MY OWN WORST ENEMY
by Nancy Neon
My Own Worst Enemy may have appeared to be under the radar with the
releases of Treblemaker in 2000 and No Guarantees in 2003, but their
current CD Total Action (release party on 11/2 at the Abbey Lounge) has
landed them on the map. Pete Weiss has produced almost all the songs on
the band’s three CDs and has earned the undying admiration of My Own
Worst Enemy. In fact, the band considers Pete their secret weapon, a
musician among musicians, and a friend. I met with the members of
MOWE, Sue (vocals/ guitar), Steve (guitar/ vocals), and A.J. (drums) in
Central Square to get the details of the new radar readings.
Noise: You have along association with Pete Weiss. How did you first decide to work with him?
Steve: At our very first show at O’Brien’s in 1998, we opened up for
Pete Weiss & the Rock Band. He has given out about five business
cards in his entire life. Yet he came up to me, handed us his business
card and said, “When you guys start recording, I want to work with
you!” We didn’t even have a demo out at that point!
Sue: There was a band called Mishima on the same bill. They were a
bassless band, too. They had worked with Pete and gave him very high
Steve: We recorded our demo with Pete and it ended up on Treblemaker in 2000.
Noise: I like that name—very punny!
Steve: It was either that or Treble Yell! [all laugh]
Noise: I had no idea that MOWE had been around that long!
Steve: We were VERY under the radar. Also we’d have a drummer and a
burst of activity. Then we’d lose a drummer and not play for a year
until we found A.J.
Noise [to A.J.]: How’d you get hooked up with these two?
A.J.: I’m good friends with Pete Weiss’s younger brother, Mark. I
remember being in 8th grade and Mark would say, “Check this out!” and
it was Pete Weiss & the Rock Band. I said, “Your brother did this?!
That’s so cool!” Later, I saw The Weisstronauts.
Noise: Who are the some of the drummers that made you want to play drums?
A.J.: My favorite is Topper Headon from the second Clash album, London
Calling—that’s my favorite era. I always loved the way that he played
on London Calling. His playing had a punk edge but he had so many other
influences. I like other drummers too. I like Levon Helms from The
Band. He’s a fascinating guy. The way he plays drums… his style is so
different, just constantly playing the bass drum, but it sounds so
right. Of course, there’s also Stewart Copeland of The Police.
Sue: Wasn’t your dad a drummer, A.J.?
A.J.: Yeah he always told me “When I was 16, I was playing three nights a week in a polka band!”
Steve: The process of finding the right drummer was not easy. We met a
lot of nice people, but when we met A.J. he was the perfect fit
musically. A.J. even likes playing in a band without a bass. He has to
play more than a drummer in a band with a bass player. He has to have a
heavy foot pedal and a heavy tom to give us that frequency. On top of
that, A.J. can play harmonica when he drums. Plus he can sing. People
can’t believe how full that we sound as a three piece but we have a lot
Sue [to Steve]: And you have a special setup, too…
Steve: I play through two amps. I use delay and reverb. So it soaks the
bottom end. That has taken years to get just right. We’ve been
recording since 2000, but it has only been the past few years that we
have found just the right way to set it up. I use special strings and
special guitars to get the right frequency. For example, I love
Tellies, but they wouldn’t work for what we do because their sound is
too bright. It’s taken years to refine the formula.
Sue: When Joel Simches interviewed us on WMFO, we played live in the
studio and he said, “You claim to be a bassless, but there is bass all
over this record…” and I said “There’s actually not a single note of
bass there. It’s Steve’s setup and Pete’s magic.”
Steve: And it is really intentional just to set us apart. I love bass
players. I love The Clash. But we have been around Boston long enough
to know how hard it is to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Sue: It evolved naturally because Steve and I started playing together
for fun. Steve was in a punk band called Meatcicle. [This classic punk
name incites unanimous laughter!] We started playing with our friend,
Tony on drums. Before we started playing together, Steve and I visited
Seattle. We picked a club at random.
Steve: We chose the Crocodile Cafe on a Thursday night.
Sue: It was Sleater-Kinney—three women, two guitars, and drums. It was amazing! They blew our friggin’ minds!
Steve: They were the opening band. Their parents were there. We could really relate to it!
Sue: They did go on to become huge. They did contribute to our going bassless because they proved that it was legitimate.
Steve: A few years later, The White Stripes were opening for them and it was like “They’re doing it, too!”
Noise: In my mind, Dexter Romwebber’s Flat Duo Jets were the originals.
Changing subjects, MOWE’s influences are so subtlely integrated into
your own sound that it is difficult to pinpoint what bands inspired you
to begin playing music?
Steve: I have to say that it is just the Boston music scene. I remember
taping ’BCN’s Boston Emissions in the early ’80s, listening to these
great bands knowing that there is this amazing scene just an hour north
of where I am in East Bridgewater. It was like London ’77 to me. Boston
was the place to be. I remember ’Til Tuesday and The Cars. I knew that
I wanted to be part of that somehow. I didn’t know then how I was going
to get there. I played in crappy cover bands in college. We played The
Paradise on a Monday night. These were all tiny steps toward my
ultimate goal. Meeting Sue, who had the same love for the Boston music
scene, was completely amazing! In the mid-’90s, that is, when a lot of
the bands were getting signed—The Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Fuzzy, and
The Dambuilders. It was a fascinating time musically. I had saved Jim
Sullivan’s columns about the Boston music scene in an envelope in my
parent’s closet. I was the DJ of a local college music show called
Local Anesthesia with two hours of local music from Boston and
Providence. It was always in my head—the goal was not to be a rock star
but to be a Boston musician! This was ’88-’90. It was cool having
Buffalo Tom and The Peasants live in the studio.
Sue: For me, I grew up in Fitchburg. In the early to mid-’80s, my
sister Laura, who was about a year older, started getting into bands
like U2 and REM. Laura became friends with people in bands and I met
the people that she was friends with. She got into Hüsker Dü and The
Noise: I adore the Mats on record and live. Check out Red Invasion’s
live version of their “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Speaking of versions, it
takes chutzpa to cover Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach.” You got my very
dear friend, Robert Barry Francos, dancing and that’s not happened in
Sue: Yes, Laura turned me on to Patti, too. It was cool because it was
so different from what my friends were into like .38 Special. I started
getting into the local music scene in the mid-to-late ’80s, bands like
Scruffy the Cat. Then The Feelies came to town—that is still one of my
favorite fucking shows!
Noise: Other than Scruffy the Cat, what are some other local bands that turned you on?
Sue: I went to college with Lee Harrington’s little sister, Amy, and
she said, “Do you want to see my brother’s band?” I had no clue about
The Neighborhoods! There were The Zulus, Pixies—it was all happening.
Then I got into punk. But my roots were folk like Joni Mitchell, Dylan,
etc. I went to Catholic school and played for the folk mass.
Noise: What is it like when a complete stranger comes up to you totally digging MOWE and “getting” you from the start?
Sue: It’s the best! I would not give up or underestimate our core
following who have been there and stuck by us because they are
invaluable for sure. Yet when you have a complete stranger who just
happens to be at a show and they like it and they understand where you
are coming from, they come up to you or send you an e-mail. It
validates what you are doing. Last night, I was talking to Chick, the
singer from Scarce. He has heard some of our MySpace songs. He says
that he likes our songs and wants to do gigs with us. I was gushing
over his band. That’s so cool when people that you admire let you know
that they admire you. Like Brett Milano—we used to be afraid to talk to
him. Now he’s a friend. When we meet a total stranger and they “get”
our music—that sustains us. Whether it’s a Robert or Chuck or you. That
is the best thing about being in a band. It’s the friendships that make
it all worthwhile. I feel like in ten years, we’ll still be able to
have a Guiness together.
Noise: One last thing: how did the band choose the name?
Sue: Naming the band—what a royal pain! We were throwing around all
sorts of ideas—phrases from books, poems, and lyrics and we wanted it
to be a unanimous band decision. In the song, “Living In Exile” from
Sleater-Kinney’s record, The Hot Rocks, we found “I know my head is my
worst enemy/ Swallowed too much of it and started to believe/ I know my
heart is my worst enemy.” Right away, that “my worst enemy” phrase hit
us and made us think of the expression “I’m my own worst enemy.” It
seemed to fit too perfectly, essentially describing our experience of
the band naming process itself. Add to that our having initially picked
a terrible name, sticking to our guns (and getting shit) about being a
bassless band, not to mention any personal daily neuroses—we truly were
our own worst enemies. And so that was it. We had our name.