INTERVIEW WITH TOM YOUNG

Did you ever go to University in Dunedin?

Absolutely not. I tried to go to art school.

What happened?

The year I went to art school was the first year that I moved out of my parents house and also the first year I moved into a place called Rebel High, which was an ex-Black Power Headquarters that we turned into a DIY venue. We had a lot of incredibly boozy, underage greasy parties with punk bands playing and I decided that that was also the year that I would go to art school and try to focus on being an artist. It didn’t work. I learned a lot at art school, but I decided that I was much more interested in the culture that surrounds music than the culture that surrounds being a visual artist and trying to get gallery shows.

Visual art is still very much integrated into your creative output as Freddy Fudd Pucker. Limited edition hand made booklets of your drawings are often attached to the albums.

The same bullshit that any visual artist would say is that I can’t stop doing it. You’re always drawing pictures 'being creative' and as far as it goes as having a product for Freddy Fudd Pucker to sell, it’s because I think that no one really wants a CD. It’s a piece of fucking plastic. Especially in the age of digital music where you can download anything you want, or you can still pay to download, if you want the music you can get it.  But if you want to support Freddy on tour, then I feel like I would much prefer people had something physical that I hope would be interesting to read than a piece of plastic that has a CD in it.

I’ve heard that you can sometime be found in car parks spray-painting merchandise minutes before a show starts.

It’s just that I am very unorganised. I’ve never been very good at making sure that I will have everything for the next month of touring. There is also the thing where I have been encouraged by people buying the shit that I have just made in the parking lot. People often looking at me like I am a bum outside and then realizing that I am the one performing at the venue. People are like, “Oh I guess I’ll take one of those things that guy outside was working on.”  I’ve been encouraged by that, you know.  Whether that is a good thing, I don’t know. It’s probably just encouraged by slackness.

Do you think that people want to participate in the spontaneity of the musician making his merchandise in the carpark?

I find that’s important. There was a pretty funny moment in Munich [Germany]. I was on tour and Matt was in the van and I was supporting this band that I didn’t particularly like their music. A pretty well known band in Europe, I guess, and there were 1000 people at the show. It was a big show for me. While the band was sound checking we pulled our shit car in front of the tour bus and Matt’s very hung over from the night before and he opened the passenger door and starting vomiting everywhere.   Royal Republic are a pretty popular band and there was 50 to 100 people waiting to get in, and I’m in front of the van spray painting and I’m like, “Oh, come-on.”  It was shit. Not just because of the vomiting but because we looked like shit. Then that night I managed to scrape together forty-eight Freddy CD’s and we sold them all. People loved the music and they were all clapping along… although it’s fucking Europe so people love clapping.

They saw my drunk side-kick/tour manager and I’m trying to spray-paint my merchandise and there is puke spraying on it. People bought that shit, they want to take part in it. Maybe they find it romantic or something – the shitty travelers.   It’s never been a problem. The self-made stuff people kinda like it (laughs). But in all seriousness, it’s nice that people can see things function on a level that I like to function on and I know a lot of other musicians that like to function on this DIY thing.   There are no flashing lights, it is not a rock show, you can take part in this thing that I do and help me along the road, and the puking outside the van, maybe there was an element of pity.

Let’s talk about your travels through the States.

The States are full of those stories. A lot of the tours that I did there with Sarah [Gautier a.k.a Whippy Dip] were pretty grim. A lot of the US is grim.  I’m not playing at the hip new club that a lot of beautiful people are lining up to get into.   It’s people who are living in poverty that want some entertainment. Fuck yeah! We’ll invite this guy into the neighbourhood.   So a lot of the stories from the US are basically the same story as I just told. People are like, “Come inside I’ve got some soup on the stove”.  But I don’t want it to sound as though I don’t have a good time, it’s just the fact it’s not glamorous touring as Freddy.  It’s a formative part of my philosophy of making music.

What was the motive for the first time that you went to the States?

I was in Wellington working a really great job making dildos. It was awesome. I had a really great lifestyle, going to shows and having a really great time.   I was an early twenties fresh-faced man having a great time and I was totally bored. Morbidly depressed bored. And I remember thinking, I’m good at music, I want to go on tour. I want to go do stuff. I’m going to go try and book a tour of the US for three months – which was incredibly hard.

How did you even start?

There are a couple of websites and databases.   A couple of them my now good friends made. www.dodiy.org is an amazing resource that has now become a world-wide thing but very much still US centric. And it was constant cold-calling via emails. That first US tour I must have wrote hundreds, bordering on thousands of emails, of which I got, before I went to the U.S, fifteen or twenty shows. And then when I got to the US it started the rolling ball. Hey, you’re a really nice person, I like your music I guess, but it’s actually more important that you’re a nice person and want to do your thing. That’s how it started rolling. So I did a three-month tour with a couple of good friends in the van. There was a tour schedule, but by no means was this a tour of playing shows every night. Some nights we would be sleeping in the van because there is no show for another four nights – literally eating beans out of hubcaps and living like a hobo ‘cause it’s boring working a job in New Zealand. That’s how I felt at the time.

Is the mentality still when you go to the States that you are just trying to get enough money together to get to the next town?

I’ve toured the States, four, five, six, seven, whatever times, and it’s never gotten any 'better'.   Freddy hasn’t gotten any notoriety. It’s still the same grind. What has changed is that I’ve got friends that make it a little easier to visit the town or a town just down the road.

So now your heading back to the States in a couple of days?

This time I am playing a punk rock festival in Florida, but to me it makes no sense to go to the U.S for one weekend. I’ll go meet friends and play gigs, exactly like we were talking about and already there are a couple of shows that I will play for friends of friends that I don’t know. I’m basically playing Pennsylvania and New York State and then traveling down to Florida. I’m going to play in small towns in Pennsylvania that are not hot on the tour schedule. I know that when we put on a show there, there will be 25 to 30 people there and it’s going to be real fun.

Your philosophy, which is still very much rooted in the punk/DIY scene, is you’ll play anywhere and you often put out the call on your website to invite random strangers to have you perform in their living room.

It’s more like when I meet someone who puts on a show in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, and there are 15 people at the house show and I meet all these nice people and we have a really good night together. Two people buy a CD, or two people liked it enough that had enough money that they could come and ask me. Then I have conversations with people and they are like, “Yeah, my brother lives in Harrisburg which is two hours away and he would love you to get in touch with him”.  But maybe on this tour I can’t, but people like the idea of this thing happening. It’s not always necessary that people love my music more than other people’s music, and everyone has to hear this shit, it’s so good that everyone has to hear it. It’s more that they like the idea of this thing happening and it’s a combination of performer and the person that is willing to organise their friends to come to this specific time to see this performer play and the people that are willing to do that as well. The people that are willing to go to an often socially awkward situation that is a house show or a small DIY music show that doesn’t have big lights. There is nothing to hide behind, we are all just engaged in this together.

I remember going to an exhibition by the late Australian photographer Rennie Ellis at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and seeing a picture of your dad standing in front of the Hollywood sign with the other band members from Mothergoose.

From what I can gather, that photo was pretty unique, those guys are all from south of Christchurch, New Zealand and those guys were in Los Angeles making a record because they were in a rock band, which in the late 1970s was pretty gnarly for New Zealanders.

Do you think that having your dad as the song-writer for Mothergoose set yourself up to be a musician?

Mothergoose wasn’t really a thing we talked about growing up. I didn’t really talk about Mothergoose until I was 20. The band and the guys that were in the band talk about how it was a very different time. They were alone, and very driven, and for sure, one of the first bands to make it out of New Zealand because they wanted to. It wasn’t like someone picked them up and said, “Oh yeah we’ll go to Australia and some promoters will put us on”. They were hunting for it, trying to get the fuck of New Zealand and tour and be this big rock band. They were a great band, but also with the US they really tried to make it.

Did you ever ask your dad what it was like to be a New Zealand rock star?

I haven’t really talked much to my dad about my music. I do recall when I was growing up, I made recordings of my music in the basement, even after I had stopped living with my parents, and my dad saying (cause I was in punk rock bands and stuff) after hearing one or two of my songs recordings, “Hey maybe that’s something that you should think about, like maybe you don’t need to be in a band to make music. You’re kinda good at song writing and maybe you don’t need a band.”

So he pushed you to be a solo artist?

Yeah, or explained in a fatherly way, “Maybe you could do that by yourself.” But at the time, I was like “Fuck that, Punk rock”. In hindsight it probably was pretty influential.

Mothergoose did rub off on me as a creative person that puts things out as extroverted and a person who is willing to put things out there. My dad was the main songwriter, he wrote very personal and very emotional songs, but they never took themselves seriously. They took their music very seriously but they never took themselves very seriously. So they dressed up in ridiculous costumes: there was a ballerina, there was a bumblebee there was a boy sailor, there was a baby. I’ve had many drunken conversations with my dad, band mates and ex-band mates about this and one of the things that they were very clear that they didn’t want to be the next Rolling Stones or serious rock dudes. As a live performance they wanted it to be fun and they didn’t want to do serious rock poses and this has rubbed off on me. I’m pretty sure. Take your art seriously, don’t take yourself seriously.

Tell me about the new album that’s just been released.

The new album lyrically deals with confusion and how to spend your time in Western civilization – how you choose to use your time. The book MOMO written by Michael Ende is an amazing piece of writing about time and capitalisation. Basically the bad guys in MOMO are the grey men who are time thieves. The grey men are a time bank so they take peoples’ time and look after it for them.  Everybody is really busy because they don’t have enough time and they have to pay interest on their time. It’s really fucking cool. So I was reading this book a lot while I was writing a lot of the lyrics. The album is not about the book but it was heavily influential on the lyrics for the album.

Your lyrics are also often infused with politics of migration.

So I find myself in a situation constantly in which I’m allowed to travel because of my little book that I have called a passport.  I’m allowed to visit for a certain amount of time, most of the countries in the world and a lot of people aren’t. So naturally this goes around and around in my brain.  What makes my physical body inside a space socially or politically acceptable as a citizen or a visitor, and yet someone else coming from a different set of circumstances can be called any number of things?   Labels can be dangerous. Naturally I try to say things with my songs as opposed to writing another love song.

You always read about fashionable music scenes and Berlin being one of them. However, you don’t play so much here though?

I think that there are elements of not wanting to play into the idea of being a musician and moving to a city to make it. I don’t really subscribe to this idea of making it in the music business, so Berlin for me is a very nice place to be with friends. It’s a very creative place. I go to shows, three, four, five, six times a week, so I get a lot of input. There is stuff happening all the time. I don’t necessary want to play here so much, I do play here, but I’m not trying to build an empire for myself. I like to tour.

After ten years of DIY, this new album starts to take you away from controlling every detail and getting other people to help you book tours.

Partly it’s coincidental, but things are still DIY as shit. Maybe I’ve now got a growing number of people that appreciate my music enough to get involved. I did write to two or three or four people to see if anyone wanted to help me with this album and Monkey records got back to me. It’s not so much that I am sick of doing it myself, but I feel like I am ready to open myself to help, so that when I am on tour and going to a place that I have never been before, maybe has a piece of paper in front of them that says Freddy Fudd Pucker is coming, because I don’t do that. It’s not that I don’t want to I’ve just never been good at pushing Freddy Fudd Pucker’s music.

Interview Berlin 2015