretty much put ourselves in the situation. These are our biggest problems -- not being able to get drunk, not being able to have any fun. Most New York bands don't write about the same things we deal with because they don't have these problems.

Most of these musicians, they have money or they're looking to get money. They don't give a fuck about the meanwhile, and that's all we deal with is the meanwhile. So that's why we mostly look at the moment and write about the moment. And we try to have fun.

 

Check out the Stitches' album Lower East Side on Artemis Records.

 

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