Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Interview With Iann Robinson

My former MTV News colleague Iann Robinson interviewed me for his blog and I've returned the favor. 

FRANK CASTLE'S FAMILY: I first remember seeing your name when we were both writing for CHORD magazine before either of us worked at MTV News. You quickly developed a reputation in the magazine, and on your cable access show Monkey Butt Sex, for speaking your mind about the things you love and the things you hate in equal measure. What made you so bold? I mean, some of the people you made fun of could have easily tracked you down and beaten you.

IANN ROBINSON: I don’t know if it was being bold or being stupid but it’s just how I’ve always been. When I started writing for Chord hardcore had become victim of an influx of ignorance. Gone were the days where different people who dressed, acted, and looked different came together for a cathartic release via music. It had become high school all over again only here the jocks wore basketball jerseys and had tattoos. Hardcore had become high school, there was a uniform, cool kids, popular bands that were somehow “better” just because the members were tougher, it was sickening. Most of the bands sounded like 3rd generation watered-down Cro-Mags. The music was boring and the lyrics sounded like the prattling of some sad teenage wannabe rebel. With certain bands their thank you list was done with more thought and care than their lyrics. The whole scene was about who you knew, and if you were “down”.

I didn’t set off to attack anybody just to attack them but I was sure as hell not going to tell somebody they were good when they sucked. I was also lucky because I had friends like Toby H20, Ezec, Freddy Madball, Hoya, Hard Carl, and guys who were looking out for me. I also found that most of the bands I had issues with just talked tough, they might stare me down at a show or try and be threatening but they never actually did anything. The way I saw it, if I got beaten up I’d heal but if I just bent over to save my skin or be the cool guy I wouldn’t have been able to look at myself in the mirror.

Hardcore and punk music saved my soul for a long time. Bands like Negative Approach, Void, Swiz, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Misfits, The Minutemen, and so on were able to voice things I was feeling but couldn’t voice on my own. I took a lot of inspiration from The Clash’s political views, and then the No Wave scene and their artistic bravery. Punk rock and hardcore to me meant being you, no matter what that was. If you want to wear the all-over button-down Spider-Man shirt and play D&D then cool, you should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the giant muscle guy with prison tattoos and the science major who dresses like a suburban kid heading to school. Everybody should be welcomed and judged on their personality, their artistic merit, and who they are as people. NOT on how tough they are or if they are down with the right people. Hardcore to me is now mostly bad metal and punk rock is a laughable trend. It’s gone from something that scared the status quo to being no more rebellious than the hula hoop or the buckle shoe. I just couldn’t watch that happen without saying “Oh no you don’t!! Not on my watch” as best I could.

FCF: You were known by MTV viewers for having strong opinions and often slipping in witty criticisms, or even just a knowing wink or nod, when you were reporting on some of the lamer bands and no talent clowns. While this style of reporting endeared you to many who had never had any kind of a voice in the mainstream, it made things really hard for you with some "celebrities." 

IANN: Well, there’s a lot of high-minded things I could say about my integrity and all that but the truth was that I never thought about it. In my mind MTV had hired me because of what I did on Monkey Butt Sex, the kids rated me so high because they liked my honesty. I also saw MTV as this giant who made and broke careers not the prison bitch that they actually are to the record companies. I thought between all of that and the fact that it was my mug on the screen spouting all this supposed “news” that it would be up to me how I wanted people to perceive me. I was wrong across the board, on every count. Even when what I was doing was getting good ratings the MTV machine tried to get me to shut up on my opinions.

MTV isn’t actually the Big Man On Campus or the Star Quarterback, they are the fat linebacker friend who holds the kids down while the Quarterback gives them wedgies. They are on the same team, they even protect the Quarterback but their whole lives are spent being subservient to him. That’s MTV, they make bands, build careers but bend right over when the labels (or Quarterbacks) say to. You and I both know there are a number of stories that MTV would NOT let us report on because the labels told them not to. Then they would shout at me about how my opinions threaten the integrity of MTV News…what a joke. I had to fight to wear a T-shirt with a band name on it but Sway could wear all The Roc-A-Wear he wanted to. I couldn’t do a simple in-house video for Apple but Nick Zano could be on a sitcom. I was encouraged to say if I liked a band but if I didn’t then I was supposed to be keeping my opinions to myself. By the end of the day your head is spinning, all you want to do is take a nap or have a good cry. In order to survive that you have to just do what you think is right. Not to mention that in my eyes I worked for all the people who watched the channel and trusted that I was giving them the straight dope. My bosses were not the shifty underhanded management weasels, it was the metal head that believed I was there representing him.

The final part was that I actually had a mission when I was there. I was told that 85 million people watched it daily. I figured if 85,000 of those kids actually listened to what I was saying and rejected what was spoon-fed to them, then half of that actually took to looking deeper into music and culture and from there maybe 10,000 made it part of their lives. Well, that’s10,000 people who could really start a movement in the direction of creativity and artistry over bullshit and commerce. I wasn’t there to serve MTV, I was there to use them.

FCF: I still feel really proud about the report I produced about the war protesters the day the Iraq war started, one of the few of its kind in the mainstream press, which included shots of my friend and cameraman Mark Bella being hit with police batons near the federal building in Los Angeles while filming the crowd. I am happy to have helped to protect bands like AFI and Thrice by producing their first-ever MTV News pieces. What are some stories that you are really happy you were there to either push through or guide from being done poorly?

IANN: To be honest most of the MTV on-air reporters were pushed aside when serious news pieces came down the pike because everything was handed to Gideon. When 9/11 hit I did some really great stuff and yet myself and my co-workers were treated as though we worked for Gideon. It was the same during the blackout. It was as if Gideon was the only person that could handle serious, real-life reporting. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t Gideon’s fault and he is a great reporter but he wasn’t the only game in town.

If I dig deep I’d probably be most proud of the cultural stuff I managed to get on the air. I helped get a show done on Dogtown & Z-Boys when nobody seemed to care about the documentary. I was lucky enough to host an episode of a show titled The Wrap when we had on survivors of the Rhode Island club fire. Just being there and hearing their stories was tremendously moving. I also helped get the Headbangers Ball rolling, I’m proud of that. Of course, how could I forget when you and I headed to Canada for the Dawn Of The Dead remake. I got to be a zombie, attack Ving Rhames and hang out with Tom Savini, that was the nuggets!!

FCF: Some of your most notable reporting was on the short-lived MTV News show The Assignment. I remember an interview you did with Britney Spears, years ago, that really humanized her. You've blogged about the troubles she's having right now and the role the media, and MTV in particular played in it. 

IANN: Pop Culture in and of itself is a dead idea, a forgotten tagline given to try and pretend that anything out there is really born of an organic move by people who have discovered something new. America is a corporation now, not a country, and as we continue to act and parade around like the new Roman Empire we can’t see what’s happening right in front of us. We spend so much time worrying about the attacks from other countries, the global terrorism that could hit us from out there, it’s always out there somewhere. The funny part is that all diseases rot you from the inside. America is like the athlete that has no idea he has colon cancer. While we focus on making sure our outsides are tough and looking good, inside we’re rotting from the core.

Look at the guts of America right now, really examine it. The country is being run by a fascist dictator who’s is dangerously ignorant, taxes are out of control, gas prices are insane, the American people are the fattest bunch of fucks in the world, the American people are hated the world over, there is an immoral and illegal war raging right now, innocent men and women are being sent to die by rich powerful men, high school dropouts are at an all-time high, college tuition is impossible to pay, jobs are vanishing from our shores, the environment is about to revolt against us, the country is rotting from the inside out. Usually, when that happens there is a cultural shift towards rebellion that tries to counteract that which strives to kill us. Art, rebellion, music, film, that is the penicillin by which we educate people to the ills of the country and maybe make some change. The sixties had it with the hippies, the seventies had it with the punk movement, even the eighties and early nineties had independent music and film which begin to show how outraged the unheard masses were at what was going on. Things changed, it got a little better. Where is that now? The country is in worse straits than it has ever been in and there is no cultural rebellion at all. What we have now is American Idol, Reality TV, and other things to placate people into not paying attention to what’s going on around them.

Look at 9/11, that was one of the most horrible days in the history of our country and yet all we got from it was “Go get ‘em.” Nobody asked why would they do this to us. Nobody wanted to educate himself or herself on what we were facing and maybe what mistakes had we made that lead to this travesty. Nope, all it meant was go buy a fucking flag asshole and start attacking anybody who might look Middle Eastern. 9/11 is a huge example of America’s inability to look at who we really are. Columbine High School, the shooting that happened there was terrible but another great chance for us as a people to examine what’s really going on. Imagine if the parents of the shooters stood up and admitted their part, the victims' parents stood up and said “Perhaps I didn’t teach my children to be tolerant.”, the administration admitted they didn’t do enough, and so on. We might actually make headway in changing things. But no, can’t do that. Instead, we’ll blame it on Marilyn Manson and how evil music and violent movies caused them to shoot the place up. Sighhhh, ok great, now we’ve pushed away any self-examination and turned it into a quest against heavy metal. Even when we tried to face the gun control issue we were told that it’s Un-American to not arm yourself and that the actual GUNS THAT KILLED THOSE KIDS weren’t the problem. The problem was heavy metal. Wow, are we that fucking blind?

What’s happening now to the country is a direct result of the corporatization of America. MTV and the mass media outlets are assigned to keep America too stupid to realize what’s going on. If you drive through Middle America, the South, any rural to suburban spread in our country it all looks the same. It’s mini-malls, Olive Gardens, and, of course, Wal-marts. It’s scary out there; it all looks the same, all of it. If you are outside of a major city you can be anywhere in the country and you wouldn’t know where you were. Wal-mart bleeds communities dry of local shops and businesses and nobody cares. Wal-Mart does things to their workers that fray the legal branch in order to save themselves money even though they make huge yearly profits. Nobody cares, and they don’t care because the prices are so low. Nobody can argue with those prices because the American Government makes it nearly impossible to make ends meet in this country. Your wages get taxed, then you’re taxed on EVERYTHING you buy, own or even do. After that, you have to fork over for Health Care and then try and support yourselves and a family. So once again we’re kept down by Big Business and Government and nobody can pay attention to the corporate ass rapings because who can really afford to?

We even know and have proof that global warming is happening, that it’s causing massive weather shifts in the world. Tsunamis, storms, we don’t even have a FUCKING SPRING anymore, and we have winters that don’t get below 45 degrees. Yet with all of that going on we’re told “Nope, no Global Warming, shut up.” And the American people buy it. The government has always lied to the people and bullied its way through things but now it does it boldly, right in front of us. Lewis Black said it best, he said they come out, pull their pants down, and take a big shit in front of our eyes and we don’t do anything. Why? Because media outlets like MTV just keep pumping idiocy at us and keeping us too stupid to realize that we’re getting fucked. MTV is no different than any other media outlet, they are there to make sure people stay stupid and keep consuming. If people are worried about fake fashion, bad TV and can they afford to “Live Like A Rock Star” then nobody will look at how bad things really are. MTV is like the big stupid muscle for a mafia family. They have no idea what they’re doing, they just take orders. I went to dinner with a major MTV executive who told me straight out that MTV isn’t interested in music or music videos because you can’t sell ad space with music videos.

So as far as Britney Spears goes, she’s just a casualty of the corporate desire to keep America stupid and satiated. Britney was snatched up as a child, trained to be a responsive robot and do as she was told. Nobody can do that forever so when the cracks in her perfect armor started showing it became another chance for people to look at what was happening to America. Britney is the embodiment of Middle America and suburban life. So when she started to come apart at the seams they had to turn her into a joke, turn her into somebody who was awful and couldn’t control themselves. MTV joined right along because that’s what they do best. MTV is the master of taking something, sucking the life out of it and then laughing at it when it’s time in the spotlight is over. When MTV booked Britney for that live performance, they knew they’d either ride the coattails of her big comeback or they could milk the footage of her falling on her face and that’s what they did. Media outlets replayed that footage over and over and over and MTV’s name was attached to all of it. If MTV was so concerned for her why not keep the footage from being shown, lock it up? Why keep showing the audience laughing at her? They won’t answer those questions, will they?

MTV and the media, in general, have trained our children to stay stupid, say quiet and consume. Got a problem, go to the mall!! All music that has any thought process to it has been marginalized to the point of being nonexistent. Punk Rock has become a fashion trend, and now if you stick the name “Punk” in front of anything that makes it punk. Hip Hop has been turned into a joke, a danceable laundry list of what these idiots have purchased this week. We went from Public Enemy, BDP, Jungle Brothers, NWA and so forth to Jay Z and 50 Cent…I think we can see the drop in quality there. MTV hawks a lifestyle, not music, that makes it easier to laugh at things that they once championed without people saying “What a minute you fucks, you LOVED this a year ago.”

So, here we are, America is rotting from the inside and nobody does anything. The kids stay plugged into shows like Gossip Girls and reality this and that, adults stay tuned to the News so they can constantly know how fucked they really are and meanwhile the Cancer eats at America undisturbed. At this point, I welcome it, if there’s a massive tidal wave I’ll be on the sand with a beach chair. I’m polishing my skis for the ice age, I’m preparing an easy death for when some disease is released by accident or on purpose and we’re all stuck in The Stand. There’s no reason to even try anymore because nobody cares and nobody will. I quote Bill Hicks: “Shut up America, your Government is in control, shut up and be free America.”

FCF: What was your LEAST favorite interview?

IANN: People ask me that all the time and I usually disappoint with my answer. I can’t really think of a bad interview or one I hated doing. Even if I don’t like the music or the people I’m interviewing, I get off listening to them tell me what makes them tick, rationalizing themselves, or getting passionate about the music they make. I enjoy trying to humanize people like Britney who rarely has human moments on camera. Even when I interviewed Fred Durst after he tried to pick a fight with me I was interested, Here’s a grown man saying to me “Hey, let’s call a truce”. It was amazing to watch Durst, a major musical figure at that point and the Vice President of a record label reducing himself to third-grade sandbox politics just because he couldn’t scare me. I never had a bad interview, some were tougher than others, some were more exciting but they all had merit for some reason or another.

FCF: What were the circumstances surrounding your exit from MTV?

IANN: That depends on who you talk to I guess. Some say I was fired because I made racist comments against SuChin Pak (which wasn’t true), others have told me that they never actually had a case against me for any comments but management wanted to use it to try and scare me into being a good boy but it got out of control. I also heard that this MTV LA producer had it out for me from day one and pushed to get me fired. To be honest, I don’t care anymore, it’s been 4 years since I left and to keep trying to figure out what really went on behind the closed doors of management is a moot point.

(Update: while she doesn't name Iann, SuChin opened up about this incident for the first time publicly in a March 2021 Instagram post. I greatly respected and always enjoyed working with SuChin, and I find her version of events, which contrasts with what Iann told me in important ways, to be very credible. I applaud her courage in handling that whole mess, and in speaking about it now. - RJD) 

MTV did things in their typical cowardly way. The whole time this thing was going on they kept assuring me I was coming back but I might have to do this or that to smooth it over. Then, they fired me, boom, just like that. David Sirulnick didn’t even call me himself to tell me, he had one of his minions call my manager. Then Viacom told me they wouldn’t hamper my career but then they gave orders that I was not to be hired by any Viacom subsidiaries. Whatever, it’s typical MTV bullshit. They hire people as freelance but work them like they’re permanent so they don’t have to pay out benefits or medical coverage or anything like that. Then, when profits are down a bit, they fire everybody. That kind of work stress made everybody at MTV miserable, save for the management ticks who had burrowed themselves deep under the skin of Viacom. They also fire anybody who’s outspoken. Tom Freston, the President of MTV and a super huge higher up in Viacom kept trying to make MTV a little less stupid, he spoke out about it and—coincidentally—was pushed out. 

I see MTV News now and it’s both sad and laughable at the same time. They have some swanky-looking British guy as a news reporter and he’s awful on camera and really condescending when he talks to people. They don’t use their amazing resources like John Norris and Kurt Loder and even though MTV “News” was always been an oxymoron, it’s an even bigger joke now. MTV News is mainly an online thing, the presence that it once had has dwindled down to almost nothing. There wasn’t much hope of it going any other way really. MTV has spent too long being the prison bitch for record labels and MTV News has towed the line with that. You and I both know there are at least four or five stories that were serious news items that MTV News was told not to report by the record labels. Then I’d say Linkin Park sucks and they’d look at me and say “Doing that can hurt the integrity of MTV News.” Are they kidding? I was bummed by the way MTV handled what happened with me but I wasn’t surprised. I once heard MTV described as a Pyramid Of Cowards and that’s pretty much what it is.

FCF: Despite having a high-profile TV reporting job where you regularly met celebrities, you never became saddled with a lot of "stars" in your life. The most genuine and solid relationships with "famous" types you did forge were with Corey Taylor, Serj Tankian, and Elijah Wood. What set them apart from the rest of the "A-List" pack you often encountered?

IANN: I don’t know man, I guess we just had more in common than the other folks I met during that time. I’m also still friendly with Rollins and Scott Ian. I think if you look at all of those guys you will see a specific trend in them, the fact that they aren’t really part of the MTV world, they didn’t need MTV to survive. Metal bands get no help from MTV, Rollins doesn’t play that game and Elijah will be a movie star with or without MTV. There was no ass-kissing going on, there was no feeling that they were friendly to me because they needed MTV support, it just grew organically. I respect all of them without fail. Rollins is…well…..Rollins, Scott Ian has been in one of the most forward-thinking metal bands of the last 30 years. Corey is an amazing frontman, singer, lyricist and writer and Serj is as close to brilliant as I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not as close to Elijah as I once was. I expect a lot from my friends because I give a lot to any friendship that I have. I think I expected too much from Elijah and it strained the relationship, which is too bad. I know for certain I wanted nothing from Elijah but to be his friend, I’m very doubtful of that with some of the people I know he hangs around. Don’t get me wrong, I love the kid but I’m not a hanger-on, I don’t hang with people because of who they are so I also don’t cow-tow to them.

Most of the celebs I met on MTV just weren’t very interesting as people, at least not to me. I guess the best way to describe it is when I hang out with Serj, Corey, or any of them we don’t talk about business, ever, and we never did. We talk music, comics, film, TV, fucking recipes, whatever, but their lives are not wrapped up in who they know or how in the public eye they are.

FCF: How in the heck did you lose the weight? And how are you keeping it off?

IANN: I have to give all that credit to my ex-girlfriend Heidi. We didn’t part on the greatest of terms but I will always owe her because she helped me lose all the weight and keep it off by teaching me a better way to eat. Diets are bullshit, quick fixes are bullshit, you have to re-train yourself to a different way of viewing food. I used to drink a 3 liter of coke or diet coke a day, gave that up and now I just drink water or coffee. I gave up 90% of all processed sugars, fried foods, etc. I eat a lot of vegetarian dishes, salads, chicken and good whole foods. I watch my bread intake and my starches. I also try to be more active, walking a lot, riding my bike, etc. It’s a constant battle but it’s worth it, I feel a thousand times better than I ever have.

FCF: Has the change in your health and appearance changed your outlook in general? If so, how?

IANN: Well, it made getting laid a lot easier..haha. I think the main thing it’s done for me is just to make me feel better about myself. The weight thing had haunted me my entire life and I had never really been able to beat it. Having finally won out it just gives you an insane feeling of accomplishment. I’ll never be pretty boy thin like you (I joke, I kid) but now I can look at myself in the mirror without feeling awful. It was also kind of a way to shed the past and move on with my life. Between 2003 and 2006 everything went wrong, my whole life was in a tailspin. I lost the MTV job, moved, got divorced, had the falling out with Josh and Jason, couldn’t find a job, and moved into a tiny apartment that flooded and was infested with rats. When I did finally get work I was working on a loading dock for Whole Foods. I just became incredibly depressed and started actually packing weight on.

I finally started rebuilding my life and cutting loose all the things that were causing me pain, I think losing the weight helped shed that whole past aspect of what had happened to me. That sounds wicked new age but I still think that it’s true.

FCF: Why did you relocate from New York City to Boston?

IANN: I had grown tired of New York City, it just wasn’t the place I had to grow up in. My then-wife Shelley and I had taken a cruise to Alaska to try and jump start our marriage and when we returned we both just wanted out of the city. It was too crowded, we were tired of living in a giant filing cabinet for humans, the list was endless. We figured Boston was a good idea because we had a lot of friends here and I had been up enough that I had a basic lay of the land, it just seemed perfect. When I got up here Boston just felt right, the whole creepy New England vibe felt like home to me. Nobody up here is really too interested in my past or in trying to milk my MTV days for anything.

When my marriage ended I almost jumped ship entirely and headed to LA, just to make a clean break from the East Coast but I just couldn’t. It’s hot and sunny there all year round, and since I’m not a lizard and I like hot coffee I decided against it. I just kind of fell in love with Boston, the history, the architecture, the Red Sox, all of it. So I stayed and now I’m really glad that I did.

FCF: I remember you were overseas filming a pilot for the Discovery Channel. Whatever came of that?

IANN:That was one of the greatest and worst experiences of my life. I had done a test tape for the producers months earlier in LA and they decided they liked me enough to shell out some bucks for myself and another guy to fly to Ethiopia to film a pilot. The whole concept of the show was taking two city guys and placing us in the smallest parts of the world. Our first stop was going to be Ethiopia, the mountains of Surma to live with the Surma tribe. I have been all around the world but I was not ready for the culture shock when I got off the plane in Ethiopia. It’s hard to explain the difference when you’re in front of a 3rd World Country when you’ve arrived from the USA. I had left my wife and friends behind for a month and I was terrified, absolutely paralyzed with fear. I missed them, I wanted to go home, I had an absolute mental collapse.

After a few days, things began to clear up and I really got excited when we left Ethiopia for Surma. I don’t care how much you think you know about abject poverty and the harsh conditions that some people have to live in, you don’t know shit until you’ve set down in Ethiopia. The area is so poor, so strife with disease and poverty that you feel like the asshole American for even complaining when you’re there. Ethiopia has a beautiful University and some amazing museums and cultural events but you can’t imagine the situation most of the people are living in. It makes you want to fly home and start stealing from fat, rich Americans and just wire-transferring all the money over there. It was really bizarre, the best Italian food I ever had was in a restaurant in Ethiopia but when I left the restaurant I felt like a big asshole for even having gotten to eat that night. Fifteen or twenty kids, all in various stages of sickness, come up and start begging for money. You can’t give them any because the kids are usually run by an adult who just takes the money from them.

After a few days of experiencing that it was a real trip to drive out to the mountains of Surma and hang out with the people there. I was adopted by a Surma family, brought into their homes and I got to experience life within their culture. I learned how to Donga Stick fight, which is how they settle disputes there. I drank Cow’s blood, ate these odd plants, even drank this weird mead beer until I threw up (which was a binding ritual). A few nights we slept in the actual huts the Surma live in, which was insane. They are small, hot, and filled with livestock. The other interesting thing is that every adult male has an AK-47, I believe because they are so close to the Sudan border. I had never seen an AK-47 much less fired one, so that was really cool. The whole trip was a brilliant experience that was grueling and long but I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

It was odd when I got back that the bullshit storm started. In a nutshell, Discovery told me that the show was a go-ahead and to wait for contracts and so on. So I sat around and waited. For 5 months they kept reassuring me and I just kept handing over my TV money for rent and bills, waiting to start my new TV job. Then, suddenly, they decided not to pick up the show. It had something to do with cost but they just ended it. So there I was, jobless nearly broke, and having wasted 5 months. I was so pissed but what could I do. I asked if I could have a copy of the tape of the final pilot and Discovery said they would get it to me, I never got it.

Fast forward a year or so later and I suddenly start getting phone calls and emails from friends about this amazing show they saw with me on it. I asked what they were talking about and they said, the one where you go live with a tribe in Africa. I was dumbfounded; they actually aired it and didn’t tell me? I called Williams Morris (my agency) but I wasn’t a hot property anymore and so they were not very interested in calling me back. I finally called Discovery and they said they would send me a tape, which they never did. I still to this day have never seen that show. That part of it sucked really badly.

FCF: Tell me about your new gig on the radio.

IANN: Right now it’s just fill-in work on WBCN, the biggest radio station in New England. I work a couple days a week, mostly learning radio and honing my craft. It’s very different than television so I have to get used to it. On TV you have to be over animated, bigger than life or it doesn’t read well on screen. Radio is exactly the opposite; you have to be laid back but not boring, conversational but still performing. It’s a totally different vibe. I’m hoping that it will lead to something bigger but I’ve been in the biz too long to rely on it. I’m just enjoying what I’m doing and having fun being in the media again. The best part is that friends all over the country can hear me on, they can also see when I’m on and so forth. (Check out Iann's bio on the radio website HERE - FCF).

FCF: You are also performing as a DJ from time to time. How did that start?

IANN: To be honest I was never a “DJ”, not in the way I think of them. I didn’t scratch, mix, combine beats or do anything like that, I just played CDs. It all started because a friend of mine knew a guy who needed somebody to take a Friday night and try to get people into the bar. He hired me to play records and book a band every week. At first, it was really exciting but it soon became a pain in the neck. Management kept arguing with me about the choice of bands, how loud they were, I even was told you can’t have any more than 3 people play in the band and that included the singer. I enjoyed booking the bands and being involved in that aspect of the scene again but it just became a constant headache and I grew tired of it. I do it now but usually only playing records at a show for some friends or a party.

FCF: Tell me about the small-run comic book press you've started with a friend, Isolation Disorder Press. (And when are you sending me some comics?!)

IANN: Sorry bro, I will get right on that!! I’m an old comic book geek from way back. I first started reading comics when I was 6 and I was a huge Peanuts fan, Charlie Brown & Linus were everything to me. Then at 7, my parents bought me this Spider-Man book with a play-along record for Christmas. That was it; I was hooked!! I played that record until it was un-listenable and I read the comic over and over until it fell apart. My dad brought me home a stack of comics he thought I’d like and I just jumped right in. From 7 to 11 my comic reading was pretty casual, mostly Archie, but that all changed thanks to some school bullies.

I was being picked on one day as I was walking home from school. I was probably 11 or 12 when this went down. There was a small bodega I passed every day and the owner liked my father and me so I ducked in there and he called my dad to come to get me. While I was there I started reading a Batman comic and freaked out, I mean I nearly had an aneurism. Here was a guy with no superpowers who just kicked ass, what a dream come true for a kid always picked on. I started buying Batman books feverishly, from there my interest just grew and grew. Over the years I’ve lost whole boxes, been forced to sell stuff, but I never lost the love for it. As my friends grew older they lost the desire to collect or read comics and I did it for a long time by myself. Enter Brian Smith, comic book fan and artist. Brian is a genius, pure and simple. He can draw, play drums, he is one half of 4 Way Anal Touchfight, the guy is a nonstop creative flow. We were basically the only one the other had to really talk comics with because we were both do dedicated to it.

Brian was showing me some of his early artwork for a comic he wanted to start titled Recur and we started talking about doing it ourselves. Brian checked out print shops and it turned out that to do a press run of 1000 copies was $2000 bucks. Brian also found out that buying a used professional copier was about $1500. So either we spent $2000 on 1000 copies of a book we might only sell 10 of or we spend $1500 on a professional copier and $500 on supplies we need to build our own books. We decided on the latter and thus the comic company was born. We arrived at the name by combining two Joy Division song titles together. We both worship Joy Division and the name is appropriate to the two of us…haha.

The first book we put out together was A Fistfight With God, which I wrote and Brian did the artwork for. It was a pretty good book, especially for the first one I had ever written. It tells the story of a man who loses his wife to a drunk driver and can’t seem to get past the rage he feels over it. God presents himself to the man and tries to tell him that his wife is in a better place and so forth. The man essentially tells God to fuck off, that he doesn’t buy into his bullshit. God, seeing how angry the man is offers a chance to fight him. By the end of the battle, the man has learned a lesson about rage, how it eats you alive and how you must let it go and move on.

Brian puts out Recur on his own. Recur is the story of a boy who kills himself and returns to his town. Only his best friend can see him as a ghost, whenever he touches or talks to anybody else they see him as though he never died. It’s a really intricate tale. It’s odd because both Recur and Fistfight are about coming to grips with our fathers. Mine is about the rage I felt when my father died and Brian’s is about coming to terms with how badly he was treated by his father.

Fistfight and Recur sold well enough that we don’t have to put too much money into the company for materials. The best part is building the books. The whole process from re-sizing the original artwork to the finished book itself is lengthy but Brian and I just put on music, drink coffee and bullshit the whole time. Since it doesn’t take too much money and we sell pretty well, at least in Boston and NYC, I have been able to work with artist Will B. (the drummer for Ogre) on a Sci-fi-western-mythology book titled The Drifter. I also write and draw (really badly) my own comic called The Daily Grind Of Thinguy And Fin. Brian and I collaborated on a comedy book titled “What If Bon Scott Was The Herald of Galactus” and we just put out Some Agoraphobic Girl, which I worked on with an artist named JB Sapienza. We’ve been in a few newspaper articles and there’s a film student who wants to do a documentary on us so I’d say it’s going pretty well. We’ll never get rich off it but that’s not really the point is it?

(A page from The Drifter - FCF).

FCF: There's no need to dredge up your split with Puny Human, as you have addressed it elsewhere, but my related question is this: will we ever see Iann Robinson behind the drum kit again, in any band?

IANN: I doubt I will but who’s to really say. I still love metal and doom rock and 70s rock and all of it but I have no desire to play in those bands anymore. Part of it was that I’m still stinging from the betrayal of Josh and Jason but more of it is just a lack of interest. If somebody came to me with a band that combined Killing Joke/Devo/Joy Divison/Stax Records Funk and the Minutemen I’d be down. It would also have to be with guys who were just and only into it to have fun, maybe do some weekend warrior shows and put so stuff out here and there. Puny Human started that way but quickly became this thing that wasn’t fun anymore, it was a lot of fighting about keeping things from getting too prog-rock, about the amount of touring we could do, and so on. I don’t want to invest a lot of time in something that won’t be 100% fun with no pressure. I’ve done that, I’m ALL set with it.

FCF: Top 5 Favorite Movies, and Least Favorites (yes, I stole this question from you).

IANN: To me, there is no way to answer that question. I always throw it into my interviews because I’m fascinated by people who can come up with a top-five list for this kind of thing. The best I can do is my top 25:

1. Jaws

2. Halloween
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
4. Batman Begins
5. Miller’s Crossing
6. The Big Lebowski
7. Ordinary People
8. Crumb
9. The IceStorm
10. American Splendor
11. Taxi Driver
12. A Decade Under The Influence
13. Let There Be Rock
14. Dogtown & Z-Boys
15. Dragonslayer
16. Excalibur
17. Clash Of The Titans
18. Monster Squad
19. The Shining
20. Chinatown
21. Stop Making Sense
22. True Stories
23. The Legend Of Boggy Creek
24. Motorama
25. Style Wars

There are a lot more but that’s 25 I couldn’t live without. As for least favorites, well, that’s more having to do with genres I’m tired of and things in movies today that are killing the art form as we know it. I’m tired of hip hack directors who are revered because they’re “cool” or “geek chic” not because they can tell a fucking story. Robert Rodriguez can’t pace a film worth a damn, Tarantino is so in love with his own dialogue that his characters never shut the fuck up. Eli Roth is a talent less hack who seriously needs to be forced out of movie-making, Zombie can’t direct a movie, he can’t write dialogue, all he can do is string violent images together. I’m tired of “indie” films that are purposely off-beat like Zach Braff movies or Napoleon Dynamite. I guess of all the sins the greatest one is the growing remake insanity. Hollywood so creatively bankrupt that all they can do now is churning out remakes. Remakes are to the new millennium what sequels were to the eighties and gun-girl-snappy-dialogue-in-cool-car movies were to the nineties. It’s just a trend, something that made a little bit of money somewhere so now everybody is jumping on the bandwagon.

The best part is that I have NEVER, EVER seen a remake that was better than the original, and usually they’re worse. The Halloween remake was blasphemous, The Texas Chainsaw remake sucked all of the originality out of the original film, The Fog—Jesus Christ was that awful. Not only are remakes pretty much always worse but there is no need for them. Why remake a movie? Why? Why? Why? What purposes does it serve other than to squeeze some bucks out of an already used up franchise? The movie-making industry right now is almost as bad as the world of music, there are some who make quality films but for the most part, I just stay home.

FCF: Top 10 desert island records.


1. Marty Robbins: Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs
2. The Best There Ever Was Comp
3. Eccentric Soul: Deep City Label
4. Ken Burns Jazz Box Set
5. Black Flag: The First Four Years
6. Slayer: Reign In Blood
7. Black Sabbath: We Sold Our Soul For Rock N Roll
8. Joy Divison Box Set
9. Stop Making Sense
10. Nuggets Box Set Vol 1

FCF: You have so many tattoos and you were one of the first heavily inked people to be seen by millions of viewers on a regular basis. Now that the tattoos-on-TV thing is in full swing with all of the reality shows, and now that kids are getting their throats and hands inked before they even have one full sleeve, how do you feel about the presence and perception of tattoo culture in pop culture?

IANN: I pretty much think it’s laughable. When I was on TV there were few if any tattooed people on air, and so it was never a thing, it was just part of me. Now every dumb fuck that can pick up a tattoo needle can have their own TV show. The problem with Miami Ink and LA Ink is that it isn’t about the artwork, it’s about the drama. It’s about the cool kids that come to get tattoos, it’s about who gets along with who, and so forth and so on. It’s more like tattoos are the backdrop to yet another Real World clone. Tattoo artists should be famous because they do amazing work, not because they’re attractive or are on TV. That’s not what it’s about and it turns tattoos from THE thing into A thing. As for kids who start out with neck and head tattoos, hey, more power to them. If you’re ignorant enough to do that then you deserve any and all bad things that come your way. It just seems like kids are in a rush to fill up all the visible spots because they think it’ll make them part of this exclusive cool club. It just doesn’t seem like they think it out.

Tattoo Culture? Seriously, what does that even mean? The Maori tribe in New Zealand—tattoos are part of their culture. Yakuza suits, that’s tattoos in a culture. A bunch of guys or girls dressing cool, standing around at shows, or comparing tattoos isn’t culture, it’s a club. However, saying Tattoo Club is not nearly as cool sounding as Tattoo Culture so now we have to hear that kind of pretentious bullshit. Tattoos are expensive and the most precise description I’ve heard of them is Skin Art. It’s art, you’re paying for art and just like you wouldn’t get some expensive piece of art for your home without thinking it through, same goes here. It doesn’t matter what you get or how big or if it’s by some name tattoo artist, it doesn’t even really matter if it’s any good. It just has to make you happy and be something you don’t mind living with forever. If you’re getting any stupid tattoo you pull out of a book just because you want one right now, you will most likely regret it.

To me pretending that we’re all in some kind of cool clique because we have tattoos is tantamount to everybody with hardwood floors acting like they’re in a special group. Hey, are you in the plastic hangers crew? Man, I’m gonna check out the latest episode of Miami Red Brick. You’re not any better or cooler because you have tattoos, you’re not any more punk rock because you have tattoos, you are NOT a rebel because of tattoos, you are not a special and unique snowflake because you have tattoos. You are a guy who bought a nice piece of art or had an original piece of art created just for you. It’s a cool art form, it’s fun, it’s a good time but it is NOT a culture.

FCF: You have been blogging about how "I Am Legend" just felt like an unfilmable kind of book. What other books and comics have been turned into films that you feel would have been better left alone? I'm not talking about "Fantastic Four" or something that *could* make a great movie but was put into the wrong hands. I'm talking about something that just should not have been attempted by even the most capable of filmmakers.

IANN: Sure, there’s a lot of those. I haven’t seen it yet but The Watchmen is not a comic that can be made well into a movie. There is far too much going on and writer Alan Moore has woven it all together in such an intricate fashion that cutting any of it out will destroy it. They did the same thing with another Moore creation V For Vendetta. The movie is not the comic book, by any stretch of the imagination because all the stuff they re-arranged and chopped out destroyed what the book was. It’s not the fault of the filmmakers; it just shouldn’t be made into a movie.

In Cold Blood, while a great movie, doesn’t communicate what the book did, it just can’t and so the identity of the book suffers. Books that feature a running inner dialogue usually don’t translate well to movies or books that have giant interconnected plots usually don’t make good movies. The Stand movie didn’t work because it couldn’t work, there was too much going on in the book and too much operating they had to do to patch up the holes for the movie version.

FCF: I've noticed that people who recognize you find you approachable and accessible and think of you as someone they can talk to, which I think is awesome. You have probably had some really funny and random things said to you on the street by random people that want to talk to you for whatever reason. Tell me about three of those situations that ruled, and three of them that royally sucked.

IANN: Wow, that’s a tough one because I’ve met some great people out there and some real fucking idiots as well. I don’t know man, it sounds like a cop-out but most of the stories all end with somebody talking some music, saying the dig this or that, and then shaking my hand and leaving. There’s not any one person who is more memorable than the last, it’s more like so many of the people who have come up to me have kicked so much ass that I still like when it happens. I like jawing with some high school kid about Black Flag or some 47-year-old jazz cat about Gene Krupa because he saw me wearing a Benny Goodman t-shirt on air.

Most of the kids who get pissed off are metal kids, who aren’t always the most intelligent or reasonable music fans out there. They just can’t wrap their head around the idea that you’re not into everything metal and so he considers you a poseur. This usually manifests itself in the always catchy phrase:

“You’re not fucking real metal man!!”

Um, moron, your plane just left. My inability to think everything metal is good has led to some stupid back and forths with ignorant people but even those were at a minimum. I was lucky, people used to throw things at Carson Daly, yell mean shit to Gideon and some of the other on-air folks but I never really got that. People were always cool to me and that made almost all of the MTV shit worth it.

FCF: While you are sometimes guarded, when you do let people in, you go all out. After having been bitten and burned more than a few times, how do you manage to keep opening your arms?

IANN: To me, it basically comes down to the fact that if you do let the parasites close your heart off then they win. Then you miss out on the next great friendship because you’re holding others accountable for what some creeps did to you. I’m not that way, my anger doesn’t consume me as much as it did. I used to be Ahab and now I’m Ishmael if that makes any sense. As far as Puny Human goes, well, they can say how 2008 will be the best year ever for them and how bright the future looks but the truth of the matter is that there is a dark cloud over that band. It will always be associated with the fact that a 15-year friendship ended out of deceit and untruth just so that band could continue on in the tiny capacity it will. 

FCF: When you leave this Earth, what would you most like to be remembered for by your friends and family?

IANN: If on the day I die my friends and family feel like they laughed more and just had a better time on this planet knowing me, then I win.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was definitely one of those mindless teens who was a bit annoyed with Iann because of his total condescension of all the crappy pop acts that I adored. Reading this beefy interview, I feel like apologizing. Hah!

I would say that MTV doesn't know what it's missing in having such a pure fan of music as an art-form on its channel. But after what Iann's disclosed, they don't deserve him.