The Weirdest Man In Show Business: Gibby Haynes Targets New Orleans
Gibby Haynes is known in music circles for two things: as the lead vocalist-agent-provocateur of the Butthole Surfers and for being an abject madman, a bullhorn-wielding, Rush Limbaugh-taunting, hand-igniting lysergic nightmare. He’s also known as one heck of a nice guy. At times, he personifies the city of Austin, Texas, the place that the Surfers are most associated with: a free-spirited but somehow horribly twisted love child that would rather screw with your head than actually sleep with you. His work with the Butthole Surfers is well-documented and often cited as an influence on any act trafficking in the realms of the psychedelic or the über-weird. He’s also performed in projects such as P (with Johnny Depp) and the Jackofficers, an often-overlooked electronic act he shared with Surfers’ bassist Jeff Pinkus in 1990. His latest musical output has been performing with members of R. Scully’s Rough 7, Egg Yolk Jubilee and the Morning 40 Federation, operating under various names and performing classic New Orleans rhythm and blues tunes. I talked to him about performing in New Orleans, gut-slingers and the link between the Nazis and the Olympics.
I know that the Butthole Surfers played New Orleans in the early ‘80s and—
Gibby Haynes: Yeah, we did. It’s funny because I was listening to some weird doo-wop show on some channel here. I didn’t hear the name of the band because I had just turned it on. And they said that there was a punk band there [New Orleans] in 1978 but it wasn’t like anybody I had ever heard. Who could that be? It wasn’t the Normals and it wasn’t the Men in Black.
Wow, you have a better memory than some of the people down here. There was also the Sluts.
No, it wasn’t the Sluts. In 1978 were the Sluts playing?
You’re right, the Sluts didn’t start until 1980, ‘81. Closer to the beginning of hardcore.
We’re actually doing a Sluts song.
Nice, which one?
“Fuck You.” [Laughs]
Back when the Surfers first played New Orleans, can you remember what your impressions were of the city? Did it live up to any expectations you had?
I came down for a Mardi Gras while I was in college. Probably around 1979, maybe 1980. And yeah, it was unbelievable. I hitchhiked back to San Antonio and just so happened we were hitting Houston, so I jumped off and there was a Black Flag show at some bar. And that was really crazy. Then I hitchhiked out the next day.
So you guys had come down as support for the Dead Kennedys on your first tour?
Yeah, that was probably one of the first shows we played in New Orleans.
I know that there have been a few Surfers gigs over the years here in New Orleans, but you didn’t stop here much on tour until the recent reunion shows. When you played in the Bingo! tent at Voodoo you said something about not taking so long to stop here next time; was there a reason for that?
I do remember we played at a really weird Australian bar there. It was swept over from the World’s Fair. And it was still open wherever they had that. It was a real unknown show. And it was before, or actually, when we were on our way to Georgia. It was a trippy gig, you know? we needed money to get to Atlanta, so we stopped in New Orleans. But the owner of the place, he had never heard of us so we kinda had to audition. So we did this audition; he agreed to let us play and then he gave us each 200 flyers. I think one was red and one was green; and he was going to pay us by however many flyers came in the door with our color.
That sounds like something that could happen here, actually.
Yeah, so we do the show and a good amount of people came out to see us. But one of the bands, I forget their fuckin name… they were pretty cool; they were a cover band from Alabama that played “everything from Presley to Costello” is what they announced. They were just a trippy new wave cover band. And the club owner, he hated us but we came in with all these people, so we played and after that all the people started leaving. The owner saw his beer sales running out the door, so he ran up and started throwing all of our equipment off the stage so he could get the next band on. He probably figured it was just a lack of bands. But we made our 200 bucks and got to Atlanta.
I’m still trying figure out which punk band from here in the ‘70s that radio show could have been talking about. There was the Wayward Youth, the Red Rockers…
It might have been the Red Rockers, actually. That reminds me of this one time the Sluts came to Austin and we went to see them and after, when they were going home, they got pulled over. They were in this hearse. So they got escorted out of the state, or maybe just a county, on their way out of Texas. I always wondered what the cops must have thought about those guys. Jesus. [Laughs]
Do you listen to any current acts from New Orleans?
I like the marching band scene and I like Quintron. I’m a big fan of his. And some close friends in New Orleans: Johnnie Mo, Jay Bob, Tommy Mommy Vomit. Tommy and Neil, the real estate magnate. He owned the PA that we used to use; but he was from Seattle, then he moved to New Orleans.
There was a rumor floating around in the ‘80s that the Surfers had moved to Athens, Georgia for a very specific reason.
It was Winterville, but yeah we lived in Georgia.
So the reason was that the band had moved there to stalk R.E.M., who are from Athens. This has always struck me as one of the stranger legends I’ve heard about a band. Can you confirm or dispel any of that?
We were definitely fascinated by the success of R.E.M. for some reason. I think we were, uh, I don’t know… maybe it was that we felt an ironic kinsmanship? I have no idea what it was! [Laughs]
What brought that back to me was a cover of “The One I Love (Fire)” that you performed at Voodoo while R.E.M. was setting up at another stage across the fairgrounds. I thought that was a nice touch.
It was our fantasy that we were loud enough so that they could hear it. They were setting up, so if they heard just a little bit of it, that would have been nice. You know they fired their manager for sexual harassment? He was making advances at a female employee of the band.
Since the Butthole Surfers were a nomadic band for a few years, was there ever any discussion about staying here or recording?
Well, we’ve always had friends in New Orleans. We might have considered it at one point, but it is a pretty hardcore place for guys like us.
The reunion concerts received a lot of favorable reviews; are there any plans to tour again? What about the possibility of new recordings?
Yeah, we did a few shows there while we were reunion-ing, and we’ll probably play there [New Orleans] again. But new music, I don’t know; it’s kind of pitiful, bands that old coming up with new material. Unless they just go off crazy, that’s kind of cool. When all of a sudden they just shift to early ‘80s synth-pop, that would be kind of a cool move if we did that.
Is there anywhere that you haven’t visited that the band might tour in the future?
Maybe on the other side of the Rio Grande, like Mexico City and Brazil. Maybe Tel Aviv. Istanbul rocks; they have tons of bands play there. They rock in Turkey. It would be cool to play in Istanbul on Thanksgiving, wouldn’t it? Anyway, what?
I’ve always had a hard time describing the sound of the band to someone who has never heard the Butthole Surfers. “Different” is the only adjective that I can come up with.
There was some website that I went on and you could search for the type of music that we played. And they had everything: country, punk, psychedelic, electronic… but the one that I really liked was non-music. I was like, yeaahh!
The project you’re working on with a large cast of local musicians here in New Orleans, is there an official name for it? I’ve seen a couple of different ones: the 12 Bar All-Stars and the Eunuch Horns.
We don’t have one. I don’t know, we just don’t have a name. We want to come up with a good one. Scully keeps liking the Eunuch Horns, anything with a horn in it. Hornography… do you know what a eunuch is? The dickless ones, the guardians of the harem. Lots of cultures have done that. They didn’t want the guardians getting the harem pregnant.
How did you start working with them? Were they already friends of yours or was it because you dug the bands they were in?
Well, Jello Biafra had done a similar thing a year earlier. I think it was for some club owner guy. And then Pinkus called me up and told me Scully could put together a good band.
When putting the idea together, was this conceived as a one-off? Or were there plans to make this a regular thing?
Well, the reason I’m coming back down there is so we can record a few songs, more like a couple. Do a 7-inch vinyl sort of thing. Probably not any originals. Maybe one—maybe.
Is there a playlist that the band is working from? Any specific direction being taken musically?
Just some classic New Orleans songs, as good as I can do them. Those guys are badass, so it depends on what lyrics I can remember. [Laughs] We want to record one by a band called the Party Boys, “You’ve Got To Party.” And I think we’re going to be doing a Chubby Checker song? No, wait, I know we’re doing a Little Richard song, but…
Maybe Fats Domino?
Yeah that’s it. I knew it was somebody big.
Has working with the band made you aware of music that you might not have discovered otherwise?
When I was in rehearsals there was some act that sounded like country, New Orleans jazz, punk and electronica and I was like, do they really do that? I mean, you can take any old soul song and sing it with a country and western voice and it sounds like—I don’t know what it is. Whenever I try to sing soul songs I just end up sounding like a hick. I don’t know why. [Laughs]
It’s all fair game. James Brown released a country album.
The first cowboys were black. They were African-Americans. However, the first Nascar racers were not.
Since there is going to be a record out, does this mean the band will tour?
No, we’re really hoping to play this show to get enough money to record. Hopefully, in a year or so we can record a couple more songs. I’d definitely come down to play more shows if I have the time; that’s what we want to do. It makes more sense to get good before we, you know, make the poster. Although I used to like that; back in Austin it used to be: make a poster, get a gig, get instruments, write some songs and then play the show. That’s basically what it was.
Are you still based in Austin?
I live in Brooklyn, have for a while now. The rest of the Butthole Surfers live in Texas and the guys in New Orleans you already know. Pinkus has said that he would like to live in New Orleans. He pretty much knows everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line that’s been to a bar. I just find the time when I can to come down. I have a two-year old son now so that takes up a lot of my time. He’s awesome. He just threw a French fry at the dog.
I have a couple of random questions about—
I hate the Olympics. The American coverage is so schlocky. It’s one big, fat human interest story. It’s like a parade of abused ghetto children making it big on the international stage with a Coke advertisement backdrop. Do you remember the American outfit controversy, that the American team’s outfits were made in China? Then it was that they were designed by Hugo Boss? And that Hugo Boss designed the uniforms for the Nazis?
Boss Hugo and the Nazis, that sounds like an old punk band name.
Hugo Boss had pictures of himself with Hitler. He designed the uniforms for the Hitler Youth, too. And they used prisoners of war to make them later on. I think Ralph Lauren was involved somehow.
I tend to think Ralph Lauren is at the bottom of a lot of things.
Now it’s Michael Phelps and the bong incident. Remember when it was that three week period where it was the face-eater, the roommate brain-eater and then the gut-slinger in New Jersey? And then the Canadian male-porn cat-eater? When the New Jersey gut-slinger threw his intestines at the police, on the same day there was another story that got shuffled to the back pages about a man that had beaten his wife to death with a sock full of jewelry that he had given her. And you’re not going to find shit about that. That was way too dark to cover. They probably made up the gut-slinger to cover up the sheer, nullifying impact of the darkness of the jewelry beater.
Thanks for the interview, Gibby, break a leg at the show.
I think it will be good; I hope it’s good. The real reason I want to play again is because last time, I smoked some weed and I had not smoked weed in over a year. I forgot all the lyrics! So I gotta come back and do it again. It took away my bitchin edge, so I won’t smoke weed this time.
Gibby Haynes and the Eunuch Horns will be playing One Eyed Jack’s on Sunday, September 2nd.