Syd Bishop has established himself as one of the most prolific writers on the L'ville music scene in recent years, working for both LEO and Never Nervous, the latter of which has established itself as one of my favorite websites/blogs for current interviews with people involved in all areas of local music, as well as a trove of record reviews and show previews/reviews. In other words, Syd puts in the labor and is on top of his shit. He's also a musician who has performed in such bands as Teenage Pregnancy! and Lee Van Cleef, as well as the currently active Visiting Nurse, which will be playing this Sunday, August 3, at Dreamland. Since I've never actually met the man, and interview seemed appropriate before attending the show.
1. Well, Syd, since we've never really met or hung out that, my first question is: Where did you come from? Who are you? What's your deal?
As I understand it my parents, who were very young at the time, learned an important lesson about the relationship between birth control pills and Penicillin. So here I come, hot into the world, fucking up plans right from day one. But everything was good. I rode bikes a lot as a kid (still do), and have read comic books since I knew what those things were.
I wound up living in northern Bullitt County during my teenage years, where I harassed rednecks, and was generally rowdy, but not Hank Williams Jr. rowdy. So no drugs or racism for me, just starting up a fight club before that was a thing, making stop motion movies, and playing the shit out of some Magic: The Gathering. My blue and white denial deck was unstoppable in its peak, unless you were Shawn Doss. You know who you are.
As soon as I could, I moved out of Bullitt County, and have mostly lived in the city since. I’ve been in plenty of bands, written things, run pretty often, ride my bike all the time, and generally just try to get mild. Going to be Dad soon, so I’m sharpening my shitty jokes, and thinking about how much I need argyle socks and Wurther’s Originals in my life. Fuck it. My hair is turning gray, like Reed Richards style anyways.
2. As a second part to question 1, I then need to know: what's up with you and writing? When did you get interested in dealing with words, and what paths has that led you down? LEO, Never Nervous..where/what else? Do you do the fiction? What bug got into you to write about music?
For seven years too long, I worked at LG and E. I did face to face customer service, which is absolutely a circle of hell. Basically everyone that walks in is already over you, and wants to fight. At least once a week, someone would literally try to fight me, or at least get me riled up. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes not so much. I saw and heard so much unfiltered heinous bullshit that I made up my mind to get as far away from that garbage as possible. I went back to school in, I guess, 2008, and worked on an English degree, primarily because I have no other marketable skills.
Writing well is just being an effective bullshitter, and that is something I’ve always done well, or at least well enough. As you can probably already surmise, I’m long-winded. I like a good rambly story. I like lots of asides. So it took. I graduated and felt like King Badass III, but knew I needed to actually apply those skills. So here we are.
I write a lot of different types of things, but mostly not fiction. I wish I wrote more fiction. I would love to write a comic book with someone. I have the raddest ideas, that I cannot, under any circumstances, note here, least someone snatches up my hot thoughts. I know you’re intrigued.
What I do write is mostly “journalism,” or something very much like it. I write about music for the LEO and Never Nervous, mainly because that’s what I know. I’ve been in all sorts of bands, and know plenty of band folks. Other than that, I write a neighborhood guide in English for Al Día, the Spanish language newspaper, and sometimes for The Louisville Lip. That’s the real deal there. If you all don’t follow the Louisville Lip, which is a very NPR style outlet, then you’re doing it wrong.
So far, I’ve had a couple of really neat opportunities from writing that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve interviewed some interesting musicians/authors, like Michael Gira, Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, Eugene Mirman, and the Bloggess. I was on the radio for a piece about Al Capone and the bike trail in Louisville that I wrote for the Louisville Lip, and was interviewed by Gabe Bullard for his WFPL show Byline. Recently I was elected the LEO’s expert on Comics-To-Films Translations and served on a panel at the Derby City Comic Con, which was an honor, and perhaps one of the few times that I didn’t feel like a fraud.
3. This leads me to: music obsessions. You write about it. You play it. You go see it. This means you like it a lot. What was the first music you found yourself immersed in? Where did that lead you? Why did you want to start writing about it (some of this might be covered in question 2)?
I got this mix tape from a friend in middle school that had a couple of local bands on it (Endpoint, Sunspring), some Fugazi, and some Beck. I loved it all. I had to sneak out to local shows, because my parents were convinced I was going to get drunk and knock someone up, but really I just wanted to get in the pit and try to love someone. Because I was fourteen. My first show was Endpoint, Sunspring, and Crain. I went for Sunspring, my favorite band in the world. There were like five million people there, and booths with people selling zines, or talking about socio-political things. And then this really pretty girl, someone I’d never met before, just walked over and kissed me. No shit. This was the worst thing that could have happened to me, because from then on I was all about shows, and music culture.
So, I grew up with punk rock, but skewed towards the more angular or progressive stuff (Crain, Rodan, Slint). By the time I was in my 20’s, I was checking out old Prog-Rock bands like King Crimson or early-Pink Floyd, or ambient music, which I still dig on. This had a pretty powerful impact on me as a musician, and influenced how I played, and how I thought about constructing music. Since playing music is so very central to my life, I’ve often used the framework of musicianship, of crafting a song, as a measure of comparison for crafting a piece of writing.
Also, if I didn’t write about music, I wouldn’t be able to carry on the legend of the second show I went to, which was the Sancred reunion. I’d never heard them, and I went to see Hedge, and also to try to hit on a girl who was friend’s with my friend’s girlfriend. That didn’t pan out, but I did get out of Bullitt County, I got to see a band I really liked, and I got to see Sancred come out dressed like Toilet Paper Mummies and harass their audience. They didn’t play any of their songs, just made noise. And then someone literally showed their asshole to the crowd. They mouthed some of their original shit into a mic, and left the stage. People were pissed, and wanted their money back. They started to get a little rowdy. For whatever reason, I had my backpack with me, which contained a half-eaten sausage Egg McMuffin therein. I threw it into the crowd and left. Some punk rock fella with a giant Mohawk talked to me after, and when he found out it was my second show, apologized and said they weren’t really like that. I was disappointed.
See. Wasn’t that worth it?
4. But, besides writing about music, you play it. So what instrument did you start on? What age? Who gave you that instrument? What was the spark to get you into learning to perform music? What have all of your bands been?
I started with bass, because I figured it would be easiest. I was right, at least that it’s easy to pick up, but not so easy to master. I moved over to guitar pretty soon thereafter, because for whatever reason I didn’t know one. Like there existed a time and space anywhere that there was a shortage of guitar players. This is real life.
My first band recorded a full album after I’d been playing guitar for three months. It was as good as you’d expect. From there, I joined a band named the Seaside Panel, which was the beginning of my time served in bands too lazy to bother with vocals. My next band was Cityofghosts. We ran our name together (or I did), because fuck grammar or something. I was such a loose cannon at 21. And that began my love affair with the delay pedal, which persists to this day, albeit under hopefully better circumstances.
I played in a band named Tauri Sb, which was an instrumental duo, that I still believe to be one of the best things I did. Next up was The Royalty, which was effectively sloppy Jesus Lizard, with Gary Busey samples. But that lead to Teen Pregnancy!, which was a helluva lot of fun. And that lead to Lee Van Cleef, which was an extension of that even. All were load and full of piss, and I think if you start with Teen Pregnancy! and then listen to the LVC albums sequentially, you can hear a lot of maturation. I’m really proud of a lot of that stuff.
While I was doing Teen Pregnancy! and LVC, I was also in a band named Siberia, which was an instrumental ambient guitar duo. I described us as sounding like if Ennio Morricone, Phillip Glass, Earth, and Data (from Star Trek) were in a Dune Buggy. Why not? Siberia was an excellent opportunity to flex completely different muscles, and learn to compose in a different way. We even scored a documentary once, named “By The Wayside,” which was exciting. All of these things lead to Visiting Nurse.
5. If we’re talking about bands: what are some experiences, good or bad, that you’ve had in being in them? What do you feel like the biggest musical accomplishment you’ve experienced, thus far, is? That question was worded weirdly, wasn’t it?
Well, I’m the least successful musician I know, at least by any tangible standard. I’ve played to usually modest crowds, although Visiting Nurse seems to be doing a little better. The thing is, I’m not terribly worried about it. For a substantial part of LVC and Siberia, I was a full time student, had a full time job, and maintained a relationship with my absolutely beautiful then fiancé and now wife. So I didn’t have a lot of time to book shows or promote things. No one cares if you’re not putting it out there, and frankly I don’t blame them. I’m not owed anything. You have to hustle or what you get, and I got what I worked for, which wasn’t much. I’m working to change that as I can with Visiting Nurse. We’ll see.
6. What led you to Visiting Nurse? Give us the history on that project, and what the band is aiming for aesthetically. Also, what is the future of Visiting Nurse; performances or recordings?
This is the second run on Visiting Nurse. We started in 2003, which was a particularly shitty time in my life. I was all blue and boo-hoo over some personal stuff, which ultimately saw me move to Denver, Colorado for a few months. That version of the band was more like Cityofghosts, but with less emphasis on doing things in weird time signatures or whatever weird-for-the-sake-of-weird shit got me motivated then, and more about texture and composition.
For a number of reasons, mostly logistical in nature, we didn’t reform until recently. LVC had called it a day, and I was done with school, so I had time to work something new out. I tried working with a few friends, and for whatever reason it wasn’t in the cards. Eventually I called on two of my best friends, Jon Hill and Mike Seymour, and we reconvened. We always liked the name, which sounds like those creepy nurses in the first Silent Hill, so we just picked it back up.
This version of Visiting Nurse is different. Whereas in VN 1.0, we had a traditional drum, bass, guitar lineup, now we’ve diversified. Jon plays two drum machines and keyboards. I play guitar and keyboards. Mike covers bass and keyboards. Other than that same dedication to texture and composition, there isn’t much in common between the two versions. We’re very groove oriented. There are a lot of esoteric samples, and I think we all approach our respective instruments differently. Personally, I try and subvert my guitar inasmuch as I can, to make it sound as alien as possible. But throughout all that, we try and make a song that’s still listenable, that takes you on a journey. We self-identify with Autechre, Clams Casino, and Biosphere, if a point of reference is useful.
7. Do you have any other musical projects happening outside Visiting Nurse?
Would that I could. I will have an infant baby girl in one month, and I live for her at the moment. The band will absolutely endure though. It’s intrinsic to my being. It’s the only time I can truly let go of everything, and I won’t leave that behind so long as I have working limbs. Or mind-controlled instruments. Whatever works.
I’ll probably rock at some point. Sometimes I need too. Mostly I don’t, but sometimes you just want to flip a table. Plus I have this righteous aluminum neck Kramer that needs some TLC. And not in the chasing waterfalls way. I’m always open for recording projects for anyone that persevered this interview. I’m pretty good at what I do, like the Wolverine of making weirdo sounds.
8. Do you have any other writing projects outside of Never Nervous and LEO?
See question 2.
9. You've been covering the L'ville music scene intensely for a while. Who are some of your favorite bands of the past? Who are some of your favorite bands currently?
I just made a mix cd for a French work exchange student from Montepellier. I tried to give her Louisville music that was widely palatable, because I didn’t know her tastes especially well. I stacked it with Slint, Rodan, The Shipping News, and The For Carnation. If she liked louder stuff, I would’ve given her Crain (Heater is my top shit) too. One criminally under rated band that I never hear anyone talk about is Strike City, who were essentially the Steve Reich of indie rock. It’s fucking awesome stuff.
Currently, my top Louisville jams are Shedding (my friend Connor Bell who Visiting Nurse is playing with this Sunday), and Young Widows. That new Young Widows record gets me going. Actually, all of their records do. So fucking good. I’m digging a lot of the local hip-hop I’ve heard too, like Touch AC, or Shadowpact. It’s weird how good that stuff is, given my complete ignorance to it until recently. Not that I need to know something for it to be good, but it just snuck up on me.
10. What music do you listen to outside of L'ville-based stuff? What are some records you are currently enjoying? And since you're into the writing thing: reading recommendations, too.
All sorts of stuff. I had a vacation in early July, and spent a lot of time listening to records. Buke & Gase – General Dome is top notch. Basically every Low record. I routinely listen to Stars of the Lid. The song “Music For A Forgotten Future,” by Mogwai (one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music ever). Lots of Wu-Tang or their affiliates. Lately, I can’t listen to enough Kurt Vile. That’s not usually my scene, but it’s so fucking good, and perfect for the summer. I listen to things seasonally like that, so I’ve been listening to tons of Stereolab and Tame Impala too.
I read a lot of my vacation, but primarily comic books. That’s how I do. Anything by Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Jason Aaron, or Ed Brubaker please. Or Saga. So good. I currently have almost 900 trade paperbacks, which is an ineloquent way of referring to graphic novels. The last novel I read was a short story collection of zombie stories. I’m slowly reading the book Outliers, which is about how the circumstances of your life shape it. I’ll probably read a lot of adult books to the baby too. Fill her head with sci-fi and socio-political commentary.
11. What's your favorite word of all time?
Probably bogus or rowdy. I like fancy words quite a bit, and roll them around in my head like when you taste wine, but mostly I just like fun things.
12. Do you like MASH?
I’m probably supposed to, but not really. I don’t dislike it, but I never really watched it. I watch a shit ton of television, which is a scientific measurement. A full shit ton. I’m watching the Leftovers and the Killing right now, or at least I’m waiting on it to get to Netflix this Friday. Just watched Fargo, which was so much better than I could’ve imagined. Love Game of Thrones, S.H.I.E.L.D., True Detective, and stuff like that. I was a big fan of the Wire and Breaking Bad. I do backflips for solid sci-fi. I’m looking at you Star Trek: TNG, the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or Fringe. But not so much MASH.
13. Have you ever seen Ladyhawke?
I actually don’t know who that is, so I googled it. It looks like a made for TV French movie version of Stardust, but I’m probably only saying that because of Michelle Pfieffer. My first thought though, was that you were asking me about that G.I. Joe who rolled hard with Flint. I never really thought about it, but I’d guess I’d hang out with her. She had a bowstaff with a diamond on it, I think.