The Color Purple – Steve McCabe of The Axemen, Part One – by Ryan Leach – Spacecase, Boredout

Reprinted from:http://boredout305.tumblr.com/post/55453656418/steve-mccabe-of-the-axemen-part-one

Steve McCabe of The Axemen, Part One

by Ryan Leach, Spacecase Records

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Steve McCabe is best known for his membership in The Axemen. Formed in Christchurch, New Zealand, when Steve was still a teenager (along with Stu Kawowski and Bob Brannigan) in 1981, The Axemen were one of the most stylistically adventurous groups on Flying Nun. Their records spanned the genre gamut—shambolic punk rock, country, sampling and girl group-inspired songs could all be found on the same album. The Axemen released two records on Flying Nun (1986’s Three Virgins and 1987’s Derry Legend) and innumerable cassette tapes on McCabe’s Sleek Bott label before going on hiatus in the early 1990s after the release of their Elton John tribute record, Three Rooms (1992).

McCabe’s released several solo records, notably the underground classic Sweat It Out (1986) and Generations (1998), Steve’s lounge record that he cut entirely himself with orchestration composed on a computer synth program.

In 2009 Tom Lax at Siltbreeze reissued Big Cheap Motel, The Axemen’s memorable response to the Big M milk corporation buying out the Christchurch City Council for a summer music festival in 1984. Further reissues by Siltbreeze (including The Axemen’s long out-of-print classic Three Virgins) galvanized the group to reform. The Axemen toured the United States for the first time with Times New Viking in 2009. Two years later The Axemen hooked up with the late Brendon Annesley and released a single on Negative Guest List and toured Australia. Spacecase Records hit up The Axemen for a single at the beginning of 2013. The recording session for the single yielded enough tracks for a full length, Sac Tap Nut Jam. The Axemen (Steve McCabe, Stu Kawowski, Dragan Stojanovic and William Daymond) are currently preparing a tour of New Zealand in support of the record. (Note: Stu Kawowski added some helpful clarifications and insights to the original transcription. His notes have been added.)

Interview by Ryan Leach

Photos courtesy of Steve McCabe and Stu Kawowski

Special thanks to Andrew Tolley for the Axel Grinders cassette

Ryan: You’re from Christchurch, correct?

Steve: Yeah.

Ryan: You played in a band called The Gorillas before you formed The Axemen. I know you’re a lot younger than Stu (Kawowski).

Steve: That’s true. Stu’s almost ten years older than me. My first band was an a cappella group, The Gasping Raspers, that formed when I was in primary school. In high school I was in a two-piece band called The Tandem Unicycles with Tim Green. Tim’s brother Tony Green played in a group called Mainly Spaniards that released a single on Flying Nun (“That’s What Friends Are For”, 1982). Tony worked at a record store called The Record Factory in Christchurch. He had a really good record collection. Tony used to import LPs into New Zealand. Tim and I did a bit of recording. The Gorillas (with Peter Rees) was the first band I had that actually released material. We put out a few cassettes.

Ryan: Did you have Sleek Bott going yet?

Steve: Not yet. I started Sleek Bott in 1983.

Ryan: You were self-releasing The Gorillas tapes?

Steve: Yeah. I still have some of the master cassettes.

Ryan: Were you guys inspired by groups like The Scavengers and The Spelling Mistakes?

Steve: The Gorillas were more pop. We had the occasional punk song but we were more eclectic. Pete (Rees) was actually a good guitarist. He was classically trained. The Gorillas released about four cassettes. I’d take the tapes Pete and I were making with The Gorillas into town to the EMI record shop. It was run by Roy Montgomery (Pin Group) and Roger Shepherd (head of Flying Nun). Roy would always buy one. Pete and I were too young to gig. The EMI shop was right in the middle of town. It’s not there anymore. It’s a souvenir shop now.

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Steve’s Room, Peterborough St, 1984 ©STU

Ryan: How did The Axemen get together? Stu (Kawowski) was playing with Bill Direen before the Axemen formed, correct?

Steve: Stu was playing with Bill Direen. While I was playing in The Gorillas I met up with Bob (Brannigan) in Dunedin through a guy who was in The Gasping Raspers—the first band I had in primary school. The Gorillas were still going when Bob and I started doing remote recordings. The internet wasn’t around then so we’d collaborate by sending cassette tapes off in the post to each other. Bob and I really hit it off. We started writing songs together and recording heaps of stuff. I’d go down to Dunedin for a weekend and then Bob would come up to Christchurch for a weekend. We’d visit each other two or three times a year. We didn’t have a multi-track so we’d overdub through cassette recorders. Bob and I recorded a bunch of stuff on cassette that ended up in the EMI record shop as well.

I met Stu in Christchurch. He was doing screen printing. I ended up doing screen printing as a job as well for quite some time. Stu was doing posters for The Gordons and the university. The core of The Axemen became me, Bob and Stu.

What really changed my life musically was the And Band and The Perfect Strangers gig (1980). I have a story about it on the Axemen’s blog. It was a seminal outdoor gig, held in a band rotunda in Christchurch. The guys in the And Band and The Perfect Strangers were art students. Stu was there and took a few photos of them. The And Band was George Henderson’s band—this was way before he formed The Puddle. The Perfect Strangers and the And Band were the most amazing things I had heard in my life.

Ryan: The Apartheid Government in South Africa has been gone for some time now, so it’s easy to forget how massive protests like the ones held against the South African rugby team’s tour of New Zealand were. I’ve read that The Axemen’s gig protesting the Springbok Tour more or less led to your formation.

Steve: Yeah. That was in 1981. Although I knew Stu he wasn’t in The Axemen yet. Stu took part in the protest against the Springbok Tour as well. Bob and I played in the Christchurch Cathedral.

Ryan: The earliest Axemen recording I have is Big Cheap Motel—which Tom Lax at Siltbreeze reissued in 2009. You guys had written all the material for that album in a single night, huh?

Steve: That’s right. We had a lot of different songs ready for the gig (Christchurch’s Summertime Festival, January 1984). Stu had gone to Hagley Park earlier and had seen all the Big M banners around—women sucking on straws—just before the festival. We wrote a heap of songs in reaction to that in one night.

Ryan: All of The Axemen were living in Christchurch at that time, right?

Steve: Yeah. That would’ve been around 1984.

Ryan: Christchurch bands like The Connoisseurs and The Axel Grinders were in your circle. Both groups didn’t record much—as far as I know The Axel Grinders only released a single on Dionysus (1990).

Steve: The Axel Grinders came a little bit later. I did a lot of busking with The Connoisseurs. I didn’t really go out on tour with them. Do you know about the PEP Scheme (Project Employment Programme)?

Ryan: No.

Steve: There used to be a program where if you were unemployed for six months or more you had to do a PEP Scheme. You either proposed one yourself or the government would provide you with one. It was like community service. The Connoisseurs did their community service by playing around in places like prisons. They were a pretty good band. All of the guys in The Connoisseurs played on the Three Virgins album. Johnny Segovia is about the best guitarist in New Zealand. Don’t tell Dragan (Stojanonovic) that!

Ryan: Rent Hamilton was in The Connoisseurs and played on Three Virgins.

Steve: That was Johnny.

Ryan: Really? All along I thought they were two different people.

Steve: Same guy. Johnny has been around for ages. He was playing in bands in the ’60s. Johnny used the name Rent Hamilton. The Connoisseurs were supposed to be brothers: Rent Hamilton, Doug Hamilton and Shorty Hamilton.

Ryan: Very Carter Family influenced.

Steve: Yeah.

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Ryan: The Axel Grinders were around in the late ’80s and early ’90s. What are your memories of them?

Steve: The Axel Grinders started out by doing covers. They even covered “We Care A Lot” (Faith No More). They played hard-charging skate punk. They pretended they were shit hot skateboarders but none of them could actually skate. (laughs) They took action shots of themselves skating. It was pretty funny. (Axel Grinder) Pat (Faigin) used to play with us whenever Stu wasn’t in town. We might have even done a gig with two drummers—Pat and Stu. Pat played with us quite a bit and I formed some bands with him. We shared a place together. I was living with some of the Axel Grinders in 1987. Celia (Mancini) joined the band later on. They started writing their own songs then. I have some recordings of them; I used to record bands quite a lot. The Axel Grinders did some good gigs and some really trashy gigs. It all depended on how drunk they were. I think The Axemen might have inspired Pat to start writing some songs. He was a pretty good songwriter.

Ryan: Three Virgins (1986) was the first double album Flying Nun released, right?

Steve: I think it was. They might have lost a little bit of money on it.

Ryan: You mentioned meeting Roger Shepherd at the EMI record store in Christchurch. How did you guys end of releasing material on Flying Nun?

Steve: Stu was the one who set that up. Stu was good mates with Doug Hood. Stu talked Flying Nun into it.

(Stu Kawowski: It was actually through Hamish Kilgour—who worked at Flying Nun and loved The Axemen. He backed our proposal to do the double LP with Flying Nun. He used to do live mixing for us at gigs a lot. He mixed us at the Big Cheap Motel live concert.)

Ryan: Three Virgins was recorded over a long period of time, correct?

Steve: No. It was recorded mostly at the State Trinity Centre in Christchurch. We hired it for the recording. Three Virgins did take a while to get mixed. Have you seen Stu’s movie Shustak?

Ryan: No. I know a little about Larence Shustak though. He was born in the 1920s in New York and shot photos of jazz musicians (Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, etc.) before moving to Christchurch.

Steve: That’s right. He was Stu’s art teacher. Shustak brought his four-track to the State Trinity Centre to record us. He had a nice four-track reel-to-reel. We hired the centre for the Easter weekend. We played with The Connoisseurs and did some overdubs later.

Ryan: Three Virgins is a lot to take in. Stylistically, you guys were all over the map: country music, shambolic punk rock—even snippets of conversation show up on the album.

Steve: Some of that was attributable to the busking we were doing with The Connoisseurs. We played a lot of different styles busking, depending on who was around.

Ryan: There’s a song about Hare Krishna on the album.

Steve: I hung out with the Hare Krishnas in Christchurch for a little bit. They used to have free vegetarian dinners on Sunday nights. The music was pretty cool. There was sort of a Beatles connection with Hare Krishna. Stu was really into John Lennon. We were all Beatles fans.

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Bob & Mystics Graff, Christchurch, 1985 ©STU

Axemen vs Big Brother(s) – round one

In a stunning David and Goliath legal challenge backdown, the Axemen came out with pea-shooters and slingshots blazing to bring the heavy handed but hamfisted WARNER BROTHERS franchise to its knees after its bullying challenge to the bands right to post their own material online.

The bizarre set of events began when Warner Bros, with their hordes of copyright lawyers and the huge stick of the publishing industry behind their back simply GOT IT WRONG, accusing the Axemen of infringing copyright which it claimed on the bands own material. A simple copyright search on APRA/AMCOS records would have shown the rush-to-judgment giants that all Axemen material published and released on Flying Nun, Sleek Bott, Silt Breeze, Negative Guest List, etc. is the sole property of Sleek Bott Publishing, with royalties being divided amongst the songwriters as appropriate.

The arrogance of Warner’s in assuming because they are the top feeders, swallowing up Flying Nun from the stomach of Mushroom records as almost a burp but finding some remnants of possible income in the bowels and seeing an opportunity to squeeze out a couple bucks from the ruminant remains, is astounding and simply serves to expose their greed and arrogance and highlight some of the injustices and the inherent unfairness of the existing copyright system.

A timely reminder to register your songs and protect your rights inasmuch as they can be protected, but at least avoid the ridiculous situation where a corporate can legally force you to remove your own material from display….

You can see the allegedly offending video at the link below in the backdown email from YouTube/WMG (Warner’s Music Group).

Never let it be said the Axemen take shit from the man!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: YouTube <no_reply@youtube.com>
Date: 29 July 2012 3:21:37 AM NZST
To: N0ISYLAND <noneofyourbusiness@somewhere.nz>
Subject: Information about your video ""Mourning of Youth" (1987) by AXEMEN"
Dear N0ISYLAND,
WMG has reviewed your dispute and released its copyright claim on your video, 
""Mourning of Youth" (1987) by AXEMEN". 
For more information, please visit your Copyright Notice page
Sincerely,
 - The YouTube Team
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

AXEMEN “Three Virgins” sure to rise again…

Like a phoenix, it’s flaming wings rendering liquefacted silt into weirdly shaped shiny psychedelic ceramic sculptures as it rises from the quake-decimated ruins of Christchurch’s State Trinity Centre, the penultimate Axemen tome “Three Virgins, Three Versions, Three Visions”  (commonly referred to in hushed tones as simply “Three Virgins“), well, more accurately, the four fragile lacquers of which are currently and patiently awaiting their turn at R.T.I. USA. Soon those lovingly engraved mothers will be slammed into steaming 180 gram piles of black vinyl, and slipped into exact replicas of the intricately elaborate 4-colour gatefold sleeve, the cost of said practically bringing Flying Nun Records to it’s knees back in the Christchurch of 1986.

The 22/2/11 quake-decimated ruins of Christchurch’s State Trinity Centre.

 

Kawowski’s vain effort to bake the original 7″ masters in a food-dehydrator, and transfer digitally proved unacceptable to his high standards of aural sensitivity. With the upwards nodding approval of the other 2/3 of the legendary flat-city triad, Steve ‘n Bob, together with the blessing of the sage Siltbreeze label boss T. J. Lax, Germany’s and possibly the world’s pre-eminate ‘needle drop’ exponent Thomas Hartlage of SHADOKS™ was contracted to place his own virgin pressing of the original 1986 pressing onto his unspeakably expensive transcription system, the result being a beautifully crafted replica with all aspects and nuances of the tricky trio’s debut vinyl of PQ (pre-quake) ChCh yesteryear. Not sufficiently content with this scintillating facsimile, the 24bit WAVs were broadbanded south to a dijkside upstairs warehouse near Amsterdam, where the legendary FIR International wove his mastering magic upon the 22 tracks, and soon after Mark at Prairie Cat Mastering in Illinois had manifested the four sides of the 88 minute set in shiny, shiny lacquer.

An announcement will be made shortly regarding worldwide availability of these waxy widgets. Keep watching here, and AXEMEN on Facebook.

Stop Press: In a generous 11th hour gesture, Shadoks & Fir International donated 60% of the mastering costs to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. In fact the whole exercise of re-releasing Three Virgins is all about the music, as the small 2nd edition pressing run will only produce 600 copies, and not return much of a profit to Siltbreeze’s hungry shareholders. The Axemen are very cognizant of this fact and super-appreciative of everyone’s efforts and generosity all round.

Tour Diaries: 2) Los Angeles, pre-tour

All Souls

Having now taken command of Los Angeles, and whilst allowing trade to continue as normal albeit under ein military regime, this is 2000 and some harrowing but major exceptions to the rule have decided, independent of the fully sanctioned and streets away, predictably, from where the real action was happening.

Hollywood 'n' Fry's
Hollywood 'n' Fry's

Notably, Stu and Steve (on behalf of the axemen as a partially available whole, or soul [‘The choice is yours, you tithe your 10% to your local rich-ass and you’re in line for the throne” struck out Pedro, his fb) buoyed by her decision to put a modicum of their eggs in one basket (as a causation equation and bearing in mind dragan and bob are initiated and primed to enter the arena at an unspecified yet predetermined time)

This first episode I call ‘WHITEY’

Science is fuck-all. We each have our own Memphis. We are all Elvis
Science is fuck-all. We each have our own Memphis. We are all Elvis. Who the fuck are you? - Steve Humann, thats who!

Checked out rental cars.  Some horseless carriages yippeeing up and restless, no doubt riled up by the host with the most, the antagonist, the chip mother, the screaming, breathing Grimm brother, th senseless one they don’t talk about, thy slipped a micky finn to one of those guys, who gives a fuck who.

HOWEVER

All Souls is an equal-fate non-soul-discriminatory story, primarily but not solely based on the sole premise that the soul’s sole is imprinted indelibly on the soul of the holy fisherman, the weeping fisher, the fishing weeper, the weeper who never fishes, across the river directly from the fisher who never weeps…
Ginger the sliced ginger guy grunts as he psycles off another few slices of ginger for the solely soulless. “Otherwise it’d be for the birds!” he quips, the word ‘birds’ rhyming with the oft-used-advertising phrase ‘dis iz forda boids’!, mostly famous for accentuating the long vowel sound in the 60’s.

Day 3 – We are off to Burbank Airport to check out rental vans.  stop.

AXEMEN USA TOUR :: TRAVEL DISTANCES & TIMES.

LAX, Los Angeles, CA

Mon-Oct-26

391 mi – about 5 hours 55 mins (up to 7 hours 20 mins in traffic)

Sacramento, CA

Tue-Oct-27, Sacramento, CA – Luigi’s Fungarden

86.7 mi – about 1 hour 30 mins (up to 2 hours 10 mins in traffic)

San Francisco, CA

Thu-Oct-29 San Francisco, CA Bottom of the Hill confirmed

72.8 mi – about 1 hour 18 mins (up to 1 hour 40 mins in traffic)

Santa Cruz, CA

Fri-Oct-30 Santa Cruz, CA Crepe Place

US-101 S 367 mi 6 hours 5 mins (7 hours 20 mins in traffic)

or I-5 S 348 mi 5 hours 43 mins

Los Angeles, CA

Sun-Nov-01 Los Angeles, CA Echoplex/Part Time Punks

373 mi – about 5 hours 27 mins (up to 7 hours 0 mins in traffic)

Irvine, CA

Mon-Nov-02 Acrobatics Every Day / UC Irvine

I-5 S 41.7 mi40 mins (2 hours 10 mins in traffic)

Phoenix, AZ

Tue-Nov-03 Phoenix, AZ Modified Arts

I-10 E 1,066 mi 15 hours 7 mins

Dallas, TX

Fri-Nov-06 Dallas, TX The Lounge on Elm St

221 mi – about 3 hours 41 mins

Austin, TX

Sat-Nov-07, Axemen TBA, TNV playing Fun Fun Fun Festival

I-30 E 647 mi 9 hours 44 mins

Memphis, TN

Mon-Nov-09 Memphis, TN Hi Tone

US-78 E 237 mi 3 hours 54 mins

Birmingham, AL

Wed-Nov-11 Birmingham, AL Bottletree

146 mi – about 2 hours 22 mins

Atlanta, GA

Thu-Nov-12 Atlanta, GA Star Bar

I-85 N 382 mi 6 hours 2 mins

Carrboro, NC

Fri-Nov-13 Carrboro, NC Local 506

I-85 N 312 mi 5 hours 26 mins

Baltimore, MD

Sat-Nov-14 DC / Baltimore Otto Bar

98.3 mi – about 1 hour 55 mins

Philadelphia, PA

Sun-Nov-15 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie

I-95 N 96.8 mi 1 hour 52 mins (2 hours 20 mins in traffic)

New York

Wed-Nov-18 NY Mercury Lounge

4.1 mi – about 13 mins

Brooklyn, NJ

Tue-Nov-19 NY NY Union Pool

Flatbush Ave 9.9 mi 30 mins

Hoboken, NJ

Fri-Nov-20. Maxwells

I-95 N 219 mi 3 hours 59 mins (4 hours 50 mins in traffic)

Boston, MA

Sat-Nov-21 Boston MA, Great Scott

I-81 S 779 mi 12 hours 42 mins

Morgantown, WV 123 Pleasant Street

Mon-Nov 23, Morgantown, WV 123 Pleasant Street

I-78 E 381 mi 6 hours 25 mins

Columbus, OH

Fri-Nov 27, Columbus, OH – TBC

205 mi – about 3 hours 15 mins

Chicago, Il

Sat-Nov-28, Chicago, Il – (instore & gig) venues TBC

I-70 W – 354 mi 5 hours 31 mins

New York

I-80 E 788 mi 12 hours 16 mins

TOTAL: Approx 7000 miles 😮

Gig Report: Chicks Hotel, Port Chalmers, Thurs Oct 1 2009 – The port with the charming name

Chicks – October 2009

Chicks @ Chicks
Chicks @ Chicks

If anyone was laying bets on to see who could be chosen to charm this gloomy yet cheerful neck of the woods the odds would probably not have had good pile of winnings had they invested in the dynamic pairing of those vehemently and unapologetically wizened old geezers [The Axemen] with the relatively youthful and still bouncy and vibrant Auckland-based chick and bloke combo [The Hairdos] at the South of the South Islands premiere music venue CHICKS Hotel in Port Chalmers.

The Location

Chicks - One Nite Only
Chicks - One Nite Only - gizza ticket bro!

Port Chalmers, the idyllic Southern town is of course just a sunny breeze away from that mestasising brooding musical hub of the South, South Dunedin, poorer of the two Dunedins group, and allegedly the inspiration behind Gaylenetms epic poem DUNEDIN.

SD, having spread its gull wings over the Octagon and smearing its majestic leaves outwards in order to imperfectly carpet the rest of the polygonal submetropolis that is Dunedin proper, or ‘the Dunedin Interface’, as hungry commuters wait to devour their buses, taxis and the famous trams and trains bustling through the hurdy-gurdy streets, the better to transport the throngs who have drawn the magic lots to go out and visit the poor cousins in the Charming Port just a stones throw away, has of course now become a touchstone for all visitors interested in getting a taste of the ‘olde’ Dunedin sound and the sights and smells of the city which at once enthralled and appalled those who uptook them in those heady days of the 80’s.

The People

Leila
Leila, Luk
You Can't Touch This!
You Can't Touch This! .... Stu's photo-timer is glaringly unaware of the 5-second rule - Steve and Marty's only too aware...

The axemen / hairdos combo has been firing up dancefloors across the island nation of nz since time immemorial (or at least for most of the year 2009) however this was the inaugural trip to the mainland for the follically annointed trio and the first visit across the rubicon of the mighty Kilmog for their adze-wielding cohorts in a number of years.

Axemen US Tour W/- Times New Viking – now with confirmed dates!

Times New Viking / Axemen US Tour

UPDATED OCT 24 2009! NEW DATES SEE BELOW….

The Axemen, in cahoots with Times New Viking /Ground Control Touring /Silt Breeze / Matador / Sleek Bott Records proudly announce the much vaunted US TOUR has now been confirmed!

View Latest Itinerary / Buy Tickets…

View Tour Map

  • Tue-Oct-27 Sacramento, CA Luigi’s Fungarden
  • Thu-Oct-29 San Francisco, CA  Bottom of the Hill
  • Fri-Oct-30 Santa Cruz, CA Crepe Place
  • Sun-Nov-01 Los Angeles, CA Echoplex (Part Time Punks)
  • Mon-Nov-02 Irvine, CA Acrobatics Everyday/UC Irvine
  • Tue-Nov-03 Phoenix, AZ Modified Arts
  • Wed-Nov-04 El Paso, TX Black Market
  • Fri-Nov-06 Dallas, TX The Lounge on Elm St.
  • Sat-Nov-07 Austin, TX Broken Neck
  • Mon-Nov-09 Memphis, TN Hi-Tone
  • Tue-Nov-10 Florence, AL The Black Owl
  • Wed-Nov-11 Birmingham, AL Bottletree
  • Thu-Nov-12 Atlanta, GA Star Bar
  • Fri-Nov-13 Chapel HIll, NC Local 506
  • Sat-Nov-14 Baltimore, MD  Otto Bar
  • Sun-Nov-15 Philadelphia, PA Kung Fu Necktie
  • Wed-Nov-18 New York, NY  Mercury Lounge
  • Thu-Nov-19 Brooklyn, NY Union Pool
  • Fri-Nov-20 Hoboken, NJ Maxwell’s
  • Sat-Nov-21 Boston, MA Great Scott
  • Mon-Nov 23 Morgantown, WV 123 Pleasant Street
  • Nov 27 Columbus OH, Oldfield’s On High
  • Nov 28 Chicago, Il Permanent Records instore
  • Nov 28 Chicago Il, Cave space (all ages)