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The Hard Stuff

 July 11, 2022 at 9:35 PM PDT

S1: Welcome to the KPBS Summer Music Series. In this episode , we'll talk to legendary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer about rising to fame in the wake of the 1967 Detroit riots. And. We'll hear from San Diego's own scrapes , an experimental electronic duo that embraces chaos through improvisation to create some truly original music. That's next. Welcome to the KPBS summer music series. San Diego's own Music Discovery podcast that features encore presentations of our best in-studio performances and interviews , celebrating our diverse music scene and beyond. I'm your host , Kurt CONAN. 50 years ago , Wayne Kramer and his band , the Motor City Five , released their debut album , Kick Out the Jams , High Energy Rock and Roll that provided the soundtrack to a youth movement of social and political revolution. Now the. But rock stardom turned out to be a mixed bag for guitarist Wayne Kramer. Guns , drugs and police confrontations led to addiction and prison after his share of hard time and hard times. Wayne Kramer got back on the road with the new version of MC5 and a new memoir , The Hard Stuff , Dope Crime , the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities.
S2: There's nothing that I consciously remember that I won't talk about. Okay.
S1: Okay.
S2: If I remember it , I'll talk about it.
S1: And so , do you remember your first time just being turned on to music or listening to music before being a musician ? Sure. Yeah.
S2: Detroit in 1958 was a boom town. The auto factories were going 24 seven. Good , good. Union jobs were available. And there was a sense that all things were possible. If you needed it built , we could build it in Detroit. And the future was. Wide open. And in this atmosphere , music was ubiquitous. You heard it everywhere. It was on the car radio. We had a handful of radio stations that were all very competitive and played the hits of the day. We had R&B stations and blues stations and country music stations and and classical music stations. So music was part of everyday life. And in my neighborhood , I , a friend of mine , had a couple of records and one was ready Teddy by Little Richard. And what I heard in that , in that record was dramatic and compelling and exotic. You know , Little Richard's fervor and his singing and , you know , screaming and the driving rhythm of that band with the great Earl Palmer on drums was completely foreign to my , you know , Converse sneaker wearing , all-American kid upbringing , you know , at age ten. And I started to discover there was something going on with music that didn't exist in any other area of my life. It was speaking to me as if it was in a secret code.
S1: Jumping ahead here to 1967 , Motor City was on fire , literally. The Detroit race riots left 43 people dead , over a thousand injured , and more than 2000 buildings destroyed.
S3: In the movie Kung Fu. But.
UU: But. And you got to.
S1: The time leading up to your legendary album , Kick Out the Jams. Set the scene for us.
S2: It wasn't just about playing music. It was about blowing people away. We wanted we wanted to mesmerize audiences. We wanted to to to provide them with a cosmic experience that included , you know , driving rhythms and danceable music , but that also had great theatrical flair and costumes. And and and we developed a kind of almost Pentecostal atmosphere of of encouragement and connection with our audience. And we addressed our audiences concerns directly. It wasn't around the side. It was face to face. You know , the people in the audience were concerned about the same things. I was concerned about the war in Vietnam , civil rights , the planet , police brutality , outdated fifties sexual mores. You know , we felt the adult generation was ruining everything and it was our job to fix it.
S1: And you were very much involved in the community and just what was going on and building around you.
S2: And I have no quarrel with the Warriors , but I do have a quarrel with the policy makers. It was an illegal war. It was an undeclared war , and we couldn't justify it. We had trouble with the idea that people of color didn't share the same rights as white people and certainly were not sharing in the prosperity of America. We were concerned about the state of the planet. The idea that we actually have an effect on our atmosphere and our water became primary for us. We we we cared about these things. And it was clear that the big business and big industry didn't care about these things. They only cared about profit. And so we were part we were a whole generation. And the Z5 was part of that generation , and we were a voice for that generation. We knew we knew our role in in the fabric of society. And we know that democracy requires participation. You know , the framers were pretty bright and putting together this concept that if you disagree with government policy , it's incumbent on you to say something , to do something , certainly to exercise your your democratic rights and responsibilities to vote. And everything we did was out of a sense of patriotism.
S2: People used to go out and dance before radio and TV and seven nights a week people would go out and dance. It was a social function and we took it over with a friend of ours and started running concerts every weekend. And the MC5 was the house band. So we played with all every band that was on tour in those days. We'd come and play in Detroit and play at The Grand. It was a fabulous venue. You could get 3000 kids in it and everyone was safe there. There was no alcohol , there was no fights. It wasn't like in a bar. This was young people and counterculture people and you know , you could smoke a little weed. Nobody really cared too much. It was a fantastic atmosphere. So the the best stuff that happened happened weekend after weekend as the MC5 refined its performance powers. And ah , you know , the music became more complex and more compelling and , and higher energy and we focused harder on , on entertaining the people and carrying a message. And , you know , there are certain nights in music where I've come to believe that it just doesn't get any better. You know , they're like , this is a peak moment. And we had those a lot in those days.
S1: Regarding Detroit and and where you were making this music and this scene. It's the birthplace of Motown , not just Motown , but also countless jazz legends like Milt Jackson , Ron Carter , Donald Byrd and Yusef Lateef.
S2: And the Jones Brothers. Elvin Jones. Yeah , a.
S1: Very long list. Forever.
S2: Forever.
S1: And a huge influence on bebop and hard bop genres.
S2: Yes , sir.
S1: Also , MC5 lead singer Robb Tyner took his name from McCoy Tyner , John Coltrane's piano player.
S2: That's true. Yeah , he sure did.
S2: I could play all the popular music of the day. I could I could reproduce what the British guitarists were doing or George Harrison or Keith Richards was doing. And I was really interested in what Jeff Beck was doing. And and I'm still interested in what Jeff Beck is doing. He's playing greater than he ever has. He's fantastic. And I started to wonder , where was my voice , what you know , what was my contribution to the music ? And so if I took my my best Chuck Berry solo or if I imitated somebody else's solo and I played it as hard as I could and as fast as I could , then where do I go from there ? Like , what's the next step ? And I found the answer in the free jazz movement of the sixties and seventies , the musics of Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane and Sun Ra and Albert Ayler. All of a sudden I heard musicians that were taking the music beyond Western music collide , you know , 12 tone rhythmic concepts and Western harmonic concepts into a whole new area , a whole new range of expression. And for me , that was the answer to the riddle. You know , this is where I want to go with the guitar. And and and we kind of decided that as a band , we wanted to to follow follow their lead , try to try to catch up the Sun Ra.
S1: After three albums and hundreds of performances , MC5 eventually parted ways. As a 24 year old.
S2: I was crushed emotionally , spiritually , physically. I. I'd lost my best friends. Lost my way to make a living. Lost my status in the community. And it was a painful loss. You know , I don't mean to make it maudlin or melodramatic , but , you know , I was a young man and and I worked really hard to make the M.S. five what it was. And and to one day wake up and have it all go away was a terrible blow to me and really , I think was painful. And and sadly , I discovered the painkilling properties of Jack Daniel's and heroin , and that soothed the pain. And it worked very well. It was very dependable , except it had terrible side effects. The side effects ultimately being , you know , sickness , poverty , homelessness and ultimately a federal prison term. So , you know , it took me to some very dark places. I did things that I'm not proud of. I've hurt people and I've been hurt. And and it took me a long walk into the woods and it was a long walk back out of the woods.
S1: And yet. Lucky for us you're still here and you're sitting here now.
S2: We we have an expression. And I work in the prisons helping the prisoners rehabilitate and violence prevention through our non-profit jail guitar doors. And we noticed that when men in prison hit around age 50 , they're done being gangsters and they're done being tough guys and they're done being hustlers. They just want to have a nice home and a wife and have , you know , a little family and a job and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. And I think I reached a point when I was 50 that I knew I could not continue in the way I was going , that all roads led to more pain and ultimately. I zeroed in on that. This probably had something to do with my addiction and my alcoholism. And I reached out to some some brothers to help me. And they did. And they taught me a way to live where drinking and drugs weren't necessary every day. And it took a lot of work and took a lot of time. But , you know , this year I'm coming up on 20 years clean and sober and and and the benefits I have just a just a spectacular life I enjoy. I enjoy almost everything I do almost all the time. I have a great family , a good job. I'm here today talking with you and to all our mainline Melo's out there in San Diego. I got nothing to complain about these days.
S1: And the class actually have a song about you and your experience that led to you being in prison in federal penitentiary called Jail Guitar Doors. You tell us just briefly about about that.
S2: Well , I was in prison. A new music style emerged punk rock. And there was a band in England , very conscious band , The Clash. And in a show of solidarity from some. Brothers across the sea. They wrote this tune called Joe Guitar Doors with the lyric. Let me tell you about Wayne and his deals of cocaine a little more every day. Hold for a friend till the band do well. But the DEA locked him away. Clang , clang , go the jail guitar doors. And I thought this was a terrific gesture on their part. And I really appreciated it and then didn't think much more of it for about 30 years and finally ran into Billy Bragg. One night we were playing a concert together and I was talking about justice reform and and prison reform. And he told me he had launched an independent initiative in England to provide instruments for prisoner rehabilitation. And I thought , this is a great idea. You're British. You're doing it in Her Majesty's prisons. But I'm an American and I'm an American return citizen. I'm an ex-offender ex-convict. As we used to say. And I'm also a musician. And I need to do something to mitigate the damage being done by hyper incarceration in America. And so I'm going to take this on for America. And that was about ten years ago now. Today , our instruments are in over 120 American prisons. We run songwriting workshop programs across the country , here in San Diego , out at the Donovan State Prison. We run a program there in the county jail here in San Diego , in the L.A. County Jail , and California Department of Corrections. We're on ten different prison yards in the CDCR and all across the country and in Detroit and at Rikers Island in New York , up in Massachusetts , down in Texas. And we are enjoying a fruitful expansion. We we've been blessed to become friends with the great Dr. Bronner's Corporation. And they support our work , and we really appreciate it. And we've been able to accomplish a great deal to see people go through a fundamental change in personality. You know , education is important , but it takes a change of heart. And we know that art is one of the few things that reach people on a deep enough level to bring about that change of heart. You know , that I can I can put an instrument in a prisoner's hand and task him with telling his story in a song. And the process of doing that work is transformative. He starts to see he or she starts to see that they actually have something positive to contribute to the world , something of beauty , something enjoyable , maybe sometimes for the first time in their entire life. And that's the beginning of the hard work of rehabilitation also serves to reduce violence in prisons. I've heard it 100 times where captains and lieutenants , you know , hard line corrections officers will tell us that we brought the guitars on the yard , launched a program , and violence went down on the yard. People have something positive to look forward to.
S1: Well , so in all the ways that you've positive , ways you've influenced the world and music , M.S. five is often cited as the favorite band of other famous bands like Sonic Youth , Motorhead , Rage Against The Machine , The Ramones , and , of course , The Clash. MC5 was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine , nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times. And you've been named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 greatest guitarists in rock. So you've got nothing left to prove.
S2: And and the idea that I created helped create this music 50 years ago. And it's more relevant today than it's ever been. You know , I wondered for a while , would the music hold up ? You know , it's 50 years. That's half a century. You know , styles come and change and fashions change. And the first show we did this summer out in in Scandinavia. By the second song , we had won the crowd over. They understood exactly what we were doing , that we're bringing the rock.
S1: And was this with the new lineup ? The Emcee 50. Yes.
S2: Yes. This was with Emcee 50.
S2: Drummer Dennis Machinegun Thompson is still alive , but he's not touring. He may do a couple of shows with us. I don't know. I'm leaving that up to. Him to decide. But I was able to call some good friends up guys like Kim Thile , the great Soundgarden guitarist Billy Gould , Faith No More's bassist , the wonderful Brendan Canty from Fugazi on drums and our secret weapon , Marcus Durant from Zen Guerilla. And the thing about these guys , they are all good brothers , if you know what I mean. They're good traveling companions. They're all whole in their own psyches , you know ? There's no prima donnas or ego trippers. They are intellectually curious. They have fantastic sense of humor. So we enjoy each other's company , which is the most important thing , touring and and each of them have their own personal connection to the music of the MC5. Apart from their friendship with me , at a certain point in each of their lives , they discovered the MC5 and they heard something in the message , in the music of the MC5 that was meaningful to them , that they incorporated into their own journey and their own music and their own bands. And so today , the fact that we can play this music together , I think it's a lot more than just being hired for a job because they've internalized the message of the MC5 and and they're all playing at the peak of their skills. But they're not cynical , you know , they're not there. Nobody phones it in. Playing well is important to everybody every night. And they they get a lot out of it and they put a lot into it. So for me , it just makes it , you know , heaven on earth , I can go out and act like a fool all night and jump around and have a ball and play my guitar with guys that I enjoy doing it with and celebrate this music that's. That's held up amazingly well for 50 years. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. Musicians that have been influenced by Emcee five and carry the torch and made their own unique sound from it. That's got to feel good to be a part of that and.
S2: See that man. It listen , it's a it's an unasked for and maybe an undeserved gift , but it's a gift I accept.
S1: Wayne Kramer , thank you so much for joining us.
S2: Happy to be here. Thank you.
S1: Next up , harnessing chaos through improvisation. We talk with San Diego's own straight. Welcome back to the KPBS summer music series. We just heard from Wayne Kramer about how MC5 was influenced by bebop and the frenetic energy of jazz. Well , our next guests turn that same inspiration into something completely different. Scrapes brings life to machine music by destroying sound and creating a wildly unique musical energy. Here's Midday Edition's Jade Hindman.
S4: Raw expression and artistic freedom is rare in this world , where everything from use it to social media is monetized and music untouched by the gears of capitalism. Left to the purest form of creativity is hard to find. But if you find it , what would that sound like ? Well , Scrapes is a legendary experimental electronic duo who create on their own terms. You can't find their music on traditional streaming platforms , and they don't play traditional instruments. Their live shows are a chaotic explosion of chopped breakbeats and alien noise that pushed the speakers within an inch of their life. Scrapes joins us today. But let's begin with their song , Abacus. You can definitely hear the jazz behind the chaos there. That is scrapes with Abacus. And I want to introduce scrapes Tintin , a.k.a. John Kelso in Psycho Pop , a.k.a. David Lampley. Thanks for joining us on the KPBS summer music series. Hello.
S3: Hello. Thank you so much. Thanks for having us on.
S3: We had mutual friends that were in the music also. And David was at the time producing like hip hop stuff and rapping. And I was deejaying and I did some scratches for his album , and we just connected through music and had like the same wavelength of creating crazy sounds and chaos stuff.
S3: That amplified noise , pretty much. It's just all freestyle jamming out. Like free jazz , basically.
S4: Mm hmm.
S3: Yeah , I use modular synthesizers. Samplers mostly just capture sound and try to chop up the sounds to create rhythms and noise filled recordings. Build a rails , tape decks , all records. Nice.
S4: Nice. I mean , you use this process called circuit bending. I mean , tell me about that.
S3: Yeah , circuit bending is just taken like any instrument toy , anything that makes sound , that's battery powered or electronic car. But I just open it up and just poke around in the inside of it and see if it alters the sound , makes anything sound crazy and destroy the original sound. You should. Yeah.
S4: Yeah. I have to know like what are your live shows like. Mhm.
S3: Mhm. Improvisational. Yeah. Sometimes like some people don't understand it , you know , just because we're just going up , they're just feeding off of they the surroundings so. Yeah. Usually it's just like a big wall of sound going on it all the time. It's just like. Yeah , yeah. We just make a wall of sound until something breaks through. Then we go off of it. Our friends who march this guy going to see me , he always says it's like scaring someone and then giving a hug and telling me it's all right , then pushing them off. You then like making him laugh then ? Then you're like friends after the show. I don't know. All sorts of different feelings , I guess. Hmm.
S3: I mostly just use my my modular system for that. And Psycho Pop. David uses his keyboard , so it's mostly just like drums and scent the whole time. Like a lot of bass sounds on there and very minimal , but like , it sounds heavy.
S3: I have , like , a machine. That's for the take a hearing test , and it makes all these crazy sounds out of it. There's a delay and some distortion on it. And we even like a different every. Yeah , just. Yeah , everything's different every time we perform. It's like sometimes we'll take , like , the tape decks or like a little radio. We'll speak in spell or whatever , you know , Gameboy , skateboard. Yeah , anything.
S4: And so.
S3: That's our manifesto. This is what we do. Yeah. We just have fun every time we play play shows and we don't even look up. We're just we look up and we'll mess up because we're just like in the zone.
S4: So how does that how does that work ? How does this the sound man , he doesn't even get it right.
S3: The sound guy probably hates us. Usually they don't get it. So we used to just bring our own sound because they'd always turn us down and we're turning up and they think we're going to burn the sound system out , but we just bring our own so we break it. I'm not mad. I'm like , I feel like I'd won or something if I'd burn this figure out. We played a show one time. We knocked the lights out of the ceiling.
S4: I gosh. I would imagine that the crowd's reaction is different , too. Like you've toured Europe many times.
S3: Seems like they're more just observing and trying to see what we're doing , studying or something. Well , like in other countries , they don't really stare too much at our equipment. They're just mostly just feeling the vibe of the music , dancing around. They're having a good time. Yeah , it's really cool to work with that.
S4: I want to take a listen to Heavy Machinery. Wow. So that's very lively.
S3: Maybe there's a little bit of pressure , but we don't really have an expectation. We just want to get loud and kind of abrasive and hear some heavy drums and we're just kind of locked in the zone. And if people are feeling it , that's like really special. But people walk away. It's it's cool. It's not for everybody. Yeah. As long as the sound system sounds good. Well , we'll have a good time on stage. That's all that counts. Yeah. Yeah.
S4: Yeah. Because , I mean , you know , it's not like you've , you've practiced , you know , I mean , this is just like it's raw when you're up on stage.
S3: If if the audience is really feeling it , then yeah. Then we , it's like we can't stop playing. Yeah. When everyone , everything's going perfect and the audience is like the energy so high that we could just , like , pause and everyone will pause and then we'll start playing again. It's just having that control is yeah , it feels like a crazy control of the energy. Just like , yeah , we just become like one with the audience.
S4: With your do it yourself approach and the way you create music in the moment and never repeat the same thing.
S3: There's always something like a different rhythm or we also like create like our own records. They've cut records , so we also just try to find new ways of design in those records too , whether it's like homemade picture desk records or like weird shapes. So that's what kind of makes it more exciting for us as well , because we're just like , Yeah , yeah , I feel like we're just artists. Like we'll make our own t shirts or record covers or our own tapes , our own flyers book , our own shows. We just have control over every part of the process , and I don't know how many other people can say they do that. I feel like we're pure artists and feel good to be able to say that. I feel like I also say that.
S4: I've been speaking with scrapes , members , tension and psychopaths. Thank you both for joining me.
S3: Thank you so much. Thanks for having us all the time.
S1: Thanks for listening to the KPBS Summer Music Series. To catch a new episode every two weeks , subscribe wherever you get podcasts at for performance videos and more great artists. Visit KPBS Mortgage Summer Music Series. John Decker is Interim Associate General Manager of content. Lisa Jane Morrissette , operations manager. And Megan Burke , the senior producer. I'm Kurt CONAN.

In 1969, Wayne Kramer and his band the Motor City 5 released its debut album “Kick Out the Jams” – high energy rock ’n’ roll that spoke truth-to-power in real-time, and provided the soundtrack to a youth movement of social and political revolution. Rising to fame in the wake of the 1967 Detroit Riots, the MC5 encapsulated the frenetic energy of a generation reckoning with the Vietnam War, segregation and a popular music scene that wasn’t addressing the unrest. Kramer talks with KPBS about the legacy of his band MC5 and his memoir "The Hard Stuff."

Then, Skrapez, is a legendary San Diego-based experimental electronic duo who create music on their own terms. You can’t find their music on traditional streaming platforms and they don’t play traditional instruments. Their live shows are a chaotic explosion of chopped breakbeats and alien noise that have literally blown out the lights during concerts. Musicians Jon Calzo aka "Tenshun" and David Lampley aka "Psychopop" describe how circuit-bending and destroying sound has allowed Skrapez to create something new.