Photo: Tom Lardner with Alfredo
At long last I succeed in meeting up with TOM LARDNER, singer and rhythm guitarist from eclectic punk rock band EL DOGHOUSE. I know the New Yorker dwelling in beautiful
Tom Lardner looks relaxed in front of his coffee, a glint in the eye in spite of an impossibly early flight back from the
Tom’s name caught my eye while reading about Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash band, the 101ers: turns out he is in a Granada-based combo called El Doghouse with Mr. Richard Dudanski (drummer with the 101ers, PIL, The Raincoats, etc), having released two albums together and currently working on new material.
MYST: So how did you and Richard get together?
TOM: Richard came to see my previous band, a fluid acoustic project with some brilliant local musicians named The Country Dogs. After the gig he came over all complimentary, asking if we’d mind if he jammed with us. We didn’t have a drummer, so I said why not… That was only two months before Joe Strummer’s death in December 2002. When Richard flew back to London to organize a tribute event at The Tabernacle (http://www.theclash.org.uk/reunion.htm) he asked me to step into Joe’s shoes to front the first 101ers reunion since disbanding in 1976 (http://www.101ers.co.uk/index.htm). I wasn’t so sure at first: what about my American accent for a start! But he seemed to think I had that Joe-thing going on, so I accepted. I had to learn a whole bunch of 101ers songs and a few Clash ones in the space of a few weeks, which was fun".
Photo: Tom Lardner and Richard Dudanski
MYST: Which of those Clash songs did you enjoy performing the most?
TOM: “Doing London Calling felt great. And I liked Janie Jones” he grins knowingly “That’s a good song…”
MYST: What was it like to actually be in Joe’s shoes that night?
Tom shakes his head as if he still disbelieved his luck:
TOM: “At one point I turned round and I saw a balding guy standing right next to me: only after a few seconds I realized it was Mick Jones!” he laughs out loud.
We fall silent and gaze into the void, caught by cherished memory flashbacks of The Only Band That Mattered, and then he continues:
TOM: “Joe had a huge influence on me… When I saw The Clash back in
He widens his mouth into an only too familiar stupefied grimace while brutally shaking his air-guitar as if it was withholding some unspeakable secret. Modestly, Tom seems to want to justify that definite Joe-thing about him, but he is far too spontaneous and transparent for anybody to even imply he is some sort of a clone; in fact I believe it is his disarming honesty and warmth that instinctively creates the same kind of appeal that Joe had on his fellow human beings. I decide there is even a vague physical resemblance between Tom Lardner and Strummer (imagine him as the DNA intersection between Joe and Bruce Springsteen), but no doubt it was the American’s quite notable, naturally gravelly vocals that won him the hot spot at the tribute concert (which, incidentally, was later repeated in Granada, where Joe himself famously lived for a while after leaving The Clash).
On the back of such poignant bonding experience, Tom and Richard returned to their Spanish rehearsals only to jam with fresher enthusiasm:
TOM: “In the space of a few days we realized we had something really good going: we kept pouring out new material, it felt great!”
Re-baptized El Doghouse, the band quickly took a gritty and quite organic rock identity wherein an ample range of musical influences could happily sit together. The first album In Heat was eventually released on Andalusia Records (Richard and Joe’s label) in 2005, followed by Howl in 2009, this time on the busy Basque imprint Gaztelupeko Hotsak (http://www.hotsak.com). Both works display a passionate amalgam of the most fundamental elements of true rebel music, from punk rock to raw garage, blues and north-American folk, with not too unexpected incursions into reggae, jazz fusion, funk and even Andean folk: an incendiary array of superbly performed influences that stem from actual real-life experiences.
“If music could talk…” lamented Joe in the controversial album Sandinista. Tom’s sharply poetic lyrics make goddamn sure that El Doghouse’s unique presence amongst the flotsam and jetsam of today’s rather bloodless and uninspired traditional rock scene is worth taking notice of. A huge part of the great appeal of this band, the lyrics tell - often with a great dose of irony - personal stories where humanity and politics densely compound to create a vivid and sweaty rollercoaster of emotions, from rage to disgust, from lust to sadness. Tom certainly knows his rock’n’roll inside-out, in fact he might well be its embodiment. How? Going back to the powerful figure of Strummer, we could argue that Tom still keeps choosing not to go where Joe - perhaps naively - went with his band only to so publicly fail in representing punk in its true meaning.
TOM: “We all love Joe, he was genuine about what he believed in, but the truth is The Clash were a manufactured band: they were the brainchild of Bernie Rhodes even more than the Sex Pistols were the creation of Malcolm McLaren” offers Tom with a serious tone in his voice. “Bernie was even telling them what to wear for god’s sake! Everything was contrived, from the Mohican to everything else. That was not punk…”
MYST: I am sure that there exist as many different interpretations of what punk means as there are brains. Having interviewed scores of bands from all over the world in the past two decades, I still get some unexpected viewpoints. What does punk mean to you, Tom?
TOM: “Punk means knowing what you are fucking talking about. Punk means educating yourself about what is actually going on around you, and then opting out. Not the other way around...”
That happens to coincide with my personal idea of punk, a philosophy of life that the anarcho punk collective known as Crass spread across single-handedly between 1979 and 1984. Whilst the Clash confronted socio-political issues with a lot of ingenuity and contradictions, Crass brought punk to its senses by actually applying the Do It Yourself ethos to every single aspect of their lives including, of course, self-releasing truly independent music for the first time.
MYST: When political punk came out, in the
TOM: “Well, in
MYST: So, coming from an anti-capitalist background, what is your idea of democracy?
TOM: “Democracy means basically spreading out the power as much as possible. It is certainly not in antithesis with communism just like it is not a synonym for capitalism, like most people seem to think. My personal idea of democracy is an anarchist notion of it”
MYST: At the end of the day what we all deeply desire is personal freedom, don’t we?
TOM: “Well, people are commonly afraid and uncomfortable with freedom, and tend to erect cages around themselves in order to be more comfortably confined… We all - or at least most of us - desire personal freedom when it means being able to do what we want to do when we want to do it…but when freedom signifies having to create yourself every day, to recreate relations with those around us…to come to grips with the truths of this life on a consistent basis – those are aspects of freedom people tend to flee from”
MYST: Talking of cages, you have mentioned the degree of individual freedom
TOM: “Well, I grew up in
MYST: Could you ever live without music?
TOM: “I am sure I could, one day. When I moved to
MYST: Aside the rock project with El Doghouse, you have a couple of folk ones on the go too.
TOM: “That’s right; Alfredo and I are performing quite regularly as a duo on harmonica and guitar under the name of All Freedom (http://www.vimeo.com/8947494). I also worked with a folk band called The Rank Strangers, touring pubs and clubs in
MYST: Do you go back to the States often?
TOM: “Not too often, every time I go I feel very uncomfortable” admits Tom while shifting uneasily on his chair “I felt like an outsider there since I was very young”
MYST: Is the track on the album Heat called I can’t Stand You! about GW Bush by any chance?
TOM: “Yes, I wrote those lyrics just after he was re-elected in 2005: I could not believe people could be so profoundly stupid to do that…”
MYST: What’s your opinion on Obama?
TOM: “He will change nothing; democrats have been involved in more wars than republicans have. It’s all a shambles. I have always followed
MYST: Sadly it seems like the same old story keeps repeating itself over and over: I have young friends who might have missed what went on in the sixties and eighties, but they are ashamed to be American because of what’s going on today.
TOM: “It just doesn’t stop... Yesterday they killed 12 innocent people in
MYST: So having unequivocally admitted to not being comfortable with your own country’s politics, I was wondering if north-American folk means to you the same as it did when you were back home…
TOM: “I think so, in fact musically speaking it means even more to me now. In
MYST: Which contemporary bands are you listening to?
TOM: “Hmmm… contemporary for me has come to mean within the last 20 years! I listen a lot to what they are calling
MYST: Talking about live concerts, what does the future hold for El Doghouse?
TOM: “We might release a third album but, to be honest with you, it’s hard to keep spirits high in this climate… It is not easy to find gigs these days, venues and punters prefer to be involved with the new electronic music - or just DJs spinning, whatever - because that’s where the money is. Just imagine, in
MYST: Even a band like El Doghouse, which has had national exposure on both television and radio, is finding it difficult?
TOM: “We play the odd festival, but we would like to tour properly. We did some dates in the Basque Country last year, which by the way was great – the people are fantastic!
MYST: Tell me about it, I have a mythological idea of the place…
TOM: “Well, this guy from Mondragon is really into the Clash and he organized 3 gigs for us. Mondragon is at the heart of the independentist movement, it’s really Apache territory there. You get to this green valley and you find this town of 20.000 people. They are amazingly organized, even the main industries are co-operatives; I do respect what they have up there. Also, because they have a lot of youth centers and collectives, there are an incredible amount of bands, like 20 or more, which is phenomenal for a small town. It was fun and really interesting”
MYSTERY FLAME: Would you like to tour abroad?
TOM: “We would love to! Let’s hope we can work something out, playing in the
In the meantime, if you make your way to
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Interview by Mystery Flame (Alex) 02/03/10