SOS Interview: John Wilkes Booth

By Mike SOS

Self-professed proprietors of “dirt rock,” three out of the four members of Long Island rock unit John Wilkes Booth (vocalist Kerry Merkle, drummer Christian Horstmann and guitarist Jason Beickert) sounded off on a number of topics, from how they chose their intriguing moniker to their new disc SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS,  to where they fit within the grand scheme of the NYC rock scene in a candid and sometimes tongue in cheek email interview.

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SOS: How did you come up with your band’s name?

CH: It was easy to remember.

JB: We’re racists.

KM: Other choices were Bukkake Orange, Twinks & Bears. We liked JWB best and no we are not rascists. 

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SOS: What sets your band apart from other bands?

CH: We play different songs then they do.

JB: Merkle and his lyrics.

KM: We don’t create music for any one specefic “scene” we write for ourselves. I feel many bands have lost the quest for their own sound. Seems like so many bands are trying to sound like each other. 

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SOS: How has living in NYC/Long Island impacted your music?

CH: Makes it tough, everyone’s a rock star here.

JB: We take pride in being an antithesis to the typical LI/NY music scene. Seeing what’s out there, it’s not pretty sometimes. Along with the bands we most often jam with (Borgo Pass, 12 Eyes, Wormsmeat, Maegashira… and im sure others we have yet discovered) we hope to bring back some respectability to the scene.

KM: Nobody supports original music so it has made us bitter angry musicians.  

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SOS: How does a JWB song get written?

CH: Three of the four members agree its good enough, about 80%.

JB: Some songs are written off an entire jam and are completely oprganic,while others are more structured in sort of a reductionist kind of way, but all in all it’s a collective effort. Some take a few weeks, others linger for years.

KM: There are different types of processess but usually we jam on a riff and amp—work and re-work it for months. 

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SOS: How would you describe your music to someone who never heard you before?

CH: It sounds like Dirt Rock.

JB: It’s like leftovers. May not be exactly what your looking for, or it’s something you could’vebeen longing for all day… but either way you get there, it’s completely satisfying…In a re-heated kind of way.

KM: Dirt Rock. 

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SOS: When I’m not in JWB, I’m…?

CH: Running my business, playing drums or masturbating.

JB: Being a sad but optimistic NY Islanders fan.

KM: An unemployed union carpenter. 

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SOS: Who are some of your musical influences? Any we’d be surprised by?

CH: Melvins, Clutch, Kyuss,Swing and Big Band, Jazz

JB: Slash, Chris Haskett, Chris Whitley, Jimi.

KM: I dig a lot of mellow indie rock. I am a huge fan of Pedro The Lion & Elliott Smith. I listen to a lot of jazz too. 

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SOS: Why should we see JWB live?

CH: ‘Cause we’re extremely sexy.

JB: You can throw things at us and hear us say “Fuck”.

KM: Because we will rock your face off. 

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SOS: What has been your best musical experience thus far? Your worst? The one you’ve learned the most from?

CH: Best – recieving oral while playing. Worst – forgetting how the song goes. Learned From – first time I was talked into playing with the flu and a fever.

JB: Best- high school variety show…it’s all been downhill since then. Worst- playing at an ice cream parlor and not getting any ice cream. I’m done learning from shows.

KM: Best- the completion of our cd. It was a long process but something we a most proud of. The worst- our West Virginia gig. It was like a 10 hour drive to play a “music festival” in someone’s backyard at 1 in the morning to a bunch of drunk rednecks. We learned to get more info on a gig before booking. 

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SOS: What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of being a NY band?

CH: All the hot women the fame and the money.

JB: Nobody comes to see you besides your family and friends. Dont get me wrong, friends and family rule, just that nobody goes to shows anymore. Nobody’s interested in any kind of music scene it seems.

KM: I really wish there was a supportive scene. The pay to play thing is just distgusting. There are many great bands that people are missing out on because they are the trend. NY is a rough place to be in a band. 

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SOS: Do you prefer the studio or the stage and why?

CH: Stage, all my fans can adore me

JB: I enjoy both for different reasons. Stage for the energy, studio for the ability to put something down on tape which you and your mates created that will last forever.

KM: Each have their own qualities. I love the stage for the energy excitement of performing but the studio is where things are created and that is exciting too. So I can’t really say I have a favorite. 

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SOS: What bands are you currently listening to?

CH: Clutch, Melvins, Kyuss and Big band drum battles.

JB: Clutch, Torche, random jazz, new Metallica, and the girlfriend is wedging Hot Chip in my ears consistently. Dont know if that’s good or bad.

KM: 31 Knots, Bill Frisell, Naked City, The Melvins, JUNO Soundtrack.  

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SOS: What are the plans for JWB in 2009?

CH: I’m not sure about the rest of the band, but I want to travel the world in search for the perfect taco.

JB: Record, some road trips, abroad??

KM: We have been working on new tunes & we are hoping to record them in 2009. 

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SOS: Any final words?

CH: My only regret is I have but one life to live for my band.

JB: Keep it Brown.

KM: It’s like screaming in forest and nobody hears you, but people really should pull their heads out of their asses and stop letting promoters take advantage of them. The only large descent sized venues on Long Island make band pay to play. It is a cancer that erodes at the culture of local music. Oh, and Sonic Youth rules.

Be sure to check out Mike SOS’s music with SOS and Seizure Crypt in the New York City area.

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