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flag US - California - Full Moon 76 - 12/19/02

Trumans Water
an interview with Kevin Branstetter

The kings of squigglecore, Trumans Water, started in San Diego back in 1991. The band consists of three K's, brothers Kirk and Kevin Branstetter who play guitars and sing; the other Kevin (Cascell) plays drums. The band formed when brothers Branstetter advertised for a singer with or without brain. A guy called Glen Galloway (now Glen Galaxy or Galaxalog of Soul Junk) started singing and playing guitar with them on the first three great records, Of Thick Tum (on Justice My Eye/Homestead 1992), Spasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox and Ass (Homestead 1993) and Godspeed the Punchline (Homestead 1993) Kevin B. played bass then. When the brothers moved to Portland, Oregon, Glen stayed in San Diego and got his thing going on with Soul Junk. He also runs Singing Serpent Studios with recording engineer Rafter Roberts (who's known for his work with bands like GoGoGo Airheart, Tristeza, Rocket From The Crypt, Black Heart Procession, Hot Snakes and many more).

Trumans Water has also had some random collaboration/help from many great people, including Thurston Moore, Tim Green (Fucking Champs and Nation of Ulysses), King Coffey (Butthole Surfers), Chan Marshall (Cat Power), Jason Reece (...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead) and Azalia Snail. The band has released a truckload of records, ep's and singles on many different labels indie labels since its birth, labels included are Homestead, Runt, Elemental, Chocolate Monk, Wantage USA, Strange Fruit, Infinite Chug, Justice My Eye/Elevated Loin (their own label) and Emperor Jones (who've released their last two records, Fragments of a Lucky Break and Trumans Water). In 1998 Glen reunited with the band on Fragments of a Lucky Break and also played with them on their self-titled effort, which was released in 2001. Their next record will be released early next year the Italian indie label Homesleep Records.

I wrote an e-mail to Kevin Branstetter to try to convince him to bring Trumans Water to Iceland last winter when they were on European tour. Unfortuneately they couldn't, but hopefully they'll play here some day. In the meantime I'll just continue enjoying listening to their great brand of good old skronk rock.

LK: You live in France, right? How do operate with the band, do you exchange tapes or do you practice and write songs like maniacs when you meet?
Kevin: "We've never been driven like maniacs to record and practice and record and practice. That's why we got into this business, because we didn't want to become slaves to our careers. Even when we all lived together we hardly ever practiced. That kills the spontaneity. We would jam allot, but we'd practice only before we wanted to record an album or when we were about to head out on tour. As it is now I just try to make it back to Portland a few times a year to record and hang out, maybe play a few shows. We've been mixing our last few albums on computer so we only really need a day or two maximum in the actual studio to record tracks. After that we bring the tracks home on cd and mix the songs. That way I can come back to France and we can all mix separately. We can each pick a few songs to mix then send copies to the other guys and see what everybody thinks. It saves some money and most of all we mix songs better now since we have more time to do it. We used to just mix things once or twice and then put it out because we didn't have the money to spend too much time in the studio. Now we still don't have the money but since we're doing the mixing at home we have the time to maybe do it a little better..."

LK: Earlier Trumans Water was called stuff like younger and weirder Pavement. Ok the artwork of your records and the artwork of the Pavement records were similar in some ways, so are the artworks of the Sebadoh's records and the ones from Guided By Voices, but musically you've never reminded that much of Pavement, how did you feel about that?
Kevin: "In the beginning people did compare us allot to Pavement. Our first albums were a little similar in where we were coming from attitude-wise, kind of silly, not serious or pretentious. But as we said in the beginning and as we've seen come to pass we were really coming from opposite ends of the musical/inspirational spectrum. Pavement was a pop band that had tendencies toward noisy bits while Truman is basically a noise band that inadvertently stumbles across melodic bits."

LK: Trumans Water has always sounded to me that you're having endless fun, well is it?
Kevin: "Yes, thank you. We wouldn't still be doing it after almost ten years if we weren't having a hell of a lot of fun. If we were doing this for the money or fame we would have quit about nine years ago. We love what we do. We play music that makes us laugh. We're not ultra serious. We've never had a manager or a press agent. We drive ourselves around on tour. We go on tour to meet people and go places that we would never be able to afford to go to because we're too poor, and to be with each other because we're all best friends. This is also why we have been touring as a three piece the past several years, because we haven't been able to find another person that we get along with so well. We tried bringing a fourth a few times but it always ended up being a pain in the ass. Our sanity is very important on tour."

LK: Your song titles is something that I've always liked about you, where do you come up with titles like "Bludgeon Bites & Stagger Limbs", "Ossinaxx at Long Last", "Gold Plated Pissing Troff" and "Antsmashes Yer Star (Dead Airwaves)"?
Kevin: "It all stems from our belief that music doesn't need to be pretentious. Again, we're just trying to have fun. Plus we never think of titles for songs until we do the artwork and realize that we have to call them something. So we just think of silly names. If you asked me to play a song and said the title there's a 80% chance I won't know which song you're talking about. You'd have to hum it for me. Song titles are really an afterthought, like lyrics most of the time."

LK: Your records are quite hard to find, I think I've only seen one copy of Spasm Smash XXXOXOX OX and Ass in a record store in Iceland, the best place is probably the internet but doesn't it bother you that people can't get your records everywhere?
Kevin: "Yeah, it kinda sucks. But we know we don't make music for the masses. It's pretty normal that they are hard to find. Plus we change record labels pretty often because we get regularly screwed. Emperor Jones has been very nice to us. We'll probably stay with them as long as they want to keep putting our stuff out. We have a good deal with them: no advance money and an even fifty-fifty split on the sales. I mention this deal because you don't have to settle for the normal 14% labels usually try to screw you with. Independent labels have no business doing that crap. They're supposed to be helping out artists not raping them. If they want to make a bunch of money they should get into another line of business! Emperor Jones is the ONLY record label that has ever told us how many records we've sold. Homestead is still selling our records. They've never given us a sales statement and they've owed us money for YEARS! Someday we'll find a friend who's a lawyer and get all that money that the evil labels owe us. Obviously we don't care a WHOLE lot otherwise we would have tried to sue them years ago. We're really just normal, nice guys trying to have fun. We don't complain too much and we don't like to cause trouble. Bringing up record labels is a bit of a sore spot though. And when people screw us (HOMESTEAD) we like to point it out so others can maybe avoid the same thing. I guess maybe we're sitting back waiting for the karmic payback."

LK: What I've heard of your new record you seem to heading to different zones in song writing, some of the songs are more straight forward compared to what you've done before. Are you heading somewhere special or is there another reason?
Kevin: "I dunno. Kevin Cascell is writing more songs. He didn't write much before. So now it's pretty evenly distributed as far as song writing goes. His stuff is a little more rock oriented but still pretty quirky. We've been doing this for ten years so inevitably we're going to evolve. Kirk's been writing some more mellow stuff and I've been messing around with more abstract music. We always want the albums to be more and more dynamic but its tough. As we grow I see us gettin more and more eclectic."

LK: Your music has been called all many different names like squiggle core, squirrel rock, skree, slacker lo-fi, spazzcore, noise etc. etc., what is the best one you've heard?
Kevin: "Hick-hop is nice, Post-nuptual skree. Spazzrock is one I like. It describes us better on stage because we flop around allot. Slacker lo-fi is ok although our music isn't really intended to be that way. I think that's just because we don't spend years in the studio for each album. We'd rather keep it raw. If there are a few mistakes, oh well, recording and re-recording songs tends to kill their energy."

LK: I've always liked your cover-artwork, who does them?
Kevin: "That's another joint effort. Only the Spasm Smash cover was done by somebody else. All the rest were done by us jointly. We pretty much take turns. Each of us does one part. On this last record I did the cover, Kevin C. did the collage on the back and Kirk did the inside. Usually Kevin C. does the covers because his collages are great and he spends a lot of his free time doing them so we have a lot to choose from..."

LK: Do you or the other guys have any side-projects?
Kevin: "Yeah. Kevin C. does stuff on the side with friends as well as four-track stuff by himself. One of those four track gems is on the next album. Super lo-fi but I love it. Kirk recently started playing in a band called Fourth Prize with his girlfriend, it's a little more dreamy and melodic. I've played in a few bands with friends. In Bordeaux I played in a Pussy Galorish band, then when I moved to Toulouse I played noise guitar in an electronic band for a few shows, and now that I live in Paris I've been playing with a band called El Boy Die with a friend. Its more rock/country/noise. Its pretty fun. Plus I've been trying to do something with my wife and a neighbour but whenever we get together we just improvise. We haven't really managed to write any songs. I also mess around allot on my computer. Out of all these projects nothing has been released except one song I did on my computer for a compilation album. Both Kirk and Kevin just finished albums with their side projects but nothing released yet. It should be coming soon."

LK: Is Glen still playing with you guys?
Kevin: "When he can. When we play on the west coast he comes with us. And when we tour in Europe we try to bring Soul Junk for a week or two so he can play with us and Kevin C. can play drums for them. Glen usually makes it into the studio to mess around some with us. He just finished building a studio in San Diego so we're in the process of trying to set up some time to get down there all together to record the next album."

LK: What is the greatest rock and roll experience you've had?
Kevin: "Oh gosh. Well, we got run out of Memphis, Tennessee where we were opening up for an alternative cover band. We literally got run out of town. We waited two hours after we played for the owner of the club to show up to get our measly $50. I got a little mad at one of the bartenders because we really needed to get on the road for the next show. Finally she told me Wilbur had arrived and let me up to his office. Wilbur was HUGE! World Wrestling Federation huge! Seriously. He was a mountain! He insulted me non-stop for a half an hour because he said I'd been "giving sass to one of his girls", while I sat there calmly. He called me all the worst names you can imagine. Finally he paid me. I mildly insulted him under my breath while walking out of his office and somehow upon leaving the club he appeared in front of me with a lead pipe (he must have had a secret back entrance to his office) and started chasing me around the parking lot. The other guys saw this and tried to help me out but I had already been grabbed by a huge bouncer. I saw my life flash before my eyes as Wilbur approached me. Finally he just got in my face and repeated his tirade of insults adding that I was a coward because I "wasn't saying nothing now". I bit my tongue and waited for him to finish then we drove off, Wilbur ran down the street as we were driving off, shaking his fist and yelling, "You'll never play in this town again!" Funny thing is he was right. On a more uplifting rock and roll note two different times after shows in London John Paul Jones came up and shook all of our hands and said that we were his favourite band at the moment. He even bought two of everything we had for sale. That was pretty mind blowing."

LK: If you'd be in a tribute-band, what would it be?
Kevin: "Either Pussy Galore Galore or Credence Clearwater Revival Revival."

LK: What's on your stereo these days?
Kevin: "Hmmm. In general I listen to a lot of Charles Mingus. Other than that, recently, let's see, Deltron 3030, The White Stripes, Wu-Tang Clan and all their side projects, Add N to X, Sun City Girls, Duke Ellington, Handsome Boy Modelling School, Neil Young, older Ice Cube stuff. As much as I wanted to hate the Strokes I listened to it a few times this weekend and its not so bad. Pretty easy to listen to, which is nice sometimes. I don't think I'll buy it though."

LK: Could you pick bands, musicians that you think everyone should have a record by (name as many as you want)?
Kevin: "MINGUS!!! And The Sun City Girls. If you're on a low budget that's all you need. If you've got a lot of money buy everything you can get your hands on and sell back what you don't like!"

LK: You seem to be influenced quite a bit by some free-jazz or improvising musicians, is that the case and who are your favourites?
Kevin: "Of course! Mingus, Coltrane, Dolphy. Nothing too surprising there. I've been working on a cover of Praying With Eric on my computer for years but I just can't get it to where I like it enough. I have a really hard time listening to any newer free jazz type stuff. No guts. I really hate John Zorn. I don't like pretentious improv stuff. His music has no soul to me. I've tried to like him because so many of my friends told me he was god, but I just can't."

LK: Who's the best bowler in Trumans Water?
Kevin: "Kirk. His high score is much higher than Kevin's or mine. Although, on this last tour I did win the one match we had. We're all about the same level. Kirk is less consistent than Kevin or I so in a three game match its usually a toss-up."

LK: Is Kevin C. still doing his fanzine, where can I get it?
Kevin: "No, unfortunately his partner who wrote it with him, Mike Kinney, died last year. So, with him died Osmotic Tongue Pressure. The best fanzine I ever read, seriously. You can still order the last issue from Kevin C. through our website (we should have trumanswater.com up and running by the time this comes out. As it is now the address of our website is horrifically long, you'll just have to search for it). I'm sure Kevin C. will keep writing because he's so good at it but I don't know what form it will take."

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