Agony Shorthand

Thursday, June 30, 2005

For thirty years MIKE "REP" HUMMEL has been creating and quietly releasing the sort of bent, outsider proto-punk rock that drives collectors and rock scholars wild with glee. His name as a performer and a producer is synonymous with "do it yourself" and "low fidelity", whether he'll cop to it or not. His 1975 single "Rocket To Nowhere" with MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS has become the stuff of legend -- a bizarre cro-magnon recording of two-chord, fried, ear-bleeding riffs and some of the most fantastic and desperate flat-out rock ever recorded. The Quotas are one of those bands that poke their head up maybe once a decade, usually for a year or two, and pound out a set of psych-laced noise punk & then slither back into day jobs & families. We're lucky that they've chosen 2005 to revisit us again, thirty years after that first 45. This week marks the release of their brand new CD, "Black Hole Rock", a walloping 10-song set of moody jams, reworkings of previous hard killers like "Rocket Music On" & "Village Idiot" and enough intense guitar/bass/drums space rock friction to power the Rust Belt electrical grid. Siltbreeze Records are set to reissue the early 90s comp of the Quotas' 70s/80s work "Stupor Hiatus Volume 2" later this year as well, so it's looking to be the right time to amp up the Mike Rep hype machine. The guy & his band are true originals and it's an honor to conduct this email interview with the man.

Agony Shorthand: How did something as raw and bent as "Rocket to Nowhere" come out of your brain in 1975? Were you already a full-blown, knowledgeable music addict or was this just a happy accident?

Mike Rep: I was just mirroring what I saw & felt, the decadence of my own life meets my rejected catholic upbringing with no future vision just total hedonism.....and lyrically it's very Ozzie or MC5 don't you think? There is a choice to be made, you must choose, brothers, or die in the dust..... "Rocket Music On" is very similar in theme - and a lot of wild fun was had too; of course I mean it WAS the fuckin' 70's & I did the WHOLE ENTIRE TRIP to the hilt. I'm not proud of everything I did but I would not change a thing. People tend to think the 60's was the generation of social change, but I think the mid-late 70's was much more....out of control, and reality for the common man was altered more significantly.

Agony Shorthand: I always think of the MOXIE label as the ones responsible for the worst 60s garage compilations on the market. How did they come to put out your 45, and is is true that it didn't come out until 1978?

Mike Rep: I recorded "Rocket To Nowhere" in 1975. To the best of my recollection it was pressed by Moxie in late '76 or early '77 , but Moxie really did not try to 'market' it for a year or two (Moxie Dave G. used to call it "my funny little record" , I don't even know why he really did it, then later he sold a few to BOMP! / Greg Shaw around '78 and that was the extent of 'distribution' for that record). Here is a FUN FACT about that record and the Moxie label! Moxie had their own ancient Mono pressing plant, and the original Mono release of the legendary "Louie Louie" was mastered & pressed on the same ancient 40's equipment! Then in the late 80's or thereabouts, that equipment was sold by Moxie Dave to DEAD MOON & they went on making their Mono Tombstone Records with it - Incidentally DEAD MOON are fuckin' living heroes to me. I love them all, I can truly relate to Fred we had some great talks about "D.I.Y. living" upon occasion - LONG LIVE the 'Moon!!!!

Agony Shorthand: I was made a tape a long time ago with the original "Quasar", "Rocket To Nowhere"'s b-side, and if I remember correctly it was not really music per se -- just some space sounds and soft feedback. Am I right about this, and what was the intention behind it?

Mike Rep: I got the idea from BUBBLEGUM music! Remember songs like "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and "My Green Tambourine?" The label they were on, Buddah Records, used to put CRAZY things on the "B" sides, to make sure the disc jockeys played the side that they wanted them to! Like they would put the "A" side BACKWARDS - the B" side to "Yummy Yummy Yummy" was called "Zig-Zag" and it was just "Yummy" Backwards.....Or they would put something equally unplayable on radio like a guy banging on one chord on a piano just yelling (1910 Fruitgum Co.'s "Sticky! Sticky") while a roomful of people beat on phone books and shouted along, GREAT DADA STUFF!!!.....However "Quasar" WAS a serious music piece, I wanted something to wash through my headphones while ingesting nitrous & pondering the universe......I am sure I had heard Fripp & Eno's "No Pussyfooting" by then, so draw your own conclusions. One last thing about "Quasar" - it was originally recorded in strict stereo, feedback between two hollow-body Harmony Rocket guitars & 50's Sunn Bass amps....The 45 is in mono, but the TRUE ORIGINAL STEREO MIX of "Quasar" can be found on the CD "A Tree Stump Named Desire", that is, the master mix of "Quasar", Jay, the way it is meant to be heard.

Agony Shorthand: A few years back a 45 came out with two more ultra-raw, very loud tracks from 1975: "Mama Was a Schitzo, Daddy Was a Vegetable Man" and "Rocket Music On". What were the circumstances behind this release?

Mike Rep: A mad Swedish beet farmer talked me into it! And he did a fantastic job too!! "Schitzo" was a track we left off the Siltbreeze LP because of time constraints. It was recorded in 1975, same year as "Rocket To Nowhere".

Agony Shorthand: How has the city of Columbus, Ohio influenced your music, your work, your life -- if at all?

Mike Rep: Well the #1 thing, Jay, is all these endless rows of corn everywhere, they make for great sound acoustics for D.I.Y. recording!!! (feel 'yer leg being pulled Jay?) That and the fact that Columbus is a true crossroads town or at least the "University District"; kids come from all over the midwest & the world to go to Ohio State University, I have worked at various music business jobs in the campus area on & off for over 30 years, seen four decades of bands obscure & famous pass through. In the 70's musicians from Columbus were not exactly proud of being Ohioans, but that started changing in the late 80's I think, maybe I should just speak for myself but I think in general we felt isolated in Columbus from popular culture in the 70's, but it all kind of trickled in with this influx of college kids. The worst thing about the late-70's / early 80's to me was the "go-to-New-York-to-make-it" mentality that permeated most band's dreams, it doesn't seem to be so prevalent with today's bands thank Christ - I am a MAJOR PROPONENT of making things happen in your own back yard, plant something back in the home soil- that's a huge part of my D.I.Y. philosophy & I preach it to all my cohorts, and Columbus is a great place to live cheap and grow dreams.....perhaps boredom is often the mother of invention, eh? But personally I love Ohio and do not imagine living anywhere else, though I could see doing the Capt. Beefheart thing when I get old, a trailer in the desert or my song "Out" on the new CD.... "A smoking stack / a one-room shack / I knew that it was ME in there..."

Agony Shorthand: A lot of people, myself included, heard the TRUE BELIEVERS for the first time when those tracks popped up on the "Homework" compilation series. Did the band record more than the tracks on your 7"? Did you play out much? What did you in?

Mike Rep: There of literally hundreds of recordings & original songs (including "True Believers" recordings) that probably nobody will ever hear. Some of them deserve to be heard, and maybe some day they will, most of them were just part of the learning/creative point is most of those years OUR FOCUS AS MUSICIANS was not so much being a performing band, we were natural studio rats with our makeshift equipment, woodshedding in our basements & living rooms & barns.....We did not start playing out until 1979, that was the True Believers period, through early 1981. We did not call ourselves The Quotas because we ALL wrote songs in the group, and Tommy Jay and his brother The General sang their share, live & in studio. Nudge Squidfish had his own D.I.Y. side activity and a hundred or so songs going too.... But the True Believers didn't last long - we'd practice our asses off for shows then just before we went on stage get as fucked up as we possibly could, acid, speed, quaaludes, WHATEVER and lots & lots of booze......more often than not the shows suffered from our indulgences and eventually it all got too hypocritical in a weird way and just was no longer any fun at least for myself.......but NOW we are much wiser, we play first, then we party. the music & the listeners comes first.....OK yes, there's still a bit of whiskey & weed mixed in there...... I'm the Evel Kneivel of D.I.Y., what can I say? I still like to take chances ha! But we try to put on shows now that are worthwhile for everybody, it's not so self-indulgent, or at least it's a much more entertaining kind of self indulgence.

Agony Shorthand: What made you want to come back in the early 90s with the new version of the QUOTAS -- were you pushed by Siltbreeze's desire to reissue your stuff, or pulled by the demands of your fans, the young garage/noise bands of Columbus?

Mike Rep: Getting involved with New Bomb Turks, Gaunt, T.J.S.A. ......I had dropped out of the "cutting edge" live campus music scene for several years previous, playing in a communal rural rock called "The Campfire Walkers" who nobody "cool" liked (OldAgeNoAge Casette 011 & now available on CD-R!), living in the boondocks & searching for prehistoric indian mounds.....I could go on, butI think you get the idea. Then I started working at Usedkids in '90 and started meeting these fresh young rockers who knew some of my songs & one thing led to another....for a while - my heart was still not into performing regularly, but Now it's what keeps me ALIVE! That and freshly squeezed baby adrenal glands....

Agony Shorthand: You once sent me an early 90s cassette you put out yourself called “Songs From The Old 3C” that was fantastic, particularly the one-take acoustic track “No Place”. Was there, or will there be, any plans to release this or any of your other cassette-only material to the people?

Mike Rep: No plans for 'an official release' no.... it was made to be copied & circulated - Jay, I think you should make a CD-R of it and start a label ha! "Sounds Of The Old 3C" is a good example of what I was talking about earlier, some of those hundreds of songs, many by the amazing circle of creative friends I have.....I have been blessed to know a LOT of great songwriters and made a lot of very creative friends, so that tape (future HINMAN RECORDS CD-R?) is a good example of our you see that Mike Rep & The Quotas is just one face or reflection of a much larger whole, that tape reflects the bigger picture of our lives then.

Agony Shorthand: When Mike Rep “lovingly fucks with” another band’s recordings, what does this usually entail?

Mike Rep: An oceanfull of Old Forester Bourbon (the 100 proof ONLY) and a skyfull of nitrous, while I twiddle a knob or two.......I just listen and twiddle make some suggestions, that's one of my talents - ever heard of the Spanish 16th Century portrait painter El Greco? He used to paint these oddly mystical 'elongated' portraits ......well recently somebody theorized that he actually had some kind of EYE STIGMATISM and was just painting reality as he saw it - my point is that I know that there are people who think that I must be next to DEAF or have some HEARING IMPAIRMENT because of some of the things that I have done (my LO-FI reputation), and maybe it's true, ha! But I can hear things like garage doors opening and police radar that most people can't so you tell me......I don't know what Lo-Fi means really, to me its "Mega-Fi"......but I can do the straight-up thing recording-wise also, there are many examples of that too, so.....

Agony Shorthand: Did you share any of the same nihilism that was all over Jim Shepard's projects in your own? I get the sense that there's always been far more humor in your stuff, but still pretty cynical and weary at times.

Mike Rep: In real life Jim was a very very funny guy; he would crack me up all the time and he liked to have fun! Many of his songs are very humorous I think, but I know what you are asking me....yes his dark side was a driving force behind his creativity too, especially more toward the end.....we have/had a lot in common & I sure miss that fucker.....on the new CD BLACK HOLE ROCK we do one of his songs he wrote for the Ego Summit LP, "Queen Of The Underground". I hear his voice inside of me when I sing it and it brings me a perverse joy to sing lines like "I heard your name spoken by Kim Fowley / He Tried to fuck you but you turned him down / But you don't have to give me case history / Queen of the Underground....." I want to do more of Jim's songs in the future, unfortunately there is a lot of bad karma to deal with regarding using his legacy of songs.

Agony Shorthand: Tell us a little bit about the longtime/current members of the new-deal MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS and what they bring to the proceedings.

Well, Tommy Jay has been there since the very beginning on so many of my works & Nudge Squidfish since '78, he recorded the True Believers EP, then joined the band a few months later - so we have been doing projects together for decades now. They know me & what makes me tick & vice-versa - Our 'mystery lead guitarist' Johnny Furnace has been there all along too as part of our backyard circle, he wrote the song "Just For Lies" which is on "Tree Stump....". So Johnny has played with us through most of the 80's & appears in many of our closet recordings, but a few years ago came out of his closet & into his own as a live player & he has become for me like Tommy Hall was for Roky & The Elevators, his playing style is a kind of psyched-out wash over our songs, and it takes a lot of pressure somehow off me on stage & allows me to be more....OUT THERE creatively too without everything falling apart.....that's why I am so proud of this band and especially of our new CD "Black Hole Rock" - I feel It is as good as ANTHING I / we have ever recorded especially as a whole entity & I hope people check it out - spread the word, brother!

For MORE INFORMATION bookings or questions, Mike's email contact is or write to: MIKE HUMMEL P.O. BOX 85 HARRISBURG, OHIO 43126