The Big Takeover #26 | The Big Takeover #27
from: The Big Takeover #26


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 music.

Fortunately, they 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 OK.

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 then.

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 work.

JR: Where?

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 we were!!

JR: Why did you never tour, never play outside of L.A.?

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 lying around?

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 — ed).

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 tell.

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 these anymore!

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 do!

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 considered commercial?

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 dull!

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!

Jack Rabid

from: The Big Takeover #27


THE LAST (from L.A., Pyramid 8/15/89, The Beat, Port Chester, NY 8/16/89, Maxwell's 8/17/89, Knitting Factory 8/19/89)

For a band that didn't make it to New York (or anywhere else for that matter, save for one San Diego gig) until their twelfth year of existence, they've now played here 6 times in 13 months! These four shows mixed material from their new SST LP's, last year's Confession and the brand new Awakening well, with the best cuts from both. Still not many cuts from '79's L.A. Explosion, 80's unreleased Look Again or 83's Painting Smiles on a Dead Man, just the set ending "She Don't Know Why She's Here" (still their alltime classic), which was great! (Those who attended the Port Chester gig also got 3 more first LP numbers, "Slavedriver," "Every Summer Day" and "Looking at You," all with a guest drummer . . . who me?) Interestingly enough, their regular drummer couldn't make the tour 'cause of a tour by his own band CHEMICAL PEOPLE (in fact the two bands played together at the Maxwells show), but his replacement (ex-WEDNESDAY WEEK) was much better, a much more nimble beat than the regular guy, so these shows were even better than last year's seminar gigs (that's also why they couldn't play more old stuff, hadn't taught the new guy anything but the modern set). Again, it seems like JOE NOLTE wanted to break every last string on his 12 string Rickenbacker the way he slashes at it like a cat with a string. An obvious punk rocker who's been "trapped" in a mildly psychedelic pop group all these years; you should hear the loud version of THE WHO's "Substitute," done half way between the original and the SEX PISTOLS' version. Joe was even windmilling like PETE TOWNSEND, ha ha. We also got "She Loves You" and "Baby It's You," but it was the originals that did the best damage, "Garden Grow"'s furious snare drum sixteenth notes pounded out the chord changes. MIKE NOLTE took the lead and shook off a faulty keyboard amp on "Another Day," and Joe sang the intro without a mic at the top of his lungs on "Going Gone." "So Quick to Say" opened like a screamer and never let up. Four smokin' if sparsely attended (don't miss 'em next time) gigs, from rags to riches. Never get tired of 'em. Glad to see 'em touring regularly!

Jack Rabid

[Joe sez: We must assume the songs Jack refers to are "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" and "Another Side"]