Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com (1999)
Imperial Teen, who, mind you, were handpicked by Courtney Love to open the ill-fated Marilyn Manson/Hole tour, pull up to their headlining gig in Cincinnati in a vehicle designed for women to take their kids to school in — a Windstar Minivan. Not the luxurious tour bus I was expecting, though guitarist/singer Will Schwartz extols its spaciness and comfortability.
Before finding the nearest park bench to grill Will, I give the band a copy of a local newspaper’s concert listings. Seems as though, by pure coincidence, the paper has mistakenly listed the gay-friendly band as “IMPERIAL QUEEN,” something that elicts a great deal of laughter from Schwartz and his bandmates Roddy Bottum, Jone Stebbens and Lynn Perko.
A short distance from the club, in front of a fire station, Will and I find a park bench. We start off the conversation by discussing my last name.
Will: Your last name is Midnight?
Yeah, it’s German. I think it used to be Midnocht but it was changed over time.
I’ve got one of those — Schwartz — “black,” it means. I haven’t translated it. That would be quite a stage name, wouldn’t it — Will Black. Scary.
You could do a side project with that name.
Yeah, like on Comedy Central or something.Not like Will Schwartz is cool or anything.
I was going to ask, but I guess it’s not relevant anymore, about the whole Hole/Marilyn Manson tour that you were supposed to be a part of.
We knew for a couple of weeks that it wasn’t going to happen. We went to the show actually, as a band, to check out what it was going to be like. It seemed like it was going to be difficult, and interesting, but we found out that night that Hole was pulling out of it. We were like, “All right, we can deal with that.”
Was there any thought of continuing on, even though Hole had dropped off?
With Marilyn? Not really.
Would there have been four bands on the bill? Manson, Hole, Monster Magnet and Imperial Teen?
No. We were going to take over for Monster Magnet.
Did you have to scramble to book a tour on your own after the other one fell through?
I don’t know if we had to scramble. But we had to book dates really quickly. Yeah, maybe it was a scramble. We’re just doing what’s in front of us right now. We just want to play our record for people.
Have you been itching to get on the road? I thought I read somewhere that the album was supposed to come out in September.
Yeah, well we were itching to release the album. We like performing, playing live. But it’s also nice to be home for a little while. I think I was itching to get on the road but now that we’re on the road . . . I don’t mind it, I like it right now, but ask me in a couple weeks. I’ll probably be a little homesick.
What’s the longest tour you’ve done?
You mean a stretch of time? Probably a month or something like that — a month and a half. We did our own tour with Trackstar. That was about a month, a month and a half.
Do you find a difference in crowds now? The reason I picked up Seasick is because I was a fan of Faith No More and I was interested in anything involved with the band. Is that why people initially came to see you?
Not really, there were a few people, like a smattering of people who were interested in us because of that. I don’t know how many of those people have stuck around. I guess Faith No More fans have to have eclectic tastes in music and like a lot of different things. But we’re such a different band than that that I think we have evolved through different channels — through different cultural channels.
Had you played in a band before Imperial Teen?
I played with people but not in official bands that recorded music and went on tour.
How did you hook up with Imperial Teen?
I met Roddy in L.A. I was moving up to San Francisco at the time. We just got along real well. When I moved up I met Lynn and Jone. Roddy had known them for a while. We just got together and played music. We made up songs. We actually had a show before we had songs. We had to make up songs for that show. We did. We came up with like eight songs. That’s mostly what the first record is composed of.
Have listened to both albums, I think the second album sounds more similar and in the same vein.
Oh really? I found the opposite a little bit. The first record has a more unified, spastic sound to it. To me, the second record is about different experiences sonically. I guess everybody has their own interpretation.
The first album Steve McDonald from Redd Kross produced?
Yeah. He was great. He’s a really passionate person. He’s a hilarious person also. He’s a great dancer . . .
And a great actor. Have you seen Spirit of ’76?
Because he’s been in bands, did he have more hands-on as a producer or as a friend of the band?
He was definitely the producer, but I think it worked really well because he hadn’t done that much producing besides the Redd Kross records. He was coming from a similar place. He was doing it for the first time. It seemed to work well, like a marriage.
Who produced the new album?
This guy Mark Freegard, he’s from England. He’s a great guy too. We called him Cuddles.
So you got along with him pretty well?
Yeah. But he got sick while we were finishing the last song. He got viral meningitis, so he was in the hospital for a month. So Steve came and we recorded the vocals with him. It was crazy, he’s a great guy, Mark Freegard. He’s a passionate . . . he’s a beautiful man (laughs).
Did you feel like you knew more about the recording process going into the second album than you did the first?
It felt similar. I did know more about the recording process. I had more of a vision about what I wanted to hear. We all did. The record itself doesn’t exactly sound like how I heard it, maybe because I still don’t know that much about recording. I learned some things this time that I’ll use the next time.
Are there things that you go back and listen to on either album that you haven’t heard before?
Um . . . I think the thing that I experience listening to the records — I don’t do it all that much, but once in a while I’ll put it on — it’s more about the energy of it than the technicalities or whatever. On the new one I’m a lot more critical technically. There are things like, “Oh I wish that drum sound was not so muffled, or I wish there was more separation of the instruments” or something like that.
Do you guys trade around your instruments when you are recording?
Well, on this record I played guitar and keyboards — a bunch of different keyboards — different vocal things. We did a lot of things with vocals that isn’t singing like the “wind” tracks or the “pigeons.”
I didn’t even realize that the sounds in “Yoo Hoo” were vocal tracks until I saw the video.
Yeah. I’d hear something, an ambiance or whatever. We’d just try different things.
What about the video shoot for “Yoo Hoo” with Rose McGowan. Was that fun?
Yeah it was basically fun. It was also very difficult process because, I don’t know, we generally have a sense of humor about what we do. But we’re pretty serious about what we do also. We were dealing with the film people and their take on things is a little more, or a lot more, poppy or kitschy.
So that’s not necessarily the video you would have made if you had had a choice?
Yeah, I’d say that. But ultimately I think it’s a fun video. I feel okay about it.
In the 15 minutes or so since I’ve met you and the rest of the band, I can tell you have a lot of fun. At least it looks like you guys are always having a good time.
We do. We have a good time.
So do you think in five years you’ll be sick of each other, or is this a good thing?
I can’t say what will happen in five years. I feel like if there wasn’t a spark or a sense of spontaneity, then why keep doing it? There is.
Do you think everyone gets along so well because you are all so alike or because everyone is so different?
I think it’s because everyone is so different. It’s like different senses of humor, idiosyncrasies, personalities that have all come together.
Is there a leader in the band?
I think everybody is. It’s very malleable.
Is that the way songs are written in the band? Everybody contributes?
It happens all different ways. Sometimes I’ll bring something in and we’ll just expound on that in practice, or Roddy will bring something in, or Lynn or Jone. Often times I feel like our best stuff happens spontaneously in practice. Lynn will come up with this whacked out vocal part and I’ll sing along to that. We’ll play with that for a while.
Is there a reason that Lynn or Jone don’t sing lead vocals on any of the songs?
No reason in particular. It’s just the way things happen.
Were you confident of your singing before you joined the band?
Yeah. You can’t keep any of us off the mics. We like to sing.
Does everyone sing in the van?
Not so much. Once in a while we’ll sing along. That’s a big thing for us, listening to music in the van. Everybody brings their stuff and we listen to it together.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve been turned onto in the van?
The last couple of days . . . Looper . . . Roddy bought and turned me onto it. It’s really sparse, like more electronic than Belle & Sebastian.
Anything you’ve turned everyone else onto?
Yeah, I’m sure there is . . . maybe Belle & Sebastian (laughs).
What do you do in your spare time?
Lately — I moved recently into this apartment with my friend Marina — we’ve been spending time making that place our home. I enjoyed that. She’s a painter. I’ve been doing little paintings. We got a piano and I’ve been playing piano a bunch. You know, going to shows, hanging out with friends, having parties, dancing.
So you played at the South By Southwest Festival this year. Did you drive straight from Texas to St. Louis to start this tour?
No. We flew back to San Francisco and then drove to St. Louis. It was treacherous. We’re getting used to the Windstar. Now we’re on a real cushy tour, we’ve got a soundman and a roadie this time. We’re in a mini-van. It’s a really different experience. We’ve only had a soundperson once before. And we had a roadie once. Now we’ve got two people with us. It’s great.
Were you looking forward to playing the arena shows with Marilyn Manson and Hole?
On some levels I thought it would be interesting. Ultimately, I don’t know if that’s where we belong. We’re not stadium rock or stadium music. I mean, I would do it.
What kind of music did you listen to as a kid?
I listened to classic rock — Led Zeppelin — and I listened to the Talking Heads and Cat Stevens (laughs). In late high school I started finding out what I really liked. I wasn’t that aware of music before then and I started to devour it in college. The biggest band at the time was Sonic Youth for me and my friends. And My Bloody Valentine. We were completely blown away by that, it never left the record player. We liked Spacemen 3 . . .
Do you like Spiritualized?
Yeah. We were listening to them on the way over — Laser Guided Melodies. It’s really nice. It was dark out, nighttime driving, I was in the nest, that’s what we call the cozy space in the back of the van.
The last thing I want to touch on . . . How much interaction do you have with the Internet?
Personally? Not very much. I just got a computer so I’m not involved yet but when I get back from this tour, I’ll be on-line. Jone and Roddy are very involved. I’ve checked out the one website for Imperial Teen.
Do you ever get freaked out about how much people can find out about you on the Internet?
I don’ know, I don’t go there so I don’t really have an awareness of it. I think one time somebody saw my birthdate on there. I thought that was kind of weird. There’s probably more personal stuff on there. I don’t know.
So much computer usage does Imperial Teen use when recording?
We use computers alot, just on the recording board, and with samples.
Well, my last question then would be is Imperial Teen Y2K compatible?
(laughs) We’ll see, we’re hoping. We’ll keep our fingers crossed (laughs).