CLASSIC UB INTERVIEW: TRENT RUANE, THE MUMMIES
BY OWEN PENGLIS
Originally published in Unbelievably Bad #4, 2007
From beyond the crypt, keyboardist/vocalist Trent Ruane delivers more on the life and death of The Mummies – how to make records, tour Europe in true Budget Rock style, and avoid the very real mummy’s curse.
You covered some pretty obscure songs – where did it all come from, especially in the pre-internet days? Stuff like A. Jacks and the Cleansers’ “Stronger Than Dirt”, Rockin Ramrods’ “She Lied”, and “Big Boy Pete” by The Tidal Waves?
Yeah, the internet really did change a lot. At the risk of sounding like the stereotypical Luddite (which I am), things were definitely harder before. I mean, you actually had to physically look for things in the real world. Pouring through the phone book in every town you drive through while on tour (or even on weekends) looking for record stores, thrift stores and guitar shops. Kids today can Google just about anything, and with eBay, they can buy it too – and all without ever having to leave their houses. There’s also an indescribable thrill in shoplifting that you just don’t get by using stolen credit cards online. Anyway, some of our material came from comps, and some of it came from finding records at local swaps or even junk stores. Then we had folks like Todd at Telstar Records, or Tim Warren from Crypt sending us tapes with stuff they thought we ought to cover; stuff that hadn’t made it out onto comps yet. Even the whole business of putting out your own records was some kind of “secret and mysterious thing” that only real record labels could do. Bullshit. That was one of the great things about the scene up in Seattle. People were actually doing things – on their own. So when we rolled into town the first time with our first single in hand, it was completely normal to them; whereas back home, it was some kind of amazing thing that we “had a record out.” In the Bay Area, it was as if there was some kind of epidemic fever that made everybody retarded. All you had to do was a little research, find a record plant, send them a tape and some money, and done! You had a record. All your own, no one telling you what songs could be on it, or what the cover should look like. Hell, we didn’t even have the covers made by the record plant for the first couple of singles. It was cheaper to have them printed here in town, and we could get away with cover like “Food, Sickles & Girls”. We cut, folded and glued each one of the sleeves for the first two singles by hand. We were cheap bastards, but we always passed the savings onto the people. That’s the Budget Rock way.
With your own material, did you feel you had a lot to live up to based on the covers you were doing?
As much as I like garage music, there’s really not that much to live up to. I can write shitty songs as good (or bad) as the next guy.
You did a little time in Untamed Youth and the Phantom Surfers around 1992. Was this after The Mummies first called it quits?
Yeah, I’m on the Untamed Youth’s Live In Las Vegas album on Estrus. And I recorded the “Sophisticated International Playboys Theme” / “Sea & Shore” single for them. There was a spell where I was playing in both the Youth and the Surfers simultaneously. My stint with the Surfers started back in 1990 while The Mummies were still around. We did a couple of tours of the Northwest (i.e. Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, etc.) with the Surfers as support and I did double-duty on at least one of those tours – but because I am so damn ugly, it was always behind a goddamned mask.
Was there much of a story to the end of the Mummies, or did you all just decide to go your separate ways?
Believe it or not, the band split because of a really stupid argument that happened on the flight back from New York, after playing (what we thought was) our last show (before we got back together to do the European tours). We had recorded a whole new album’s worth of material and had been planning on releasing it when we got back home. This was January, 1992. The problem was Maz [Kattuah – bass] wasn’t on all the tracks. We had been fighting an awful lot during this time and he had taken off during the recording “sessions” to go to some slot car event that was happening in Arizona(!), thinking we couldn’t continue without him. We did anyway. A friend of ours, who was a bass player in another band (which shall remain nameless) filled in and we finished the last of the tracks. Anyway, to this day, it is a really ugly mess and there are constant threats of lawsuits or just plain ass kicking if the album ever comes out (and it’s been fifteen years now!). By the way, this is the first time I’ve ever disclosed this info. Scoop for UNBELIEVABLY Bad!
I’ve heard you’re somehow involved in the computer/IT world now. Is this a lesson to people in this about no matter how cool your garage band is, you’ll have to get a real job someday?
Well, if you’re making a living by being in a band, that either means you’re never going to “get anywhere”, or your band’s inane enough to appeal to enough people to keep the money rolling in. “Working bands” fall into the first category. These are bands that make an honest living schlepping gear across town night after night, playing clubs, parties, restaurants, wherever. The latter group is made up of “famous” bands. The numbers work against you there, my friend. Think about it: what would it take just for everyone that lives in your neighbourhood to like your band – like it enough to repeatedly pay to see you perform and buy your records? Right. Your band has to be shitty enough to appeal to masses of people who have their taste in music, film, art (or even their general knowledge of news, current events, politics, etc.) set by commercial, corporate-run media. The thing about The Mummies was that we were just in it for kicks. We knew we were never going to get anywhere, so we never fooled ourselves into thinking we should take any of it seriously.
Do you still play music at all?
I occasionally fill in on guitar in a string band with one of the guys from [R.Crumb’s] Cheap Suit Serenaders. Marches, fox trots, waltzes, Hawaiian tunes, that sort of thing. I’ve always been into pre-war music (as in WWII, not Desert Storm), and after I got the rock ’n’ roll thing out of my system, I only listened to that type of music. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve slowly been able to stomach some rock ‘n’ roll again – mainly seventies English pub rock.
How did you guys cope on your tours of Europe? Got any tips for finding places to sleep, etc?
Don’t pay for anything. Get some rich kid to pay for everything, drive your shit around, set up shows and feed your ass. And stay away from German psychobillies (or English ones for that matter). We stayed with some psychobilly guys in Frankfurt once and one of the dudes had actually killed someone. Come to think of it, we stayed with some other dude in Belgium who also killed someone (though he wasn’t a psychobilly). Sometimes you get stuck in queer lodgings on the continent… Anyway, the German dude always carried around a really big fucking hunting knife, and used it in restaurants instead of the silverware provided. Fucking savages.
Why are most of the people asking for a Mummies reunion sweaty old collector-type guys? Does this ever have a chance of happening?
You ever seen the old horror flick, The Mummy? You know how those assholes (AKA “explorers”) exploit the “savages,” bust into that tomb, steal a bunch of shit, wake up the dead guy and piss him off? What happens to them all? Yeah, they get all fucked up for stealing shit and being dicks. That’s called payback. When we were playing, we stole a whole lot of shit from clubs. I mean a lot – microphones, cables, stands, monitors, alcohol, and yes, money. It’s sort of like a reverse Mummy’s curse (because this time The Mummies were doing the stealing). That is the reason why our curse isn’t as fucked up as what those fuckers have to deal with in that movie. It still sucks though. I mean, how would you like it if the only people who will ever come see your band reunion are fat, virginal, bearded record collector fucks?
What happened to the Budget Rock hearse?
First of all, it was an ambulance – a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance to be exact. Purportedly the same make/model/year used to transport whatever was left of JFK to the hospital. Anyway, after the band broke up, it was getting to be a pain driving that shit around town just to get groceries and I ended up leaving it in the lot next door to the old Budget Rock headquarters. OK, now, here’s where it gets totally crazy. I get this phone call one day from this English guy who’s interested in buying the thing. He leaves this message on my answering machine, and I’m playing it back and thinking the voice is totally familiar, but I just can’t place it. It’s not [Billy] Childish, and I play the damn thing over and over again… Anyway, long story short, it was Ian fucking Dury! Thinking it must be a joke (because I’m pretty sure he wasn’t in the best of health at this point, and like, what the fuck would he want with the Mummy-mobile anyway?), I return his call and tell him I’d be willing to part with it, but that the shipping would fucking kill him (no pun intended). He insisted he was still interested, mumbled something about JFK (I suppose he could’ve been mumbling something about the UK and not JFK, but it was impossible to tell given his fucked-up Cockney), and we basically closed the deal. Didn’t make much off it, as I felt bad he was going to have to shell out big $$ for a container and shipping to England. Anyway, I didn’t believe it was really him back then, and I still don’t. Alls I know is that I got a wad of dough wired to me and I shipped that shit off to Blighty.
A friend of mine was telling me about this time he was recording with George Drakoulias and he bought a Mummies bootleg video somewhere and took it into the studio; they all hung out and watched it. He then overheard George calling up Rick Rubin and saying: “Hey Rick, have you ever heard of this nineties band, The Mummies?” “Yeah yeah, that singer, he could be a rock star.” “Yeah, he sings great!” So can we expect a Trent Ruane solo album with Rick Rubin sometime soon?
Who’s Rick Rubin?
But wait, garage monkeys, there’s more! Tune in for the final installment of our shocking Trent Ruane interview, the total anti-climax known as, Fuck the Mummies – Part III!!!