A few months ago, myself, my attorney Dave Anchovies and three-quarters of The Blowtops drove three hours round-trip to see the United Kingdom's Country Teasers play a live set at the Bug Jar in Rochester, New York. It was the first time seeing the Teasers live for all of us. Some of us were bigger fans of the band than others, but I think we all left knowing one thing: that Ben Wallers and the Country Teasers put on a show that would have been worth a three hour WALK. Fuck, I would've walked ten hours barefoot for their performance. The weekend following the show I went to Chicago Blackout and saw thirty-some bands that represented the best in modern garage rock. And not one of them even touched the set the Teasers pulled off that evening. Not one.

On the way there, I was elected to fill the CD changer. My Selections: two by the Teasers themselves: 'Satan is Real Again' and their newest, 'The Empire Strikes Back'; Angry Samoans 'Boxed Set'; Gorilla Angreb's compilation CD; The Big Boy's 'Fat Elvis'; and Anchovies had the Dicks' compilation CD in there, which seems to wonderfully be in constant rotation whenever he's around. Creepy Dave called 'X' on Angreb almost immediately, I don't recall getting to the Big Boys, we saved the Dicks for the ride home, sang along to the Samoans and we listened to both Teasers discs, instigating a "Is it lame to listen to the band you are going to see on the way to the show?" discussion. I know people who are firm in their belief that you absolutely can not listen to anything by a band or any of its members on the way to see said band live. Me, I'm split. I'll throw something on, especially if it's new, on the way to see a band. I don't think enough of us were familiar enough with 'Empire..' at that point so it seemed fitting, and a bit like pre-battle preparation. Know your enemy or some such shit. Someone mentioned the Floyd thing right away.

TB: Syd Barret just passed, what's your perspective on him and the Pink Floyd?
Ben: Yawn yawn. Silly lyrics. Sixties rubbish. It was easy for Barret back there during the revolution. Anything went. Waters is the really interesting character for me. A hopeless case, an utter shit-head. Brilliant character actor and composer. But I have to confess it was burnt into me at age 11/12/13 when I got into 'Dark Side of the Moon', 'A Collection of Great Dance Songs', 'The FInal Cut' and 'The Wall'. I loved them unquestioningly. It was my musical right of passage, without knowing what that means actually. Now I cringe a little when listening to Waters' lyrics if there's someone else in the room. I tend to apologize a lot. "Roger and I were just joking when we wrote this bit you know, ha ha!"

Seeing shows in Rochester kind of blows. The Bug Jar is a great venue: always sounds fantastic, great decor (they have an entire living room [furniture complete with stuff on the coffe table, etc.] somehow nailed/glued to the ceiling in the room where the bands play), cheap drinks, and they also have a closed-circiut TV in the bar where you can actually watch the band without being in the room. The thing that sucks about seeing shows there: the people. I always get the impression that anyone there to see a good band somehow just accidentally wandered in and actually has no idea who they are watching. A good portion leave after seeing the local bands, who invariably always suck. I once witnessed a packed room clear out after local Rochester garage corpse-rapers The Priests played, leaving a crowd of about twenty to watch Dead Moon. Dead fucking Moon. So I have no sympathy for these people, at all. Openers this time were a local band...their name escapes me, but the fact that were not good does not. And then this group called Pengo, who I think were from Ohio, and basically played prog. The guitar player was pretty good and they had some wacky instrumentation, like a ten foot length of pipe that one of them blew into. Far out. They passed the time and I could relax and have some drinks knowing that I didn't need to be riveted to the band on stage. They made suitable sounds for imbibing.

I see Wallers around the club. He's wearing camouflage, a cowboy hat and a vest with 'KOOL KEITH' written on the back in marker. I don't approach him, because I really have nothing to say except the usual fanboy spiel. I'd corresponded with him a few times, traded tapes with him. The Rebel (and the Teasers) were not a band I got into right away. The Crypt records took quite a while to really sink in. I had always recognized they were good, but the real genius at work there didn't really dawn on me until the 2XLP comp on In the Red came out. Then it all clicked, I became fanatical to the point where I was sending tapes across the ocean to get The Rebel's solo works. One of the things that really stuck out in Ben's work was his appropriation of hip-hop at times, (a genre I have an unrequited and confusing love for) which seemed very different at first, but once you really soak in his work for awhile it makes total sense. Meaning, on a simple level, Ben has the tendency to be purposefully provocational, as a lot of rap does. He seems to talk a bit about black people; likes to throw around taboo words, seemingly enjoying his ability to get a rise out of people at times. Maybe he does it just to ruffle feathers, maybe he does it to get people to think about those words and what the signify. Who knows. The Teasers have cut an incredible Ice Cube cover, that I do know.

TB: When and how were you first exposed to hip-hop/rap? What were the first songs or records you heard in the genre, or at least the first ones you really enjoyed?
Ben: Well, Robert (McNeill, Country Teasers' synthesizer and guitarist) sent me Ice Cube's 'Amerikkka's Most Wanted' in 1992. I replied "Look, i'm never going to like rap. It's like trying to wear size 12 or 6 shoes: I AM A SIZE 9 AND A HALF." He dismissed my protests and followed it up with 'The Predator'. Then, when I heard "Wicked" and "We Had to Tear This Motherfucker Up", I was hooked. Soon after that, Method Man's "You're All I Need to Get By" came out. I saw the video on MTV, with Mary J Blige. Hooked. I bought the CD and then discovered the 36 Chambers; then Ol'Dirty through that; someone else exposed me to Ultramagnetic MCs much later; then I couldn't BELIEVE the genius (not too strong a word; he's the only genius in rap; not even Ol Dirty was like him) of Kool Keith. Until him, I was only really interested in the music of Ice Cube's DJ and the RZA's production, and certain turns of phrase in lyrics; but I hated the rap cliches. I couldn't understand why only the Wu Tang were rejecting those lame old hackney rhymes. But Kool Keith totally explodes the genre. I mean he expresses its whole, through his funk referencing style and all that. I'm no music critic. My favorite other tracks were Schooly D's "The Definitive Rap", which I heard in Bad Liuetenant and ripped off for "Black Change". I only heard "Kashmir" by Zeppelin after people said I'd ripped it off, but I never knew; and a song I taped off John Peel which i've never traced: ""IT'S THE NIGGER THAT YOU LOVE TO HATE/COMING OUT OF WASHINGTON STATE/ ???/COPS DON'T LIKE ME/COS THE...?????" It's a brilliant story of being pulled over illegitimately by cops. Somewhat like the WONDERFUL "Police Officer" by our own Smiley Culture.

TB: I don't know about that one, but I'm no expert. The only rappers off the top of my head from Washington were Sir Mix-A-Lot and his posse...So, are you more of a beats or lyrics guy when it comes down to it?
Ben: The music and beats are what I love, but it's the lyrics which act like petals to a bee into the flower. If the lyrics are wack, then the bee is repelled, e.g. I hear lots of pleasant music in today's post "You're All I Need to Get By" minor-key-sodden market, but the lyrics are all shit. Rap, like country, rock, blues, jazz, pop and heavy metal and techno and noise and indie, it's all dragged down by eighty percent shit. We're all fishermen waiting for the next big juicy fish to come along, but until then we have to kiss a lot of toads with our fly, hook and Ipod. The lyrics have to be great, they draw you in, then lo and behold you find yourself loving the music. This is also my approach; give a good tune a good lyric, it deserves it. If the lyric is wack, the tune will have no advertisement, no chance.

TB: How do you think listening to rap has influenced your own songwriting? Or is it not something you really think about consciously?
Ben:I don't think of any of that consciously except in the interview situation! I should hope that rap has influenced my lyrics, I'm sure I've borrowed jargon and attitude from the genre, and I have defintely attempted to imbibe the natchual riddem. The hip hop beat is one of the four or five beats I use continually. "Tough Luck on Jock", "The Idiot", "Hairy Wine", "Postman Pak" those are all hip hop beats.

The Teasers are up and I'm full of expectations, energy and beer. Someone decides it would be a good idea to drink glasses of whiskey while we watch them. The Maker's Mark bite opens me up for entry into the world Wallers unfurls before me. Opening with the sweeping "Spiderman In the Flesh", just like the album, I'm caught up in this immense wave and sucked down under the water, victim to the musical tides at Wallers command. They're an incredible band, tight when they need to be, loose when it fits. Wallers is playful, nearly childlike in the way he bites his tongue between lyrics, dressed for a game of play-war where he can't decide whether he wants to be the cowboy gunslinger or the army man. Watching him, and his group (which includes his very beautiful wife), I'm genuinely awestruck. I've seen many bands which have elicited emotions from me: bands so raging I've wanted to tear the building down, so powerful I've screamed, so rhythmic I've danced (and I'm a bad dancer), so beautiful I've had tears well up. But it's rare that a band, or a person actually in this case, actually takes you into another world, into their head, suspends time with every note, expands your mind just by virtue of playing chords and strumming strings and saying things, the type of experience where no one else is really there and your love of music is realized, truly realized, because someone up there on stage is handing it to you on a platter. It's wonderful and entertaining, thoughtful and even funny. The Teasers tore into my soul. And then they made my night even better by covering Kool Keith's "I'm Destructive". Some hippie kid (who I think had no idea who he was watching, and who later told me he wanted to get the band high thinking I was their manager or something for some reason...) asks between songs, something along the lines of "I saw Kool Keith written on your jacket...can you do one of his songs?". And they were off, Ben spitting lyrics and all...

TB: You did a Kool Keith song at the Rochester show... Do you have any other rap songs in your arsenal (aside from Ice Cube)? Was "Im Destructive" something you planned on doing, or was that spur of the moment?
Ben: No! It took me two weeks to learn "I'm Destructive"! I have plans to do "No Chorus" one day. I wouldn't cover anyone else. Doing "We Had to Tear This Motherfucker Up" there were some lyrics I had to leave out because it wouldn't have suited me. A white guy looks silly singing gangsta rap. I just sang the less specific, more beautiful lines.

TB: What was the first Kool Keith you heard, apart from the Ultramagnetic stuff?
Ben: The first Kool Keith song I heard was "The Industry is Whack", on a tape lent to a freind by his ex-girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, whose name is Jake Lovett and he has a band called Uncle John and Whitelock. The friend is both Keith Farquhar and Lawrence Worthington, because the former went out with the same girlfriend right after the latter. Indeed, the girlfreind went out with all three of them, how about that for a coincidence! Jake was a young skateperson at the time, I mean that was as far as I knew him. It took me about five years to track down the album; indeed it was only a re-issue that I found. I was not on-line then.

TB: Favorite Kool Keith record/song and why?
Ben: Musically, I always quote 'Matthew'; the tunes are extraordinary, the production air-tight. But I enjoy 'Sex Style' most song for song, I mean all the way through. My favorite song would be "Make Up Your Mind". Inimitable drive sound. A secret favorite I'd like to veer new fans to is "The Girls Don't Like the Job" on the patchy "Lost in Space:Black Elvis' album. I am still getting to know 'Diesel Truckers', there are four songs I love on it but I can't recall the names. I'm not at home.

TB: How do you feel about Wu Tang Clan's stuff? Whos your favorite?
Ben: I only know Ol' Dirty Bastard well. I only own 'Ironman' by Ghostface Killer and 'Tical' by Method Man, both of which I like a lot but don't play much these days. Apart from ODB's masterpieces. But for me the RZA is the person I identify as the mastermind, he was producing '36 Chambers' and I believe generating most of ODB's melodies, so he's the fucking Mozart behind it. God knows what happened after album two. I'm ashamed to say I lost touch. The irresistible charm and musical gang mentality of the first album makes it a classic for me. Really delicate too; not bombastic. I wonder if they were actually happy with the record. A lot of times a band turns to shit when they get too much control over their sound. The recordings lose air, mystery, fragility. Look at Country Teasers: I hated all our albums except the one I did myself, and that is famously awful!

"I'm Destructive" took this show to the next level for sure. When the Teasers play, you feel as if Ben is expressing his opinions to you while trapped inside his own world even though he is on stage, right in front of you, sharing. Not to say he's distant, even though at times it seems as if the crowd isn't there to him, just as it seems I'm standing there by myself at moments. He interacts, talks to the band and the crowd, cracks a joke or two. Taps a keyboard with his foot whilst playing guitar. Ben, and the Teasers by extension, is a singular artist, an auteur of sorts. His vision is scaldingly unique at times. It was the type of show that it was a pleasure to be a part of, and a show you genuinely did not want to end. It was the kind of show that did provide the visceral musical thrill we always seek, but one of the few that also touched on something more, something unnameable and deeper. Something amazing. After the show, everybody bought records (except me, because I'm an asshole and have them all already), everyone agreed it was a mind-blowing affair. But you always wonder if it touched anyone as deeply as it did you. I spoke to Ben briefly after the gig, asked about doing an interview, which I had planned on being about nothing but hip hop and rap records, asked if he remembered trading tapes (he didn't exactly, but was very cordial) and gave him the general great show/records/music line. Really super nice guy. After the tour I sent him some questions, we traded some e-mails, it turned out okay I think.

TB: Is there a lot of US rap on the radio in the UK? Are there UK rap artists? Or is it more dancehall/toasting stuff (Like Smiley Culture)?
Ben: God knows. I'm out of touch. I hear a lot of gold bullshit on the major stations, talking about cars, money and vagina, but I'm out of the loop as far as hearing new underground shit goes. Let me kput out the inquiry again about "IT'S THE NIGGERTHAT YOU LOVE TO HATE/COMING OUT OF WASHINGTON STATE" that I taped off Peel in 1990. I like Dizzee Rascal a lot. I like Mike Skinner too, but he's a bit easy; he doesn't rap fast enough. I got a Mo Wax compilation of modern dancehall called "Now Thing". It's great, minimal and heavy. They call it reggae but it's very hard. Instrumental.

TB: Do you think part of the appeal of rap for some people is the novelty/ridiculousness of some of it? Like the Wu Tang's magnificently twisted and semi-made-up verbiage, or the ultraviolent gangsta stuff, etc..?
Ben: Er...well, yes it is a new language for us white folks tired of the rock cliches. Kool Keith is miles ahead of rappers, though, in language. I like him so much because he's writing the best lyrics in all genres, no question. He doesn't write bad lyrics, it's impossible for him. He's touched with a language gift. He is unwell, with problems, and I think the two go hand in hand. Shyness, difficulty with understanding and communicating on the human level; it leaves a door open for insight into the greater picture of mind and humanity. I mean, really? You think so? Sure why not. But let's not be nice-racists; hip hop is putting out the worst fucking shit in the world at the moment. It is Nashville 1975. It is the Great Satan. How many CDs do you think are being burnt right now, in this sixty second time-snatch, that are going straight into the bin? Two billion? One billion of them will be fake rap with weak lyrics and repeated beats. It is not a good way to live.

TB: I'm not sure quite how to word this one..but, do you think that white people might be enjoying rap music for the wrong reasons? Like an exploitation kind of thing? Is there something about rap as an art that white guys will just never get, or do you think it's universal?
Ben: Maybe. I don't know. Maybe one enjoys music for all the wrong reasons. We should be escorting these guys to the mental hospital or Alcoholics Anonymous instead of gloating at their agonies. But you can't theorize about infectious melodies and rhythms. That's just music. If you enjoy it, then you like it, right? I know there are people who like music stylistically, as a fashion. That's the industry keeping itself alive in the marketplace. White music and black music segregate themselves from each other on purpose or by accident. Really good practioners of both genres crossover and appeal to both colours of people. But people conform to type: they are bullshit. They do not want to integrate. There will never be complete mental integration, so whites will never get rap and blacks will never get Wire magazine.

Driving home from the show, eating a donut and drinking a coffee and listening to The Dicks, I was deep in thought. I had just seen one of the top five music performances of nearly twenty years of show-going. What is it that makes it so? The right mix of liquor, setting and artist? I realized that Wallers, much like he later said in relation to Kool Keith, has a gift. His songs inhabit the interzone where they are personal and specific to him, his ideas, his somewhat odd vision, but they are also accessible, perhaps seeing our own odd visions reflected in his. We connect through our similar strangeties. Someone once said to me that everyone who is deeply into punk-rock (or whatever we're calling it) has some sort of social difficulty, it's inherent to the subculture and part of the reason the socially inept (on many different levels) find comfort in it. It's something that I afterward thought about quite a bit, and something that turned into a much larger answer. I suppose, being immersed in this subculture, you don't realize some of your own shortcomings, as they are apparent in everyone else as well, therefore making them seem a non-factor. I always think of why I love music so much, and how others can care so little about it. It's the music that acts as the grease, the oil that lubricates my passage through life, makes it easier to move along and thrive. It's a beautiful thing, and everyone out there, has their crutch, their escape, their thing to make life easier. So perhaps that's why I enjoyed the Country Teasers live so much. Maybe I saw a bit of myself up there, or at least was reminded of something inside me, what it is that makes me want to drive three hours to see a band play. The Country Teasers reminded me of how much I love music and why. Or perhaps they simply just put on a great rock show. Either way it was thrilling, thought-provoking, entertaining to say the least and overall a hell of a lot of fun.

TB: What do you think of Billy Childish and his work?
Ben: Pretty good. Sound stuff. Don't own any records but I enjoyed a tape in 1992 with "Lie Detector" etc. Airtight writer, you really can't complain.

TB: Do you feel any parallels with the guy?
Ben: Well, I came along next in some garage punks' opinions and certainly have the same "bad mic/American accent" formula. But he was/is pursuing a very specific musical schtick, a Stuckist approach. I hate the waste of money and the anti-music approach of studios and major labels, but I also want total diversity in musical approach, where nothing is forbidden. If there is a $1000 microphone in the studio, I'll use it, and a computer. I just don't like starting off from either of these points: 1) We refuse to use expensive equipment. 2) We refuse to use cheap equipment. A composer can record a song on his faeces or on Kate Moss's golden faeces equally well.

TB: Do you know him at all?
Ben: Yes I do know Kate Moss.

So that's that. Last I spoke with Ben I asked his short term plans for the Teasers and The Rebel: "Well, Country Teasers are taking a well earned rest while the Rebel (which features Sophie on drums when we play live) works on next album. No releases imminent." I'd also like to thank him for providing some great and insightful answers to an interview I thought I had little handle on at the time, but in retrospect seems quite alright, and leaves me wishing I would've done a better job continuing it. I hope I managed to make it into an entertaining read by attempting to blend it in with a live review of a show that I felt I had to say something about. And if anyone can identify the rap lyric Ben cites in the interview, let us know.

To read a much better interview with Ben go here.

Visit The Rebel on-line here.

Interview by Rich Kroneiss