Between Spectacles and Dreams: Enablers in conversation with Mark McCawley

Between Spectacles

and Dreams:

Enablers

in conversation with Mark McCawley

 
 

From left to right: Sam Ospovat - Drums; Kevin Thomson - Guitar; Pete Simonelli - Words; Joe Goldring - Guitar. Photo Copyright © Lenny Gonzalez

From left to right: Sam Ospovat – Drums; Kevin Thomson – Guitar; Pete Simonelli – Words/Vocals; Joe Goldring – Guitar. Photo Copyright © Lenny Gonzalez

 

That one finds the urge to twist and fugue to this music and Simonelli’s dark urbane tales is due to the collective gestalt and unique zeitgeist of this band which relishes pushing musical and lyrical boundaries of form and content and presenting them in an eclectic and exciting manner.
• Mark McCawley


 
 
I

n an era of instant viral YouTube fame and ever increasing addiction to celebrity culture, it’s refreshing to encounter a band such as Enablers — a post-punk quartet made up of journeyman veterans of Swans, Tarnation, Nice Strong Arm and Toiling Midgets — who have paid their underground dues in full.
 
Fronted by Pete Simonelli, a published poet and writer, Enablers’ current lineup includes guitarists Joe Goldring (formerly of Swans, Toiling Midgets and Touched by a Janitor) and Kevin Thomson (formerly of Timco, Nice Strong Arm, Morning Champ, and Touched by a Janitor), and drummer Sam Ospovat (formerly of Beep, Naytronix, Timosaurus, Anteater, Passwords, CavityFang, Kapowski and concurrently, PIKI).
 
Formed in San Francisco, California, in 2002, Enablers have released 5 LPs and 2 EPs to date, each developing its own distinctly unique post-punk aesthetic. Enablers’ intricate and provocative sound has been honed through more than ten years of playing together, and touring extensively throughout Europe where venues are smaller and more intimate (which better suits an underground band like Enablers), the result being a much closer and almost cult-like following Enablers seem to generate wherever they play live (or as evidenced by the increasing strength and success of their string of recordings to date). Indeed, while Enablers sound is as much influenced by traditional post-punk (Pere Ubu, Joy Division) and their experimental avant-garde post-punk predecessors (bands like Sonic Youth, Band of Susans, and Live Skull; all originated in New York’s No Wave scene) and the Rock In Opposition movement years earlier, it is Enablers’ inherent genre-busting qualities that keeps their sound continuously fresh and free from easy categorization.
 
While Simonelli brings an almost jazz-like quality to his dark narratives and dramatic monologues, and a tempered theatricality to his performances, it is how he works off the often-dissonant harmonies and juxtaposing melodies of guitarists Goldring and Thomson and drummer Ospovat which raises Enablers music beyond that of a mere spoken word performance band.
 
Although US media have all too often categorized Enablers as a spoken word band stylized on beat poetry of the 1950s, it is impossible to actually pin down this band to any specific genre. In the strictest sense, Enablers are to spoken word what Kerouac is to vocal jazz. Simonelli’s lyrics are as much an essential element of Enablers’ overall sound as the oscillating guitars and drums which vie for dominance within the overall structure of Enablers’ songs. Just as Simonelli’s lyrics do not follow traditional song/poem structure, neither does Enablers’ music follow any discernible pattern. That one finds the urge to twist and fugue to this music and Simonelli’s dark urbane tales is due to the collective gestalt and unique zeitgeist of this band which relishes pushing musical and lyrical boundaries of form and content and presenting them in an eclectic and exciting manner.
 
Upon their return from their most recent 2015 European tour promoting their fifth album, The Rightful Pivot, I had an opportunity of interviewing the members of Enablers at length concerning the history and creative aims of the band.

* * * *

Mark McCawley: Elaborate about Enablers formative years in San Francisco. Early gigs. Early media attention. Audience following. Early recordings.
 
Pete Simonelli: I had a book project in mind involving a batch of poems that I wanted to set to music. I’m not sure if this is the case anymore, but there was a time when the “real” poets of San Francisco (and elsewhere, to be fair) would cry heresy over a project like this. I didn’t care anymore. Around the time I approached Kevin about helping me with it, in 2002, I was just coming out of a rather long stretch of losing friends and family, and I was writing quite a bit. It was actually a pivotal time in the work and the poems in question demonstrated a certain shift that occurs in anybody’s growth. Instead of just going through the usual grind of submitting them to magazines or throwing them away, I realized that there was a real need to re-interpret the poems. The project involved a CD that would accompany the book. I actually took the idea from those old GI-Joe read-along comics that came with dramatic narrations and music on 45s. I went bat-shit for those as a kid. Any rate, I approached Kevin primarily because he and Goldring were in my favorite local band, Touched by a Janitor. The added bonus was that they, and Joe Byrnes (who, at that time, was playing drums for another stellar local outfit, Broken Horse), were always around. We all lived in the Mission District, hung out together, worked together. To me, Janitor was a band of subtle mutineers, the only real band that was expressing a scene and setting in a kind of allegorical way. They subverted a lot of disquiet through humor & irreverence, which I felt a real kinship with. So I gave Kevin a few poems to read and told him about my idea. He was a little wary, politely so, but he eventually came around to the project after he’d read the poems and we had begun to have informal rehearsals over some beers at my place. Goldring came along in a bit of a slower and, I think, more methodical fashion but, in his great proletarian struggle, he cottoned to the idea soon enough. Byrnes is a blur to me in this respect. I do know that both Thomson and Goldring were hot to play with him in some way, so I suppose this was the perfect fit. As it turned out, things shaped up pretty fast. When Kevin and I initially began speaking about the music—about what we thought it should be—we both knew that it was definitely not going to be your usual repetitive background drone. We both felt that there had to be an equal, even peculiar, playing field between the music and the words, that either facet should be able to simultaneously stand on its own and work together in a musical sense (which is still a primary approach to how we work). But no one ever thought it was going to turn into a band; it was never the intention at that particular time. Byrnes changed that idea. He decided that he wouldn’t feel comfortable recording the songs until he had a show or two under his belt. We shrugged, said why not. First show was at a bar called Doc’s Clock—nothing spectacular, really. We just didn’t have the mindset yet. Live performance, in its own right, wasn’t really the job to be done at that point. As more shows came, I realized that some people probably thought of me as an impostor. In a way, I was. They wanted a Touched by a Janitor show, not a poet—or anybody, really—performing with Touched by a Janitor. Months went by, the recording got done, Neurot invited us to record for them, some girls broke into an impromptu pole-dance once (we’d arrived), a few people got more into it, got more excited by the growing confidence they could see in the band, and in 2004 End Note was released. The “project” died. As the band got more serious and more doors were opened to us, the performance aspect became a lot more of an obvious concern. We dealt with it all in some usual ways and some not-so-usual ways. Ever since, I think we’re like the book you steal from the library.
 

 
Mark McCawley: With its long alternative and underground music and literary history how has San Francisco, itself, shaped Enablers music and lyrics?
 
Pete Simonelli: I’ve always felt that San Francisco was a city founded by misfits, and that its literary and musical legacies are just a reflection of what historians would call ‘colorful characters.’ Until fairly recently, it was always a city that embraced eccentricity, iconoclasm, and expression. People moved there to find out what they were, to find some kind of an identity. Musically, I’d agree with Joe (and personally add Flipper). The bands he mentions have been highly influential in terms of their approach to making music and to how that music sounded. Artists of all stripes—ones I’ve known, admired, or both—didn’t hold anything back, and that’s played an integral role in how we make music and write. The only setback is that “critics” often take the literary influence too far, reducing us to a band “led by a Beat poet.” Somebody said it once, and this “Beat” tag has been propagated ever since. In a lot of ways, not only is this wrong, it’s just lazy and unfair to everybody—to the band and listening public alike. Nobody in the band has ever once thought of who or what we are in that way at all.
 
Joe Goldring: For me the late 70s early 80s SF bands like Toiling Midgets, Sleepers, Factrix and even some Tuxedo Moon are a direct musical influence for Enablers. Ricky Williams (Sleepers and sometime Midgets singer) seems to have some kind of an indirect influence on Pete to my ears.
 
Kevin Thomson: I can’t say that much regarding the history of SF and its influence upon us. We all have our own stories. I mean, I like Flipper too and when I was a kid the Dead Kennedy’s meant something to me but San Francisco itself was a complete unknown until I moved there. I’m more directly influenced by the landscape than anything else. In fact, it was the landscape that kept me from going back to NY. The first time I watched the fog roll over Twin Peaks from my friend’s attic window I was on the hook. This is not to say that the people I met and the music I heard them making did not have an influence upon me, of course it did, but in a historical sense there was no real influence for me. NY and Europe seemed the be all and end all for me back then.
 
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Enablers — West Virginia. From the album ‘The Rightful Pivot’. Super 8 & 8mm film by Marie Trolliet & Fabien Bouillard. Copyright © 2015

 
Mark McCawley: From the first instance I listened to Enablers music, I noted a strong No Wave, Post-punk, Low rock, and RIO (Rock In Opposition) influences presented in almost orchestral fashion (i.e. movements) as counterpoints to Pete’s lyrics. Is this an accurate observation?
 
Pete Simonelli: No Wave and Punk have definitely played a huge part in how we sound. There aren’t too many rules in those influences, so you can just let fly with ideas, and then make up your own rules in the process. One of those rules for me is figuring out how and when to shut up, which allows for greater tension and fluidity in a given arrangement. The music serves just as much purpose — and creates just as much language and mood — as the words do. So yeah, ‘movements’ is an accurate observation because, from a narrative standpoint, the music acts as a transitional force, breaking up or augmenting existing scenery, or creating new scenery and texture.
 
Joe Goldring: We definitely think about arranging music in “movements”. The narratives of the poems dictate how we build or change sections of each of the compositions. At the end of the day, the whole group are the narrators, and that throws the regular verse/chorus song-writing formulae out the window.

The music should be as emotive as the text and how Pete decides his poem should be delivered verbally. Sometimes something that could seem winsome or reflective on paper needs to be presented as aggressive within the live performance of the piece…to get the point across…the band needs to emphasize that.
 
Kevin Thomson: I’m unfamiliar with most of these terms but if there is some sort of alignment or kindred spirit then I am interested in learning more. No-Wave and Post Punk had a massive influence on me. I liked the apparent ditching of convention, the politics and the humor (see “cop buys a donut”). Upon delving a bit deeper into No-Wave I felt like I had found something that really spoke to me. Songs didn’t necessarily have to “rock out” to slay, guitars did not have to sound like “guitars” and neither did saxophones either. The “to the point” aspects of a band like DNA were a direct influence; just look at the length of a typical Touched By A Janitor song for proof. And even those perfunctory ditties were seen by Joe and me as being in “movements”… that very idea is perhaps one of the keys to why the music works so well with Pete’s poems.
 

Enablers at UT Connewitz Leipzig, Germany on March 27, 2015. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantil

Enablers at UT Connewitz Leipzig, Germany on March 27, 2015. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantil

 
Mark McCawley: Pete’s lyrical contribution to Enablers music seems quite different from the concept of “poems set to music”. How has the band dynamic, live performance, video, altered Enablers lyrically and theatrically?
 
Kevin Thomson: Ya know, we’ve always said that the music and poetry have to be equals, and any theatricality comes from the fact that we just feel it and I, for one, am simply a complete spazz when I play live. Pete’s trip is probably more a confluence of the music hitting him and how he wants to portray any feeling or emotion in the poem. Now that I read what I just wrote I have to say that the poems are indeed having more effect upon me in the live setting all the time and from the writing perspective they always have.
 
Pete Simonelli: One of the great things about working on new material is not knowing exactly how a poem will come across once it’s steeped in an arranged piece of music. The music can re-interpret the intention or thoughts that went into writing it in a lot of different ways. I can’t really speak for meaning, but all sorts of theatrical and performance devices can alter the presentation of the poem. That’s why touring before recording helps so much. Vocally, I can read the same poem identically, take after take, but the music will often reshape, add to, or distend the context of the poem. Experimentation is built into the whole process. And that process is often quite shifty, too, because the music is also being written at the same time. That’s the dynamic. We try to ride the evolutions (and sometimes edit) as much as we can until the words find a cogent space within the song. We all know that a lot of our songs will do a fair amount of traveling in three or four minutes, so there’s a kind of merciful interplay between our own ideas and what the music wants to do.
 
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Enablers — Career-Minded Individual (featuring Doug Scharin on drums). From the album ‘Blown Realm & Stalled Explosion’. Super 8 & 8mm film by Marie Trolliet & Fabien Bouillard. Copyright © 2011

 
Mark McCawley: Enablers music seems best suited for smaller, more intimate venues. How has this worked out with Enablers’ tours, and do you intend to keep touring the smaller venues? Also, how do videos fit into Enablers overall promotion of the band?
 
Pete Simonelli: We all definitely prefer the smaller venues. And you’re right; the music is generally better suited for them. Intimacy, participation, and eye-to-eye vantages—they’re all integral factors to how we put on a show. Some smaller venues still get it wrong, though. Sometimes in a room with a 100-person capacity the stage will be five, six feet off the floor, so we set up on the floor. That’s nothing new for a lot of bands, but I think it shows how much a band wants to relate to its audience. But we’re not averse to larger stages/venues, either. Sometimes they come along and we’ll just set up in a nice tight cluster. I think we’re always prepared for pretty much any stage. Our only intention is to play well and have fun no matter what the size of the venue or stage is. In the case of videos, last I checked the ‘On Monk’ one, done by our friends Marie Trolliet and Fabien Bouillard, was in the teen-thousand hits range. Pretty good. Their subsequent videos, whether shot live (like in Le Havre in 2009) or treated (‘Career-Minded Individual,’ ‘West Virginia’) have generated—or will generate—a lot of views because they’re done so well and complement the music in highly intuitive ways.
 
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Enablers — On Monk (featuring Joe Byrnes on drums). Enablers live in Paris, 2008. Super 8 & 8mm film by Marie Trolliet & Fabien Bouillard. Copyright © 2008

 
Mark McCawley: Now that all band members no longer live in the same geographical area, how do the members manage to create and work on new material? Do the members make use of contemporary technologies (i.e. Garageband, iPhones, Skype, FaceTime) to work on new material or ideas?
 
Pete Simonelli: Some of those technologies certainly come into play. We’ve used them before, and continue to use them depending upon the necessity of a given project. Files and ideas are increasingly tossed back and forth as something is being developed. Late last year, as a means of promoting the upcoming release, we released four new songs (titled “Berlinesque” on Bandcamp) using interactive media. Kevin sent a bunch of ideas in various stages of development and the rest of us took it from there, picking the best of the lot and adding additional pieces of music and vocals to flesh out the songs. Sam and I got together in his rehearsal space to record drums and percussion; Joe sent in guitar tracks. We cobbled all of that together in a Pro Tools session, it was mixed, and voila: four songs in a matter of days, really. So that’s always a possibility and a helpful tool. But we all prefer the traditional way: sitting in a room together, shootin’ the shit and playing, experimenting, listening etc. Personally, I go out west for the Xmas holidays and we use that opportunity to book a show or two (which helps with travel expenses and gets Sam involved) and work on new material. We basically take every opportunity we can generate on our own to get together—which could be through a show, rehearsing for a tour etc—and work as long as our time together allows. Between Kevin, Joe, and myself, having material has never been an issue because all of us are always working on something. We work in a much more focused way, really, and that’s something I think we thrive on now. Joe and Kevin have acquired a space in Oakland, and Sam has a space here in Brooklyn. Both of these places have helped close that geographical gap in more than just a figurative way. They’re available. It can be done. You really shouldn’t allow that distance to get in the way of continuing with things. If you’re committed to it, you figure out ways to adapt and stay together without too much fuss. It’s never very easy, but you do get used to it.
 

Enablers at The Black Sheep, Montpellier, France on March 3, 2015. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantile

Enablers at The Black Sheep, Montpellier, France on March 3, 2015. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantile

 
Mark McCawley: Compared to Enablers prior releases, how did The Rightful Pivot come together both in and out of the studio?
 
Pete Simonelli: It came about in a much shorter period, for sure. We had about three new songs that we were already playing live (earlier, slightly different arrangements had been worked on while Doug was still with us). Kevin was back east at one point and he and I basically cobbled together an arrangement for “Went Right.” But it all pretty much came together over a week of rehearsals and a show in Oakland. Joe had a deal with Coast that allowed us to use the studio on a really good rate, but it was only for two or three days. So we had to work in a more focused and quick way. A good amount of the decision-making was actually done in the studio while recording, but I’d say that was more reflexive than anything else. Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions was very much a studio record—in the sense that the majority of the music was written while recording—and that experience played a big part in how we worked this time. It was pretty loose and fun, and we had the benefit of working with Desmond, who really made things a lot easier because none of us were ever forced to run back and forth between the control room and the recording room. Essentially, the last two records have been completed in a few concentrated days, and I’d say that’s just a testament to how long Kevin and Joe have played together. When they’re firing, ideas roll off them very fluidly and fast, and that makes a big impression on everyone involved. We can find a collective ear pretty quickly now.
 
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Enablers – Went Right. From the album ‘The Rightful Pivot’, Atypeek Music, France, 2015

 
Mark McCawley: What role does an outside producer play in the recording of Enablers music, or is this role divided among its members?
 
Pete Simonelli: We handle that together. Kevin and Joe are really good at cutting to the chase without losing any substance and getting a song slapped into shape. Again, I think that has a lot to do with how long they’ve played together. I’d say that a lot of their communication involves playing the role of a producer. But there’s never been an actual one. From a present standpoint, I’m thankful for that. I could be wrong, but a producer, in the traditional sense, defeats the whole purpose.
 

 
Mark McCawley: While sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Mixcloud help independent bands and labels to reach new fans and better control access to their music — what has been Enablers experience been with such streaming sites as Google Play, iTunes, Pandora, Rdio, and Spotify — do they benefit the independent band or artist, or only the big monolithic record labels?
 
Kevin Thomson: This is on everyone’s tongue; every marketing intern is dying to know as well. The big streaming services are in business to benefit themselves and shareholders, not anyone else. They have tapped into the most commercially available vein of humanity: convenience. Therefore they are not to blame per se for the public using these services like people once used radio. In our case I don’t think the benefits are truly concrete or profitable. For a company like Pandora we are just a number to help drive ad sales, and pay salaries and rent on posh office suites. It’s up to the individual artists to weigh any supposed benefits and decide if they want to participate. I for one do not want to, and only recently allowed Atypeek to put us on Spotify, but not Pandora or Amazon. For me it is a tough call because I am against unfettered capitalism, and the exploitation of artists and workers alike. Its like modern voting in a way: pick the lesser of the evils if you can–or don’t vote. Find other ways to reach fans. Start by writing compelling material. Make friends, not “likes.”
 
I don’t feel like a radical.
 
Mark McCawley: Where do Enablers see their music going after The Rightful Pivot?
 
Pete Simonelli: Personally, I’d like to try stretching songs out more, but not in the sense of “jamming.” I have no idea, really, and I kind of prefer it that way.
 
 

Discography

 
 
Lancashire and Somerset:
 
 
L&S 004: Enablers / Redpanda – Split 7″, November 4th, 2006 Sold Out
 
L&S 006: Pete Simonelli – A Lonely War Chapbook (Stories and Poems) & CD, July 2008 Sold Out
 
L&S 012: Enablers – ‘Now You Can Answer My Prayers’ Etched 10″, May 2009 Sold Out Listen/Order HERE
 
L&S 013: Pete Simonelli – A Lonely War – Chapbook (Stories and Poems) & CD (2nd Edition), July 2009 Sold Out
 
L&S 015: Enablers – ‘Output Negative Space’ 12″ + ‘Touched by a Janitor’ Cassette Tape Only Release, May 2010 Sold Out
 
L&S 018: Pete Simonelli / McWatt / Black Octagon – Split / Etched 12″, November 2010 Sold Out
 
L&S 019: Pete Simonelli – One Brittle Nerve – Chapbook (Poems) & CD, Nov 2010 Order HERE
 
L&S 020: Enablers – Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions 12″ LP, November 5th, 2011 Sold Out Listen/Order HERE
 
L&S 026: Goldring / Thomson: For All #1: Nines – 12″ May 30, 2014 Listen/Order HERE
 
L&S 030: Enablers – The Rightful Pivot LP, February 20th, 2015 Listen/Order HERE
 
 
Neurot Recordings:
 
 
NR 031: Enablers – End Note CD/Download HERE
 
Released Jan. 2004; recorded Fall 2003; engineered by Tim Mooney (Sleepers, Toiling Midgets, American Music Club); mixed by Goldring/Enablers. US, UK & European distribution in conjunction w/ Southern Records.
 
NR 041: Enablers – Output Negative Space CD/Download HERE
 
Released May 2006; recorded Fall and Winter 2005-2006, Closer Recording; engineered by Goldring; mixed by Goldring/Enablers. US, UK & European distribution in conjunction with Southern Records.
 
 
Majic Wallet Records/Exile on Mainstream:
 
 
MW 002 Enablers – Tundra (Majic Wallet, Los Angeles, USA) CD Listen/Order HERE
 
Released September 2008; recorded Winter & Spring 2007-2008, Closer Recording; engineered by Goldring; mixed by Goldring/Enablers.
 
EOM 040 Enablers – Tundra (Exile on Mainstream) Listen/Order HERE
 
Re-released by Exile on Mainstream as a limited edition (1300 copies) wooden CD box, released Jan. 2009. UK and European distribution.
 
 
Awesome Vistas:
 
 
AV 01: Enablers – The Achievement (Vinyl, 12″, Single Sided, Limited Edition 300 copies) Sold Out. Digital Listen/Order HERE
 
Artwork by Chris Johanson; released Nov. 2007; recorded Fall 2007 at Closer Recording (one musically improvised take). This is the full, original story set to music. The story was later adapted to the song “The Achievement” on Tundra. US release.
 
 
Atypeek Music:
 
 
Enablers – The Rightful Pivot
https://itunes.apple.com/fr/album/the-rightful-pivot/id964935986
 
Enablers – Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions
https://itunes.apple.com/fr/album/blown-realms-stalled-explosions/id1003377353
 
Enablers – Tundra
https://itunes.apple.com/fr/album/tundra/id995227919
 
Enablers – Berlinesque
http://www.deezer.com/album/11525400
 
 

Band Member Bios

 
 

"Pete Simonelli", Lyon, France on March 6th, 2015. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantile

“Pete Simonelli”, Lyon, France on March 6th, 2015. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantile

Pete Simonelli: I was born on July 10, 1970 and raised in Stockton, California. I left town right after turning 19 (circa 1989, my father speaking: “You gotta get the fuck outta this town, Pete.”), moved to the San Diego area to live with my brother & to avoid becoming a statistic in one way or another. Stockton was a dead-end town for a kid who liked to read and write and wanted to see as much of the world as possible. Anywhere—even San Diego—was good enough at the time. In lieu of leaving for good, the general picture involved pulverizing boredom, committing stupid petty crimes, and taking too many drugs. I had no interest in college—I dropped out of the local community college—and was entirely too unmotivated for any more school. My parents would have been better off burning their money.

Lived in a couple different towns in the San Diego area and, except for the beach, I disliked the region very much (I spent a little over a year there). It was nothing more than a remove, and I soon found myself doing much of the same stupid shit that had forced me out of my hometown in the first place. But my time there definitely introduced me to how I’d be existing for the next several years as a so-called artist (I wrote a lot), namely living on the brink of a multifarious “deep end”; moved back north and settled in San Francisco (1991). Spent the next seventeen years there existing on various diets, writing and, after a few different menial jobs to survive, eventually found a steady calling as a bartender and, later, as an auto courier. Started publishing poems in small magazines in the early SF days. My first publication was in a magazine called The Typewriter; I was 24 and had read that if you weren’t published by that age you were sunk. (Sunk rhymes with bunk, Edmund White.) The Mission District of SF proved to be the source for some very formative years, artistically and socially, throughout the 90s and early Oughts. Made many friends and thrived on those friendships and experiences in ways that informed a lot of my writing, life, and outlook in general. In 1996 I got pulled into playing drums with a punk band called Shotwell (still going). I had been their ‘projectionist’ but the drummer stool was always going empty. As a kid I air-drummed a lot, so it seemed “doable.” I was told that I could “see the world” through touring and I was sold. I was no good, but I did manage to see a lot of the States and a bit of Canada during my time with that band, and I’m grateful for the experience. It gave me a deeper sense of, and love for, travel and music, not to mention an appreciation for the steadfast camaraderie that can arise from the two. But I was still always writing.

Enablers formed in 2002. In the last few years of my time in SF, I watched it change from a highly charged, culturally diverse center to a playground for wealthy and frivolous land-grabbers. In spite of that change, Enablers became a defining period; an identity came along with it. I like to think that we carried an aesthetic torch that lit the gap between what had come before (see influences) and what was happening in the current climate (I think we still do). But it was still time to leave. Left SF in 2008, very bored and annoyed with it, and moved to Brooklyn, NY to start a new life with my girlfriend and fulfill a life-long dream of living in NYC and re-setting some roots my father and his family had established in Brooklyn more than a half century earlier. In spite of the noble ambitions, I got my existential ass kicked for the first couple of years, but the change in scenery was certainly always welcome. New York spurred me on in ways that I felt were needed artistically and otherwise. The world just gets bigger and broader here, and, despite the aggravations, congestion, and the financial peaks and valleys that come with the territory, I think being in NYC has helped me in a lot of beneficial ways. It’s home, and I feel rooted. Enablers are still going strong despite the geographical distance between members, and I love every one of them—former, current, or itinerant member alike. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from each of them. These days I’m writing well and as often as I can or want to, and I’m currently working as an audiobooks narrator. No pets, but I always kind of wanted a dog.
 
 

"Kevin Thomson". Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantile

“Kevin Thomson”. Photo Copyright © 2015 Thomas Dantile

Kevin Thomson: I’m from Long Island which doesn’t mean all that much except that when I was a kid, on certain NY radio stations, you could hear Blondie and then Elton John… and all I am saying here is that you can guess where my ear went. I got ironically lucky and went to school in Austin TX in 1983; my musical world blew to previously unknown proportions until it overtook everything else, even school. I had a band called Nice Strong Arm that started getting serious around 1987 and I sold all the records I had been listening to non-stop, my Joy Division, New Order, Gang of 4, Butthole Surfers, Bauhaus, Scratch Acid, Wire, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Factrix, Dream Syndicate, PIL, Swans, Live Skull, Cocteau Twins, Television, Birthday Party, you name it, I sold it, and bought a ’72 Gold Top Deluxe then went nuts for several years trying to find my own voice within all these influences. I didn’t have a music collection aside from random mix cassettes until I moved by default to SFs in 1990.

I landed in the right place at the right time. There was a great confluence of visual art, literature, queer culture, bohos, hispanic culture, and every kind of music from out jazz to straight punk, from noise to proto-shoegaze in the Mission District of SF. My house was an old bar I shared with 3 other people; we each paid $250/month to live there. Salad days. We painted houses, jerked espresso, poured beers, hammered boards or fixed jalopies by day and lived hard by night going to shows, boozing, drugging and working on our “shit”. I met Joe Goldring in ’90 straight away from Vudi of American Music Club, fell in with that crew to some extent, and began writing with Joe. My “pop” band, Timco, played local and toured, made records, then faded… all the while Joe and I kept trying to get bands that were great to get out of the gate. Morning Champ: two lives, a few fights, incompletes, forced nudity, the end. Touched By a Janitor: born out of a bong hit, a phone call, and a desire to trim everything away from a song until only the true nugget remained…good on paper and in fact, but something wasn’t right. We stumbled and began to crack.

Around this time I was nearly a bum, working on cars, being a doorman, and a bit sour on music when Pete Simonelli asked me about providing some kind of music for his poems. I balked. Spoken word and electric guitar brought bad imagery to me but it was also a challenge that seemed worth taking up so we did. As it progressed it seemed logical to bring Goldring in along with Joe Byrnes and things moved quickly and worked surprisingly well. The ideas, and even some of the songs, IE: Output Negative Space, that we had worked on in Touched By a Janitor made perfect sense with Pete. He read it off the page at first but the music overtook him. I remember the show when the sheafs went flying never to return. At first the response at home was luke. Too many times I heard the words, “I really miss TBAJ”. It was tough on my psyche for sure. Despite the perceived lack of response at home we dove into touring Europe at least once a year and built a following by “grinding it out” and making friends in the underground. The fact that our first two records were on Neurot helped to open some doors to us. Since leaving Neurot we’ve been lucky to collaborate with David Hand of Lancashire and Somerset who does our vinyl beautifully and Andreas Kohl of Exile on Mainstream who’s handled our CD’s in a likewise fashion. Nothing is on a big scale here and everyone does their best. We recently signed up with Atypeek Music in France to handle the maze of the web and digital streaming as well as a bit of promo. It all seems to be working together really well. The booking is still handled by and large by myself and the band. Its a family affair from driving to loading out to licking stamps and sending thank you notes… and yes, we do intend to fulfill our indie gogo promises to everyone who breathed life into the band and made the new record and 2013 and ’15 tours possible.

We eventually lost Byrnes to insanity and ultimately death. That really hurt, more than a uniquely amazing drummer he was our friend. He and I were partners in crime, getting stoned and being silly. Doug Scharin did more than “fill his shoes”; he was a driving force in the band to be reckoned with as a writer and arranger. He and Joe had already done several projects together so the fit was pretty natural too. When family became his main focus we panicked. Who could possibly do the job after these two? We got lucky thanks to a thriving improv scene in downtown Oakland where drummers like Sam Ospovat were killing it every week. Lightbulb. He said yes, and the match is made as far as I’m concerned. Inevitably, much is left out of this story, but I’ll gladly swap a few over a couple of two-three with just about anybody, anytime.
 
 

 Joe Goldring. Photo Copyright © Lenny Gonzalez

Joe Goldring. Photo Copyright © Lenny Gonzalez

Joe Goldring: I was born in London on Saturday, May 10th, 1969. I was lucky to grow up in a family with very eclectic tastes in music. I messed around with various instruments. I really wanted to be a drummer. I started playing guitar then bass in a couple of bands around the age of 14. England was pretty grim though. My Dad had moved to SF, and when I was 16 I said fuck it and bailed on London. After some initial groping around the music scene in SF I was fortunate to meet Vudi of AMC and Tim Mooney of Toiling Migets. These guys opened me up to a whole new universe of musical possibilities, and basically switched my brain on. I joined the Midgets as their bassist and collaborated on many projects with the many brilliant weirdos I met though those guys. The light bulb that was turned on at that point is still glowing, and I am eternally thankful to those guys.

It was Tim again who alerted me to “a band you will want to join” when he phoned me and told me to turn the radio on. The band was Nice Strong Arm. I saw their last show, was very impressed with their guitarist, then they broke up and disappeared from view. A Year or so later, I was at a cafe avoiding the opening band at a midgets gig when I was given a negative description of the band I was avoiding by someone who’s musical taste I knew to be questionable. Tim and I rushed back to the club. The band was Timco and there was that guitarist from Nice Strong Arm again. Kevin and myself started Morning Champ, the little band that could, but didn’t.

I was talked into spending about a year of my life with Swans. We rehearsed. A lot. We toured, we made a record, we toured…That was fun…But more importantly, I met Doug Scharin, the drummer in Rex (opening for Swans on the US tour). By the 4th gig, I was sitting in with Rex. By the 5th gig, I was told this was some kind of treachery, and I should know my place as “a swan”. At the end of this debacle my son Was born and I thought It might be good to stay around town more. Not wanting to get a real job I started recording. That didn’t entirely work. But I took it back a bit. I played with a few bands in this time. One being Tarnation where I got to know their drummer Joe Byrnes a little better.

Myself and Kevin had started writing songs in the wreckage of the first recording studio we were evicted from. The fist signs of the impending SF real estate boondoggle. The bassless Touched by a Janitor was born. We made a record we didn’t really tour. Our drummer Dan Martin had had enough of our bullshit and sort of bailed out after a while. We tried to play a show in the woods on mushrooms with our good friend and great drummer Phil Mcgaughy. The mixture was off though. Things were not going too well that night until Byrnes took over the kit and made it very obvious that we would not need to look any further for a drummer, but the band was about to be usurped. Kevin was starting to write music for Pete’s poems. When they needed some adults in the room they enlisted myself and Joe Byrnes to become the other Enablers.

But we had lied… We weren’t adults… And we had given the band a really silly name. We recorded some records we toured a lot… We ate really well… We met amazing people and heard amazing bands. Thing were going pretty well… Then our hearts were fractured by Joe’s illness. The mighty Neil Turpin who I had met playing with HIM filled in for a tour. Joe came back we made a record, toured… it was great… Then it wasn’t. Doug showed up for a tour after being released from bird flu quarantine. It was on… we toured, made a record, toured more… Then our hearts were shattered by the deaths of Joe Byrnes and Tim Mooney within a couple of days of each other. Time seemed to slow down. Life seemed empty. Pete and I were invited to do a duo tour of France with French band Binidu… had a blast. I started climbing out of the molasses of depression.

Enablers tour plans were made but Doug was busy being dad. Sam Ospovat was recommended to us, and thank fuck he wanted to do it. We toured, we made a record…we toured… And we’ll do it again soon. Life is good. And that reminds me of how lucky I am to have met so many great musicians and played with so many amazing drummers.
 
 

 Sam Ospovat. Photo Copyright © Lenny Gonzalez

Sam Ospovat. Photo Copyright © Lenny Gonzalez

Sam Ospovat: Originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, I played piano and sang in boys’ choir before picking up my first pair of drumsticks in 5th grade. Late nights spent improvising in friends’ parents’ basements eventually revealed to me the wisdom of moving to the Bay Area, where I studied percussion with William Winant, Peter Magadini, George Marsh and lately with the Haitian master drummer Daniel Brevil. Recently relocated to Brooklyn, NY, I play drums in Beep, Naytronix, Timosaurus, Passwords (duo with Lorin Benedict), CavityFang, Young Nudist, Enablers and my solo project PIKI. I was lucky to play with Cecil Taylor, Leo Smith, and Maryanne Amacher at Mills College, where I received my MFA in percussion performance. All experiences that left indelible marks. Since then I’ve worked with Tuneyards, William Winant, The SF Contemporary Music Players, Aram Shelton, Ches Smith, members of Rova Saxophone Quartet, Bill McHenry, Angelica Sanchez, Phillip Greenlief, and Ava Mendoza.
 
 

Links

 
 
http://enablers.bandcamp.com/
 
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Enablers/212885122067703
 
http://www.lancashireandsomerset.co.uk/
 
http://lancashireandsomerset.bandcamp.com/
 
http://www.neurotrecordings.com/artists/enablers/enablers.php
 
http://www.mainstreamrecords.de/artists/enablers
 
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjFxnZh1OB3Sy8O3ixnt6jw
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_9URCJV01w
 
http://www.enablers.fr/2015_Nov._Tour.html
 
http://www.atypeekmusic.com/
 
http://www.samospovat.com/
 
 

Posted on by urbangraffito Posted in Audio, Interview, Video

2 Responses to Between Spectacles and Dreams: Enablers in conversation with Mark McCawley

  1. Christophe Feray

    Great article Mark!

    Christophe Féray / Atypeek Music

  2. Stephen Morrissey

    Thank you for a great interview, Mark. There is so much talent out there that most people don’t know about. UG is a great resource for disseminating knowledge about this talent. Listening to Enablers right now. Incredible! What a great way to begin the day!