Jean: In 1986, when we released our first album, we
held our first press conference. It is so difficult to get any attention when
youre totally new. In now-standard Mecca Normal form, we created what we needed.
Heres an excerpt from the taped interview which I later transcribed and sent out as
a press release. We didnt make it known that we were two people, alone
in a room, interviewing ourselves
I guess its OK to tell you now.
Interviewer: What the hell are you doing
putting out a record when there are people who deserve this opportunity more than you?
DL: Vancouver is too small to find an
audience for this type of music. Hopefully the record will get into the hands of people
who might really get some excitement out of it. Thats the whole point of the record,
to activate people. Like hey - the old idea of punk: just do something inspired, and that
will inspire other people. Were not going out of our way to be liked, we dont
mind being liked, but at no cost or compromise.
Interviewer: What do you hope to get by
making this record?
JS: I would like people to hear it, even
if they go "I dont like this" - thats fine. I think it will fit into
their knowledge of possibilities. I think people might say, "Whats the point of
this? These guys just wanted to make a record, so they did! Good lord!"
Jump forward 15 years to 2001, here is the next
opportunity weve taken to interview ourselves, this time in email.
Dave: Jean, you have a chapbook coming out
for this tour, whats up with that?
Jean: I've just returned from Olympia
where I hand printed the cover from my lino-cuts. "Family Swan and other songs"
is a collection of specific and personal poems, that reveals a universal sense of family
tension. Parents make weird accusations, accompanied by a "never to go beyond these
four walls!" warning. Altered by emotional abuse, its the adult who does the
remembering. Unsettled feelings linger. Many of these pieces are new Mecca Normal songs.
Dave: We both have new chapbooks for this
Jean: Dave does very amusing political
graphics, published by our small press: Smarten Up! and Get To The Point. Dave, can you
explain how you got involved in the graphics side of the punk rock thing?
Dave: I'd just graduated from high school
in 1976 when reports from England started to appear in the music papers -- punk rock
seemed too bizarre to comprehend. I believe I attended the first punk rock show here;
Vancouver was ready for the politically-fuelled punk rock ethic.
In the late 70s, when punk rock hit, I was the art director
at The Georgia Straight, a Vancouver weekly newspaper. I put the PMT (photo mechanical
transfer) camera to use preparing camera-ready art for gig posters.
From 76 into the early 80s I also worked on the
collectively-run international anarchist newspaper Open Road. My artwork - colour
portraits of anarchists Mikhail Bakunin, Sacco and Vanzetti, and the anarcha-feminist Emma
Goldman -- were included as center-spread posters.
Jean: And you were in bands right?
Dave: I played guitar in a band called the
Explosions when the original punk rock scene in Vancouver coincided with a strong leftist
atmosphere. Social unrest was escalating in opposition to the right-wing government of the
Jean: I always had a feeling of missing
out on all that action, that I wasnt part of the original scene, now I look at my
own history and consider that people who came along after we did probably feel left out of
the scene we were part of. Good to remember theres always a new scene to contribute
to, to create.
Dave: In the original punk scene bands
played benefits for End The Arms Race, Prison Justice Day, anti-poverty campaigns, Rape
Relief, funding for teen centers, legal defense funds for activists, opposition to
apartheid in South Africa. Of all the musical genres, punk rockers were the most
consistent supporters of radical causes.
My brother, Ken Lester, was D.O.A.s manager in the
80s. I designed many of the bands album covers, posters, T-shirts, and stickers.
Posters were the main method of letting people know about
shows and political rallies. Communication at street level, and the contrived civic denial
of opportunity to do this, have become a politicized issue.
I self-published a series of posters on a variety of issues
- censorship, poverty, historic labor rights, anarchist philosophies -- and left them in
public places for others to put up. Posters that werent announcing an event or
selling anything looked very good on the streets.
I also design book covers for local independent publishers,
create print material for theatre productions and poetry events.
Jean: And in the mid-eighties we formed
Dave: We created a duo, but we typically
collaborate with larger groups. We co-organized The Black Wedge -- a series of tours in
Canada, the U.S. and England - we kicked off our first tour with two nights totally sold
out in Vancouver. No one had heard of such a thing. Political poetry? Sold-out? We were a
handful of anti-authoritarian poets and minimalist musicians reclaiming our voices, taking
back culture, setting our wild hearts free! [laughs]
Jean: That last bit is from the poster:
reclaiming our voices and setting our wild hearts free. On our first west coast tour we
borrowed D.O.A.s tour bus, a big old school bus, and played clubs, a soup kitchen,
an alternative school, radio stations, parties, and the anarchist book store in San
Dave: The Black Wedge tours continued for
a few years - the name is still up for grabs. Anarchist poets, take the name and create a
tour. Like those bicycles in Holland -- you just take them and leave them for the next
Jean: In 1986, when The Black Wedge went
through Olympia, Washington, we met Calvin Johnson of K Records, and discovered a whole
different underground, a whole new "punk rock." A DIY aesthetic of making things
happen rather than waiting to be entertained by the corporate ogre - could this bunch of
berry-picking, pie-baking kids organizing themed dance-parties and swimming-hole picnics
be political? [laughs]
Dave: I think Mecca Normal thrives in this
kind of transitional atmosphere.
Jean: And in this current wave of positive
Dave: Yes, where everyone doesnt
have to be making the same style of music or approaching political concerns in the same
way. It feels like an encompassing energy is building again, extending out, re-vitalizing
what was always good about creative collaboration; one to one, between communities,
continents, the world.
Jean: Maybe what's new is that the
musicians and artists who have been around for a while are acknowledging a positive swing
while we are creating it. People are finding places for themselves and what they have to
contribute within an open framework of potential. It is happening through a variety of
intentions, rebellious and intuitive, artists fuelling and demonstrating a culture that
works better than what we currently have. There is a sense of helpfulness more than
Dave: I think musicians are making it
known that they arent giving up, or leaving music to those corporate ogres to dole
out to a predetermined youth culture. How do you strike a balance between promoting Mecca
Normal and the purpose of the band?
Jean: Sometimes it feels like we have to
step back from facilitating our movements to remind ourselves of the reasons we are doing
this. Mecca Normal continues to find limitless expression through voice and guitar.
Recently Ive become more aware that our friendship is visible and audible; its
an integral element in what we create. Im really liking being in my forties, having
all these experiences and ideas to refine. For a while there it seemed as if underground
culture was about to abdicate significant roles because we didnt know what
theyd mean until the future. The scope and availability of methods to document
current existence is enough to put any creative soul into a dormant state! It is simply
easier to remain still when we cant see what will become of the present. Instead of
living forward we were becoming nostalgic, indulging in a static, sentimental regarding of
the past; a past that probably wasnt fully participated in any more than the
present. This stagnation appears to be breaking up.
Dave: In another way, how we function on a
practical level is part of what the band is. Two people, a man and a woman working
together, not romantically involved, sorting out how to proceed, intentionally outside of
Jean: What would your advice for becoming
more active culturally or politically?
Dave: There are different ways of
contributing to a scene. Like Jack, the guy who built our website, he didnt want to
be just a music fan so he offered to help us. Thats an inspired approach. He
involved himself by offering his skills. Music events are gathering places for painters
and writers, printers and web designers. When the music scene flags it tends to have a
negative impact on the elasticity of underground culture. Indifference is a doomed state
that disappears as soon as you put your work out there for others to hear, read, see, and
taste. Why wait for the media to declare culture on sale now, better than ever? Be bold,
follow your passion - take a chance, choose a course of action, make it up as you go a
long, and see where it takes you.
Jean: See you there! [laughs]. We have 3
new songs up on our website:
Dave: Id like to add that we really
want to play these new songs for people. Were not on tour to sell a new record (we
dont have one). Were on tour to play the songs and to encourage their