An Interview with Don Joyce of Negativland

by Isaac Airbourne

Don Joyce is in the band Negativland and claims to understand everything about the United States… as you can see, he is a liar, since he totally wimped out when I really dug into his mind.

Q: What is the worst thing about being in a band?

A: It’s the worst thing and the best thing. Collaborating. Even as it is always frustrating to lose complete control over a personal idea and watch it morph into stuff you never intended, this process also produces something you never would or could have come up with entirely on your own and more often than not it is actually better off for it. I’ve always liked democratic “bands” that can truly create some amalgam of the individuals much more than individual superstars whose personal creative boundaries are all too obvious and are quickly used up, at which point they begin repeating themselves forever. A true group dynamic, when it can stand to live with itself, is richer.

Q: What is your opinion of EPCOT?

A: Never been there. However, we will be doing a few shows on OTE, our radio show in Berkeley, with Dan Howland of Ride Theory ‘zine fame on ride theory in general and Disney in particular sometime after this tour ends this summer.

Q: Do you find that it is to your advantage to not be all over MTV?

A: Yes, of course, certainly! YOU CAN’T WIN on TV. Once you have appeared on TV, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are or are not allowed to do, you have become less interesting. You have been surrounded by commercials and the programming they spawn, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. For the most part, it’s a matter of diminishment by association.

Q: How is touring?

A: Wheeeoo! TOO MUCH! Really, the horrors of this particular tour are too much to relate here. See our tour diary on our Web site,, for the unbelievably tangled web of mishaps, misfortunes, mistakes, rear-end collisions, and the recurring cycles of poor decision making they evoke.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle in selling albums of the sort that you create?

A: Not enough people like them. Our distribution would be adequate enough if people really wanted them, but they don’t. Too much TV, I guess.

Q: What kind of computer do you use? Ever play with Linux?

A: I’m the proud owner of a Mac Centris 610 (the one from the ’80s with the horizontally rotating monitor). What’s a Linux?

Q: What’s your favorite foreign country and why? Ever been to London?

A: This one, because I understand everything. Switzerland is the most beautiful, but too expensive and too conservative. England is very lovely if you get out of the big dirty parts, and I understand more there than anyplace but here. Germany is also surprisingly lovely apart from the big dirty parts, the food is best in Belgium, but the north hates the south and it’s a two or three language country, but you don’t have to tip anyone for anything. Never been to France, Italy, Greece, the Middle East, Africa, India, Russia, China, Southeast Asia, Mexico, Central or South America, or the Pacific Islands, which I suspect might be my favorite place, except for the one I’m in.

Q: What do you think about the new D.E.M.I. device?

A: Sorry, you’ll have to spell that out for me.

Q: Any interest in purchasing a D.E.M.I. for your home office? Do you make enough money from album sales to even afford a down payment?

A: I’m not even going to see what this is. No, we can’t afford it.

Q: Do you ever fear that the human race are just tubes that suck on one end and shit out the other, and you somehow developed a brain and are now wondering how to put it to use to your advantage, and are unfortunately doomed each morning to remember how useless it is in a society consisting of the aforementioned tubes?

A: Yes, but I wouldn’t put it that way.

Q: What do you think of that DNA time-clock strand thingy that hangs on the end of each cell that causes it to get old when all the beads fall off — and how some scientists have figured out how to make all the bead things not fall off, thus making it possible to live forever, assuming you could afford to buy this technology or have it done to you?

A: For better or worse, if they can get this going, I’ll sign up. There’s always suicide…

Q: Can you just put any old IDE drive in a Mac and expect it to work? Because I had a 1.2G here, and I took it out of the PC and stuck it in there, and it made a loud CLUNK and won’t work again.

A: Sorry, you’ll have to spell that out for me.

Q: Have you noticed that AOL Instant Messenger now has this “TALK” feature, where you can talk to anyone you want over the internet and it’s free? I am immediately thinking that AOL can now listen in on your home whenever they want if you have this program thing even running. Pretty weird.

A: This is a statement, not a question.

Q: What kind of distribution deal do you guys have? Who sells your stuff to stores? Let’s suppose I wanted to place a bulk order for your CD’s to distro them all over my neighborhood. Is that possible?

A: Contact Mordam Records in San Francisco, 415-642-6800.

Q: Very interesting answers. I’d really be happy if you could answer this next batch. Sorry about all the computer questions before. I think it’s rare to get to ask someone questions like this and not have them stomp off growling or give you a blank look. How old are you, and when did you first start to understand everything about the US? What kinds of things do you have to do to continue living peacefully and communicating with White United States People if you do understand everything? In other words, what extra bit of final knowledge keeps you from killing them off? How much of your live shows are improvised / choreographed? Do you try to do a different thing each night? How many people attend your shows nightly? What kind of people are they? Few people like your band but everyone that does wants to join it. True or false? Are you able to enjoy musical works that are surrounded with advertising and imagery, such as Christina Aguilera, in part or in whole? Even a little bit? Or do you have to psychologically reject every bit of it? What kind of effect on society do you think Playboy magazine has had? What do you think causes kids to bring guns to school and open fire? What is this, a high school essay contest? What do you think of Ayn Rand’s stuff? Do you guys make enough money off Negativland or do you have to flip burgers?

A: No, sorry Isaac, but you’ve had enough! I’m actually swamped with these things and can’t spend the time to fill you in further. Not quite a blank stare, but close…

This article was originally published by INK19 in June 2000.

[Photo Source: Unknown]