Adapted from a long-form interview with Tom Smith conducted by The Wire's David Keenan in 2002. Portions of the interview appeared in the magazine's August 2002 issue.


BOAT OF / PEACH of IMMORTALITY / PUSSY GALORE

You seem to have an incredibly prolific, if extremely underground, musical
career. Can you tell me a bit about your various projects? What about Boat
Of? What were they like?
 
Boat Of was formed in Athens, Georgia in 1979 by Mike Green (a former
member of mid-70s Atlanta avant-pop purveyors The Fans), Carol Levy (a
University of Georgia photography student and ex-guitarist for Mars Needs 
Women, a short-lived all-female combo), and yours truly. 
 
In our initial incarnation we were known as Prepared Party, and the
Cageian aspect of the moniker was intentional. Musically, it was pretty
fucked-up, at least by the standards of the period -- my live drums were
transferred to tape, looped, and Mike's bass would ooze through the mix.
Carol played guitar in a style reminiscent of The Slits' Viv Albertine --
scratchy, Spartan, with the occasional startling chord cluster. The three 
of us played organ as well, and short wave bursts were sometimes added to 
the stew. Mike and I sang. 
 
Most of the early rehearsals (late '79) centered around Mike and me, but Carol, Stipe, 
and various short-timers would drop in from time to time. 
 
By 1980 Prepared Party had transmogrified into Pre-Cave (which had
nothing to do with homo habilis, but much to do with hating everything,
everywhere), and Michael Stipe joined the line-up. Mike Green left to
teach in Paris for a few months, so the trio of Levy/Stipe/Smith settled
into basement rehearsals at Athens' infamous Cobb Institute. I played
drums, sometimes played bass, and sang; Carol played guitar and organ,
and sometimes sang; Michael played organ and assorted percussion, and
occasionally sang. 
 
A debut gig was advertised for June, 1980, but for long-forgotten reasons 
it was postponed until October 23rd at the 40-Watt Club. We made color
photocopies of a rather piquant Hustler's Rejects centerfold, scrawled
the gig details in silver crayon, and nailed them to every utility pole
in the city center. About 90 folks paid, and we quickly cleared the room
(which wasn't our intent). A second gig followed on Valentine's Day,
1981, and for our third performance (in June) we decided on a permanent
name -- Boat Of.
 
By then Mike Green had returned from France, and he immediately rejoined
the fold. Michael was probably busy with R.E.M. stuff, and didn't make
the performance. (At least I don't remember seeing him there.) 
Carol, Mike and I fared much better with the inaugural Boat Of gig --
we ripped it up but good. Hard to describe the sound, but if you can conjure
an aural image of guitars played through tinny, crackling, drive-in movie 
loudspeakers, swooping, absurdly overdriven bass lines, re-edited Scientist
dubs and Enjoy/Sugarhill loops used as rhythm tracks, and exceedingly
sarcastic, willfully cryptic vocals, you might not be too far a field. 

Typically, Mike Green created the arrangements, albeit in close collaboration
with Carol. I supplied the loops and lyrics. Later, David Gamble would serve
to sunder all corporeal ties. Boat Of were the least popular Athens group by
far (then again, we strove to engender misconceptions), but its membership
were arguably the sharpest, the most studiously cruel. (To sound, that is. Limbo
District were definitely better-looking, all-too-human flesh-wise.)
 
Our fourth gig at Tyrone’s O.C. (July 1981) was our final appearance with 
Stipe. He played organ and sang of heroin. Ah, youth. The show went down 
quite well (although there were always hecklers), and additional bookings 
were soon forthcoming. Shortly thereafter (in a misbegotten display of group 
solidarity) I ventured into frat-boy redoubts to witness R.E.M. in concert. 
I was utterly appalled by their set; of course, mine was a minority opinion. 
 
(One must recall that Boat Of was thoroughly steeped in the avant-garde; 
to suggest that we were militant in our elitism would be a 
gargantuan understatement. R.E.M. seemed at the time 
to be a dreadfully thick and reductive proposal, and I recoiled from them in horror. 
In hindsight, I probably made too much of it. 
Today, I'd ignore the corrosive effects of 
their music and happily drink from their bar tab.)

Boat Of did 24 shows altogether -- the final gig occurred in Washington,
DC, March 1983, at the behest of Velvet Monkees. (Don Fleming and I grew
up together in Adel, a very small Georgia farm town.) 
 
Soon after, Carol Levy was killed in a car accident, and I shelved the
project. We weren't particularly tight in the months before her death, 
but she'd left her impression. She was one of the coolest. 

Losing her was a terrible blow.

(Her photo appears on the sleeve of TLASILA's The Wigmaker in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg.)
 
 You spent some time with Pussy Galore early on. What was that
experience like?  Is it true that you bootlegged some of their stuff to show
just how inept they were?
 
I loved being in Pussy Galore - Jon was so driven, so rigorously focused, 
and his aesthetic was blithely obliterative. Brilliant. I found their
demo cassette in the trash bin of the office of a Washington, DC promoter 
- the band name and song titles (the four tracks that would eventually be 
released as Feel Good About Your Body) fairly exploded off the j-card.
I pocketed it, rushed home to play it, and rang Julie's home immediately
after hearing the first minute of "HC Rebellion." I invited PG to share
Peach of Immortality's rehearsal space, and they accepted our offer. Jon
asked me to assist the group, and I leapt at the chance. From October
1985 until January 1986 I played metal percussion with them - usually a
combination of rusted Toyota petrol tank, suspension springs, the odd
road sign, and iron rebar rods for drumsticks. Combined with John
Hamill's drum kit, Christ, we kicked up one hell of a sound, and avoided
all the dire industrial tropes. Neil Haggerty joined in December '85, and 
we toured with Peach of Immortality in January '86. (The PG line-up was
Jon Spencer, Julie Cafritz, John Hamill, Neil, and myself.) Rehearsals
leading up to the tour were relentless, but the "Fuck Sky Bear" POI/PG
tour dates were very poorly attended (with the odd exception). Jon and I
had a falling out in February '86, and for a time things were pretty
tense between us. We met in NYC in '87, however, and animosities were
shelved. I haven't enjoyed all the JSBX output (Extra Width and
Reverse Willie Horton are my favorites), but I hold Jon in tremendous
regard.  
 
As to the Oven Bait boot, it was an attempt to flesh out ideas that Jon 
and I had tossed around during the "Fuck Sky Bear" trek. PG's rehearsals
were brutal affairs, with songs played for hours on end. Julie was
relatively new at her instrument, and all of us were prone to miscues -
we worked at the set with demonic fervor. I thought it would be cool to
release an album that would document the process - one song per side,
from Jon's initial excited, shouted instructions, through the various,
inevitable breakdowns, to the first successful run-through. I combed
through the rehearsal tapes I'd managed to hold on to after I left the
group, and put the album together in the summer of '86. The production
run was very small - less than 15 copies. Jon later told me that he quite 
enjoyed it - he included an excerpt from it on the Corpse Love
compilation. 
 
Were Pussy Galore inept? Hardly. PG were a pioneering band; its music, as snarling and skewed as
it must have seemed to most, struck me as being nothing less than majestic. 
 
What about Peach of Immortality? They truly ploughed their own furrow 
through the underground. Velvet Monkeys? Is there some kind of thumbprint 
that you can identify across all of your various projects?
 
Peach of Immortality were doomed from the outset. No higher compliment
can be accorded them. 
 
Background: In the weeks prior to Carol Levy's death, Boat Of performed a 
pair of March 1983 concerts in Washington, DC, at the behest of Don
Fleming and Velvet Monkeys. The reaction we received was most
encouraging, especially as we'd adopted (from the autumn of '82) a sound
entirely based on re-edited transmissions of Southern American FM outlets 
which were broadcasting the then-popular "Beautiful Music" format. (Radio 
has always been such a bestial medium, the province of hucksters,
cretins, and the debased - thus, an ideal realm for exploration.) Boat
Of's final sets featured ten-minute Peggy Lee and Andre Previn loops,
Johnny Mathis cut-ups, etc. That anyone paid attention seemed extraordinary. 
 
I went a bit mad after Carol was killed, and stewed in my own foul juices 
for ten months or so, recording only the odd FM or vinyl edit. Don took
pity on me - after sacking the Monkeys' bassist and keyboardist, he asked 
me to join the group. I accepted his invitation and moved to DC in April
1984. I was to have played synthesizer and turntable, but after a few
weeks of rehearsals I was ousted - I'd been specifically forbidden to
have sex with a certain VM member's ex-girlfriend, but of course, I did.
Before my exit from the Monkeys, Don introduced me to Jared Hendrickson,
a local poet and performance artist perhaps too enamored of Nick Cave
and Blixa Bargeld. Despite these shortcomings, Jared was an otherwise 
amiable chap, and we launched Peach of Immortality in June of the
dread year of Reagan's second term. 
 
The group was christened in honor of Ms. Levy, the moniker serving both
as sentimental edifice and as a fulcrum for intertextual obscurantism
(viz. the Chinese-Mandarin reference) - POI's goal was to abrade
communication, defeat intent. We were far too successful in this aim. 
 
Our first gig took place on July 14th at d.c. space (note: no caps in the 
name "d.c. space"), a coffee bar-cum-too precious performance venue
(which would inexplicably sponsor at least a dozen Peach gigs from 1984
to 1987). Initially, we ran through abstractions of Boat Of's terminal
material; Jared adopted (and excelled at what would now be described as)
tabletop guitar, and I attempted to disrupt his efforts with live tape
manipulations. In this manner, we developed a stark dynamic of aggressive 
improvisation. 
 
Things really came together when cellist Rogelio Maxwell joined the group 
in August. He was classically trained, but quite naturally abjured such
leanings, treating his instrument (and its signal path) with considerable 
abuse. His musicality grounded our unhygienic ardor, and our impudence
seemed to free the more mottled facets of his creativity. This was the
line-up that recorded Talking Heads '77. (Begun 11/84, completed 01/85,
and finally released 07/85.) 
 
We also recorded three unreleased follow-up albums - our luck with labels 
was notoriously poor, and wags should be quick to note that the music we
offered them was cut from dissimilar cloth. The second POI LP, History of 
Duane Allman, was comprised of many thousands of period death/speed/black 
metal edits over which Max and Jared performed live improvisations -
their recordings were then re-edited as well, and threaded back into the
mix. It was completed in April 1985, but was rejected by every label to
whom it was sent. I later fused abstracts of History into the fabric of
the second To Live and Shave in L.A. album 'Helen Butte' vs. Masonna
Pussy Badsmell. (Recorded June-December 1994.) 
 
(Far too many textile/sewing analogies in that last paragraph...)       
 
When Rogelio balked at the prospect of having his cello destroyed (by
others) during the Peach of Immortality/Pussy Galore "Fuck Sky Bear" tour 
of January '86, we regretfully bid him adieu. (He’s now a teacher, still
living in DC.) To pick up the slack, we added two new members to the
cabal, both of whom were complete and utter idiots. Thus began our most
prolific and artistically gratifying period. 
 
Mark Shellhaus lived in the well-to-do Maryland suburb of Rockville, and
had previously distinguished himself as the drummer of the distressingly
fey, second-tier harDCcore group Beefeater. Unbeknownst to his pitiable
bandmates, Mark was a stoner with a taste for the bizarre. And a fan of
POI, which, in the fundamentalist mindset of the straight-edge retinue,
must have seemed like an unpardonable apostasy. His appetites paled,
however, to those of neighbor Lowell Ginsberg, whose daily acid
consumption alone seemed to dwarf that of primo-period Butthole Surfers,
Ken Kesey, Jimi Hendrix, and Paula friggin' P-Orridge combined. Lowell
was marked for ignominy - he'd already done time in juvenile detention
for slugging a cop (and taking the officer's shotgun away from him), and
like most criminal types probably had an exceptionally high IQ. That he
quite literally drooled and stammered at all times (both defensive
affectations against a world that - sob - didn't understand) only
reinforced his genius. He had an extraordinarily disheveled sense of
humor, and suffered fools with unparalleled vehemence. Ginsberg was also 
an ardent Peach enthusiast - most of our fans tended to be metalheads,
strippers, goth restaurant servers with personality disorders, petty
thieves, octogenarian mescaline dealers... A good mix.  
 
While Mark was installed as POI's primary signal processor (all feeds
were run through his outboard rack), Lowell added bass. His approach to
the instrument was marvelous, absolutely intuitive - he conjured
corrosive obelisks of harmonic low-end tumult which circled and shattered 
with perfect metrical fluidity. Quite remarkable - that is, when his
synapses were firing in some semblance of unison. These were our drug
days, a period of heavy over-medication. Jared preferred meth and other
narcotic indulgences, I scarfed acid (three to five trips a week for
about a year), Mark smoked up and also dabbled with LSD, and Lowell did
everything imaginable, simultaneously. (He kept his stash in a brown
paper sack marked "DRUGS BAG." That he was never arrested for felony
possession - at least in the time that I knew him - still mystifies.) 
 
When this incarnation was firing on what passed for all cylinders, Jesus, 
we were truly demonic. And with allowances for humility, discretion, and
in deference to the muzak of Xenakis, Luigi Nono, Bartok (Bluebeard's
Castle in particular) and Judas Priest (which we listened to on what
seemed to be an endless, THC-smeared loop, the latter specifically for
their wholly aberrant cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust"), I'll say 
it again - in our cups, we had no peers. Unfortunately, we were so often
fucked up that many of our performances took on a ghoulish,
unintentionally comic aspect. We sucked as frequently as we soared. My
brain chemistry was so significantly altered that it likely hastened (or
at least heightened) the depression that would later slow my life to a
miserable, static state. (I'm much better now, thank you.)
 
This line-up (which persisted through May '87) recorded numerous
unreleased albums, and managed to see 'Jehovah' My Black Ass - R.E.M. Is
Air Supply! flushed through the return bins of the lower caste rungs of
the entertainment industry in late 1986. That long-player effectively
killed our recording career, such as it was. Of course, it now fetches
requisite over inflated tolls in collector-scum circles, but for the life
of me, I don't see why. Its sonics remain unfathomable (the most
flattering review of it I saw stated that it "sets music backwards or
forwards 100 years - it doesn't matter which"), but at the time I knew
fuck-all about mastering, mixing - anything, really - and did the whole
thing over a period of weeks dosed out of my mind on windowpane.
Shimmering mud, basically. It's since been re-mastered (along with the
other 15-odd unissued POI albums), and eventually... Although, Hell,
maybe I'll include the original version on a separate bonus disc. Why
pretend that it never existed? Horrors are to be embraced, then ardently
released.
 
Jared Hendrickson left Peach of Immortality in late May of 1987. His
cut-rate Joseph Beuys shtick eventually drove us all mad, but his
unfettered pretensions also served to keep our increasingly melancholic
obsessions in check. Without Jared, POI hemorrhaged from within.
Hendrickson eventually found muted fame as a member of Chemlab, a rather
obvious and but not unloved industrial-goth Ministry knock-off. He's
since changed his name to Jared Louche (ouch!), and appears on occasion
with Pigface. Chemlab may or may not have reformed, but as of this
juncture (Moscow, in the middle of the OHNE tour, and lacking a reliable
daily Internet connection with which to check facts), I'm uncertain.
Jared is probably the most ridiculous person I've ever met, but he always 
walked it like he talked it (full stride, hyperanimated clatter), and
I'll forever respect him for it. Mark Shellhaus also departed POI around
this time, ostensibly to pursue a career in a "lovecore" group whose name 
has long eluded memory. I wish him well, wherever he is. 
 
My drug shoveling days weren't exactly over, but by the summer of '87 I
was fairly well burnt-out. I left DC to chill with my family at a sport
fishing resort on the North Carolina coast, and within three months I
returned to near-optimal neurocortical function. While in NC I recorded a 
black-label 12" (which nonetheless was credited to Peach of Immortality)
entitled La Taranta. It was a radically re-edited version of The Fall's
This Nation's Saving Grace (an old DC ecstasy party favorite), thousands
of cut-ups interspersed with field recordings of Cape Hatteras
thunderstorms. I had 300 copies pressed at a plant in Virginia, and lost
them all when a storage shed flooded during three days of heavy rain.
Sleeves, vinyl, the lot - warped, mildewed, unrecoverable. No tragedy, I
suppose - it wouldn't have sold squat.
 
I moved to Atlanta in 1988, and ran into Lowell again, who unbeknownst to 
me had also relocated there, doubtless several steps ahead of the
authorities. We worked on new material, performed a few shows, but I was
dissatisfied with the results. Too ambient, too much kohl, too ludicrous 
for words. I sought a new partner, and found an exceptional one in Tim
Lane Seaton, a bass soloist and recording engineer who had also been
stymied in his search for collaborators. I'm not sure if I was exactly
what Tim was looking for, but he was the answer to many of my prayers.
His sound wasn't as monolithic as Ginsberg's, but he possessed tremendous 
nuance and control. And there was a bonus - he was responsible,
level-headed, an all-round super-sharp guy unlikely to be roused during
the night by the forward column of a pissed-off SWAT team. 
 
(Lowell received an inheritance in 1990, and quickly vanished. He
contacted me once in 1991, relating his efforts to stalk and trap
Einsturzende Neubauten's F.M. Einheit. Thereafter, nothingness. Wherever
he may be, God-fucking-speed.)
 
Tim and I began recording Taxi zum Shoah in the latter part of 1988, and
by September of the following year we'd achieved a semblance of mutual
satisfaction. There were probably 85 hours of tape recorded during the
TZS sessions, and after dozens of all-night remix marathons we settled on 
the version that was sent to 20-plus labels throughout the States,
Europe, and Japan. Taxi was an unrepentant album, a hex on those who had
underestimated us, patronized us, or otherwise wasted our time. Its
narrative rejected all but the most facile diegetics - in it, our enemies 
were tossed into the boot of a 1973 lime green Rally Nova sent careening
into a mouth of a ghastly water closet. Their ultimate fates, of course,
were then revealed.
 
Not surprisingly, its burning wheelchair whorls of splintered, disrupted
harmonics cajoled few suitors. After a final 1990 recording session to
create the "Ponyfur" single for Ned Hayden's short-lived Primo Scree
imprint (and yes, our streak of bad luck continued, as the label
collapsed before the 7" could be issued), and a 1991 farewell concert at
Klang (which featured Boat Of alumnus Mike Green), Seaton and I closed
the door on Peach of Immortality. 
 
(Tim now earns - and wholly deserves - a hefty income working in
Hollywood. More power to his pallid arm.) 
 
Following a move to Miami's South Beach district in 1991 I began
recording at Sync, the studio owned by Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra. (Rat 
and I struck up a partnership which continues to this day. Weeks after being ensconced at the
studio I received a somewhat encouraging communiqué from the Noiseville
label. They seemed to have dug Taxi zum Shoah, but were more interested
in releasing a seven-inch EP than a full-length album. Their temerity was 
understandable, as POI had resolutely failed in setting any charts (save
those measuring flops, debacles, and meretricious discontinuities)
alight. The Noiseville roster was fairly dire, but, y'know, beggars,
choosers... 
 
(Continued here.)