Several issues, and years, ago Chunklet Magazine ran a feature whereby readers could apply for their very own “Cred Card” issued by, who else, The Bank Of Indie Cred. Earlier this year, the idea was expanded into a 200 page book that quizzes readers in every conceivable area of “indie cred” (samples? “Do you argue with people who follow recipes?”, “Have you ever been personally responsible for a band getting fired from a label?”, “Has one of your heckles ever silenced the room?”). It’s a massively funny and surprisingly broad laugh-fest. As expected, all sacred cows are slaughtered and the pigs never had a chance.
When the idea to interview my old friend Henry Owings about The Indie Cred Test popped into my head I had a grand delusion that I’d be able to get down to the meat-n-bones of exactly why such a thing resonates with certain people. That is, what is it about “credibility” (as a reality) that we crave and seek out yet also mock and scoff at (as a concept)? Well, we explored that a little bit but not much. Actually, we didn’t really discuss the book itself at any great length but I think our conversation does reveal some insight into the attitude behind the book.
What you’re about to read is really a conversation between a couple of dudes who have known each other for almost two decades, been band mates together, gone through periods of acrimonious acquaintance with each other and, ultimately, landed in full adulthood as long time friends. As it stands, I’m much happier with the way this turned out that the way I planned it.
(This conversation took place over Facebook Chat while Henry was anticipating his infant daughter waking up at any time. So we made the most of our chances.)
Henry Owings (H2O): Boom
Gordon Lamb (24HPP): There ya are. Just sent a message telling you how to sign in.
H2O: Sorry, I don’t “do” this
24HPP: That’s cool. I don’t really either but it works well.
H2O: [My wife] does, judging from the twenty IMs I’ve gotten in the last few minutes
H2O: Jesus, talk about time killer
24HPP: I know it’s not your thing. I read that Pitchfork interview you did once.
H2O: Dude, yeah, that was insane. Nobody ever believes me that it was done via iChat. I still have the transcript because I was misquoted. Hard to believe, huh? Via iChat?
24HPP: That’s the whole idea of doing it via chat, i.e. to not misquote!
H2O: I think because I can type like a motherfucker. I was over-typing and was referring to things earlier [in the interview] or whatever. Anyway…
24HPP: Ah, so it fell out-of-order/context, etc?
H2O: Yeah. You know I’m like a furious typer.
24HPP: I know.
H2O: I was timed at UGA when I got a job there. 95wpm, 100% accuracy. Nobody believes me
24HPP: I’m an awful typist. I even took typing in high school.
H2O: Best skill I ever got from junior high school. Thank God something stuck.
24HPP: Well, let me ask you then: why didn’t you ever go to secretarial school? I mean, you’ve got the legs for it!
H2O: Yeah, I’ve got killer thighs. Anyway, what did you think of the Flagpole piece? It seemed kinda condescending. Or patronizing.
24HPP: I thought the Flagpole piece was OK for a general readership audience type thing.
H2O: [private information about an upcoming Chunklet release]. It’s gonna put me like $35k in debt but it’ll come back. I’m not sweating it it’s funny, I remember doing [7”single way back in the 1990s] and sweating over, fuck, $500? Same thing with those Martians singles. [It] seemed like all the money in the world
24HPP: All debt is relative. $500 is a LOT of money for some people, even now.
H2O: [Speaking about band mentioned above in private] The thing that I find peculiar is that people think I’d hate them but whatever, people will think stupid shit.
24HPP: Well, I know you don’t. People always think I only love hardcore. They’re floored when I tell them I love dance music.
H2O: Ha! Dude, [an old mutual friend from years ago in Athens] was at the doctor’s when I took my daughter in. She was rotating through.
H2O: She just walked in, and me there with my kid. Funny.
24HPP: All you people are adults now!
H2O: Athens continues to haunt me. Even YOU make me look old.And people think I’m still a kid. Corey Rusk recently told me he never wants me to get old. Corey is one of those people I still look up to
24HPP: Well, you DO still maintain an Athens mailing address
H2O: Dude, I get sooooo little mail now just because nobody sends anything. It used to be tubs per week, which is why I kept the PO box. Now, I rarely get things at the PO box
24HPP: I still look up to certain people even though they’re not much older than me For example, David Barbe is a hero.
H2O: Dude, same here. I talk about the upper classmen in Athens thing…
24HPP: …and they’re all less than 10 years older than us.
H2O:…and how it took me up until, like, Ted Hafer’s suicide to realize that. Like, Curtiss [Pernice] and Ballard [Lesemann] fucking rule but, like,[one particular longtime Athens rocker] and that whole axis, it was like, “Oh, they’re just assholes.” I thought they just didn’t respect me but once I figured out they’re just assholes, it all just came into place
24HPP: Ballard is one year older than me but when I got to town they were all the elder rock statesmen.
H2O: Yeah, I remember seeing Ballard on the back of the Roosevelt LP when I was still in York. So weird. I don’t take ANY of my friends for granted.
24HPP: So, the book…
H2O: Yeah, let’s do this before the baby wakes up. She is splitting time between me and wifey at the office.
24HPP: This was a massively expensive project.
H2O: It was massively expensive to produce, yes. I’ve yet to recoup.
24HPP: I figured.
H2O: Well, whatever. I’m happy. I’m THRILLED with the finished product but due to a couple of left-field constraints I had to get the book printed in the US which wasn’t my original goal. It came down to time. It was going to be printed in China but due to time, the baby and renovations on the house it had to be done in the US. which effectively doubled the amount of money I spent. The US printer did an outstanding job and it was super fast.
24HPP: So Chunklet isn’t opposed to sending jobs overseas?
H2O: Well, it’s not my first choice but look at any book in your house. I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that 99 out of 100 are from China.
24HPP: Thank God they’re not written in Chinese, though. I’d never know what was in them!
H2O: the book was written like DONE, what, back in August last year? Before the Kickstarter campaign. I sincerely didn’t think the delays would be so LONG. But it was insanely layout intensive which was the big hold up.
24HPP: It’s like a 200 page standardized test.
H2O: Insanely intensive even though a lot took only a bit of time. Say one page took an hour. Just as a benchmark multiply that times 200 and take editing, writing, not to mention my real life and the house construction.
24HPP: That’s about five weeks just on layout if you think in terms of 40-hour weeks.
H2O: the book was FINISHED in my kitchen as my office was under construction. Yeah, it was NUTS and that’s still a low estimate. It’s funny, and I started doing layout to avoid asking people for help. That was in ’96!
24HPP: All the graphic design people I know are self-taught.
H2O: Well, it’s like musicians. The best musicians are self-taught
24HPP: True, true.
H2O: I don’t think you can go to school and expect to learn what you can via just doing If you’re good, it happens if not, well, time to look for another job. Having Chris Bilheimer as my first design idol was unfair. That’s like having John Lennon teach you guitar or something.
24HPP: Well, you can’t teach talent but you might be able to help reveal talent through schooling and schooling might help you develop discipline.
H2O: To be frank, Jeff Hunt from Table of the Elements taught me more than anybody or any project. He is a raging dick but just a design genius. I learned soooooo much. Like on the John Cale and Beefheart releases.
24HPP: All the TOTE stuff is beautiful. Even FLYERS for TOTE shows were beautiful.
H2O: [he taught me] just about the math of design which, no joke, I didn’t know existed
24HPP: Math is in everything.
H2O: THAT guy taught me because he didn’t know how to use the programs. Those Beefheart LPs were, what? ‘98? That was my design crash course. The Charley Patton box, the Mr. Show book, those were the baptism by fire projects. And Chunklet of course
24HPP: Henry, I love you, but you’ve got to let me ask a question.
H2O: Sorry. I did a Pitchfork interview last week. It was 3 hrs long because I just kept talking.
24HPP: The book is hilarious.
H2O: Thanks. I appreciate it.
24HPP: But why do you think we find it hilarious?
H2O: Fuck if I know.
24HPP: I mean, what is it about “credibility” that we both mock yet crave?
H2O: Here’s the thing. I’ve always been my own audience. I just do something and if I make myself laugh that’s a good barometer. I mean, people think I’m anti-this and anti-that, but dude…[I’m] a wolf in sheep’s clothing (ed note: I think Henry mean a sheep in wolf’s clothing). I mock myself endlessly.
24HPP: OK, then let me rephrase: What is it about cred that YOU find both desirable yet mock-able. I mean, you’re cred central. Always have been.
H2O: Well, it’s like what I was saying about the Athens upperclassmen. It’s like you aspire to achieve a level of respect but you PRETEND not to care. It’s this catch 22. It’s like Brad, Bradford now, but Brad. Brad Cox. He was just desperately clinging to me, or anybody, for approval. But, shit, he was 13!
24HPP: He spent hours upon hours [back then] with me in Wuxtry.
H2O: But that’s a pretty…I don’t know. It never changes. I’m 42 and it’s still that way. Cred is just shorthand for dirt under your fingernails.
24HPP: OK, but given that, are we (as in people in music scene) more desperate for approval or are we just a particularly fetishistic slice of regular society?
H2O: Fuck if I know.
24HPP: You must have had some thought on it.
H2O: I don’t see…like, I don’t see how having sleeves of tattoos makes you an alternative to the mainstream. It just means you’re an idiot that’s sunk bucks into ruining your body.
24HPP: True, true. Me either.
H2O: I’m more interested in co-opting, being subversive, not… I mean, it’s this way with music as much as any other art…
24HPP: You co-opting the mainstream?
H2O: I don’t see the appeal in being lockstep with my peers. That’s just pack mentality. Like Mike Watt, not to name drop,…
24HPP: It’s ok.
H2O: But I’ve had REAL intense conversations with him and that fucker, like, changed my life when I was 14. And it’s because I realized that there’s NO rules. Not that punk rock has rules, but the counter culture. Like, [people] subscribe to these arbitrary rules. Who the fuck cares?
24HPP: Well, “punk” has always had a ton of rules.
H2O: None of that appeal to me. And so here I am: 42 [years old], working at home, doing design work for ad agencies and comedians, putting out records, books, putting on shows and why not?
24HPP: Putting out babies.
H2O: well, my point is…
24HPP: I know.
H2O: Who said that you can’t do what you want? I certainly don’t ask for handouts. The older I get the more I see all of this. Although David Lindsay has accused me of being a rich kid whose parents pay for my ‘hobby’. But, like, fuck it all. Life is short. Just go do what you want. Take a fucking risk.
24HPP: As you know, when I was younger I really had a taste for the whole MRR, hardcore, “community” of punk.
H2O: MRR appealed to me until Tim Yo told people what was punk. Fucking dope.
24HPP: I don’t even know where that came from.
24HPP: I loved ordering records from MRR ads.
H2O: The Ramones were on Warner Brothers (ed note: Sire Records, technically). It’s like, again, not to name drop…
24HPP: It’s not name dropping when they’re you’re friends, dude.
H2O: But, like, Buzz from The Melvins. I just love his approach to things, his mindset. It’s like you can’t just pick and choose. It’s like,”you ONLY buy from indie stores?” No, you don’t. Who made your cell phone? Who made your car? Who made your shoes?
24HPP: I ONLY READ THE INDIENET!
H2O: Yeah, exactly. Like ‘indie’ is of any relevance to society. [That’s a] white boy, first world problem. Entitled.
24HPP: Well, there’s certainly ways to be a conscientious consumer.
H2O: Well, being conscious is fine, but why not use that same mindset with everything? Buy a co-op computer that runs on bio-diesel. Again, Buzz really puts it in perspective and that guy barely graduated high school from the sticks of Washington state.
24HPP: Wasn’t that one of the ideas, though? To apply “punk” ideals to the rest of one’s life? Or at least try?
H2O: Well, that’s a discussion for another time but I just, like, well, I have always had contempt for those in authority, be they in the underground or mainstream.
24HPP: That is true. I can attest to that.
H2O: And I think it’s because they’re all full of shit. So that’s why the book came about. I was showing the cool kids I know their number. And, like with anything else I’ve done, my fans appreciate it. [That’s] weird to say–“my fans”–but people who buy my crap, as in literally. Not just click on a site and move on.
24HPP: OK, but let’s explore that. Who do you think buys Chunklet stuff?
H2O: Well, I’ve traveled A LOT. And I’m not saying this to be full of myself but I’ve had people walk up to me on the streets of London, or New York, or San Francisco, or at a show in Chicago…people WALK UP TO ME and say they’re huge fans of mine. [They say] “keep it up” [and] all that stuff. [But] when I live in Georgia where nobody gives me the time of day and have a wife that asks [me] to take out the garbage and change poopy diapers. You can’t figure it out until you go out thereand it’s sincerely, humbling. I’m just doing what I want to see.Being the asshole I wish more people had the guts to be.
24HPP: I agree that there’s a certain satisfaction in calling out stuff.
H2O: So, Flagpole [and] Creative Loafing basically ignore my stuff…which is like, whatever, but being recognized is mind-boggling. And all the people, without exception, defy categorization. It’s not like I can say “oh, they’re all mid-30s” guys.
24HPP: OK, but let me ask you, do you feel a responsibility to be the “asshole”? Like it’s a role you must fill?
H2O: Do I feel responsible? Fuck no. I don’t feel RESPONSIBLE to do anything. I just do stuff I want to do and kinda hold those certain trend makers in contempt. [The ones] that just phone it in and really have no take on anything. My influence is obvious when I see what other people steal of mine, my ideas.
24HPP: People have stolen from Chunklet a lot. I see it.
H2O: dude, TONS. Not that I care…
24HPP: But you DO care. It must bother you. It would me.
H2O: About ten years ago I put it to rest. Eh, fuck it, I steal. I should be flattered. I just wish people did it more originally.
24HPP: Well, MAD MAGAZINE and all that.
H2O: Well, that’s a remote example but, yeah, you get the idea. Although, Mad sent me a C&D which is framed and hanging in my office and THAT is on WB stationery.
24HPP: Yep. You published it, too.
H2O: Yup. Totally not made up. I remember signing for it at the post office. Registered mail
24HPP: Of course. It [was] a legal notice.
H2O: A ‘nasty gram’ as I’ve had it told to me by lawyer friends
24HPP: Ha! Never heard that.
H2O: But, do I get pissed off? Fuck no, it’s art. I’m just bummed that more people don’t give it a crack.
H2O: Far from irritated. I’ve got a good life. I behold Chunklet of nothing. I derive no salary or money from it.
24HPP: Henry, I think you might intimidate people.
H2O: Ha, my friends and family don’t understand that.
24HPP: 1) by the massive amount of work you’re able to do -that you bust your ass doing-and 2) by fearing your disapproval.
H2O: Like, here’s the thing, life is short. Why NOT do everything you want?!
24HPP: I mean, dude, I’VE been intimidated by you before!
H2O: Come on, dude, like, the only time people should be intimidated is when I’m angry. Due to my sciatic [nerve]. I’m a pussy cat. That’s why Will [Hart] and Bill [Doss]] are still great friends even thought they’re earthy, crunchy hippies.
24HPP: I’ll tell you a story I’ve never forgotten so hear me out. Years and years ago when you were in A Mercy Union I had found this 8-track tape of something I thought was cool like Parliament or something. I dunno. Anyway, you came over for practice one night and I showed it to you and you said: “I know someone who knows more about 8-tracks than you ever will in your life.”
H2O: Malcolm [Riviera].
24HPP: Yep, Malcolm.
H2O: Yeah, but it’s true.
24HPP: Yes, but I was just showing you this thing I was excited about, not having a competition!
H2O: Haha! Sorry.
24HPP: It’s cool. We’re past that.
H2O: [Malcolm] was in that 8-track documentary. Such a dumb format.
24HPP: Yeah, it’s crap except for radio.
H2O: Radio doesn’t use it any more.
24HPP: I know radio doesn’t use it anymore!
H2O: But, man, the stories people tell me about shit I did back in Athens and I’m like “yeah, I bet I did that.” Sobering up really cleared my lapses in judgment. I mean, I drink occasionally now but I don’t have drinker’s regret. But, yeah, even my wife says I can say one thing and cut everything down which I certainly don’t think I pride myself on doing.
24HPP: (ed note: my favorite Henry quote of all time…) “MAC IS FOR PUSSIES!”
H2O: Oh, man, I know…
24HPP:The weird thing is that I only have a couple of memories of you drinking. I never really saw you get outta control except once.
H2O: When you’re in Athens how can you know who has a problem? The TOWN has a problem. The town needs a citywide intervention and I say that with all due respect
24HPP: Well, of course! Athens has worked hard developing that rep.
H2O: It’s no Madison, Wisconsin but yeah, fuckers there know how to drink. I remember not seeing cocaine in Athens except at a Drivin’-N-Cryin’ gig. [My] first week in Atlanta, I inadvertently drove a guy to buy crack.
24HPP: I’m from the 1980’s. Cocaine is still a yuppie drug.
H2O: I detest that crap.
24HPP: Me too. A suits drug.
H2O: but yeah, I tell people the whole reason I’m not in a band any more is because I just don’t have the discipline as witness in A Mercy Union. I tell of how I left the band still…
24HPP: Um, naw, you were pretty disciplined. You wrote out your bass parts and posted them on the wall. I’d never seen anyone do that.
H2O: Well, that’s what I mean. My level of discipline is more a one-man kinda thing
24HPP: I’ve never been body slammed before or since.
H2O: Ha ha, and my final gig was played on a six string fretless! Dude, you weighed a buck and change then. Anybody could’ve thrown you.
24HPP: I always thought I was fighting weight back then.
H2O: You didn’t FEEL heavy. Then again, I worked in a feed mill carrying 100lb bags of feed. Shit, I hear a baby. Anything else before I sign off?
24HPP: I remember asking you, when I saw you post your bass parts on the wall, what you studied in college. You said “statistical analysis.” It all clicked for me at that moment.
H2O: Ha, yep. Nobody believes me. Stats are easy, music is a bitch. Science and logic are easy, art is hard. At least for me. Okay, I’ve gotta go warm some milk
24HPP: OK, man, go take care of [her].
H2O: Get ready for the phalanx of crying and baby needs. She’s SUCH A DICK.
24HPP: Can I print that?
H2O: Ha ha, sure, she’ll think it’s funny one day.
24HPP: Daddy’s girl, indeed.
H2O: Signing off