THE AUSTERITY PROGRAM’S JUSTIN FOLEY INTERVIEWS JON FINE ABOUT TACO RIFFS
Jon Fine’s best known band was Bitch Magnet, a (usually) three piece active from the late 80s to the early 90s. Though hardly a metal outfit, Fine was a vocal apostle of heavy music in the independent circles the band traveled in, deeply knowledgeable and conversant in obscure, loud shit going back to the early 70s (and earlier). I met Jon at a number of shows in NYC and read a bunch of his enthusiastic and thoughtful posts on the now-dead Chugchanga mailing list and figured he’d have an opinion or twelve on this. Jon also played in Vineland, Coptic Light and even did some time in Don Caballero.
These days Jon pays rent as a media analyst. You can find him on Mediabistro, CNBC and Twitter (where he has about eleven times as many followers as Gary Suarez).
What’s the greatest Taco Riff of all time?
I know that you’ve used this term before, but I could never could quite figure it out: Taco Riffs. But I think I’ve got it. You’re looking for the Godhead riff, right?
I’ve been thinking about this all day is here’s what I’ve got: “The Prophet” by Buffalo, off of Volcanic Rock. The first four minutes of the song are pretty much ONLY that riff. It makes my eyes roll back in my head. It goes straight to the reptile brain.
There’s also the record “Mean Man’s Dream” by Gore. Just perfect for tons of these riffs. The title track alone has two or three riffs that are perfect.
Tell me, what are some of yours so that I can know what you’re thinking of.
There’s “Metaphetamine” by Eyehategod. The end riff off “Oven” on Ozma –
Wait, what’s that song by the Melvins … “The Bit”. It’s got that baaaam – dundudun – bam-bam-bam baaaam dundundudn –
Oh, wait! Duh. Sleep. The opening riff off “Jerusalem” by Sleep. The first few minutes of that song. He’s just building it up on the C string and… definitely the first four minutes or whatever of Jerusalem.
I know that, a few years back, you made a point to really go back and understand a time period of the 1970s that seem like the roots of where a lot of this type of music comes from. Anything from there?
Well, in your e-mail you mentioned Dust. I don’t think they’re very good, but there’s one song that’s the last song on their second record, ah –
Dah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah NAH – NAH – NAH –
Yes! That’s it. Ahh – “Suicide” . I mean, I hear that one and… that’s definitely one.
I have bought a lot of those types of records, though. I mean, there’s this great band from Peru called Pax, but they’re – I just don’t know if they’re a Taco Riff band. I love Guru Guru but they’re not really what we’re talking about.
I was thinking. This is a little off topic, but the first Stray Dog record has a song called “Crazy” . There’s kind of a hack southern rock riff, and then they build this ascension into it, absolutely out of nowhere that’s like, suddenly King Crimson landed on the record. It’ll blow your mind. (This riff is solid INSANE. – Ed.)
Actually, there’s probably some King Crimson riffs… eeeehh, maybe not. There are these great parts, but to me, it’s like these kind of riffs aren’t what you’re talking about.
I don’t want to make this sound like I don’t love this, because I absolutely do. But there is something that’s kind of big and dumb about it.
Oh absolutely, but I don’t care. I’m not apologizing about it if it’s not smart. If it’s not cerebral. Who the fuck cares?
If you think about that time period of music, what’d you bring back from that – trying to understand that period?
Well, I think it’s less overlooked now than it was when I really got into it. People don’t think that you’re insane now if you say you like Captain Beyond. You can say you like Sir Lord Baltimore, and people won’t think it’s a total joke – well, actually, they were kind of a joke anyway.
But it wasn’t a fallow period – these five to six years in the 1970s. People weren’t just sitting around, not doing anything, waiting for punk rock. I’ll be honest: I was hoping to find some other unknown bands that were as good as Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer. And I didn’t find that, but come on. That first Stray Dog record, though: completely amazing. I also don’t understand why the Groundhogs weren’t more popular than they are.
Oh! If you just want dumb, there’s the Firebirds or the Electric Firebirds. No one really knows anything about them, because they were this band from the late sixties that mostly did standard covers. But would then do three or four originals on their records and they were just insane.
There’s a song called “No Tomorrows” . It’s astonishingly stupid. You’re going to be surprised these guys are even standing up. There’s this middle bridge where you’re going to be like “What the fuck, where did that come from?”
Oh, final thing. If you want just a Drum taco riff? Blue Cheer, “Just a Little Bit.” I still don’t know how they did that. But it’s gotta count.
A few hours later, I got an e-mail that included the following:
The opening riff in Sleep’s Jerusalem, for sure. Top of the heap. This crazy circling thing and it starts of the song totally solo for like two and a half minutes. it’s that long, I think, before the other instruments come in. I mean: they got an hourlong song from variations on that riff.
“Night Goat” by the Melvins. The opening bass riff. Near the end Crover does this thing against it, where he kind of hesitates going back into the main beat he plays during the verses, and I look forward to hearing it as soon as the song starts. But, yeah, that’s not just ONE instrument playing ONE riff.
(This song is in fact the greatest thing ever, just so you know. – Ed.)
I wish I could say Crimson, but while I totally heart them, their riffs are a bit too cerebral, too thought out, for what we’re taking about. The opening riff in 5 for “Lark’s Tongue” and even the ridiculous minor key bass riff in the middle of “Red” — they’re both great, but it sounds like they thought about them too much. Too much cerebrum. Similarly: the opening riff to Voivod’s “Experiment” off Dimension Hatross. it’s a pretty awesome upside-down sounding thing, but it’s a bit thought out . . . oh, fuckit, I nominate that riff to be allowed into the pantheon. It’s fucking awesome.
On his “Kaptain Kopter” record, Randy California does something completely retarded with an fairly hack blues lick on the first song, “Downer.” It’s not like it’s a riff that will slay hundreds of wildebeest on its own — as something like the Buffalo riff, or any one of 5 Melvins riffs would — but there’s something he does with it that just makes it totally crazymaking.
The opening riff to magma’s “Mekanik Destruktiw Commando.” I mean, Jesus. It even works as a horn riff — that’s how devastating it is. (Thousands of wildebeests twitching feebly and thousands more lying dead in a heap, etc.)
Iron Knowledge “Show Stopper” is built around a crazy fuzz-bass riff that’s 1,000,000 times heavier than it needs to be, in particular when the bassist slides into the chorus. Absolutely ridiculous sounding.
More melodic, so it ALMOST screws it up, but it doesn’t in the end: the main riff in Chrome’s “Third From The Sun”.
The thing that kills me about the Firebirds is the technical incompetence. I mean, the drummer sounds like he just had his hands stepped on. But that fucking clubfooted idiot clodhopper thing they do at the end of the opening riff, before that TERRIBLE attempt at a two-note blues solo–unbelievable.
The next day, I got an e-mail that said:
There’s a lot to get thru, riffwise, with Gore’s output, especially the whole first side of Mean Man’s Dream and “Extirpation” off of Hart Gore. But there’s a live version of “Chain Saw”, on the Southern Lord re-issue of Mean Man’s that does this absolutely crushing thing where the band slows down before bearing down on, uhm, Christ, I dunno, like the 4th of 5th riff of the song. But it’s severe and stunning enough to make you notice, even after half an hour of hearing Gore rip thru their riffs. As such, this I nominate as their finest Riff Moment, since it makes you want to break a fucking safe open with your head.
Three days later, I got an e-mail that said, in its entirety:
“from Poison Idea’s “Lifestyles.”
starts about 1:30 in, after the stupid single note stuff. ignore the idiotic chorusing put on the guitars and LISTEN TO THE FUCKING RIFF.”
Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for the Austerity Program. Their record Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn is out now. Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com. All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ and monetary policy will be answered first.