VERBENA (1999)

Originally published on (June 8, 1999)

If it’s sleazy rock with heavy doses of sex appeal that turn you on, maybe it’s time to plug into Verbena — the swanky Dave Grohl-endorsed band from Skynyrd country, Birmingham, Alabama. The trio — Scott Bondy (guitars/vocals), Anne Marie Griffin (guitars/vocals) and Les Nuby (drums) — is biding their time in the land of barbecue now as they await the release of their major label shit-kickin’ debut, Into The Pink (due in stores on July 27). The Capitol Records release follows the critically-acclaimed 1997 Merge Records release, Souls for Sale. Bondy took some time out of his “sitting around and waiting for the tour to begin” schedule to chat with Swizzlestick on the eve of Into the Pink‘s release.

Has it been tough sitting on the record for the last year?

We had to sit on Souls for Sale for a year. I think a lot of people have to sit on their records for that long. It’s not because of any major calamity that it’s taken this long to come out. It takes that long for some stupid, archaic reason.

Are you in a comfortable enough position that you don’t have to work in between albums?

I haven’t had to work since we signed to a major label. But, realty is cheap in Alabama. When I did work, I delivered flowers. That was the best one. It was great—lots of deliveries to funeral homes and hospitals and to people who had just had sex the night before. I worked the other typical ones restaurants, landscaping.

Back when you were delivering flowers, or even now, do you sing along to songs on the radio?

I try to not listen to the radio. Tapes, or discs, or whatever? Sure, I sing along to Otis Redding. Yesterday, I was singing along to that band Plush. Do you remember that band Acetone? Not that you need to remember them, it’s not like they’ve broken up, but I like their first record a whole lot.

Didn’t you recently tour with Monster Magnet?

We played a couple of days with Monster Magnet and then it fell apart.We’re just two tastes that didn’t taste great together. There were certain people that wanted us to go and play with certain “bands of the moment.” I’d rather prove ourselves in small clubs. If I was going to see a band that I loved their new record, I’d want to see them in a small club. Everybody wants to see their favorite band in a small club. That’s where I’d rather be, not being attached to anybody else’s baggage.

How do you go from playing with Sebadoh to playing with Monster Magnet?

That (Monster Magnet) was a one-off thing. We wanted to practice and we wanted to play. They were going out and we shared some of the same organizational people. It doesn’t represent our choice of bands we like to play with. You don’t go from playing with the Jesus Lizard and Pavement and the Grifters to playing with Creed. It was just a one-off thing and it won’t happen again. I was painfully aware of people who asked that very question, because I know I would.

Was there any bad reaction from the crowds?

No. They thought we were fine. They weren’t the most heavily attended gigs in the world, though. They should have been in smaller clubs. There were plenty of people there, but when you put a hundred people in a venue that holds a thousand people, it just doesn’t look right.

You mentioned the Grifters, have you played with them?

Yeah . . . well, before they broke up, and right before we went out with the Foo Fighters.

I just got a copy of the new Those Bastard Souls CD (the new project from David Shouse of the Grifters). Have you heard it? What do you think of it?

Yeah, I’ve heard it. I like it, it’s pretty good. I think those guys are smart. I’ve seen them on and off for years. I run into them here and there. I think we share a lot of the same—I’m not going to put myself in their league or anything—but, we share the reverence for real blues and stuff like that. Being from the south, we have that in common.

What was it like growing up? Did you listen to a lot of blues and stuff like that?

No. I didn’t live here my whole life. I moved here when I was 12 or 13. It’s always been around and I’ve always known about it through other bands. Mostly it comes from my parents record collection—Led Zeppelin, CCR, Alice Cooper, or the Rocky Soundtrack or the Grease Soundtrack.

Do you think it’s a misconception that people assume that bands from the south are weaned on Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Well, whatever. It’s amazing at the number of people you hear from here and abroad, in England, that will sing with southern inflection in their vocals. That’s just got to be from the germination of the original forms of rock and roll or blues or whatever that influenced them. Sure, people do think that, I don’t care. Lynyrd Skynyrd hated being called a southern rock and roll band. So did the Allman Brothers. One of the Allman Brothers was like “You know, rock and roll basically originated in the south so saying ‘southern rock’ is like saying ‘rock rock.’”

So how did a kid like you discover punk rock?

A cool music store. It’s wasn’t that far from my house. It’s the greatest gift that could ever be given to teenagers. The greatest thing is that you get to go back in and discover everything that has happened. It’s like it’s happening on a daily basis.

Did you go see the Sex Pistols when they got back together a few years ago?

No. I don’t do reunion tours usually. It’s not a rule or anything. There was nothing that I needed to get out of that experience. I didn’t needed to make a pilgrimage to see Johnny Rotten’s silly new hair.

Are there a lot of venues to see shows in Birmingham?

No. There’s not a lot in Columbus either, is there?

There are a few. There is the small underground club, the club that holds a couple of hundred people, and then the venue that holds a thousand or so people.

It’s probably not too dissimilar from here. There is a really glitzy beer bar here that all the modern rock bands tour through. Then there are the clubs that have been around for a while that are cool.

I’m not good with my geography. I’m not sure where Birmingham lies in the state of Alabama, but in Ohio, Columbus is right in between Cleveland and Cincinnati. Columbus gets passed up a lot for shows that go to Cleveland or Cincinnati.

Yeah. Birmingham is right in the middle. We’re parallel with Georgia. There’s just not a tremendous support group here, or a call for music. At least it’s not recognized by promoters. There is not really a good all ages venue that I am aware of. In order to have a cool, thriving scene, you have to have that. Kids have to be able to get in. Promoters have to be aware of bands that aren’t on so-called modern rock, alternative radio stations. Those bands don’t last long enough.

I was reading the Spin article about Verbena . . .

That was the worst piece of journalism I’ve read in years.

. . . and they were talking about this so-called “Alabama scene” with Remy Zero, Man or Astroman? and you.

That scene doesn’t go much further than us knowing those bands. It’s not like I’m trying to deflate anybody’s ego here, but we personally are not part of any community here. There’s no Elephant 6 collective or thing that I’m a part of. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but we don’t really play here too much anymore. I think it’s great that bands from here are getting signed and are given opportunities. But to falsely moniker it is not going to help anything.

Three or four band from a state making it does not necessarily make it a scene.

Yeah. The funny thing is is that Remy Zero hardly played here. Man or Astroman?, there are not really from Birmingham, they are from Albany. They play here once in a while, but this is not their home turf.

You just blew the misconception. I thought Man or Astroman? was from outerspace.

Oh, I mean after they landed. Like Sun Ra.

The other thing that I’m sure you are already tired of talking about is the connection with Dave Grohl. (Grohl befriended Verbena, took them on tour, praised them in the press, helped get them a deal with Capitol, produced the new album, and filled in on bass for them at a few industry-only shows.)

I have no other way to look at it than to think it’s a good thing. He helped us make the record that I like the most of all of our records. F**k anybody that has something weird to say about it. We knew it was going to cause a certain association and problems from the outset. We knew it was going to cause him trouble too. So what?

In a way, it’s a blessing though, isn’t it? People will buy the record just because his name is on it and hopefully get turned onto it.

I’m sure there is a certain element of buyers that will do that. That’s fine. I’m happy for him to do it.

You are kind of creating a bit of a buzz – magazines like Spin and CMJ are starting to do features on Verbena. Does this mean that you can finally get paid with money for shows instead of with free beer?

We get paid with real money, but not a whole lot. Not enough to support us. Sometimes it is. It depends on how taken care of you want to be when you go out, like if you want to go out just as a band and not have a soundman. I don’t drink beer anyway.

In an ideal situation, is taking less people with you in the van better or would you rather have a tour bus and roadies and soundpeople?

I don’t want a tour bus. I just want a soundman and someone to help set gear up and have somewhat of a crew. As far as taking people out that aren’t in your band, it kind of makes you feel like your party is a little bit bigger and it makes you feel like a battalion of soldiers. No one is really intensely male in the van, so it’s not like a hard environment for women to exist in.

Have you taken any soundwomen on the road with you?

No, but we would.

What’s been the biggest perk of being on Capitol? Have you gotten to raid their supply closets?

That’s one the best things about signing to a label. When we had label interest, they labels would just send us everything. I lived off that stuff for a little while, selling the stuff I didn’t want. I don’t feel really great about selling other people’s music, but, the truth of the matter is, the labels don’t have any reverence for the fact that they are promotional copies. It’s not like I need to debate the semantics about whether promos are right or wrong, or how a label spends your money. But I did get a lot of really great records. It was a temperature gauge of what was going on at that time in music.

Have you had the meeting with the Big Daddy where he sits you down and says, “We expect you to sell X amount of records”?

No. It’s not really like that with us. We want to sell a lot of records without compromising ourselves if possible. The guy who signed us, he was Jesus Lizard’s A&R guy, he was Sparklehorse’s A&R guy. If anybody expects the record to come out of the box and blow up, that’s their misfortune. Everybody involved knows we are prepared to tour and do the regular things. We don’t want to do anything like cut corners that shouldn’t be cut for us to get somewhere. I’m sure there is expectation within the organization, but I don’t consider them to be the pressures that I have to deal with. I can exert enough pressure on myself as far as writing without having someone looking over my back and dictating how well my career is going.

I heard that you just got back from shooting a video. Where did you film that?

Los Angeles. We’re used to it there, kind of. I’ve said this before in interviews, but there were certain things on the record that we wanted to have a certain attitude and be kind of bratty and upset or whatever. You don’t want that to be fake. All the fodder you need for inspiration in a song exists in the drive to the studio every day.

Souls for Sale was talked about a lot within the music industry. A lot of artists really praised the album to anybody who would listen, especially Dave Grohl and Juliana Hatfield. Is that weird? Did you know them?

At the time, I knew Dave. We just started being friends. I didn’t meet her until this year.

When I first heard about Verbena, Dave was dating Louise Post from Veruca Salt. And she turned the guys from Fig Dish and Triple Fast Action on to it. That’s how I heard about Souls for Sale. I think somebody in Fig Dish told me how great it was.

I’ve met Nina and Louise so I knew they liked it. It’s really cool to be accepted by your peers.

Would you rather be accepted by your peers or sell more records?

A combination of both would be nice. I guess it depends on who the peers are. If it’s someone you incredibly respect, it affords you the ability to work with your heroes or idols. That is worth more than a couple thousand records here or there.

What if the guys from Creed said your album was their favorite of the year?

Oh man, I’d say they can eat shit. I wouldn’t really say eat shit, because of my nature, I don’t like to be mean to people I don’t know. I can’t imagine having anything to talk about with those guys if we sat down in a room together. If we have any of the same musical influences in common, they got all the stuff out of it that I either didn’t want or didn’t get.

I don’t understand their popularity at all.

Shit, who is here to understand why people are popular? You can tie your head in knots thinking about it.

How Internet savvy are you?

I used to work at an entertainment paper here. I can teach myself how to do stuff and I can type really well. I wouldn’t say that I’m Internet savvy, but if you sat me down and told me the passwords, I can get around.

Have you seen the Verbena Web Sites?

Yeah. I know a lot of the people. There is this one kid here that won’t e-mail me back. He put our last record up on MP3. That’s bullshit. I just e-mailed him and asked him to convert it to Real Audio. To have 3 or 4 songs is one thing, but to have our whole album accessable like that, without even asking us or us knowing who he is, is another.

It’s a weird thing how the internet is so instant.

Records seem to take longer to set up and promote. People don’t get music out as quickly as they used to considering the speed and technology that we have now. The Beatles and Stones would put out records twice a year. You’re lucky to get a record out of a band once a year now. It should be the inverse.

Are you that kind of songwriter?

Sometimes I can be. I know I’m good for more than one every two years.

One more question. Do blondes have more fun?

They get into more trouble, that’s for sure.

Well, I look forward to seeing you, hopefully in Columbus, sometime this summer.

We’re playing Cleveland. No, I don’t know. I’m just kidding. We’ll come to smaller towns.

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