● Impressive and long career indeed. Tell me, do you miss the old days or do you enjoy more the digital music industry?
The old days were expensive and labor-intensive. Put a package in the mail. Put forty packages in the mail. Each one costs two-and-a-half dollars in postage. Plus envelopes. Plus the CDs and photos and press-kits. Plus the phone calls. “Call me on Thursday.” So you call on Thursday and nobody answers the phone. The old days involved spending a lot of money to make a little. That alone, however, separated those who were really driven from those who weren’t really committed.
Now, every kid with a laptop is a few clicks from fifteen-minutes of world-wide fame. Now, The Little Wretches are still a needle in a haystack, so to speak, and the haystack is more massive than ever, but a kid in New Zealand or Japan or Poland can find our music. And that’s what’s important to me.
Then, as now, the business favors rich kids with expensive technology and entrepreneurial skills. We working class kids are still in the minority, still on the outside, still being reminded on a daily basis that we don’t matter.
The short answer, though, is that I prefer the digital music industry.
● Your personal life has got many perspectives as well as obstacles, such as cancer, the KKK, and even the punk scene influence. Do you think that each experience added to Robert’s character in the current day?
What are you talking about, the KKK? I worked in a Marxist-Maoist bookstore, and a kid from the KKK came in to assess the enemy, and he and I discovered that on a personal level, we had a lot in common. He was radicalized by the KKK. I was radicalized on the other end of the spectrum. But as human beings, we were cut from the same cloth.
In the whole Marxist bag, we used to talk about the dialectical process—thesis, antithesis, synthesis, things turning into their opposites. All those experiences you alluded to—the cancer, the radical politics, the punk scene—they’ve given me a story to tell, yes. There’s a line in a poem I perform that says, “You are what I am, and I am what I’ve been through, and I’ve been through hell.”
I’m one of those people who believe life has a purpose. Hardships, struggles, disappointments…it all works together for Good. But you have to choose Good. I believe in the realities of Good and Evil. You have a choice. Hopefully, you live long enough to realize you have a choice. And you live long enough to see through the deception and the lies and the temptations and the false promises.
● Many artists struggle with the trends, still, you prefer to keep your old-school songwriting method. Won’t you be afraid this may affect on band’s popularity?
It was pretty obvious when I was starting out that the cool kids in my hometown scene were five-years behind the rest of the world. By the time a trend caught on in my hometown, it was already behind the curve. We never chased any trends, and the result, of course, on a local level, was that The Little Wretches were always being snubbed in favor of ‘the next big thing.” Opportunists and myopic poseurs. At the time, it was sickening.
People used to tell me that I was “negative” and “angry” because I spoke of truths and realities they were trying to ignore or cover up. Now, everybody tells me how positive I am. I stuck to my path, did my own thing in my own time, and now I have a powerful catalogue of music that tells a powerful story.
You said something about “the band’s popularity.” Popularity? Really? That’s something for high school kids to worry about. People who crave popularity are pitiable. I was lucky. In high school, I hated everybody and everything. I never pursued popularity, never expected to attain it, never cared a hoot about it.
I’m like Noah. I’m that crazy guy building his ark.
● “Live at the Mattress Factory: Songs from the Land of Pit Bulls & Poker Machines” is a very long album title. What’s its story?
“Live at the Mattress Factory,” that part of the title, is simply an acknowledgement of the venue and the fact that the album is a recording of a live-performance. The selection of songs is titled, “Songs from the Land of Pit Bulls & Poker Machines.”
In the ghettos and river towns, pit bulls are a status thing. A dog can protect you. A dog can love you unconditionally. And sickos can fight their dogs for money. There’s a whole subculture around pit bulls.
As for poker machines, in the aforementioned ghettos and river towns, poker machines are a source of amusement, a money-making operation, an opportunity for legitimate businesses to make some underground cash through illegal gambling. Again, there is a whole subculture around illegal poker machines.
The songs on the album are character-studies of people who live in ghettos and river towns. The Remains of Joe Magarac. Whether or Not You Like It. Cherry Trees. All of My Friends. Taken as a whole, I think I’m doing with lyrics what filmmakers like Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders and John Sayles were doing with movies.
● Was it planned to release a live version for the “Undesirables and Anarchists” album?
UNDESIRABLES & ANARCHISTS was, for all intents and purposes, a live album. The only thing missing was the audience. We recorded those songs in single takes, live in the studio. We overdubbed the vocals and some extra guitars and percussion, true, but that was our live set, and we captured it in the studio.
The reality of the music business, however, is that in our hometown, we were just another local band, and on an international level, The Little Wretches were in no position to tour. Touring is expensive. Travel. Lodging. Expensive and risky. The Little Wretches are a bunch of working class people. We’re not a bunch of rich kids living in our mother’s basement. We’ve got no wealthy benefactors paying our way in the world.
I can play solo versions of most of the songs on UNDESIRABLES & ANARCHISTS. When I’m out doing solo shows, those songs are a staple of my repertoire.
● Although you’ve got a nice activity on your YouTube channel, still, aren’t many music videos. Are you planning to film any soon?
Know any filmmakers? I write, record and perform songs. The songs tell powerful stories. If you know someone who can do with the camera what I can do with song lyrics, please send that person my way.
The best stuff by The Little Wretches on YouTube is the live stuff. It’s not on our channel. Search us up on YouTube, and you’ll find some phenomenal live shows.
● Based on your discography, I noticed there’s a time gap between each record and another. Are you planning to change this in the near future?
The time-gaps reflect the transition of technology and the economic realities of the music business. The Little Wretches started in the era before digital technology existed. Indie bands sold cassette-tapes and pressed vinyl singles and LPs. Then there was a period when indie bands had to choose between pressing CDs and pressing vinyl. Then, downloading came along. Then streaming. Try building a self-sustaining business on the revenue from streaming.
The gaps between releases reflect that there was insufficient projected revenue to justify the expense of recording and releasing an album. I never stopped writing and performing.
My plan is to release a new album every year and to re-mix and re-master the back catalogue. My goal is to wake up in the morning, thinking about where I’m playing tonight, promoting the body of work we’ve created.
● I felt your lyrics are more like poems, is it really inspired by poets and poetry schools?
Thank you. The day Bob Dylan picked up a guitar, poetry became a cottage-industry for college professors. The plays of Bertolt Brecht, August Wilson and Sam Shepard, the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, the novels of Nelson Algren, Dickens, Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Henry Miller, the rock poets like Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band—that’s the stuff that inspired me.
But I’m a product of the mythology of rock’n’roll. I read a quote by Patti Smith where she said, “Rock’n’roll is the highest form of communication known to man.” I came up believing rock’n’roll can change the world. Now, I believe the only thing worth changing is the heart, and what better way to touch the heart than through song?
● You’re keen about your virtual appearance, a neat website indeed. Still, the photo sessions looked vintage to me. Was it meant to appear like this?
The Little Wretches have a long, storied past. I simply uploaded a bunch of photos. There wasn’t much thought into cultivating a look or an image. I like to quote Popeye The Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam.” We are what we are. I don’t think much more about it than that.
We’re The Little Wretches. We’re the poor, the reviled, the meek, the once-were-lost-but-now-are-found band that grew up on a hill of slag dumps over the coal mines. If we had an actual stylist or graphic-designer, who knows what our stuff would look like? Our stuff is the equivalent of cinema verite.
● Finally, thank you for the chat and tell us more about the rest of the 2021 plans.
We started recording a new album in January, 2021, and it is not finished. Between quarantines and pandemics and hospital visits and the challenges of circumstance, we’ve gotten a lot done, but Rosa has vocals to do, Rosa and Mike Madden have percussion to lay down, and I might re-do some of my vocals. It will probably roll out as a series of singles. The whole album, titled RED BEETS & HORSERADISH, will be done when it’s done.
Like I said earlier, I’m building toward the day when I’m playing every night, promoting my catalogue, connecting with people. I’ve got the songs. I’ve got the guitar. I’m bringing something to the party that only I can bring.
I’ve got a few more killer albums left in me. As we sing in The Ballad of Johnny Blowtorch, “If I ever get luck and score, you’ll want to be me.” A little hubris, maybe, all in good fun. But it’s good to be a little wretch in 2021, and I hope I get to do a live show for you soon.