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||| D. Konstrukt interviews the Happy Flowers |||

D. Konstrukt

They Cleaned My Cut Out With A Wire Brush - 7 inch, 1988
Happy Flowers formed in 1983, one of a cluster of related bands in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their first release was "Mom, I Gave the Cat Some Acid" on a cassette compilation called 'Brain Of Stone' on the sadly defunct Bad Compilation Tapes label.

The Flowers went on to release a number of EP's and albums through to 1994, becoming perennial John Peel faves and recognised as one of the most extremely funny bands on the hardcore scene. They combined wilfully childish lyrics with carefree thrash noise and an intensely disturbing array of bizarre situations to comment on. You could identify with their complaints about the lack of proper presents at christmas ("All I Got Were Clothes For Christmas"), or grimace at the horror of "My Frisbee Went Under a Lawnmower". All this presented to you by the magnificently monikered Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant.
Checking out the Happy Flowers website,
I Crush Bozo - LP, 1988
the biggest surprise was that all this hardcore weirdness was largely improvised, and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant is a keen listener to folks like Derek Bailey, Borbetomagus and other luminaries. Happy Flowers rewritten as humorous hardcore improv? D. Konstrukt wanted to know more, and the Flowers were keen to oblige with this email interview.

DK: Happy Flowers were always a very funny band. Was it a conscious choice from the start to fuse music & comedy? And was there a visual element to the humour?

HCI: Well, our first song, "Mom, I Gave the Cat Some Acid," (which was a holdover from one of Dr. Anus' high school bands) was pretty silly. And the notion of making up everything as we went along seemed pretty silly so we just sort of went with it. There wasn't really a visual element. In fact, since some bands went overboard with costumes and such, I liked the idea of playing insane music whilst looking fairly normal.

Mr. A: The humor just sort of happened, I don't think we were consciously trying to be funny but I'm glad people thought it was funny. The people who take HF seriously are rather scary to me...

DK: You were picked up on by hardcore labels & listeners. Did you think of yourselves as wiithin this genre, or was it just where others slotted you in?

HCI: We came from a hardcore background and always played with hardcore bands in the early days though I wouldn't call us hardcore at all. Sort of like how Saccharine Trust and the Minutemen weren't "hardcore" bands but they were on Black Flag's label and played with hardcore bands so they got lumped into that category. Not to put us on a level with those bands or anything!

DK: I suppose this runs through last 2 questions: who were yr early influences, musical & humorous?

HCI: We both grew up listening mostly to heavy metal, especially Black Sabbath and Motörhead (at a show in NYC once we both spontaneously started playing "Ace of Spades" at the same time in the middle of a completely different song!). We both started getting into hardcore in the early 1980s and then met each other in 1983, our second year of college. I was also getting into a lot of "noise" stuff around this time and sort of envisioned Happy Flowers as mixing the chaos of Half Japanese with the density and heaviness of Swans. As far as humor influences, I've always had a dark sense of humor. My parents had several collections of Charles Addams cartoons and those had a lasting effect on my tender psyche! I've also been a big Monty Python fan since age 12 or so, so I'd say my influences were dark and absurd.

Mr. A: Oh yeah, I've been a big hard rock and metal fan from way back. Also a big fan of Jimi Hendrix, blues (esp BB King, Albert Collins), southern rock...

DK: A lot of what you did was improvised/semi-improvised. When you started off, were you aware of any other noise bands doing this kind of thing?

HCI: I had no idea! I mean, I knew what improvisation meant but I really wasn't aware of "improvised music." On the other hand, I had music that was improvised but I didn't know it! I was (and still am) a big King Crimson fan when we started but I had no idea that songs like "Providence" and "Starless" were actually improvs. We started improvising partly for the heck of it and partly because I can hardly play guitar to save my life! The one time we tried to "practice" and write a song it didn't work out too well and when we hit the studio the first time we didn't want to spend a lot of money, so we just recorded straight to master tape and made it up as we went along (well, "Mom" and "Meadowlands" we had played live before but they only had a rudimentary structure).

Mr. A: I knew a bit about modal improvisation, having played Grateful Dead, Santana, etc. but promptly forgot it all when I got onstage w/ HF.

DK: Did the reception of your live shows differ in Europe & USA? Was there any resistance to yr DIY aesthetic?

HCI: The first time we played in New York, some people spit beer on us but more people seemed to like us. We did four encores at our first show there! Crowds in Europe were usually very receptive (but not in The Netherlands for some reason). I don't know how much of what we said they understood but they seemed to really get off on the chaos we generated on stage. We played one show with Naked Raygun where we were added to the bill at the last minute and given only 15 minutes to play. For the first (and last) time, we made a set list instead of just winging it and slammed through everything as fast as we could. We sold more t-shirts than NR that night! Ha!

Mr. A: we seemed to get a decent reception in either th US or Europe . . . I guess people more or less know what to expect in either place (heh).

DK: When did you become aware of improvising traditions outside of rock/hardcore music? Who did you get into first?

HCI: I think the first improv stuff I got into was Borbetomagus. I kept reading about them in Conflict (Gerard Cosloy's zine) and Forced Exposure so I bought their third album, Work on What Has Been Spoiled, and it just blew me away; I could not seem to turn it up loud enough! I also got John Zorn's album The Big Gundown around the same time, if I remember correctly. I quickly bought every Borbetomagus record I could find but Zorn's stuff was harder to come by. I think the next thing of his I got was either Spy vs. Spy or the first Naked City album. From there, I went on to Sonny Sharrock, Henry Threadgill, Voice Crack, Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Music Improvisation Company, Derek Bailey, and so forth, pretty much in that order.

DK: Did finding out about other improv musics change what you did?

HCI: Not really, because I didn't get heavily into until we had broken up. Then again, I remember "imitating" Thelonious Monk for my piano playing on "Toenail Fear" and I bought the first Voice Crack album while we were on tour in Europe.

Now that I think about it, I was getting into tape manipulation type stuff like P16.D4 and Biota in our early days. That's not really improv but it sounds pretty similar.

Mr. A: He's way ahead of me on this stuff!

DK: What kind of musics have the bands played that you've been involved with since Happy Flowers?

HCI: My next band was The Love Killers. I played mostly rhythm guitar and sang a couple of songs I wrote (I was added as a second guitarist to an already extant band but we changed the name). I guess we sounded a bit like Soul Asylum. That lasted about six months in 1990/91. After that, I was the sole guitar player in a band called Meat from late 1993 through early 1995. We were once described in the local paper as sounding like Peter Murphy singing for Iron Maiden! I wrote most of the music and really enjoyed it but after a while it just wasn't fun anymore (too few gigs/too many interpersonal conflicts) and I quit. I've been thinking about playing again but my amp needs work, my guitar needs work, I'm starting to worry about hearing damage (after 25 years of concert going without earplugs I've finally started using them) and I don't know where I'd find the time!

Mr. A: I played in a metal cover band, a kind of alt-rock/pop band (doing originals) and I'm now playing country (mostly originals) in the old (pre-70s) style. In fact I'm mostly playing acoustic guitar and pedal steel (especially pedal steel, very into it).

DK: There's now a lot of stuff around that seems to be using extremes of noise & humour - I'm thinking of, say, Boredoms, Carhouse/Hellshit, Hanatarash, John Zorn, Christian Marclay (it's not all Japanese!). To what extent are Happy Flowers recognised as precursors of these musics?

HCI: I really don't know, though I did read somewhere once that Eye allegedly started Boredoms because he wanted to have a band that sounded like us. If that is true, I would just be in total shock as they are one of my favorite bands on the planet. Actually, Eye sent me a copy of their first album and the first two Hanatarash albums years ago and I've been a fan ever since. I wrote John Zorn a fan letter a few years ago asking if he knew where I could find the live PainKiller CD and he sent me a copy and a nice letter and said he was a fan of ours. I was bouncing off the walls for days.

DK: Who are you listening to now? What new bands/musicians are you excited about?

HCI: Well, right now I'm listening to the second album, Kingdom of Familydream, by YBO2. They were drummer Tatsuya Yoshida's band before he started Ruins and I just won it on eBay (along with several other of their records).

Less immediately, some of my current/new favorites are:

American Hi-Fi (I'm a sucker for good power pop and they're fantastic)
Attwenger (Austrian drums/accordion oompa/rap/krautrock duo)
Big Lazy (instrumental trio from NYC--surf noir?)
DKV Trio (my favorite of the many projects of Ken Vandermark, saxophonist extraordinaire)
Dysrhythmia (instrumental hard rock/fusion/math rock/etc. from Philadelphia)
Electric Wizard (UK band that takes Black Sabbath's sound to a whole new level of heavy, psychedelic insanity)
Satoko Fujii (jazz pianist/composer from Japan)
The Gold Sparkle Band (sort of local free jazz quartet who remind me a bit of early Art Ensemble of Chicago--yes, they're that good!)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (not a real band but the movie soundtrack is so great I wish they were!)
The Holy Ghost (new NYC band that reminds me a bit of Gang of Four, Saccharine Trust and Honor Role but with their own distinct sound)
Kenny Howes and The Yeah! (more great power pop--second best band in Georgia after Jucifer)
Jucifer (insanely heavy and creative guitar/drums duo from Athens, GA--my favorite live band)
Konk Pack (very aggressive improv trio featuring Tim Hodgkinson, ex-Henry Cow and the amazing percussionist Roger Turner)
Mammoth Volume ("stoner rock" and "prog rock" go head-to-head and, oddly enough, it works!)
The Nectarine No. 9 (former members of Fire Engines and The Pop Group do a strange mix of soul, Captain Beefheart and T. Rex and it works beautifully)
Overhang Party (fantastic, noisy, psychedelic guitar band from Japan)
Puka Puka Brians (lo-fi/fuzz/psyche/pop band from Japan with four great albums)
Puya (Puerto Rican metal band who mix in a lot of traditional Latin music--sort of like a train wreck between Slipknot, Santana and Tito Puente)
Solbakken (newish Dutch band sprung from the ashes of Lul; their third album, Zure Botoa, was my absolute favorite album of 2000)
Slipknot (no description necessary)
Stephen Hero (lush pop from Patrick Fitzgerald, ex-Kitchens of Distinction)
VPN (wirey [not Wirey], noisy pop band from NYC)

Mr. A: Listening to a lot of old country, Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens (great pedal steel by Ralph Mooney), Ray Price, etc etc. Just spent a week in Nashville studying pedal steel with the great Jeff Newman, went to Ernest Tubb's record store, bought a bunch of old country CDs and listened to em all the way home.

DK: You briefly reformed for 4 dates in 2000. Any thoughts about another reformation? Are you likely to make any new Happy Flowers recordings, or are you content with yr recorded legacy?

HCI: We recorded an instrumental track for a compilation album after the tour but it's not out yet (partly my fault: I took a long time to send in the artwork for our contribution). We've talked about playing and recording more but we live 650 miles apart, so it makes planning rather tough. I'd really love to do more!

Mr. A: I'd love to do more too! I'm sure we will eventually... just need to find (and make) time and have the right outlet...


Check out the Happy Flowers website. it's got a full discography, history of the band and lots more in the way of recommended listening.
No-Neck Blues Band

 Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong and Jung Eunju at RELAY 04, 2005

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