Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From The Vaults: Interview With Ken Fitzner From The Bollweevils

Critical Mass: The Bollweevils have been a big part of the Chicago punk scene for about the last 20 years. How did you guys get started?

Ken Fitzner: "Bob, our bass player, and I started really getting into punk at the same time. We would go see Naked Raygun. It was such an intense experience, I think it just almost forced us to want to form a band. We met Daryl there. Initially, we thought his friend Paul would make the better singer; turns out it was Daryl. We always battled the front, which meant we had to get the wall of death from the skins, but we held our own. We originally had a drummer, Joe; he played our first two shows with us. The first one was at a place called Club Stodola on the north side. Bob was singing at that point. Then I sent a letter with a tape to Naked Raygun. I had forgot to include a phone number. I just wanted to let them know that I loved the band. One day, I got a letter back asking us if we wanted to play with them at the Metro. It was the Metro's 9th anniversary show. We opened the show. The next night, Pearl Jam played in the same slot we had. After that show, Joe quit, we found Brian and figured out that the only way we could play shows was if we set them up ourselves. The rest is history."

CM: I had the chance to see the band live a couple times since your return to the stage and it felt like you never left! What was it like getting back up there and playing those classic songs after so may years away?

KF: "I'll speak for the band first; we have always been the type of band that didn't need a lot of practice. I think we might practice once or twice before a show, so it easy to get back up there. Once we are on stage, it is amazing most of the time. Our new drummer, Pete, is so amazing, it makes it. I can get tired of playing the old songs, but when the crowd gets into it, it makes it worth it."

CM: With the release of the "Weevillive In Color" DV, and seeing some old footage, I was wondering how much more footage is in the vaults and will that footage ever see the light of day?

KF: "We have a lot; some of it is good, some not. I'd love to YouTube it. We'll see how embarrassed we want to get."

CM: I know Naked Raygun was a big influence on the band. But what are your personal musical influences?

KF: "I could not live without AC/DC, The Smiths, Government Issue, Bad Religion, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, The Cult, Dag Nasty, Minor Threat, Old 97s, Glucifer and Foreigner. Kinda an eclectic mix, I also love ragtime jazz; mostly anything with a huge guitar."

: As documented in the Weevilive album that was recorded at The Metro on the "Heavyweights" tour, Daryl said the band would never play there again. What was it like actually playing Metro again after that fiasco? (Memo: Security at Metro was roughing up friends of the band and members of the audience, almost causing a riot to break out).

KF: "Ha. Well, interesting story; our first show was with Daryl at the Metro with Raygun. It was fun, we had seen may shows there already. Then when we were part of the Underdog Collective, Ben Weasel came to a meeting and told us about the Metro fucking bands over and how security beat on kids. We signed an open letter stating we would not play there. After a while, as we got more popular, Marc Ruvalo of No Empathy was able to negotiate a deal for punk bands; $5 door, no merchandise cut, no gate around the stage, etc. We decided that it would make sense for us to try it. We have always been pretty independent as far as how we do business. I think that used to get under the skin of some "scenesters", I think it still pisses some people off. Then the infamous 4th of July show. All along, we knew something was different, by the time we played, the crowd was into it. Funny thing is, nothing the crowd did was any different than what they had done at any show. The security got a little out of hand, we were pissed off and Daryl's famous quote, "We're The Bollweevils, we're never playing here the fuck again."
We had had a number of great shows there. I guess time heals all wounds. I remember talking to the guitarist of Pennywise (Fletcher) and him telling me that they told him, "they didn't want another Bollweevils show." It was Big Black banned before us so it was a nice torch to carry. When we did our "comeback" show, it was a benefit. It was at the Metro, we said yes. Funny thing is that most of the people in bands that signed the letter have played there with other bands. In fact, some have worked at the Metro. In some ways, I think we played a small part in making it "OK" for a punk band to play there."

CM: I know that Dr. Strange Records isn't doing a lot anymore as far as releases go. Is there any plans to have the old albums re-released? Specifically the out of print "Stick Your Neck Out" and "Heavyweight" albums?

KF: "All our albums are available online, iTunes, Napster, etc. I would love to strike a deal with a small label to get some of it back on LP or CD, I'm just not sure if a label would be interested."

CM: At the end of the "Heavyweights" album, there's about 10 minutes of recorded conversation. Anyone who owns the album will know what I'm talking about. I gotta ask you, was any of that filmed? That was some funny stuff!

KF: "Most of that was recorded on a hand-held tape player our drummer Brian had. We went to Missoula, MT to play a festival show for $100 and got payed with a check that bounced. We drove out on a Friday, played on Saturday, drove home Sunday. Needless to say, we were slaphappy."

CM: After The Bollweevils split up, you formed The Feds and released an amazing album, "Chicago Bureau" as well as the "Classified" 7". Do you think fans embraced your new band as much as The Bollweevils?

KF: "I don't think we were around long enough for the fans to catch on, although until the new Bollweevils stuff, it is the best-sounding stuff and best songwriting I've done."

CM: Any plans for a Feds reunion gig with The Bollweevils?

KF: "Um, Louie the drummer, who I love, lives in LA, who knows where Mark Piss is these days, maybe in a gutter, so no - probably no reunion, although we have talked about The Bollweevils covering a song."

CM: You guys have hinted about a show coming up in the summer and a new single. Is there gonna be a new full length in the works? Possibly a tour?

KF: "I think we want to release singles ala "Singles Going Steady" (Buzzcocks). We have quite a few things written. Touring would be fun, except we all have jobs and families, so unless it works for everyone, I'm not sure."

CM: How can fans get in touch with you and the band? Is there a website you want to plug where we can get news on up coming shows, releases, tour info and merch?

KF: "We have a Facebook and MySpace page. You can e-mail me at I would be remiss if I didn't mention my band after the Feds: Callaghan; probably the most fun band I was ever in. The challenge for you will be to find our releases."

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