July 6th, 2010 | by Kat Gardiner Music | Posted In: Columns, Columns, Irrelevant Interviews

Irrelevant Interviews: Chain & the Gang's Ian Svenonius

Irrelevant Interviews Logo (white)Chain & The Gang is great. Oratory punk rock with politics on sleeve, tongue in cheek and a beat you can dance to. And did I mention Shangra-La style vocal interjections? Yeah. That's right. What else do you need? Really?

I got a chance to talk with frontman Ian Svenonius (a.k.a. Name Names) the other day. You may remember him from such bands as Make-Up, Scene Creamers, Weird War and Nation of Ulysses—or perhaps as the charming host of Soft Focus, a music-oriented talk show on VBS.TV. When I caught up with him he was reading some existential literature (Camus' The Fall) wearing a snug beret and smoking cloves cigarettes. After discussing in detail how Willamette Week and The Mercury spar on a regular basis—how we each have our own hangout spots, colors, duels, dance movements, etc.—we got down to business…


What was more crushing to discover: that Pluto is not a planet or that brontosauruses were not dinosaurs?
Well, Pluto. Pluto was a big one. Astrologically speaking, Scorpio is ruled by Pluto. And you know, Gemini and Virgo share a planet—Mercury—but that's just because Virgos are looking for their home planet; Vulcan. They still haven't figured out where Vulcan is.

Are you a Virgo?
No, I'm a Gemini and we're happy to share a planet with those Virgos until they find their homeland; their Volcan planet. So yeah, getting back to your question, I found it a little offensive that this celestial body that's been manipulating the moods and whims of Scorpios for generations has suddenly been stripped of it's status. So now I guess all the Scorpios will have to clamber on to somebody else's planet.

Maybe they'll do the same thing that the Virgos did and just jump onto Mercury. We could have a big party there.
Yeah, but Mercury's the smallest planet.

It's true.
I mean, what about Jupiter? Jupiter has several moons that are the size of planets. And what about that asteroid, Thisbe, which is really enormous? Anyway, it doesn't matter because the point is it's called Pluto, it's the God of the Underworld. They named it. It's a celestial body. Let it be a planet. Who makes these decisions? Who arbitrates this? What a planet is and what a planet isn't. It's disgusting.

I couldn't agree with you more. If you could rename yourself what name would you choose?
Oh gee, I mean there's so many good names….A lot of people call me Igor, because Ian is actually a very difficult name to pronounce.

Have you ever been called Ian before? Like Ian Ziering?
Yeah, people will do that. A lot of people of different nationalities don't really understand “Ian” so when I travel, or when I'm just meeting people, I often use a different name—an alias. I mean, we all know that feeling you get when you meet someone with a difficult name. Really what you do is avoid that person because you're afraid that you'll be called on to say their name. Yeah so Ian, I feel like it's too culturally specific. There are certain names which are more universal.

Plane, train, or automobile?
Hmm. I mean…gee. I don't want to sound, like, just, you know…I mean, I don't know. Yea.

It's ok. You can pass… it's all right…
No, well obviously, train. Train's the best. There's a lot of travel metaphors—vehicle metaphors—in music. There's a huge genre of country music dedicated to trucks. Trucker's trucks—and that dates back to the 50's, it's not just a 70s thing. Trucks are individualists, I think...individualistic. Slightly sociopathic.

Uh huh.
A lot of truckers are serial murderers…I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of noble truckers, too, but, it also attracts it's share of sociopaths. It's a questionable career…Then there's the hot rod songs. Those are great. And there's a certain amount of plane songs. Those tend to be more psychedelic. “Orange Airplane” by the Screaming Trees. “The Hurricane Fighter Plane” by Red Crayola. “Big Bird” by Eddie Floyd.

The Boxtops…
Oh, what's the Boxtops song?

The Letter. You know, “Get me a ticket on an aeroplane….
Yeah! “The Letter.” But anyway, I'd say the train is the best because it's more of a gospel train, go-go train, soul train, the train, means inextirpable community. It's got a path. It can't stray from its destiny.

If you could cast someone to play you in a movie…who would you cast, what would it be like? Who would make it in your dream scenario?
Oh gee. I don't know. Movies are so bad now. It would end up being some CGI end of the world scenario. With crazy editing and just awful, awful music by Jakob Dylan. Or no. Worse. Puddle of Mudd. It'd just be horrible!

And also, to be considered worthy of a memoir or a biography in America as a musician you have to be a drug addict. It's like it's the only narrative that's interesting. That's artistically allowed. Like Ray Charles. Or Johnny Cash. Oh yeah, the only thing worth talking about Johnny Cash is that he was a junkie. It's like, how long was his career? It's an incredible career with incredibly amazing breadth of work, so engaging, blah blah blah, and then they're like, oh well…the only story worth telling from that epic life is his drug use… It's tedious. It's stupid. It's disgusting.

It's a lazy narrative.
Yeah, it's like a Behind the Music narrative. It's like “Oh! Redemption! Struggle and Redemption.” It's so cliché. Oh god! If I see another withdrawal scene in a movie! Ugh…

If any band, living or dead, covered one of your songs, who would you be most flattered by?
Good golly, I don't know…It'd have to be someone who just did the standards. You know, timeless classics. The early Staple Singers. Because there'd just be no nonsense. Not the late Staple Singers, when they were doing “Respect Yourself,” when they were doing their civil rights anthems. That's different. I'm talking about the folk era Singers, with the tremelo guitar…

Links:
Svenonius interviewing Dead Moon
Chain & the Gang live

SEE THEM: Chain and the Gang will be playing The Halocene July 7th with, Turbo Fruits, and Golden Triangle at 8:30. $8 adv/$10 dos. 21+
 
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