The Wallmen were a very early contact when I first really started trading and soliciting tapes for the “No Pigeonholes” radio show in about 1985. I guess I probably read about them in Option. Their tapes were weird alright and I couldn’t figure out if they were a real “band” or just some nutty home tapers with a 4 track in the bedroom throwing down some subgenus style goof. Turns out they were a real band and even played gigs in their area. Their first few tapes were a real hodgepodge of lo fi insanity which made them immediate hits with me. Later, they become more “professional” sounding and more like a regular rock band, well, um, sort of. When speaking about the true essence of wacked home taping no discussion can be complete without mention of this truly unique band. Two of the core members, Norm Wilson and Sean Curley have gone on to separate and various projects and they were gracious enough to answer my email interview regarding the early days and more regrading The Wallmen. Listen to one of their early tapes at the link above.
How did The Wallmen begin? And what year did it come about?
Sean: 1983. Our friend Brian Ghezzi came up with the name and released one tape under that moniker, we started jamming with him in Norm and Scott's garage and called it Wallmen.
Norm: It probably really dates back to 1981. Ghezzi and I were in 8th grade when we started trading “Bullshit Tapes” These were crude sound collages made on cassette that we would compile in our bedrooms after school and then trade the next day. They usually consisted of radio snippets edited with the pause button.. Eventually something resembling original songs started showing up on the tapes. My tape artist was called Regular Guy, Brian Ghezzi’s “band” was called 1 Death 2. We got together for a couple of sleepovers (we were like ,13) and our collaborative tapes became the first incarnation of the Wallmen. The output of that version of Wallmen was not very prolific but for some dumb reason the name …By the time we entered high school, my older brother, (Jethro Deluxe) was experimenting with Tape Manipulation on an old reel to reel we had. His project was called Bud Kona. All of the crazy shit you hear in the background of the earliest wallmen tapes use his process of recording 3 tracks of random nonsense. Usually one on a sped up track, one on a slowed down track and occasionally one on the correct speed. We would typically create that first and then put a “song” on top of it. or record a song and then add the layers of junk.
Later I met this insane kid named Sean who became the catalyst simply by believing (and telling everyone) that he was the most talented person on earth. He no longer refers to himself in the 3rd person (“Sean Curley is a genius”) but he will still fully willing and able to vouch for his own brilliance.
I think the 4 of us started recording in early ’83. Rarely all 4 are on the same song. It was very loose. A collective, I guess.
Why the name “The Wallmen”?
Sean: A silly name that Brian Ghezzi made up. Classic Dada.
Norm: Ghezzi and I were infatuated with the TV show New Wave Theater. One night (during an 8th grade sleepover) I fell asleep and missed the show- it aired usually around 3 AM. The next morning Ghezzi told me about the lineup from the night before. He totally fabricated the whole thing as he had also fallen asleep. He told me about these crazy bands like The Wallmen and The Wands (I wish I could remember any of the other names). For some reason, to us,The Wallmen was the funniest, stupidest, most New Wave band name ever. Once he fessed up that it wasn’t a real band we had to claim it as our own.
*Where would you guys record and what kind of recording equipment did you use?*
Sean: Most of it was recorded @ 7711 LIsa Lane, Norm and Scott's parents house. We used an old Sony reel to reel, we bounced tracks between two cassettes decks with a cheap Radio Shack mixer.
Norm: Yeah. the majority was recorded in my parent’s basement. The multi-tracking was strictly bouncing from one deck to another so everything on the first tapes was usually one take. When Sean and I recorded together we would labor a bit more on the pop song material, we would occasionally do retakes until we got it right, but if anyone else was involved it was one take and done..
Sean: Later on we bought a Vestax 4 track(Vesta Fire?), then we utilized a Yamaha MT100 4 track.
Norm: Yes $3.00 was the first time we used 4 track. It seemed so slick and commercial at the time.
Other equipment included: Polytone Amp, Casio, Yamaha Portasound, Tube Screamer, Korg X911 Guitar Synthesizer, Radio Shack reverb, DOD chorus, MXR Flanger and most importantly the Digitech RDS 3600 and the Yamaha GEP 50. Those last two digital units blew our young minds, we could concoct the weirdest shit with those units.
Norm: its’ funny that the character of certain tapes rely so much on the technology- the new toy we had at the time. Supersonic Witchcraft Cookies is basically a demo real for that amazing Digitech delay. We would just get high and make loops for hours…. Our “new sound” usually was dependent on whatever shitty rhythm unit we had acquired. Mattel Synsonics are still the best drummer we ever had.
Were who The Wallmen? ( real and aka ) names.
Yom Tucker or Laslo Vegas or Monkey Honey: Sean Curley
Omar Nowhere:Norm Wilson
Jethro Deluxe: Scott Wilson
There was always a cast of revolving contributors and we had at least a half dozen drummers.
Norm: Brian Ghezzi was Brian Ghezzi he was a solid member for the first 4 tapes or so. A guy named Rob Joyner is all over a bunch of it too. Again, there were no assigned roles and it’s rare that all of us would be together to play on a song.
The Wallmen always had a Devolved or sub-Genius feeling to me. Were these conscious influences? “Slack” plays a major role in the essence of The Wallmen to me.
Norm: Prior to the Subgenius there was a lot of Satan-mania in the early ’80s. The media was on a tear about teens and devil worship. We obviously embraced this as well.
We went nuts when we found The Book of the Subgenius. We were teenagers and at the time it was the most hilarious and frightening thing we’d been exposed to. We connected immediately and had to spread the gospel. We were so proud (and so young) when we found out that Ivan Stang was a fan. He sent us a personal cassette (maybe two?) of him just driving around and talking about music and how much he loved us and stuff. It was brilliant I wish I still had that.
Sean: We were the classic voice of dissent, we were annoyed and amused by the suburbs, so we sang about what we knew. Part of what motivated us was suburban boredom, if we wanted culture, we had to make it ourselves. We were driven to create a new sound, we often asked ourselves:Why aren't there more weird bands?We existed in a vacuum, we were not truly aware of our oddball musical predecessors. We knew Zappa, Beefeheart, punk rock and The Residents, but we did not know about bands that had done music that was incredibly similar in the 60's
70's or much earlier. Musique Concrete, White Noise, Kim Fowley,Parmegiani, etc. We were ignorant to most of it, because it was pre internet. Now we realize that there were among numerous bands that were similar in scope.
Who were any other influences, music or otherwise?
Sean: John Waters, the mall, consumer culture, Grateful Dead, Foreign/Underground Films, The Residents, VU, salesmen, gum, religion, art, drugs.
Norm: We loved whatever fringe stuff we could get our hands on, but our exposure was limited and we were still very much into the cool teenager music of the time. I don’t think we were really trying to emulate our favorite bands that much. I think we knew we were incapable of sounding “good” like the Psychedelic furs or Talking Heads. It was a very slow build for us to get to the point where we were capable of making somewhat mainstream sounding catchy pop music. And even then we were still very conscious of the importance of keeping our goofy weirdness intact- some would say to our detriment.*Your label was called Dead Judy…why?*
Sean: Our close friend dated this bitchy girl named Judy. We were punk jerks.
Norm: Yes that sums it up. We hated our friend’s girlfriend enough to wish death upon her and thought the name was funny. She didn’t.
Did you do a great deal of tape trading in the 80s? Who were some of the people you got tapes from?
Sean: R.Stevie Moore, Costes, GG Allin, Lisa Carver,Camper Van Beethoven,Daniel Johnston,John Giorno. Many others that I cannot recall.
Norm: Hey there name dropper! Sean can’t remember the non-famous. All of the usual suspects I guess. So many. I still have a bunch. Some guy named Don Campau. Croiners, Dan Fioretti, Psychodrama-(god did that terrify us) Buxinrut All of that subgenius stuff. That network seemed so vast. What an era. Scott/Jethro was really the one responsible for any recognition we received. He was constantly mailing out tapes and keeping up with the tape trading scene. We just sat back and let the fame wash over us.
I think you got some reviews in Option or maybe Sound Choice. Did that get you any contacts or interest? How did it feel to see a review?
Sean:Yeah, it generated some interest and cassette sales, no label offers. It felt good to get reviewed, it made us feel as though someone actually cared. I am sure positive reviews kept us motivated. We were shocked that people actually listened and understood what we were doing.
Norm: Definitely. It helped perpetuate our bratty rock star attitudes. The chips on our shoulder made us stronger and funnier. We were famous in our own minds and better than any other shitty high school band. We had all of this national press but the local Syracuse weekly wouldn’t cover us. We were at war with the mainstream local media.
Have you stayed in touch with any of the people from that time?
Sean: Yes. We are still close with many old fans/friends, supporters.
Norm: I am internet close with everyone.
Some of your tapes sound live and others more overdubbed and “produced”. Was this simply a matter of what was happening with the group at the time and the opportunity to get together and play at the same time?
Sean: A combination, but largely overdubbed. We would record certain basic tracks live to Yamaha MT 100. We often bounced down to 2 tracks and added more tracks(as many as 6 or 8 tracks). There was the live band and the studio band, studio band was largely Norm and myself w/ his brother Jethro. In High School we recorded constantly, nearly every weekend. We started playing live in 1984. We started utilizing a live drummer to record in the late 80s. We loved overdubbing, we realized that great albums were made using studio trickery, so we went crazy adding tracks. The recording studio as an instrument. My dream as a teenager was to have an endless number of tracks and now my wishes have been met.
Norm: When I listen back it’s like a struggle between ambition and laziness. Let’s make a Sgt Pepper but not if we have to work too hard. Just add more tracks and it will be awesome! Again, it was whoever was in the room at the time. On the earlier tapes the number of tracks was proportionate to the number of people in the room because we only really did about 3 or 4 passes on a song and then it was done.
*You did at least one live tape. Did you do much performing then?*
Sean: Yes, mostly regionally, we performed as a live band from 1984 -1998.
Norm: At some point we started using real drummers and actually practicing regularly as a band. So we became a real band that played shows, toured and eventually pursued and got a record deal. This would surely lead to fame and fortune! .
It sounds like sometimes you guys would have a definite song in mind and then at other times more an improv situation. Is this correct?
Sean: Yes, a combination. As we got older, we started to write actual songs. Earlier stuff was all improv. As we grew, everyones role became more clear. Norm writes the lyrics, Sean plays the guitars, Jethro plays bass, but those roles were often blurred.
Norm: On the earliest tapes, anything that resembles a song is pure accident, and some of them are good songs! I think around Eelvibes Sean and I got to the point where we would spend a whole afternoon on one song (as opposed to 10) and create something with an conscious verse and chorus. I remember being really excited about composing our “hit” Flying Housewife which had female backing vocals and pretty New Order style guitar.
*Would each member of the group bring in ideas for a song or was there one person who wrote most of the tunes?*
Sean: We composed together, in the late 80s we started doing more work separately, but it was always a collaborative band. Towards the end, it became clear that Norm was the prize songwriter and nobody argued that point.
Norm: Gee thanks. I think toward the end my songs started sounding samey and we made a conscious effort to write as a band. The best stuff on our last CD were songs that the whole band (including Andy the drummer) wrote together. Then we broke up.
In the late 80’s/early 90’s you started doing tape covers in full color. Was this a conscious attempt to be more “legit” and less of a weirdo home taper band? In certain parts of “Last Of The Broken Mexicans” there is more of a straight ahead rock band type of presentation. Maybe this was just a natural progression of your music. What do you think?
Sean: Yes, we wanted to be more legit, get signed, etc. We were becoming better musicians(or worse), we started following more traditional pop song structures. We all loved pop music, so we were always trying to write classic weird pop songs. This was the natural progression.
Norm: Wallmen Airplane became Wallmen Starship. I agree it was more a natural progression than a conscious decision. Our ambition always surpassed our talent. It took us a while to be capable of being a real band but we kept at it long enough that it just sort of happened.
*In fact, this was the last tape I think I got from you. Did you guys call it quits? Go on hiatus? Or focus more of your energies on a local rock scene?*
Sean: No, we put out some 7“s, played live , went to college and reconvened when college was over in 1991. In the ealry 90s we found a manager(the all too supportive Tony Faske), signed to a couple of different independent labels, made some music for TV commercials(an international Mountain Dew/Pepsi campaign) and tried to make a living as a band. We were able to capitalize on the success of grunge movement, which was largely advantageous. Dave Fridmann signed on as our producer and he was very much our 5th Beatle. It was nice to find someone that understood us and could help us actualize the weird sound that is Wallmen. Dave is still a close friend of ours and one of our greatest champions.
Norm: What he said. We really took it way too far but had a blast.
Did you ever release CDs?
Sean: yes, three CDs.
Not Too Long Time Sound
Electronic Home Entertainment System
*Is there a full Wallmen discography anywhere?*
Norm: It is all available here
Is the band still going and in fact, did you ever break up or keep recording until this day?
We essentially broke up in 1998. We are still close friends. We are not very active, but we have made some songs together over the past 10 years. There have been loose plans over the years to make a double CD/vinyl retropective compilation. Someday.
Tell us about your current projects and perhaps what has happened to the other guys in the group.
Sean: Jethro Deluxe plays mandolin in The Erie Freemen, Norm performs/records as the Human and Sean Curley plays under his own name as well as various monikers(Empire STate Obseravtories, The MIdget, New Weather)
Norm: We’re always dabbling. The three core members don’t collaborate as much as we should but we’re still making music. Scott’s really active in about 20 folk/bluegrass bands. Sean’s stuff is really ambitious, just amazing. Some of my solo stuff is here
Anything you’d like to get off your chest?
Sean: We invented most current musical genres.
Norm: Yes, It’s basically our fault that music became horrible. We are not sorry.
Best contact info for you or The Wallmen?
Norm: We have a Facebook page. Go there
Thanks and good luck with all.