If there’s one word that certainly doesn’t describe Bobby Conn, it’s ordinary. A collaborator with the likes of Jim O’Rourke and The Cribs, the Chicago musician is known for his flamboyant style, manic stage shows and glam rock/disco tinged songs about Jesus Christ on crack, Tom Cruise and the Iraq war. And he’s coming to Iceland on his European ‘Rise Up’ tour. The Grapevine managed to lob some questions at him when he was at a service station somewhere on the Autobahn…
You’re currently touring Europe to help promote the re-issue of your first two albums (‘Bobby Conn’ and ‘Rise Up!’). What was the motivation for getting them released again?
It was Fire Records idea, but as I listened to both records again in view of what has happened in the world and in the US over the past ten years I realised, “I was right!” I predicted the economic crash based on unlimited easy credit (my ‘Continuous Ca$h Flow System (TM)’). I predicted the rise of the Christian right in US politics. And I predicted the wars of paranoia we’re engaged in as a means to preserve the relevance of our empire. I’m a goddamn Nostradamus and I want some credit for it! So it’s nice that the records, even after twelve years, are still lyrically current.
While listening to those first two albums, there are so many ´70s influences in there, from glam rock to Philly soul. Is there a specific love for that period, or does other music bore you incessantly?
I’m really interested in the power of nostalgia, especially now that all creative work is understood via reference to the past. It’s as if everyone in Western culture suddenly became students of French semiotics without realising it. But leaving the metaphysics aside, yes, I love the ‘70s. It’s a time that balanced experimentalism with big budget ambition and still had a basis in songwriting and musicianship. There’s plenty to like nowadays, but in terms of really interesting songwriting that kind of died in the early ‘80s.
Back in the ‘90s, you were known for saying some pretty far out shit in press releases and interviews (you were the Antichrist, that you’d been in a federal prison, etc). Were you amazed at how much you could spin about yourself and get away with it? And how do you look back on those times?
To be honest (ha!), I was mainly enjoying the novelty of getting any attention. After the first couple of interviews I really got bored of answering the same questions; I realised that ‘music journalism’ is a bit of a joke and that writers were not as much interested in the absolute truth as getting entertaining quotes into their feature. I’m not sure why anyone should trust anything I say; my music reveals a higher truth. If that seems bitter and pretentious, just imagine how you’d feel if you turned out not to be the Antichrist after so much hype.
Your albums often contain socially conscious yet paranoid views of the US A. Considering the ‘interesting’ times the country is experiencing right now, do socially conscious singers need to start making a comeback?
I write about the dear old US of A because I can’t write a love song without getting hideously embarrassed and I’ve no reason to write many ‘she done me wrong’ songs. So that leaves politics and religion for me. I can’t speak for what other folks should sing about; I have no illusions that what I’m doing extends beyond entertainment. If people find inspiration and do some thinking as a result of my work, that’s great, but that’s just the frosting of a delicious cake of plutonium for all to enjoy.
Your tour takes in the likes of Germany, Italy, France the UK … and Iceland. What possessed you to come and play up here?
I want to eat some really fresh fish and smell a volcano. The kids want to be closer to Santa Claus.
OK , now the hard sell time. People will be reading this and thinking “He sounds cool, but I don’t know…” Tell them EX ACTLY why they should attend a concert by your good self. Don’t be shy now…
If anyone has read this far, I congratulate you. I am a prophet. I have investment advice encoded into my songs that will make anyone who listens tons of money on the market. You will dance and you will cry. I will rip your head off with my guitar and Monica BouBou will hypnotize you with her violin. I WILL be giving out hugs. You WILL be sweaty. We’re all gonna have a really good time. Plus, what else is there to do?
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