(and some MIKE NOLTE) INTERVIEW
It was great to
interview Joe Nolte and his brother Mike of The Last. Brief
history. Formed sometime in 1975 or sometime before that, The Last
predated the punk movement but fit it in well when it came to their
native Los Angeles in late '76. Effectively, they were the only
band of that era out there whose main inspiration was the 60's rather
than the current punk stuff. Listening to early Last records, one
notes a certain fondness for The Beach Boys as if they had been
a garage band! Other brother Mike Nolte also joined up. After three
incredibly obscure and unknown singles on their own Backlash label
in '77-'78 (the second of which, "Every Summer Day," notes
that there are only 150 copies! We assume there's as little of the
first "She Don't Know Why I'm Here," and the third "L.A.
Explosion"), The Last signed up to the Bomp label, Greg Shaw's
60's oriented company, and released their first LP in 1979 L.
A. Explosion. The mix is an abomination. The guitars and drums
are mixed so low they're almost not there sometimes. The original
of "She Don't Know Why," which was fortunately reissued
by Bomp so you can still hear one of the greatest pop garage singles
of all time, renders the LP version an embarrassment in comparison!
Likewise the rerecording of "Every Summer Day." Yet it's
still a well loved, classic LP, mostly because of the great songs
and three part harmonies of the Nolte brothers.
A second LP was
recorded in 1980, but for some reason was not released by the Bomp
label, who chose to release but 4 songs of it instead on a 12"EP!
Tapes that circulate reveal that it was a much better recorded LP,
and in many cases more exciting record, it's too bad it's been lost
all these years. In the midst of these difficulties, the original
lineup split, the 3 brothers separating, leaving singer / guitarist
/ songwriter Joe to carry on the group himself. The next Last released
a number of super compilation cuts on The Radio Tokyo Tapes,
The Rebel Kind, and Warfrat Tales, and some of these
tracks plus some outtakes were packaged as a French LP called Painting
Smiles on a Dead Man, including two rerecordings of second LP
tracks that didn't make it to the 12" EP. The band played rarely,
and quit in '85, ostensibly for good. Brother Dave showed up in
New York several times as a member of Wednesday Week, but nothing
was heard of Mike or Joe, who were said by David to have given up
reemerged (with brother Mike back in the fold) on the LA scene in
'88, signing to SST (Black Flag and The Last were always good friends,
living down the street from each other), and releasing a new LP
Confession. The album was produced by the biggest Last fan
of all, the Descendents / All drummer / songwriter Bill
Stevenson who also wrote the liner notes acknowledging his band's
debts to The Last. This release also produced their first ever US
tour, which made this interview possible, prior to their Maxwell's
gig in Hoboken, exactly a year ago this time during the New Music
Seminar (The Bats and Bailterspace supported). Since then, we've
received word that they've finished recording their fifth LP, and
perhaps another tour in support is in the works. Conversation opens
with why the three Nolte brothers split in the first place, since
bands with brothers rarely split, and why Mike is back now, and
why The Last themselves are back. Joe was especially entertaining,
which made this an enjoyable read when I read the transcript for
the first time a year later. A real likeable, talented guy, who's
an original and has been around, with such an impressive, well written
body of work to his name!
JOE: We went through this thing where no one wanted to
put out our second LP Look Again...
JR: Major labels?
JOE: Yeah. We thought "this is terrible."
So it got to a matter of who would break first. We got into this
whole personality thing which ended up with Mike and myself sort
of divorcing each other. Mike and I started the band a year before
David, a year before Vitus, and by the time we did L.A. Explosion
Mike and I were the only originals. We conceived the whole thing.
We decided to work together as the base, we had it totally conceptualized
what The Last was going to be. Around 1980, The Last ceased to be
that thing so we ended up splitting up. Mike left the band and it
wasn't the same. Whatever people think of Painting Smiles on
a Dead Man, it was a generic record. Not that anything was necessarily
wrong with the material, but, I don't know something was
wrong there, something wasn't working. We went through the motions
didn't want to be too hardcore, didn't want to be too 60's,
couldn't do the shit that was fun 'cause we wanted to be totally
accessible to the masses as possible. The whole point for The Last
was to fight that whole thing the reason we came into existence
was the mid 70's and the whole total pudding that passed for pop
music, you know? To become the enemy man . . . So it had
to end. It had to die. Mike and Dave briefly rejoined in '84, but
realized it was stupid, and in '85 we called it a day. No more,
goodbye. Dave joined Wednesday Week and Mike and I swore never to
do anything in music ever again. Lasted about a year and realized
gotta be in a band. So we decided to do it right. First it was just
gonna be acoustic, just me and Mike, Nolte Brothers, you know
fake Everly Brothers or something. And then we thought, nah
has to be electric. I said, OK, we've got to come up with a name
for the group. So Mike calls me on the phone like, very clever
he comes up with the worst name for a band ever. I forgot
the name what was it? "Banana" something. He said
think about it and gave me five minutes and called back and said,
"Just kidding it has to be The Last."
MIKE: I mean, we started the band, and after
I left they continued to call it The Last, when really The Last
is really a concept of Joe and I.
JR: You needn't justify it so, it's really
MIKE: Yes, but some people in L.A. resent it.
JR: Tough luck. Everybody else does it and
it's OK look at how many lineup changes Black Flag had, they
got down to one original member pretty fast! So long as the guy
who's the constant is really the driving force in the band, or the
songwriter . . .
JOE: The situation now is essentially the same
as it was in the mid 70's. What passes for pop music is the most
inane watered down version of fake funk. The good bands are for
the most part buried under the ground. There is more of a scene
than there was then, but it still needs like, originally
we formed this group back then 'cause there wasn't really a group
we were interested in following.
JR: That was most people's motivation back
JOE: I suppose. That was interesting. When
we started it was all pre-Sex Pistols records. What you would hear
about them in the press was just a bad take off. Then "Anarchy
in the UK" came out one of the 5 or 6 best rock 'n'
roll records to ever exist. They turned everything around. They
turned the entire L.A. scene into English wannabe's. Everyone had
that look. Before that, everyone looked New York like the Ramones.
At the time we started the idea was to get just enough money to
move to New York, 'cause we figured that scene would never make
it out to the west coast!
JR: I wish you had!
JOE: Actually, we started playing a bar. We
figured maybe we could do that Television thing here, convince some
bar guy (like Hilly at CBGBs - ed) to let us play, but it just didn't
JOE: God, they changed it. It was called the
Flame Pit. They turned it into a cowboy bar shortly thereafter.
We would do the standard bar stuff, wait for people to get drunk
and then start doing Velvet Underground and Iggy and the
Stooges. And it worked. People were digging it, but - naaahhh!
You need a total inner city environment, so you get enough people
feeding off each other to make it a scene. You can't do it 80 miles
from the rest of L.A.
JR: So tell me about the unreleased second
album. Did you pay for it yourself, and if not, if it was paid for
by Bomp owner Greg Shaw, why did he oppose it?
JOE: That was recorded on a "spec"
deal. The studio said if we used their producer they would front
us the money in exchange for a percentage of the royalties when
we signed to a major label.
JR: Well if that was the case, how did you
get the rights to release those 4 songs off it on that 12"?
JOE: I don't know. That EP was our farewell
agreement with Bomp.
JR: Do you agree that the production on L.A.
Explosion was badly muted, like no guitars?
JOE: Drums, anyone? (laughs) Well, the problem
was that up to now, excluding our new album Confession, we
were at the mercy of a producer who probably never saw us live.
Usually a part of the recording deal fools that we were!
JR: Was it the engineering or the mix that
was at fault? Were the actual raw takes better, have you ever considered
remixing an rereleasing it?
JOE: Better, but not good enough. Fools that
JR: Why did you never tour, never play outside
JOE: It just never happened. Not that we didn't
want to. This isn't to get too specific, but this is the first lineup
that hasn't had clouds of doom. We always had rational people
in the band before, also lack of motivation and togetherness. Can't
worry about money or anything gotta just go!
JR: Do you have a lot of unrecorded tracks
JOE: Oh yeah!
JR: Do you accept bribes?
JOE: We can work something out.
JR: How many tracks are we talking here?
JOE: Vitus originally wanted to be a producer,
so we were the band. We have demos going back to '76.
JR: How many albums would it take to fill up
your entire unreleased catalog?
JOE: Geez, don't let me calculate that! (laughter)
JR: Did Dave want to get back in the band when
you and Mike reformed it this time?
JOE: Well yeah, but there wasn't enough elbow
room. We still get drunk and jam together, but you know...
JR: Any 3 Nolte Brothers reunions on stage?
JOE: Nah. Well, we did a supergroup once, the
three of us with Bill Stevenson (of Descendents/All) on drums, he's
the one who produced our new LP. We did that whole second album
that never came out until he broke his drums. That's the only reason
why I use the electric 12 string guitar live, 'cause I break strings
all the time (the way he flails at his guitar, that's no surprise
JR: So here you are finally out of LA. Where
else would you like to go?
JOE: Just last week we were talking with (SST
heads) CHUCK (DUKOWSKI) AND GREG (GINN) about Europe.
JR: You were always more popular there, right?
JOE: We were sold everywhere so it's hard to
JR: Who do you feel an affinity with in LA?
JOE: We will just miss All by a week or so.
We still see the Bangles and (now split) 3 O'Clock. We
share studio space with All, Redd Kross and the Pandoras.
We all go back and we're all friendly with SST. It's kinda cool
that we're all still around.
JR: Ever wonder what happened to other bands
of your era like Skulls, Controllers, Eyes, Bags?
JOE: Yeah, what did happen to them?
Every once in a while you run into someone you thought was dead.
JR: For instance, when was the last time you
ran into the old Controllers' drummer Carla Mad Dog?
JOE: Shit! Not since their final show at the
Hong Kong Café when Rik L Rik (from F-Word and
Negative Trend) did an encore with them and they trashed
all their instruments.
JR: Good way to go out! We won't be needing
JOE: I'm kinda proud of the whole scene that
came out of Black Flag's Church home. They all did pretty
well for a short time.
JR: What do you think of all these bands who
are now so inspired by the 60's, when you were practically the only
punk band of the late 70's to be so rooted in that sound, way before
that whole "Paisley Underground" thing in the early 80's?
Did you ever feel resentment that they made it and you didn't, when
you were doing it 6 years before?
JOE: We did a little bit, but if you worry
about what other people are doing to the point of just cashing in
on something we did for them, I think it's more indicative of a
problem that you have of what are they doing that you didn't
JR: That's the basic loaded question. Does
it not bug you to see these people selling zillions of LP's while
none of the labels would sign you years before them? You weren't
JOE: No. First of all, we are living up to
our name! (laughs) Second of all these are bands that are friends
of ours. Third of all we need to figure out what we need
to do. I think we can be the band we want to be, not compromise,
not sell out to make it.
JR: By the same token, do you resent that these
people made such a fashion out of it, a revivalist clothing trip
and attitude trip / sound trip, when you were basically fashionless
and modernizing the old rather than just glorifying it?
JOE: The first 25 were all right then it got
JR: Anything else to say?
JOE: Yeah, yeah. Figure 2 or 3 hours a year
since '76 if you took all the outtakes and stuff, there's a lot
of stuff that is basically releasable. As far as all that Paisley
stuff, I take it as a compliment of sorts, as a vindication of what
we were doing when it wasn't cool to do it. We're still us. I think
this version is going to kick ass over all our other versions eventually.
We don't have to force the sound on anyone. The best thing about
this band is that we never play the same song the same way. And
that's what rock 'n' roll is all about. We were doing that before
the punk stuff, there was so much stuff in the mid 60's that was
real exciting, things just went down a different road. We're not
a revival band. I knew Michael (Quercio) and Susannah
Hoffs and the Roebacks and Steve Wynn before they
started their bands and they just went to see us. We just
happened to be the first band doing it there. But just looking at
the sales of L.A. Explosion, we couldn't have had
that influence around the world.
MIKE: Would you believe that Susannah Hoffs
wanted to fill in for me when I left the band? Joe didn't want it!
JOE: No girls! I wanted harmonies and she couldn't
imitate his voice.
JR: Before tonight's show, what was the farthest
you got out of LA? San Francisco?
JOE: Not that far! San Diego!
JR: San Diego!!! An hour away!!! Well, welcome
to New York and Congratulations!!!
JOE: It's about time!