from: Moods For Moderns

The Last: Condensed History of Rock 'n' Roll

The Last is an LA band that combines all kinds of rock 'n' roll (folk rock, surf, hardcore, sixties punk, rockabilly, British Invasion, you name it) into one high-powered, single-minded conglomeration. The band consists of Joe Nolte (guitar, vocals), David Nolte (bass), Vitus Mataré (keyboards), and John Frank (drums). The group has released four singles ("She Don't Know Why I'm Here"/"Bombing of London," "LA Explosion"/"Hitler's Brother," "Every Summer Day"/"Hitler's Brother," and "Every Summer Day"/"Slavedriver"), one album (L.A. Explosion), and will soon have a new release on BOMP Records.

This interview took place at the Whisky August 25th, and included Joe Nolte, Mike Nolte (former backup singer for The Last), Top Jimmy (local scene fixture and R 'n' B singer, who wandered into the room with Jill), Amanda Toy, Lizanne Salmi (moral support) and Gwynne Garfinkle (me).

Gwynne: Why was The Last formed?

Joe: For fun.

Gwynne: For fun?

Mike: For kicks.

Joe: We didn't have anything else to do. It was either form The Last or become accountants.

Mike: Or electronic engineers.

Joe: Yeah, electronic engineers. Now, when I was eleven, I saw a Beatle double-feature, and I said, "I wanna do that." So that's why The Last got formatted. Except that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunately, because I was only ten years old in 1966. So by the time I could play electric guitar, it was already like '68, '69, which is too late for rock 'n' roll, so I had to sit out the seventies.

Gwynne: If only you had been born ten years earlier.

Joe: Yeah, but there was too much competition. I mean, the Beatles would've happened anyway. So right now it's great, because there are a lot of good bands, but there is no band that's really great right now. The field is wide open, so we came along at the right time.

Gwynne: So when did you first start any sort of band?

Joe: '68.

Gwynne: Which was...?

Joe: I forgot. We did Monkees songs. I had punk rock bands in junior high, we called ourselves Dead End, things like that. Played heavy metal, Seeds and stuff. I've been playing in and out of bands since '68. Twelve years. What am I doing? Wasting my time. Mike was smart, he just sat and wrote songs. Mike was gonna be a singer-songwriter.

Gwynne: How come so few of the songs are being played?

Mike: Oh, my songs? Joe tears them apart and throws 'em in his songs.

Gwynne: What about "Pallbearer?" I heard all this stuff about "Pallbearer."

Mike: Vitus tore that one apart. Everyone takes turns on me. Terrible. I have no objections, though. I like standing in the shadows.

Gwynne: How long do you think it'll take for the Last, and other bands like the Last, to get popular?

Joe: Could take a month, could take two years.

Mike: Only God knows.

Joe: And He's not telling. No, those kinds of things are even foolish to talk about, 'cause people who are doing it because they think they can make money out of it, or go into it with a real calculated attitude like "Oh, this is new wave, if I play this type of music I can get popular" have a totally wrong attitude. The true artist, people who are really good or people who have to do it and would have to do it whether there was a scene or there was any market for it or not, you know, the only people that count, you gotta feel the burning that just has to come out. And what's wonderful about right now is that you can do it and make money, maybe, at the same time, so you can keep doing it... retire at the age of 29, become a junkie.

Mike: It's the only way to go.

Joe: Do you want this to be a serious interview or joking?

Gwynne: Oh, whatever...

Joe: Okay, good.

Amanda: Joking.

Gwynne: She needs to be entertained.

Joe: Right, the whole reason we're doing this is to entertain Amanda.

Gwynne: After all, she just got back from camp.

Joe: Continue.

Gwynne: Okay. Do you think that —

Mike: Pushy!

Gwynne: He said, interrupting. Do you think that teenagers have changed since the sixties? Why don't they want to listen to stuff like "Satisfaction?"

Joe: Well, teenagers change, but they change back. In terms of demographics...

Mike: This is a Joe Nolte interview.

Joe: You can talk about the record-buying public, which starts with the eight or nine year olds. And, pretty much, eight or nine year olds are trying to be just like the junior high kids. The junior high kids are trying to be just like the high schoolers. The high schoolers are trying to be like the college kids. the college kids are just having fun. The college kids are the real variants. You know, there's something cool happening, they'll get into it. What happened in the sixties was all the college kids were getting drafted, sent off to war, so they were very politically aware, and very into action and things like that. They weren't able to kick back like their counterparts in the early-to-mid fifties. You know, there was a lot of stuff we take for granted now: relative integration, freedom of speech, lack of censorship, all that stuff did not exist. America, prior to the mid-sixties, was very repressed and so there was a need, you know, college kids felt all this repression and wanted to do something about it. Rock 'n' roll just summed up their frustrations musically, and lyrically, for that matter. so they were a very politically aware generation. They were very much into rock 'n' roll, and very into drugs, unfortunately, and what happened was that things got crazier and crazier and came into a head in, say, 1970, when a lot of people started dying, people got killed by the National Guard, a lot of the rock heroes died, people died at Woodstock and Altamont. You know, lots of horrible things, and all of a sudden, it's like everybody just turned to each other and said, "This is stupid, it's not worth it, we've gone too far, let's kick back," and blam, next thing you know, the big sellers of 1970 and 1971 were Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. You know, the real mellow stuff. It's like people somehow thought that they'd been listening to too much rock 'n' roll. Subconsciously they thought, "We've been listening to this stuff too much, and we have sinned, and now we're being shot for our sins, so we will mellow out and be nice." And things got worse and worse. Because of the mellow years, say '69 through '71, people forgot what rock 'n' roll is all about. And when rock 'n' roll came back, it was fake rock 'n' roll. You had the heavy metal bands, you had Led Zeppelin, etc., etc., that were not really rock 'n' roll. They were going through all the motions, they played real loud, they did all the right tricks, but there wasn't any gut feeling there, there wasn't anything that made you want to jump up and down and go crazy. You know, it was stuff that you could sit back and smoke dope and go to the Forum with ten million other people and mellow out to. The seventies was the Me Generation; they just wanted to relax and get their hot tubs and make money, nobody gives a shit anymore about the fact that America was slowly but surely becoming a police state. And that came to a head...

[Top Jimmy and Jill appear]

Joe: Jill and Jimmy... We're having an interview here, with a world-famous, yet unknown, fanzine.

Jill: Sounds exciting.

Joe: It is. anyway, it took seven or eight years--

Jimmy: Wow, how exciting!

Joe: Innit! So anyway, things basically work in cycles. You have the fifties, which is real--

Jimmy: It's like the weather, man, it comes every two years.

Joe: (laughing) It's like Jimmy, you know...

[Jill and Jimmy exit]

Mike: Was that Top Jimmy?

Joe: That was Top Jimmy. The famous Top Jimmy. You ever seen Top Jimmy?

Gwynne: Yeah, I saw him once.

Joe: Great... Anyway, things go in cycles. You have the forties, which was real exciting, the early forties, with the war on, you know, and everybody was real hip and there was lots of real exciting big band music and jazz stuff to listen to. And then the war got over and people relaxed and kicked back and listened to stuff like (sings), "Love is a many splendored thing..." and garbage like that. But then people got bored with it, so the next cycle, the fifties, happened, the first rock 'n' roll cycle. Then that started to peter out, and then the British Invasion came along and really gave it an extra surge of speed, so you had a classic rock 'n' roll era from '63 to '67. Then that gradually petered out and you had ten years of boredom. And then the punk thing happened and gradually evolved into new wave, and we're on the verge of the third great rock 'n' roll cycle, and we've got this new generation, the new wave generation. We're seeing maybe half the teenagers now, and three-fourths of the junior high kids, and all of the kids that are in elementary school now are into this stuff. And I think it's very exciting and I hope they all buy our records and we make a lot of money because I'm tired of flipping burgers...

Mike: And I'm tired of living in Inglewood, and I'm tired of working a forty-hour week, and...

Joe: We just moved to Inglewood.

Mike: And I'm tired of--

Gwynne: You're sick of it already.

Mike: Mm-hm.

Joe: We've got to do another set tonight.

Mike: Mm-hm.

[Jimmy and Jill return. Everyone talks about X, 'till finally we remember that this is an interview.]

Joe: Ask Mike this one.

Gwynne: Okay. Mike Nolte, how would you describe...

[Everyone talks at once, drowning me out.]

Mike: Shh! This is a question for me, so everyone shut your mouths!

Gwynne: How would you describe the Last's music?

Mike: How would I describe the Last's music...

Jimmy: It's the end.

Mike: Thank you. He explained it.

Gwynne: Next question?

Mike: Next question.

Gwynne: Not counting horrible jobs that you hate doing, if you could not be a rock singer, what would you want to be?

Mike: A director of films.

Gwynne: Why?

Mike: 'Cause I admire Alfred Hitchcock, and I admire his films, and I wanna do just that.

Jimmy: Aw, I thought you wanted to be a truck driver, man. Shit.

Mike: That's my second choice.

[Everyone starts talking about truck driving and X.}

Jimmy: Next question!

Joe: Next question.

Gwynne: What's you favorite Last song?

Joe: Mike, you answer.

Mike: My favorite Last song...

Joe: "Be Bop a Lula."

Gwynne: Why?

Joe: 'Cause I didn't write it. 'Cause it's fun, because I can scream and everybody--

Jimmy: Because if Gene Vincent came out today the fucking assholes would rip him apart because his fucking words don't mean anything. You know, it's just cool, it don't say nothing, it don't mean nothing, it's just cool. Excuse me, I'm talking for the Last.

[Joe laughs]

Jimmy: It doesn't have to say anything, mean anything, be anything, it's just cool. Just cool.

Joe: There you go. That's why "Be Bop"'s cool, because it communicates--

Jimmy: It's like cool shoes, man, you can't go hiking in them, because they're cool. Because they're cool. You know, they don't serve any functional purpose, they don't last long, you can't do anything with them but they're cool.

Joe: Or to put it another way--

Jimmy: To put it another way, "Shut up, Jimmy!"

Mike: My favorite Last song is "Snake in the Grass."

Joe: I'll write all these words, that have all these poetic implications and all these different meanings, layer upon layer of stuff, and then you can do "Be Bop," which communicates, and says as much to people, and has maybe like five words in the song. Pure expression for the sake of expression, and you don't have to use words that have more than two syllables.

Jimmy: It's just your straight fuck-music, you know. Just your basic hump-sound.

Joe: That's it, it's the hump-sound.

[interview by Gwynne Garfinkle; photos by Gwynne Kahn]