THE LARRY MONDELLO BAND
Sometime back in the early days of tape trading I started having contact with The Larry Mondello Band. I loved them and thought they were just plain nuts. They put out a variety of home made tape releases including the very bizarre, broken cassette deck tape, “The Warbler”. I never knew they were an actual performing band at the time, albeit weirdo gigs and performance art. Below, is an interview I conducted with lead LMB member, Steven Defoe who graciously took me through their history and provided all the wonderful photos included. Thanks Steve.
How did you find out about the Cassette trading/home recording network? Do you remember some of the first people you traded tapes with? How did it feel?
In the beginning was Eurock magazine, and it was good. In the late 1970s, Eurock was sold at a favorite local record store, Records Unlimited. LMB wasn’t even close to the artists we liked (Klaus Schulze, Magma, Amon Duul, Pere Ubu, Chrome, etc) but we hoped to be. We sent an early tape to Archie Patterson, either “Foreign Matter Exists” or “Mayfield Mornings”. We were surprised when the tape was positively reviewed, we made some connections from there – we were invited to submit a track for the “Assemblee Generale 3” compilation cassette from Ptose Productions / D.D.A.A., there was correspondence with Yximalloo and others, a fan letter, some “Fun With Static” cassettes were sold from a painted shoe on the counter at Records Unlimited.
Later, Mike Gunderloy’s Fact Sheet Five was hugely inspirational. LMB woke up from a long nap in the mid-80s and sent lots of cassettes for FS5 reviews, mainly for our own amusement – we exist! They wrote some terrific lines, e.g. “breaks the mind down in gibbering fits!“ Trades resulted with Rudy Schwartz Project, Arrington Dionysus, Don Campau, more. It was fun, it felt like we were making underground connections with kindred spirits far and wide (few and far between) around the world. It felt like we were making art on the cheap.
What brought you guys together as a band? Did Larry Mondello ever perform live? And what was the personnel?
I shared home room in high school with some unique people whose last names all began with the letter “D”, especially a goofy strawberry blonde kid called Stephen Dromgoole. There were two Steves in the Larry Mondello Band, aka LMB. We liked the same music – it started with Edgar Froese “Aqua”, Van Der Graaf Generator “Pawn Hearts”, Gentle Giant “Glass House”, Amon Duul, Gong…. We may have skipped class once or twice, and watched Leave It To Beaver reruns. Of course the favorite character was Beaver’s friend Larry Mondello, the likeable troublemaker. Eventually a (jealous) girlfriend said “All you guys do is talk about weird music all the time. Music, music, music. Why don’t you guys start a band if you like music so much?“ So we started banging on pots and pans and yelling into a cheap cassette recorder. I had a blower organ, Steve had a steel drum. This was around 1978. Dromgoole was very funny, with a real talent for spontaneously spewing out steady streams of nonsense rhymes. “Oscar Mayer’s little toe…”, etc.
It got a bit more serious, with EML synthesizers, a 4 track reel to reel, Rexina guitar, Big Muff and phase shifter. The Rexina is a cheap Stratocaster knockoff with hot pickups, I bought it from Billy, it might have been his cousin Eddie’s. It’s practically untuneable. We played at Trinity College (Hartford) a few times, sponsored by WRTC’s great radio show “Alien Rock”, we played The Zone artspace in Springfield. We made our best tape “Fun With Static” around this time (1981). I remember a guest drummer from this period, a deaf junior high school kid from Steve’s schoolbus route, he couldn’t hear but he could feel the beats, the louder the better. There was a guest horn player, too – Carl. I liked Carl, I think he has since passed away (with apologies to Carl if this is not the case).
Time passed, there were a few years of little or no activity. Dromgoole was working with the Dumb Artists Collective and their offshoot bands Cargo of Despair and Chalk. I think Larry Ruhl may have been in Chalk too. Dumb Artists released a fine self-produced 7” EP, and Chalk made some great tapes.
LMB resumed around 1986, inspired by Factsheet Five. Larry Ruhl joined us on drums, he helped us a lot musically, if that’s the right word. As a trio, we played places like The Populous Pudding in Willimantic (record store and meat locker), AS220 in Providence, Worcester Artist Group… Joe at Tulpa Productions reissued our “Fun With Static“ cassette and put one of our songs on his compilation EP called “Footprints of God 3: The Love Attack”. The other artists were Crystallized Movements, Hellcows, and our friends Paul Flaherty (sax) and Randall Colbourne (drums), a free jazz duo. Paul has since released many LPs, worth checking out. There is some video of a Populous Pudding gig that really captures the event. We also released a professionally manufactured lo-fi cassette called “Tuba Lesson” around this time. Some of the tapes were wound so tight from the factory that they ate themselves the first time they were played, we sold a few because people felt sorry for us.
We did a mini-tour around New England in 1990, with ALVARO – THE CHILEAN WITH THE SINGING NOSE. There is some video on youtube….
Then came another slow period, with a few duo recordings, quieter than usual (e.g. “The Giant” cassette). Next, our good friend Rich Elko took up the drums, the Mantras sound. Rich also brought some visual ideas, captured on our Hideous video LP (also on youtube), especially Mr. Boneyface, the children’s friend. These were the early 1990’s, “The Queen Street Years”, we played almost weekly at Steve’s house. Two of our best tapes (IMO) “Mondello Mantras” and “The Warbler” were made there. The sessions were usually recorded on cassette and VHS, copious archives exist.
Later in the 1990’s, through the wonders of alcohol, Steve’s personality changed and he became a belligerent alcoholic mailman called “Scooch”. Scooch had some problems, lost his job, drank more. Communications between us became difficult. In 1998 we recorded a final tape as a duo, once again banging on pots and pans. Scooch drank himself to death, he died in 2000 at age 41. That asshole, I really miss him, I wish he hadn’t done that….
Have you made Mondello material available online? Any URLs to give?
There is a website, but so far I haven’t had the time, tools or technical skills to develop it properly. http://www.mondellomusic.com has a few things posted but it remains under construction. I have about a gazillion hours of rehearsal session recordings on hand, I’d like to put up an online archive with open downloads – anyone could find a theme and mix a virtual cassette.
At least one LMB cassette/CD-R remains in the planning stage, using material drawn from the rehearsal sessions, DRUNKEN FALL LEAVES LARRY BRAIN-DAMAGED, showcasing the decline of Scooch. Cover picture is attached.
In the meantime, lots of mondello material is already on youtube. There is a good overview of clips in a playlist called THE LARRY MONDELLO BAND by mondellomusic. Especially good are two of the most recent Look At The F*^%! and the Footprints of God EP. Throbbing Scooch, Church & State, Bug Up My Ass, Mister Boneyface, Alvaro all have their place, too
What are you doing now musically?
For the longest time after Scooch’s death there was nothing, until Judge Smith asked me to collaborate on a CD project called L-RAD. This we did with transatlantic file exchange and the CD “Long-Range Audio Device“ was released in 2007. True to form, the CD sold modestly, but it does have many fine and funny outsider songs in the mondello vein, beautifully realized by Judge at Studio Judex
In 2013 I had the pleasure of working with two experimental musicians from Argentina, known variously as ROM or Noise-ROM. This time we exchanged files through Dropbox, the end result was an album called “Secuencias” by ROM + Mondello. We talked of recording some Argentinian folk songs, which I would dearly like to try, hopefully this remains a future project. You can find Secuencias on bandcamp, where it is decidedly uncommercial
Also after many years I finally have my “sound laboratory” in the basement, including dear dead Scooch’s synthesizers, plus sampler, theremin, guitars, effects. I’d like to put up a webpage where a user can interact with the instruments to look, listen and cobble clips together (another undone project for the website !developer wanted!).
Just lately I’ve been working on some pieces in the laboratory: “The Miracle of Dust” – dust is universal, moving it about is an act of futility, dust piles up nine inches a century, just ask the Romans. Chamber electronic. “Hey Daddy Frog” is a song about creatures who live in the grass and the terror they feel when the lawn mower passes. It’s autobiographical but also a metaphor of our times.
How would you compare the spirit of the Cassette community in the glory days (80s/90s) with now? What are the good or bad elements that have come with social media, the internet, etc?
The spirit is there regardless of the media, but the humble cassette continues to amaze, introduced in the 1960s but somehow making a comeback in the iPhone age. In the past few years I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of independent cassettes on websites like forced exposure and fusetronsound (my favorite). Internet radio, Facebook, twitter, etc. are like Factsheet Five on steroids, cassette labels and DIY artists can reach more people than ever, anywhere in the world. This can only help it continue.
Do you think that community spirit still exists in a new way or is everyone just out for themselves?
Cassette culture has always been a small scene, that works in its favor regarding community spirit (let’s call it underground spirit, the outsider glue that holds us together). I received some cassette mail art in the post just the other day, someone from Italy heard The Warbler on your show, and he is looking to trade cassettes - great! Besides, people who make DIY tapes must be altruistic, open and giving by definition – there sure ain’t no money in it!
Did you guys ever collaborate with other home tapers?
Just one collaboration, a tape called ‘Stump Grinding’ with Arrington de Dionysio, in 1992. Arrington is still very active today and well worth checking out . Arrington had an associated with a fantastic, Capt. Beefheart-ish voice, his name was Ben Bobb aka B-Polecat, We hoped to do a collobaration tape with B-P, but never managed to do so….
You have done a lot of videos, pre digital, were they meant to feature songs from albums or were they done as separate art works?
Some were meant to capture live gigs, especially Populous Pudding and the ALVARO shows. One was conceived and made specifically as a video, called THE HIDEOUS VIDEO LP. Scooch’s ‘Hey Bartender’ is a segment from this, this one has proven popular despite it’s graphic nose digging scenes