CLASSIC UB INTERVIEW: BRETT CUROTTA, MASSAPPEAL
BY DANGER COOLIDGE
Originally published in Unbelievably Bad issues #4 and #5, 2006-07
Back by popular demand, for diehards and diehardesses everywhere, the completion of UB’s interview with Massappeal guitarist Brett Curotta…
Obviously Ben Brown’s artwork for Nobody Likes A Thinker is a synonymous with Massappeal, when did you meet Ben?
Ben was one of the guys down the beach. Ben was in my brother’s year at school, so they were all three years younger than me. But we all surfed together and we were in the same surf club and we all knew each other from the pub or whatever. Ben was drawing on boards and drawing on people’s T-shirts, all that crazy monster shit. I’ve still got stuff that he did back then that people had and I just kept. I know some other people did do artwork for us and there is an early version of the stylised Massappeal logo done by another mate of ours, Scott Needham, who is now a well-known skate and surf photographer. But Ben had done that lyric booklet I mentioned and he would’ve done some flyers so it was just natural to get him to do the artwork for the record. But we never thought it would come to be regarded as being pretty iconic. Like a lot of that shit, you just do it, it happens, and before you know it people are still going on about it twenty-something years later.
Have you sold more T-shirts than records?
Piles more; the T-shirts paid for the records. That’s where we made some money. The shirt still sells well. We’ve seen photos over the years of people wearing it. One of the best was a cover of Sounds Magazine with James Hetfield wearing one. I’ve got no idea how he got it but it sorta got around. When it was licenced to Acme, we got a dollar a T-shirt, which is really bad when I think about it. Originally I took the design to Dare [Jennings] who owned Mambo and said, “Can you colour this?” So I went back a few weeks later and everyone there was working on trying to colour it. I think they were pretty blown away that this guy had just walked in with this artwork. But then, I can’t remember why, but I took it back and took it to Acme and Tony Blaine who owned the company took it home and was trying to colour it. Then one night he just had the brainwave of, “You know what, this should just be black and white.” So he said, “We’ll print it up for you and we’ll give you a buck a T-shirt,” that was our royalty. They were doing Midnight Oil and The Angels at the time and so they saw the potential probably more than we did. I’d hate to think what Midnight Oil were getting. So anyway, seven or eight thousand T-shirt sales later, that was the money put towards recording Jazz.
Were you always accumulating new material or was the stuff on Jazz written in a specific block of time?
We were just writing and writing and writing and I suppose if you want to hear the progression from Nobody Likes A Thinker to Jazz it’s in the extra vinyl twelve-inch that came out with Jazz, Extra Jazz. This is why we released it as two different things; we regarded the songs on Jazz as the new songs, whereas the Extra Jazz songs were older songs left over from the period just after …Thinker. When I listen to Extra Jazz there is actually some really good stuff on there and we want to go back and do a few of those longer metally songs. So Kevin and Darren and Tubby [Wadsworth – drums] probably had more to do with the Extra Jazz stuff, while Jazz was done with more done with Sean and Dave [Ross – drums]. We probably just mutated into whatever we were going to do. I have no idea where we were coming from with Jazz. Even doing an instrumental like “Damage Zone”, I have no idea where that came from. I was still listening to Black Flag and in fact, I think maybe it had really clicked how good they were because I was now playing guitar. When I saw them live I was more just focused on the gig itself. And the most noticeable thing about the band was Chuck [Dukowski], the bassplayer, who was just psycho, and Henry [Rollins – vocals]. I can’t remember much of Greg [Ginn] on the guitar because he was on the other side of the stage so I think it was later on after I’d started playing that the whole thing clicked. You’ve gotta look at what they were doing at the time, which was pretty unique. It wasn’t even hardcore. DRI or SSD, that’s hardcore, but what the fuck Black Flag was I have no idea. They were just coming from somewhere else and I got totally immersed – I’d go to sleep at night listening to them, a cassette player next to my bed playing live Flag bootlegs. But people used to ask us what kind of sound it was on Jazz and I always said it was a more “rocky” sound, as opposed to thrash – that was one word that we used, rocky. I know Randy hated that but I just didn’t know how to describe it. I know we slowed down and it’s probably got a bit more of a groove to it – I’ve got no idea. Tubby should probably be given more credit for bringing that more rock or metal style to the record because we were always on at him to play faster. He was more of a rock player, even to the point where he had a real problem making his fast snare hits loud enough. In the end he was using a tom as his fucking snare. So it was all natural, there was no calculation behind it. You could look at it and think there was a lot of thought behind it but there wasn’t, you just go in and do it, you don’t even think about it.
Is Jazz the best Massappeal ever did?
No, the last album, Nommo Anagonno.
I don’t even own that but I heard some songs on your MySpace page and I really want to get it, I think I’d lost interest by then.
It kinda surprised me but Tim Pittman even said he didn’t have it as well, so I think that just shows you at that stage people weren’t even listening to what we were doing. We had mutated and that was when the whole New York tough guy thing was coming back in. Bands like Toe To Toe were coming up playing this “true” hardcore style and we were off listening to Treponem Pal and playing gigs with The Young Gods. So obviously we were the old guys losing it and the new thing was Sick Of It All or the early Revelation Records stuff, which I couldn’t stand. I remember being in America and Maximum Rock And Roll and Flipside were saying this was the new shit and so I went to Zed Records in Long Beach and they had the first half a dozen Revelation Records seven-inches and so I grabbed them – thank god I’ve still got them because they’re now worth a packet – but I remember getting it and going, “This is just fucked, I’m not into this at all.” New York has a lot to answer for – they fucked up a lot of genres. It all started to get too metal.
Some older Massappeal fans might say that you got too metal.
Probably. But the Nommo… album I’d say is just more bent. I don’t even know where we were at headspace-wise. The biggest letdown about all our records is the sound of them. We were fighting to get a good sound all the time. You’ve gotta think about the time and the bands that were around and no one had any idea how to record that stuff here. With Jazz we had saved the money and Tim [Pittman] said, “You should go to 301 Studios, you’ll get a great sound,” and Mortal Sin had recorded their first album [Mayhemic Destruction] there and they actually suggested we get John Darwish to do it. So that’s where that came from. But it’s all guitars and there’s not much bass there. But then, from one extreme to the other, The Mechanic album is just a fucking nightmare. Sound-wise it’s just a joke, it has to be re-mixed, the whole thing. That’s not coming out until it’s remixed. For me, these reissues of …Thinker and Jazz are a no-brainer, I know there will be interest and they will sell a reasonable amount. But the main reason I want to release these two is so that I can correct the last two. Hopefully this will create another wave of interest and I can get the bucks to then go and remix The Mechanic and do it properly because for me there is a good record in there just screaming to get out. The sound is just a joke, it sounds weak, thin, sanitised, it’s got no balls to it at all; it doesn’t even sit in the progression of the band. I think we need to get the tapes and take it back to the basic sound and amp it up, boost some things here and there, and it will sound good. Hopefully these two reissues will do well and I will get to fix the last two records. Then again, it’s taken us four years to get these ones out so that could take a while.
You and Randy [Reimann – vocals] have gone through so many different permutations of rhythm section, why is that?
I don’t know, when I think back to it, although I probably wasn’t aware of it at the time, I had really strong ideas about what the band should be like. I still remember the drive back from rehearsal when Kevin [McClaer – bass] said he was leaving. I was dropping him off at Wynyard Station and his words were, “It’s your band, it’s your band, this is basically your band.” I thought, No it’s not. But now I think that that’s what it was like and I was just unaware of it. I think it was because I was older and I had been overseas and I had seen all the bands and I knew what was crap and what was fair dinkum and I guess I was staunch about what I wanted to do. Another classic line from a girlfriend at the time was, “I wish you’d put as much of your energy into doing something positive.” She saw the band as being a negative thing. I think I was unaware and focused on doing it. It’s the same with these re-issues [of Nobody Likes A Thinker and Jazz], I have done it all and I haven’t let the other guys have any part in it because I knew if everyone started meddling in it’d never get done. So no one else had seen the artwork, the only people that saw the artwork were Cameron Moss the designer, and me. Some things require a democracy and some things don’t, otherwise they will become diluted. Or maybe it’s just that people come and go. Darren [Gilmore – drums] was the first one to leave and I still don’t actually know why he left. Then we got Tubby [Wadsworth – drums] in the band and after that, Kevin left.
Around the time between The Bar Of Life and Jazz you were truly crossing over and appealing to both punk and metal crowds, was that good for the band?
Yeah, I think metalheads saw something in us because we were loud and fast and anti-social and when we started playing with metal bands that was really good. Mat Maurer from Mortal Sin, we used to talk a lot and he saw something in the band and he always wanted us to play with Mortal Sin because obviously there was the crossover thing so he could see the advantage of us and them and the Hard-Ons all playing together. That is still probably my favourite time and a really great time for the band because all of a sudden there was just piles of people at the shows. That crossover period was really good; some of those metal bands were really good. I really miss those shows, I wish there was more of them. That’s something I want to do is do a big gig that has more of a crossover thing, not some crappy pub gig but a decent one.
Why did Massappeal fizzle back in 1994?
I went to a rehearsal and I pulled the plug. I think I was a bit frustrated and I felt like I was doing everything. I think I asked some people in the band to do some specific job to help me out and it didn’t get done and I was just like, “You know what, you can go and get fucked.” I was over it, I was burnt out, and so I walked into rehearsal and said I was bailing. The funny thing was, as soon as I said I was bailing, Peter [Allen – drums] said, “Well, in actual fact, I was going to leave as well.” He had been rehearsing with Nunchukka Superfly and so he was going to leave anyway. So it just happened at rehearsal and then the Nommo Anagonno album came out and I had to phone up Shock Records and say, “Hey look, we’re splitting up.”
Nobody Likes A Thinker and The Bar of Life have recently been reissued by Desperate Records – available via the Nerve Gas site.