Monday, July 4, 2011

From The Vaults: Interview With Camilo Gonzalez from Silver Abuse/Toothpaste/formerly of Naked Raygun

Critical Mass: You were born in Havana, Cuba. When did you move to the States?

Camilo Gonzalez: "Boy, let's see: My family moved to Miami when I was five. I still remember Cuba and wonder what life would have been like there. My dad was tired of all the killing and instability and I think he feared it would never end. He's never really liked Marxism."

CM: What was the first band that really influenced you into wanting to play the bass?

CG: "I've always like music, but I never learned to play an instrument or write formally. When I was in high school, progressive rock was the cutting edge. I knew I could never play that. Therefore, I was really pleased when I heard Neu! and Terry Riley and some of the other minimalist "Kraut Rock" of the early seventies. Bob Damnrau, Bill Meehan, Dennis Sosniak and myself had a type of stick band. We'd go over to the park, get drunk and pound on the ground with sticks. The big sticks would produce a boomier sound so of course, I was the bass stick because I lifted weights. Later on, Bill's dad bought him a bass but he sang and let me borrow the bass. Then Dennis tried to stab Bill to death, so we disbanded."

CM: What was the punk scene in Chicago like back in the late '70s/early '80s?

CG: "There was no punk rock in Chicago during the mid-'70s that I was aware of. There were pioneers a bit later, Skafish, Tutu and the Pirates and ourselves. And then, perhaps reflective of what was happening internationally, a wave of great bands seemed to spring from nowhere. One week, we'd go to Oz on Hubbard and hear The Effigies for the first time, then Strike Under the next week, then maybe The Wayouts! Because of the deteriorating manufacturing and printing base here in Chicago, loft space became absurdly cheap and folks would host parties where it was possible to hear great bands for free or very little. The community was small and somewhat incestuous for all the good and bad that entails. I recall drugs and sex being easily available. We hosted one party where a lesbian orgy supposedly broke out in the washroom. At that same party, a fight broke out between an African-American friend we had invited and a Nazi skinhead. The skinhead thankfully, got the worst of it, but I think that spoke to the fact that even back then, punk was not monolithic and infighting occurred."

CM: How did Silver Abuse get started? There are two different versions out there. Can you give us your version of how the band got together?

CG: "Some time after Dennis tried to kill Bill, Santiago Durango was inspired to form a band. I had met him in high school art class and played drums with an earlier band with him and another guitarist. Bob Damrau later became our drummer, I moved over to bass and I don't think the other guitarist was into punk. Bill Meehan joined us as singer. I don't recall when we finally called ourselves a band; might have been in Santiago's parents' gold coast condo sub-basement over shots of piss-poor whiskey."

CM: Did you and Durango leave Silver Abuse to join Raygun, or did you and Santiago juggle both bands for a time?

CG: "I was an art student, so I though punk rock should be minimalist and musical virtuosity was an impediment. Sant didn't agree and wanted a more sophisticated sound. We butted heads, he left to form Naked Raygun and Silver Abuse broke up to form The Wayouts! I played with The Wayouts! and later, a reformed version of Silver Abuse before Sant asked me to join Naked Raygun. But I might add the initial transition was rough and I almost didn't make it. I never played in both bands concurrently until recently."

CM: I know you played a couple shows with Raygun recently: The Busted At Oz reunion gig at Double Door, along with Silver Abuse and your other band, Toothpaste. How did that gig come together, and was it difficult playing in all those bands in one night?

CG: "Initially, I suggested to Eric Spicer that we should reform an earlier version of NR and have it play a few songs. Unfortunately Pierre, NR's current bass player, suffered a stroke and couldn't perform. It was decided that the original lineup should play the whole set, not just a few songs. Jim broke his collar bone in a bike-riding accident and Eric was able to fill in. It was exhausting to play in three bands, but I didn't feel it right away since on stage, you run on adrenaline. It took me a couple days before I was my chipper self. Not something I would recommend."

CM: I'm sure it brought back memories of playing with bands like Articles Of Faith. Was there ever any tension or rivalry between bands back then? Or was it a big happy family type scene?

CG: "In retrospect, there seems to have been some tension between the hardcore and the more classic punk crowd. Naked Raygun always liked hardcore bands and played with many of them, so I could never understand the rift. The principle tumults seemed to have been Mr. Vic Bondi and the Effigies and Mr. Bondi and Steve Albini, but after a while, things seem to have gotten increasingly fractious. I'm a big goofy guy. If there was tension, I wasn't aware of it. I tried to get along with all and generally, I did. For the most part, bands were cooperative. We informally booked shows together in a wide variety of punk-friendly venues, so a lot of cooperation was necessary."

CM: How did the after-show gig at Cobra Lounge the night Raygun opened for Dropkick Murphys come about? Where you asked to join in, or were you just there in house?

CG: "Eric talked to me earlier about possibly playing the Congress set with them but realized I didn't know the later songs. He suggested maybe I can join them for a few songs anyway. I went to the Congress Show, but was too late to see them so Gretchen and I went to another bar to see another band. I got a call from Eric asking me to come to Cobra Lounge and play."

CM: I know you got an in-store lined up with Silver Abuse in the coming days. Any new gigs or plans for recording any new music in the near future?

CG: "We're playing with The Wanton Looks at the Cobra Lounge June 25th, scary-good pop rockers, worth the price of admission themselves. We have an album coming out soon, so find out the best way to pirate it. Maybe a few more things in late summer."

CM: How can fans get in touch with Silver Abuse and Toothpaste? Do you have a website you want to promote?

CG: "We have MySpace pages (Toothpaste and Silver Abuse).

CM: Thanks a million for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Camilo. Being a big Raygun fan, this is really a dream come true.

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