Text by Bruce Farley Mowat, 1988
Live photos by Robert Barry Francos
© FFanzeen, 2010
Album cover image from the Internet
The following interview originally appeared in FFanzeen Number 15, which was issued in 1988.
I’ve been seeing the Lyres a number of times since they formed, and even as late as a couple of years ago at a Nancy Neon sponsored show in the Boston area. MonoMan is still sounding strong, playing hard, and keeping it real in the garage. – RBF
The Lyres have been around for over eight years, dammit, and they still don’t get the recongiion they should on this continent. This Canadian FFanzeen correspondent caught up with Jeff “MonoMan” Conolly when the band played Chuggies in Hamilton, Ontario, and cornered him in Sloth Kook’s Kave, armed with a vintage Nagra-Kudeleski portable mono reel-to-reel recorder. Recognizing my inherent good tastes (in matters of sound equipment, anyway), he consented to do an interview. The following is the interview that was aired on CFMU-FM.
FFanzeen: You have a new LP [Lyres, Lyres], and it has a couple of re-cuts including the Chip Lamey single (“How Do You Know”). Any reason for that?
Jeff Conolly: Yeah, that single is like – R.E.M.’s first single, that “Radio Free Europe” on Hiptone, the Cramps’ first two singles, “Human Fly” and “Surfin’ Bird,” on that Vengeance label – go for a lot of money. And the Lyres first 45 and some of the Chesterfield Kings’ singles go for a lot of money. There was, like a thousand pressed or whatever, so they go for 20 or 30 Pounds in Europe or England. The song “How Do You Know” was only available on one of those “record collector” type singles. So I figured I’d put it out on a 12” record and that’s why the song was re-recorded.
FF: Okay. How about “Busy Man”?
Jeff: The new one is “Busy Men.” Originally it was “Busy Man” nine years ago as DMZ, but I just wanted to make more money ‘cause I decided to get greedier. I changed m-a-n to m-e-n so I could cut out some of the publisher people that were grabbing 15 or 20 percent. That was motivated by sheer greed.
FF: We should talk about the history of the Lyres and DMZ. You’ve been around for what, 10, 12 years now?
Jeff: I’m pretty old, but I do aright! I got lots of friends [yuks all around]. We were, like, college students and maybe one guy that used to work at a radio station. There was a big punk explosion in ’75, and we started playing gigs [in Boston]. We had the drummer that left the Modern Lovers for the Cars [David Robinson]; we had him for the whole summer. We gained some notoriety there. We started making records and then we had an album on Sire Records [DMZ] before the Pretenders had an album on there.
FF: Did a record on Bomp!, too.
Jeff: Yeah, we did that stuff, too. And then at the very end of ’78, everybody kinda split up. It was very quick. It lasted a short period of time.
FF: They repackaged some of that early stuff with some other unreleased stuff they dragged out. Did you see any of that?
Jeff: Probably not. I didn’t receive any of it.
Jeff: You kind of have to go out to Los Angeles and go to the warehouse and grab the stuff off the shelves.
FF: So, how did the Lyres come to be? This would be ’79 now?
Jeff: Yeah, January 1, 1979. That was the first Lyres rehearsal. So here we are in 1986, so that’s well over 8 years that we’ve been playing gigs and making records here and there.
FF: Who’s in the band now?
Jeff: The same guys [on the Lyres, Lyres album]. We have a new bass player since the last time we played here in Hamilton. In fact, the bass player we had last time we played Chugggies quit when we got back home because he didn’t want to sleep on other people’s couches anymore. Well, I like sleeping on people’s couches and in their beds, wherever I’m accepted, as long as it’s, y’know, a virus-free environment. So that’s why were’ back here with a new bass player.
FF: He likes couches.
Jeff: He’s looking for viruses and anything he can get his ands on, basically.
FF: So, the vinyl tally is -
Jeff: We’re tallying up big scores.
FF: Two LPs, and a compact disc (!).
Jeff: No, we have two compact discs (!!). Two albums, two CDs, and four 45s.
FF: On the new LP, there’s a Percy Sledge-like reworking of “She Pays the Rent.” What bolt of inspiration provided that?
Jeff: This friend of mine that lives in Oslo, Norway, he’s, like, a Pretty Things expert, but, like, y’know, he’s a nice guitarist and he had these bands. His name is Willie B. I don’t say his last name so well [probably unpronounceable on the first attempt – BM]. He sends me over this single and it’s like, him, the male guitarist, and three chicks playing bass, drums, and lead singer. These beautiful Norwegian women with the high cheekbones, perfect shaped breasts, tits, bosoms! So, like, they do this song, “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” And its, like, excellent. It’s great. It’s like Janis Joplin-meets-Oslo, Norway, but it’s a really nice record, okay. The guy sent it over to me for free! So I’m going, “I’m really pissed off about this Nomads bullshit,” so I’m going to do the Norwegian “That’s How Strong My Love Is” by this Willie B. and Three Norwegian revue, and take their songs and slow “She Pays the Rent” to a soul ballad. It was basically people from Norway that gave me the inspiration as a backlash to the Swedish people.
FF: What happened with that Nomads’ version of “She Pays the Rent”?
Jeff: What happened was bad for everybody because people were comparing both versions and it’s stupid, y’know, ‘cause I wrote the stupid song and I don’t need to be in competition with somebody who’s going to outdo me on my own material. So the Norwegian people just came through, through the mail, and I was able to slap the Swedish people in the face with the help of the Norwegian people, which I thought was really appropriate.
FF: A couple of other things from the LP: “Stormy” by the Classics IV?
Jeff: The Jesters of Newport, California.
FF: Is it corrected? That track is a lot different from what people expect from the Lyres.
Jeff: Well, I don’t know what they’re gonna expect because as long as the Lyres are making records there will be some stuff on the records that people won’t understand.
FF: That just gives you more depth.
Jeff: It’s probably too much for people to take in.
FF: What would you like to be doing in the future?
Jeff: Probably take two-three months off from the music business completely, ‘cause there’s plenty of other bands waiting in the wings to pull up the slack, and I figure, let these guys take over for awhile and sit in the hot sand. I’m going to go to the beach and lie in the sun, and just completely forget about the music business. I’m supposed to promote this Lyres, Lyres album, which is an okay record. I like it a lot in certain ways, and I’m supposed to go to Europe to promote it. And then I’m just going to take a vacation. This is, like, one summer that I’m going to enjoy because too many summers have gone where I didn’t have a good time, so I think that’s what ’87 is going to be all about. People just saying, “Fuck this, I’ve had enough of this crap and I’m gonna take a vacation for a while,” I think that’s the theme for ’87, to lay back and take stock of yourself – “Are you taking music too serious?” “Are you concerned by what it all means?” ‘Cause personally, I’ve had enough. I think it’s time to take a big vacation. And if people want money, good, work your ass off for the whole summer, but, y’know, good luck! [Yuks]. Have a good time, I mean, get everybody for every buck they’re worth! That’s what I have to say.
FF: Trivial notes: Who’s the woman on the cover of the LP?
Jeff: She’s a groupie. Boston-based, but she’s pretty much, y’know, familiar with all kinds of rock stars in all kinds of ways. She’s a nice girl. She’s on the album cover and on the poster. I thought it was quite fitting that she could be the El Producto Cigar Girl of ’87. If you’ve ever seen a package of El Producto cigars, then you’ll understand what the album cover’s about, y'know?