The following interview was published in MAXIMUMROCKNROLL #300.
DB: Dave Blakeslee, TG: Timothy Gallaher. Interview conducted and edited by Ry Wharton in March, 2008.
First off, could you give a bit of history about the band, for those who haven’t read MRR #1?
DB: I first met Tim and Bruce when we were all enrolled in a creative writing class at DVC. I think that’s mentioned in the MRR article where I got mocked for wearing red pants. I had bought a guitar a year or two before that and spent time figuring out how to play it in my bedroom. Bruce played keyboards and we got together so that he could help me learn a bit of music. That led to a band called the Maroons, with Bruce on organ, me on guitar, a girl named Ba Powell on bass, and Tim on a real small and crummy drum kit. Tim knew Eric Lundmark through Bruce, I think. Bruce and Eric were from Concord, Tim and I were from Walnut Creek. That right there accounts for the creative tensions and irreconcilable differences within the band, a cultural rift which ultimately sealed our doom.
TG: Church Police formed out of an earlier band Dave, Bruce, and I were in called the Maroons. I met Bruce when we were at Diabolo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. He got a ride to a Dead Kennedys show with some friends of mine. He was the first person I met who was also in to the scene. I met Dave through Bruce. Eventually we put a band together. I bought a drum set and became the drummer. Bruce played piano and had a farfisa organ. The organ sound drove the band and Bruce wrote goofy type songs with bouncy melodies and fun lyrics, like one song about Ed Babar, “the greatest salesman alive,” as Bruce labeled him in the song. He owned furniture stores and always was on TV with his commercials. Another great Bruce song was “She Likes the Oatmeal” about Laurie Bailey, who played guitar in Animal Things, and how she liked oatmeal.
We played a show somehow at lunch period at a High School in Concord, California. We got in to the first song and the kids went crazy. They began screaming and yelling and throwing their food at the stage. I was sitting there playing drums and those 8 Oz milk cartons were flying by my head like in slow motion. The reason they went crazy was simply because of our looks and the whole idea of a punk rock band being there. We were doing the Peter Gunn theme so it certainly wasn’t because of any radical music. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 1980, simply not having long hair on a guy was radical and threatening to a lot of people. Needless to say we were shut down after the first song. The kids were still all riled up, yelling and screaming, so I went to the front of the stage and picked up an apple slice from the stage. It was clean and pristine so I picked it up and held it up very clearly, all eyes on this, and slowly brought it to my mouth and took a bite. The audience went wild, screaming, “he ate it!”. It was funny because it was all empty shock value. There was nothing wrong with the apple slice, it wasn’t dirty and wasn’t going to hurt me but I knew they’d freak out and they did. After the show met up with Mark Hosler, who later made Negativland, who was a senior at this high school and whom I’d known when, but not seen since, we both went to Bible study at the Presbyterian church in Walnut Creek.
We put on another show, Bruce and I, that was bigger and better. We called it Maybe Contra Costa after the “No New York compilation”. This was probably the first punk rock type show put on in the area. We were pretty young, I was 19, Bruce was 18. We got use of a hall at the Unitarian church in Walnut Creek. Bruce had an old station wagon and we went and rented a PA from a local music center.
After this show I said I wanted to start a band and call it Church Police and be the singer. Eric Lundmark said he’d be in the band and play drums. Eric was only sixteen and still in high school. He lived in the same neighborhood as Bruce, so that’s how they knew each other. Dave said he’d play guitar and Bruce bought a bass and was able to use his same amp and speaker he used for the organ. Eric played my drum set.
DB: Tim and Eric got together one day and wrote a bunch of lyrics. I guess they get ultimate credit for starting the band. They chose the name “Church Police” which came from a Monty Python skit. Either that same day or the next, they came over to my dad’s house in Walnut Creek where The Maroons would hang out and practice in the cellar, this dank little underground cavern which provided decent sound insulation. This was 1980 when there was no punk scene even imaginable in Contra Costa County suburbia. The sounds we were making were very alien to that environment at the time.
Tim and Eric showed me their lyrics so we went down into the cellar and I banged out some very elemental riffs on my guitar. Eric played the drums and Tim sang. Our first bass player was also named Dave, he was Eric’s friend. I think the songs we created that day account for about 75% of the material that the Church Police ever performed. Songs like “The Oven Is My Friend,” “Life Is Fun,” “Robots,” “Gourmet Cooking,” “Rock and Roll Bank Account,” “Holidays” and “Church Attack” were all pretty much the work of a fall afternoon. We added a few other songs later, but it was mostly one burst of creativity that set us in motion.
TG: We started playing at Sound of Music, which still had a downstairs dressing room in the back that had lockers and wigs and dresses. They’d put on transvestite shows before they started booking punk bands. This was summer 1980. We were all under 20 still and not even old enough to legally be in the Sound of Music.
You made several recordings, but no records were released. What happened to the band?
TG: We made a very early recording at DVC. It had a number of songs, including “Robots”, “Bag of Lumps”, and “Jarhead”. This was passed around among the scenesters, so people knew us from that. Back then the Mabuhay put out a schedule on a flyer that also had the Rotten Top Ten which were the top ten punk or underground records played at KUSF. We made the top ten with “Bag of Lumps” from this tape. Back then it was not easy to put out a record, but tapes were made and played.
DB: We did an early demo at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill where our instruments were plugged directly into the mixing board - no amps. Only the drums were mic’ed. It made for a weird and unrepresentative sound but that resulted in the tape that made its way to Bruce Loose and led to us having our short moment in the spotlight in the SF punk scene circa 1981-82.
There were a few shows that got recorded and also a few practices caught on cassette. If those tapes exist, Bruce would be the guy who has them.
TG: Bruce Gauld did a lot of tape making and he did great dubs as well. He’d take our songs and dub them up. He was into dub at the time as one of his influences. Bruce Gauld and Bruce Loose always had their tapes. Bruce Loose had this tape he’d play all the time of a skip on some old funk record where it skipped and played the same funk groove over and over with the one lyric “’ollywood….’ollywood…” over and over. Bruce Gauld was inspired to get the same record and played it, and amazingly it skipped at the exact same place. There was all sorts of creative stuff going on with regard to recordings and the like that set the stage for sampling and so much of what is done routinely now.
We did the MRR compilation. We used money we made at a gig to buy time at Bay Sounds in Oakland and record a bunch of songs. Kevin Kvarme was a great friend. He was a couple years older so had been around a bit more. He wanted to go in to producing and he produced us. He calls himself Kevin Army, and from what I’ve seen he produced a lot of bands and engineered some of the Green Day stuff.
DB: We were just too inept and couldn’t get our act together. We did the one studio session at Bay Sound that has served us well for the number of records we’ve gotten out of it, I guess. But we never had much money, our equipment was usually in shambles and there was no managerial figure or anyone else to oversee us and get something organized. By the end of 1982, relationships between Bruce and the other three of us deteriorated and my personal living situation in San Francisco fell apart. Not only that, I was going through a bit of a psychic meltdown - too many drugs, the death of one of my best friends and other internal personal conflicts, I’ll just leave it at that. So I came to the end of my pursuit, my fantasy really, of being a full-time rocker.
TG: If we’d kept going we would have put out stuff – probably on SST or some like label. What happened to end the band was that Dave and his Dad decided to take a boat trip around the world on his Dad’s yacht. There were no plans for the band to end. When Dave got back after a few months we’d start up again. But something happened and they couldn’t get past Mexico and Dave took off and hitchhiked back to his Mom’s in Michigan and decided to stay there. That was that. We could have and maybe should have gone on with another guitarist, but we didn’t. I seldom saw Bruce or Eric. I decided to go to college and went down to Santa Cruz, so I moved away and that pretty much caused me to lose touch with the scene.
DB: Basically, the whole thing was just too unstable and chaotic. I think the actual break-up happened one evening when Bruce told us that he was no longer willing to drive our equipment around to shows. That was pretty much the deal-breaker right there - it just didn’t seem like any of us were willing or able to keep it going. We were having a hell of a time finding a rehearsal space - I remember looking at some abandoned beer vats where a bunch of punk kids were living and hanging out but nothing came of that. Bruce’s decision messed things up because it was our most reliable way to get our amps and drums from the suburbs to the city. I also think he was tired of the screw-ups that the rest of us had become and his musical tastes were moving in other directions too.
Most people know the name Church Police from “The Oven is My Friend”, a standout on the heavily stacked Not So Quiet on the Western Front compilation. How did that come about? It was fairly well distributed at the time– What kind of response did you receive? Have you heard the Sebadoh cover of the song?
TG: Western Front came about because they asked us. We did the recordings and they wanted “Oven is My Friend” on it. After the record came out, we did a show at On Broadway and a teenage kid came up afterward and asked, why didn’t you do “Oven is My Friend”. I really hadn’t thought about that one way or the other. But it was interesting: After there is a recording out there, people may come to a show to hear that song they like. And be disappointed if it isn’t played.
Biafra only sent one royalty check ever as well and owes all of us money I am sure.
DB: I like that recording because it is all just one take of us playing live going right onto the tape, no overdubs, just Kevin tweaking knobs, dropping instruments in and out right on the fly, which I think made the recording more interesting than if it had just been played straight. We did each song only once. It was practically like having a live show recorded because we only had like one hour or so of studio time. It was like, rush in, set up, plug in, play, then get the hell out of there before the meter flipped over to charge us an extra dollar. I had to use a really cheap crappy pawn shop guitar because my good one had been stolen when I lived upstairs from Big Al’s strip club on Broadway. (One of several sad stories I could relate from the time I spent living in The City while trying to make it in the music biz.) Which explains the horrendous feedback and gnarly texture of my guitar sound. Plus I recall being more drunk than I should have been. But that’s what it is!
Tim’s lyrics were demented… you’ll have to ask him about the inspiration for that. But yeah, I think as a “signature tune” goes, I’m good with it. I thought from the first time I heard “Not So Quiet” that our track stood out just because it was different from most everything else on the comp - loose, sloppy, funny without necessarily trying to be. A perfect capture of the mutations taking place at the time out in shopping mall territory.
TG: I never heard Sebadoh’s cover. I never heard of Sebadoh until someone told about their cover of our song. About 10 years ago, maybe more, I was working in a large lab and one of the senior scientists liked to go see shows at clubs in Hollywood. Over all these years I have had little contact with any scene, not gone to see shows, but I will still look and see who’s playing. I saw that Sebadoh had just played Hollywood so I asked this guy, “hey, did you go see Sebadoh?”. “Yes,” he said, very enthusiastically. “That was the greatest show I’ve ever seen!”. He really liked these guys. I asked if he knew that song “Oven is My Friend” by them. He said, yes. I said, “I wrote that song”. He says, “Oh yeah, I like that song too, that’s a great song”. I said, “No. I wrote that song.” Finally it sunk in, “you wrote that song?” I don’t think he believed me.
DB: I’ve really enjoyed the occasional random connection that I have with Church Police fans from places far away from the SF Bay Area. But I think Sebadoh kind of messed up their version. It struck me as too histrionic - like the guy overdid the screaming part or something. I wouldn’t mind getting a piece of that royalty check, now that you mention it.
I noticed you had put a copy of the interview from MRR #1 online. How does it feel to read an interview with yourself from 25 or so years ago? Are you surprised that MRR is still published?
TG: It is strange to read such an old interview but it also brings back memories.
DB: I have a lot of old journals and crap that I wrote from that time so that part of my life is pretty well documented for my own recollections. But it’s a different kind of memory trigger when your words are in print in an old magazine.
TG: I never thought about MRR much, but somehow it seems natural for it to be still there. I see it still and still look. Much I have no interest in, but there was an interview with Penelope Houston not too long ago and an update on the Lewd. That reminded me of Chris, their drummer with the cool 50’s wagon who was a great joi de vivre type guy.
I think MRR found a niche and stayed there. That’s its strength and why it is still there. There’s always kids coming up who will be interested in it. It’s still the exact same as before after 25 years. But again, that’s why it has lasted. It does bug me that it’s not on the web. I missed the issue that reviewed our recent release on Skulltones. I’d like to look it up and read it on the web, but they don’t do that.
MRR kept me informed to some degree about the old scene I’d left and sadly, it was through MRR that I heard about Will Shatter’s death. I was really shocked and sad to see his obituary in MRR which was the first I’d heard way back in ‘87.
And in MRR, I always like to see my old buddy Ray Lujan’s name. Ray was a great friend and a great guy. Hi Ray – long time no see.
DB: To be honest, I haven’t read many issues since those few that we were featured in. I respect their perseverance and what they’ve accomplished. I think the punk community has grown into an institution and the magazine meets the needs and interests of a vibrant community. I think I still retain a fair amount of the punk mindset even though my presentation is a lot more conventional and middle-class.
How did your plans to be a bum work out?
DB: Well I did actually hitchhike from LA to Houston in the aftermath of my failed sailing trip in early 1983, so I can cross that ambition off my list. But after a couple months of that, I settled down and went straight. I’m a father of four, a social worker by profession, married for over 23 years, got a house and two cats and a respectable standing in society. But I still nurture my inner bum when others aren’t looking.
Your sound definitely shows the influence of Flipper, and I know you played with them quite a bit. Was the comparatively slug like pace of both bands warmly received amidst your faster contemporaries? Did you go over better with more a open-minded audience, say at the Throbbing Gristle gig you played? What other bands did you consider like-minded contemporaries?
TG: We just played like we played. There was no overt attempt to sound like Flipper or any band. Not all our songs were necessarily all that slow. And, even punk bands weren’t that fast. Avengers, Sex Pistols, and Black Flag for example didn’t start out playing a million miles a minute like what happened later.
DB: I honestly think that we should not be seen as being derivative of Flipper’s sound - we had our sound before we’d ever seen them perform. In fact, the first night that Bruce Loose came out and danced around and made a big scene at one of our early Sound of Music shows, I didn’t even know who he was, but I just noticed some dude in the audience was really getting into our music. It wasn’t until after the show that Tim told me who that dude was. I think that Flipper and us had similar influences, and I think they were better at what they did than we were. We both liked Public Image Ltd. and seeing Flipper open for them at some south-of-Market warehouse was my first Flipper show, though I wasn’t particularly impressed by them at the time and I think that was even before I was in a band.
TG: I would not agree with the premise that a Throbbing Gristle audience would be more open minded. I don’t know how we came across. I remember one industrial geek arty type guy at the very front looking at me like, “what are you doing here?” A very curious look. And of course, if the audience was an arty audience like this I’d play up rock and roll. At the Kezar show I kept yelling, “rock n roll!!” just because it seemed that would bug that audience and made sure we played our rock song, a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Killing Myself to Live” (which was more of our own variation on it than a cover. In fact I still haven’t ever heard the Black Sabbath version).
DB: I know we pissed off a lot of the weekend warrior, “let’s party in the City” trendy types. Which is what I considered most of the crowds to consist of when we played the clubs on Broadway. It’s hard to get your girlfriend drunk and in the mood when a bunch of suburban teenage misfits are blasting your eardrums with atonal feedback chaos and sonic explosions from a dislodged reverb coil! The SoM crowds and kids at the other assorted odd gigs we played were just art weirdos like us who probably took the whole thing for granted.
TG: Playing more loud and slow was associated with the Pet Rock thing. Pet Rock is not a joke and if it was, it wouldn’t be funny, was the initial line disseminated about it. There was a lot of factionalization of Pet Rock side and the emerging hardcore side. The arty side was a little separate from both. Will Shatter said something well when he said that they were “trying to do artistic things without being an art band”, which was apt. Flipper definitely were not an art band and came out of the punk rock scene and that was the association. Same with us. We were not an art band. But we were in a way. In San Francisco the scene started with all sorts of bands together. Shows would have Tuxedomoon playing with the Mutants and Avengers and DOA. It just all went together.
DB: I liked PiL’s percussive style of guitar playing and the heavy bass and drums. I liked the early Gang of Four sound (Entertainment!) Wire’s Pink Flag was in that mix of influences too. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Flipper once I got more into the S.F. club scene and really enjoyed their shows and the massiveness of their sound, but I don’t think it was really a copycat thing on my part at all. At least, I could never approximate what Ted did on the guitar, in my opinion.
Animal Things were the first local Bay Area band that I got to know and love, and they helped connect us to Flipper. Peter Accident and Gaga Din were other Contra Costa bands that we hung out with. Pariah, Ray Lujan’s band. They had nice equipment that their parents bought them. There was a guy named Dave Jones who stood by us and helped us a lot. He had a short-lived band called the Wild Boys but I don’t think they ever did anything. A band from New York named Arsenal, we got along pretty well with them for awhile. And I have to mention my friends Joe Nitzberg and Julie and Joyce Jackson. They were suburbanite kids who formed a goofy little band called Yawn Moan Sigh. A fun and funny bunch. I’d love to reconnect with them.
I’ve been to Walnut Creek and some of the surrounding areas, and it certainly feels removed from San Francisco and even Berkeley and Oakland. Do you feel this isolation from the city was essential to the sound and ideas behind Church Police?
TG: It was removed and isolated but not hugely so. And to answer your question, yes it was a component, but not consciously. You are who you are. And there was an East Bay connection. I remember getting on BART in Pleasant Hill and there was Biafra and Theresa. All one had to do was take BART or drive over to be in the city. And Dave lived there for most of the band’s existence.
DB: Yeah, I think our overt suburbanness made us distinctive from other bands, especially at that time. We never really tried to fit into any of the stylistic templates of the era - no “uniforms” or punk haircuts or anything like that. Our look was kind of a proto-grunge I suppose… flannel shirts and jeans, tennis shoes. Tim would wear khakis more than jeans though. What came through our music and live shows was a fair amount of anger lashing itself out at the world - we liked having crazy fun and breaking the boundaries of what entertainment was supposed to be about at our gigs, but it’s hard to deny that we were directing a lot of hostility toward our audience, sometimes toward the other bands on the bill (just about any band who seemed too serious about trying to “make it”) and especially the club managers who exploited the bands but were vital to giving us our creative outlet.
Lyrically the Church Police material I have heard seems to veer from abstract to the mundane, and I’m curious how much of this was premeditated. The MRR #1 interview and your journal bits hint at your (Dave and Tim) literary aspirations (both producing and consuming). Where were you coming from at the time? You seem to have sidestepped blatant political posturing of many hardcore bands from the same era- was this a conscious decision?
TG: There was no conscious decision to write any sort of lyrics. I wrote whatever I thought of. Eric and I wrote “Oven is My Friend” together and it was funny. It came from another song we were writing called “Holidays” about how Holidays are stupid. It had lines like, “holidays are for slime wallowing brain eaters” and Christmas is “a trick on the poor by the Sears Corporation” and “Santa buys dust with the money he makes” which is funny for two reasons: One, Santa is smoking angel dust. But more so, he makes money off Christmas. “Oven is My Friend” came from a line I was going to put in that song about how people who celebrate holidays should go lick the oven. So I took it and made it its own song. Eric and I traded off lines and laughed.
DB: I didn’t write too many lyrics except for a couple of our later songs which never got recorded. Tim and I were both interested in literary counter-culture - Kerouac, Burroughs, surrealism, Joyce, the Song of Maldoror, Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, stuff like that. In some ways we were probably too clever for our own good… we bit off more than we could chew in a sense. I didn’t feel like I had the grand political statement to give or the right to give it in any case.
TG: I was very interested back then in literature and other art. I was a big Kerouac fan, and James Joyce and Henry Miller. And I liked surrealism. Bunuel was one of my heroes. I liked Jarry’s Ubu Roi and other such things. City Lights was right down the street from the Mabuhay and from where Dave worked and I hung out there a lot and got to get a lot of things there.
Looking back on the band and the northern California do-it-yourself scene that you were a part of, how has it affected where you are in 2008? Are you still playing music or writing at all?
TG: I think everyone who was involved in this scene at the time was affected by it for life. It was an amazing unique time, and this is apparent more now than it was then. Just the impact and the influence of what we were doing then has permeated society in all sorts of ways. Not just music or entertainment, but everything in what is now mainstream society – for good and bad.
After the Church Police I went to Santa Cruz for school and in grad school there I did play in another band. I played bass in a band called Jimmy Jesus. We played some gigs but it was nothing like Church Police or the scene of that time.
DB: No, I don’t do music, mainly due to lack of talent. There are other things I do much better. I keep a blog and maintain an email list that discusses religion, politics and cultural stuff. I get involved in some local political and social activism. I’m part of a group that produces a local public access TV show each month. I work with kids who’ve been abused and neglected, trying to help them stay out of trouble, work through their problems and get back on track again. That’s something I feel good about doing with my life.
A few years ago two of my sons had some interest in starting a band but didn’t stick much with it. I fiddled around with their guitar, but I don’t feel the same fire to want to make music that I did in my teens. Back then it offered a hope and a direction to focus myself… sort of. Now I have plenty of other stuff to do that keeps me busy and I’m OK with that. I wish we could have kept the band together a bit longer, or at least that we would have made better use of the time when we were together. But it’s not like I’m gnawing at the emptiness within because I got out of the music game before I could make it really pay off for me. It’s a satisfying part of my personal story and history, and with the recent release of some of our old recordings, and prospects of maybe some more on the way in the near future, I don’t feel like it’s completely done and over with either. I would even be open to reuniting the band for some kind of show or recording or just the experience of it if we could work out the logistics. But it might just be a daydream. I’m okay with it either way.
TG: I don’t play anything now but wish all the time I could. I really wish I had continued on in the music scene. But at the same time I really like what I ended up doing as well. But the scene was not only vibrant and creative; along with it was a very self destructive side. Will Shatter died. I read about the troubles one of the Kirkwood brothers had and how its amazing he didn’t end up dead.
But I’d love to do music again. Any guitarists out there want to back an old punk rock singer, let me know.
More information, flyers, photos, and words from the Church Police can be found here. Dave has posted his unedited answers online as well.