Ian Koss Interview

Ian Koss Interview

This was conducted at some point in 1998.

• • •

What’s with that?
It’s from a movie.

When did you get the idea to do INK19 and why?
This dates back to 1990, when I was with WFIT, the radio station at the Florida Institute of Technology. Frank Dreyer (aka Francis P. Dreyer III, our art director) and a group of other station people were working on an alternative music video show to air on public access cable, to be called “Room Nineteen.” I was also in charge of the campus paper’s “Arts + Entertainment” section at the time, so I was tapped to be the editor/publisher of “Ink Nineteen,” the program guide for the video show. All of this was coming together just as the radio station was falling apart. School management had woken up to the fact that they had a profitable little operation in WFIT, and were anxious to get their paws on some of that $$$ ,so they moved in with corporate management, consultants, etc. Sadly, this killed off the feeling of community that made the station great in the first place, and a lot of us DJs-qua-music junkies started looking for another source. The video show fell through, but Frank and I proceeded with the publication. I can’t really explain why we decided to do it. I guess we wanted to be showered with free music — we got spoiled at WFIT, and the prospect of having to BUY our own music frightened all of us. This love of free music is probably what kept the publication afloat for the first three or four years, when it was barely breaking even.

What are you trying to accomplish/what are you accomplishing?
I’ve never given much thought to what is being accomplished. I mean, we’re writing about “new music,” which in itself is a pretty ephemeral phenomenon. It’s more like serving meals than building houses — I mean, what is a waiter trying to accomplish when he brings you your meal? You could say he’s satisfying your hunger, but chances are you’ll have to eat again. What makes INK19 different than other magazines in the area? I have a theory that the reason people think Ink Nineteen is unique (and it’s not my place to call it either “unique” or “ordinary”; I leave that to our readers) is that we’re not trying to second-guess our reader’s interests by looking at what’s popular or “hot.” The only difference between our staff and our readers is that our staff writes for the magazine. When they cover what they like, chances are good that they cover what our readers might like.

What’s this thing about you meeting DLB in college?
I met David Lee Beowulf (currently our Features editor) in school, before I even joined WFIT. We were both orbiting the station, though we weren’t official staff or even interns at the time. We shared a lot of the same friends, so we knew each other peripherally. I ended up staying in Melbourne for the summer of 1989, and to kill time, Mister James Lake (my roommate at the time) and I decided to make a movie, “I’ve Been Cloned!”. We tapped other people we knew were staying the summer for roles, and Dave was one of the stars: Kenny “REbEL” Newberry, Friend for Hire. There’s a lot of interesting stories from that movie. It would be an underground classic, if only you could hear what the actors were saying.

How many people are on the INK19 Staff?
It varies from month to month, and also depends on your definition of “staff.” There’s a little over 100 names in our email list. About half are what I’d call “lurkers,” people who are borderline interested in writing for the magazine (but not enough to actually do it), or who are two lazy to unsubscribe themselves. As far as people who contribute something every month without fail… there’s myself, Frank Dreyer and Robert Wilson (Ad Director). There’s Dave, and Julio Diaz (Music Director). Michelle Harris oversees the magazine in South Florida, handling ad sales and promotions. DeeAnn Jennings coordinates production for the magazine, and there’s a couple of designers in addition to DeeAnn and Frank — Linda Hartmann was our art directrix for a long time, and she still designs four or five of each month’s pages. Andrew Chadwick types in our calendar. Brett Martin, our lowly intern, opens the mail and sorts through the avalanche of CDs we receive, along with fulfilling subscriptions and mailing out invoices once a month. We have a large group of people who help with our distribution, too.

How many people on INK19 Staff get paid?
I get paid. Frank, Michelle and Rob get paid. We pay our designers for laying out pages, and we pay Andrew and Brett for performing their mind-numbing tasks. DeeAnn gets something for cracking the whip and assembling the magazine. Distribution people get paid, too. Still, nobody is making anywhere near what their work would be worth with an outfit like Hearst, so it’s more a labor of love than anything else. If you figure out how much time these people spent on an issue, and then divided it into the amount they get, they’d be better off bagging groceries or asking if you want fries with that.

Why do libraries close early on Fridays?
So the librarians can make their gigs in Poison cover bands.

What’s your favorite movie?
Brazil — the uncut 2.5+ hour version.

Favorite author?
Depends on when you ask me, but Phillip K. Dick is usually up there. Iain M. Banks is another recent favorite. You know that scene at the beginning of Star Wars where the imperial cruiser is overhead, and you think: “That’s BIG.” Then you think, “No, it’s BIGGER.” Then: “Bigger, still! WOW!” and so on… well, Banks writes like that. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more extravagant, he pulls something new and even more incredible out. Not all of his books are like that, combinations of car chases and space operas, though. Some are pretty introspective — they guy can definitely write. Harlan Ellison is another favorite. Cranky ole bastard, I got to interview him once. I even got a fax from him, because he wanted a copy of the magazine, and I was out of town at the time. The cats had knocked the phone over. He suggested rubber-banding the phone next time, which I thought was a brilliant idea. Paul DiFillipo is a new favorite, another writer that can write both seat-of-your pants fiction and purely speculative pieces. Most of my reading tastes lean towards speculative stuff, some “cyberpunk”(the term has become the literary equivalent of “grunge”), old science fiction. Robert Silverberg, Phillip Jose Farmer… the great thing about Siverberg and Farmer is that they consistently put out great books. Their back catalog is nearly inexhaustible, and top-notch. More recently, Neal Stephenson (“Snow Crash,” “The Diamond Age”) is AMAZING… whoever decides to make “Snow Crash” into a movie will have a real monster in their hands. It’s probably a ten-episode miniseries. Every page in the book is filled with detail, whether it be integral to the plot, factually fascinating, mind-boggling conjecture or simply clever joke. Even the characters… our villian Raven, a seven-foot Aleut, rides around on a Harley whose sidecar contains the warhead from a dismantled Soviet nuclear missile. It’s wired to an EEG, set to detonate should Raven’s brain activity cease. The colophon at the end states that the entire novel was written while listening to speed and thrash metal, which makes sense.

How many live shows do YOU attend per month?
I’ve seen four shows so far this year. It used to be a lot more, but I don’t get much chance to go out anymore. Touring bands used to come to Melbourne (because of the radio station), but that’s rare these days.

Are you a musician? What instruments do you play?
Officially, I play bass. Unofficially, I’ll mess around on guitar and keyboards, just about anything I can get my hands on. I somehow have ended up with a collection of unusual instruments — I have a guitarron (left), one of those mariachi six-string giant guitar basses, and a charango, which is a ten-string mandolin-like instrument from the Andes. There’s also a Guild Ashbory bass (right), which is the weirdest production instrument I’ve ever seen– a couple of feet long, with thick silicone rubber string. It’s fretless, and sounds eerily like an upright. I got a great deal on it because NOBODY bought them. To me, playing music is more of a personal hobby than something I’d insist on taking public via a recording. Popular music (meaning music that is made by the population at large) should be about playing in public, because you enjoy it, not about trying to flog your CDs to strangers.

How many things do you get in the mail every day? What do they consist of?
It varies seasonally. This time of year (mid-Fall) is the heaviest, and we’ll average about 500-600 CDs a month. They span the spectrum — everyone is getting into the cheap CD thrill ride, from the kid that mows your lawn to the big big labels. People who couldn’t afford 1,000 silver coasters two years ago now suddenly have them gathering dust in their closet, and labels can now manufacture three different records instead of one, and still meet the same budget. Of course, they’ll still only promote one of them… Only a small percentage of people can really put together an album worth listening to over and overagain — however, since there is a large set of people recording music to begin with, this number still works out to be pretty large. You just have to swim through all the tepid phlegmsoup to get to them. I could go on forever on the number of CDs we get that should never have been made in the first place… it’s almost become a formula, like some sort of secret plan. I admire the enthusiasm a lot of these bands have, and most of the time (but not always) they’re decent people. Maybe it’s my cynical perspective, but I feel that a lot of bands are putting out records like people buy lottery tickets. The parallels between the music industry and the state lottery are staggering.

What’s the most fucked up thing a band has sent you?
In 1993 or 1994, Hollywood Records sent out a small water-pipe, a Graffix number in promotion of Sacred Reich’s new record. When parent company Disney caught wind of it and canned the parties responsible, it became an instant collectible. Sadly, mine isn’t mint. Eh, not so sadly. I heard that advance cassettes of Radiohead’s OK Computer were sent out in sealed (crazy-glue) portable players, supposedly to deter copying of the advance. I didn’t get one of those, but thought it was a good one. The most fucked-up stuff EVER came from Luke Skywalker/2 Live Crew. There’s a little peeper thing, like you get railroaded into buying as you enter Busch Gardens, with three oiled-up black nudes on rumpled red velvet. Then six months later, they sent us “Christmas at Luke’s House”, a nice box containing a video and a CD, and cover artork you have to see to believe. I should scan it… I’ll see if I can find it.

If you could change one thing about the world to make it a better place, what would it be?
Not sure. “Better” is such a subjective word, isn’t it?

What’s the coolest city you’ve been to?
I grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica, and I wish the city was still the way it was at the time. These days, it’s just another filthy post-GATT Central American capital. I also lived in Jerusalem (left) for a couple of years, when I was 9. Even at that age, the city was a constant source of wonder… like an ancient New York City. Pittsburgh is pretty cool, too. It’s the butt of many a joke, but in truth the place got so filthy that they caught on the ideaof cleaning up the city before anybody else. There’s a lot of old money in the city, and that means well-endowed arts and museums. The Andy Warhol museum is pretty interesting — Mr. Warhola was a ‘burgh native.

Favorite band?
Sigh. Too many to list. There’s so much music coming through the magazine that it’s nearly impossible for me to settle on an all-time favorite, since I hardly get the opportunity to return to an older record. Still, every handful of months has its handful of repeat plays. Lately (in the past six months), I’ve been into Quasi, David Garza, the Push Kings, Legends of the Ukulele, Jazz a St. Germain, Zoobombs, Laddio Bollocko, I could probably name another dozen bands I’ve really liked.

What’s your office consist of?
For the longest time, the office was the spare room in my house. A couple of years ago, spring of 1996, I partnered with a couple people in an internet venture (sounds so fancy!) and got to move stuff into a pretty nice place, great view, lots of light. Still, it wasn’t quite Ink Nineteen’s office. This spring, we leased a thousand square feet around the corner from where I live — it’s less than two miles. Having the office close by is kinda nice. It’s a lot of room, though there’s still stuff to be unpacked, including the official Ink Nineteen CD collection.

Oooooooooo, don’t you wish I could come up with a 19th question?
But you did!

So what is with this film you and your friends made? Why couldn’t you hear the actors?
We used a cheap video camera that belonged to FITV, the campus video organization. All we had was that and our ignorance — no boom mikes, crew or any idea on how films are made. Mister James Lake, one of my roommates at the time (and a complete freak, what with the channeling Gumby and all), and we decided to pass the time that summer by making a film. Not a short, but something over an hour, hopefully more. Since FITV was shut down for the summer (they were done with the BIG ANNUAL PROJECT: the Video Yearbook) we asked whether we could use their equipment to film and edit it. I don’t know what they were thinking, but they pretty much gave us free rein, despite the fact that we weren’t even members of the organization. Lucky us. So we wrote the script for the film over a couple of nights in the summer of ’89. We were living in a house with no central air; most of my writing took place at night, since it was pretty unbearable in the day. I’d never written a script before, nor had I ever read one, so it came out pretty strange. We contacted friends of ours to be “actors,” and we had to work shooting in between everyone’s day job and classes and, um, “special circumstances” — one of the stars spent a few days in jail. A couple of the more eccentric faculty were also involved, including Dr. Robert Shearer, our Music Appreciation/Western Civ. teacher. The story goes as follows: Stereotypical cartoonish surf bum Bagel (played by Melmo Biffenheimer) wakes up one morning at the beach, gripped with the certain knowledge that he’s been cloned. He runs to a phone, asks the operator for help and ends up with Kenny “REbEL” Newberry(David Lee Beowulf), a friend-for-hire. Together, they set out to solve the mystery of who cloned Bagel. Meanwhile, Bagel’s clone (played by Kevin, NOT Melmo — that would have been cheesy!) is undergoing bizzarre behavioral treatment by the evil Dr. Ghetya (Dr. Ghetya was our landlord previous to that summer, and we HATED him). It’s hard to tell, but it would appear as if Dr. Ghetya (played by Luz, this tall, serious German grad student) and his “staff” (played by Dr. Shearer and fellow professor Mr. Rippman) were training Bagel II to be a yuppie. Eventually, Bagel and REbEL figure out that Bagel’s girlfriend, Mercedes, is responsible for ordering the clone. Apparently, she liked Bagel and all but wanted someone a little more motivated and successful. Bagel II escapes, and finds his way to the beach, where Bagel and REbEL are negotiating a contract for another day of friendship. Bagel II strikes up a conversation with Bagel, but only the REbEL knows what really is happening. He leaves the beach in disgust. Fin.There’s a lot of strange humor in the movie. Some surreal stuff, like the deconstructionist cafe scene which we filmed at the local community college. We just set up a TV tray in a concrete open-air corridor, and had a rude waiter (played by the Coagulator) serve our heroes, adding another piece of a clean-room bunny suit (like in those Intel commercials, only white) with every course served. Things like that. Just as we started to edit this mess together, the A/C in the student union building broke, and we had to edit everything in these half-hour sessions, because that’s how long the equipment would work before the temperature in the room went above its operational range — I think somewhere around 115 degrees. It was HELL. Still, after a couple of weeks it was done, and I took the edited tape home and recorded a soundtrackon my three-track. A couple more lava nights, and everything was together. The idea was that FITV would show this film when school started again, at the auditorium where they regularly showed movies. Guess what? They didn’t like it at all. According to Chief FITV person, “there’s too much cursing. If we’d known you were saying GD, we wouldn’t have let you have the equipment.” GD? Couldn’t even say “gosh darn.” We threw a gala premiere down at the Rathskellar, and made it invitation-only. Or at least the invitations said invitation-only, we couldn’t keep everyone out of the Rat. For a couple of days, we called caterers to get an idea of how much it would cost to do it up, but we quickly gave up. Instead, we went to Sam’s and bought a couple of those big cans of pudding (Butterscotch AND Vanilla) and a case of Jolt cola. Much better! Weirdly enough, I met Frank Dreyer and most of the Room Nineteen crew because I was always looking for a way to salvage that sound, and I’d heard that Frank knew about video

Tell me a lot about your band that did “wet” and “dry” shows.
For Christmas ’89, WFIT had this interesting promotion: if you heard Heinous Bienfang (who sang with a voice like a garbage truck at 6 AM) singing a Christmas carol, you could call in and win CDs, tickets, whatever. Heinous did the standards, plus some original material:

I saw Elvis on Christmas He was eating cheese. He had a long white beard And he smelled, I feared So I gave him a WFIT sampler CD.

At the same time, the station had this tradition of doing the Afternoon Fourplay, playing four tracks by a single artist at noon. Somehow, Heinous Bienfang talked Helen Wheels, a DJ and the music director at the time, to make her AF be a live performance from Heinous Bienfang. I’d talked to Heinous previously, and joked about playing music for the carols. That day, at ten minutes to showtime, I get a call from Heinous, waking me up and asking where I was. I figured what the hell, grabbed my bass — I’d just gotten this acousting Kramer Ferrington bass — and jetted down to the station.There was no rehearsal, and no plan other than picking the four songs we would “play.” The bass, which looks real nice but is not much of a musical instrument, wasn’t that loud, so I really had to beat on it, strum it like a guitar sometimes, in order for it to be heard. The show went well, despite the fact that it sounded something like a crazed bum singing alongside a rattling washtub bass. It was weird, and different, and we decided to see what we could do with it. I decided to make my name His Cheap Moves (after something I misheard on “Tapeheads”), and from there on we were Heinous Bienfang and His Cheap Moves. For about a year, it was just the two of us. We recorded a “single” on the three-track — “(My Brain Took A) Mexican Vacation” — which got some airplay. We started writing songs and getting “booked” wherever we could coerce someone to give us freaks a chance. I played bass, beat on a floor tom with toilet brushes, hopped around on a pogo stick for percussive accompaniement… It was pretty deconstructionist, if you want to be analytical, but mostly it was just Heinous and I having fun. As we played around town, we began assembling an actual fan base, and the funny thing was that our most dedicated fans were people who were talented musicians with other bands. They wanted to play drums, or guitar, or whatever on a couple songs. I think our first non-duo performance was at this Earth Day celebration, in April 1990. We played a cover of ZZ Top’s “I’m Bad (I’m Nationwide)” with a drummer and a horn section (the Audrey Horns; Twin Peaks was popular at the time). I gotto play our sax-player’s roommate’s guitar, one of those freaky ad items with a body shaped like the “Mountains of Busch.” The sparse audience loved us; most of them were on mushrooms. I remember in Thanksgiving 1990 we played the Cocoa Beach Art Festival (more like a crafts festival, unless you consider beach scene triptychs “art”), sandwiched between cover bands. The festival had a low turnout, probably because of the grey weather, and when we started playing “My Chicken Sings,” where I play the toilet tom and Heinous alternates between screaming “my chicken sings” and blowing on a bicycle horn, the turnout got lower. We could see the festival organizers’ blue hair bobbing frantically about the folded chairs, conferring with the sound guy, and then we were silent — they’d pulled the plug. A couple of friends who were tripping at the time were paralyzed with laughter on the curb. We seem to be popular with the hallucinating crowd. It was a defining moment. From there, the band evolved into Heinous and I with a rotating cast of people. Musically, I tried to keep it simple and riffy, though the song structures for some reason proved to be more difficult. We’d meet for a single rehearsal before whatever show we were playing, and spend most of that time teaching the songs to the new guys. By the time we went onstage, it was a trainwreck. People thought we were really noisy and chaotic, and we were, but the original intent was a bit more musical. I came to realize that when you’re playing live, and when you’re playing in the spirit that we were, the audience has NO CONCEPT of what they’re supposed to hear. When you miss one single pull-off in your note-for-note performance of Van Halen’s “Eruption,” you might as well give up and go home, but within the Heinous Bienfang context, we could mess up BIGTIME (like have half the band playing the chorus and the other half the bridge) and people would think us fantastically clever and progressive. It was pretty liberating, the epiphany that anything and everything is musical, if only you carry it out with enough conviction. “If you fuck up, pretend like nothing happened and KEEP PLAYING.” And I have to say, listening to recordings of shows, that the moments where everything falls apart are some of the most powerful. We always tried to make the stage shows interesting — Heinous came from a visual arts background, so there was a lot of stuff happening onstage every show. Fake blood, glitter, construction chalk, the Electric Pickle. Everyone would find weird outfits and wear them onstage. If you see someone like Marylin Manson or the Impotent Sea Snakes, you’ll see something like what we did, except we didn’t have a specific plan to offend people. We were just weird. Plus, the band kept adding more and more members, so there was a lot of very different weirdness going on.There was a show at the Hustler (we’ve been banned from there so many times, I can’t count them) where there were nine of us up on stage — three bassists, three guitarists, a drummer, a horn player and Heinous. It was a total wall of sound. It was also in the middle of summer, and the place’s central air had bust (do you see a recurring theme?), so it was already hot in there. Pack nine people and all their equipment on a tiny plywood area, and it was BOILING HOT. I was wearing this stupid sky-blue disposable plastic suit, and I had to throw it away after the show… I was wringing buckets of sweat from it. Eventually, Heinous moved up to Atlanta — got a job as an art director with a record label. For a couple of years, we kept the band going, since his girlfriend (and after a bit, his fiancee) still lived in Florida and he’d be down fairly frequently. But inevitably, the travelling circus of Heinous Bienfang ended up in Atlanta, as all the Melbourne band people drifted on and Heinous found people to play with up there. They still play up there, and put on amazing performances. Every once in a while (like Halloween of last year), I’ll go up to play a show, and it’s like falling in with a bad crowd. There was the famous “Exploding Chef” show. We were playing at the Midtown Music Hall (I think that’s the name of the place), which was kinda at the butt end of a fancy strip mall. Before the show, we’re lurking round the back, consuming ritualistic Mickey’s, and someone found this huge bag of popcorn from the movie theatre. Right around then, it was time to go on stage… so as some sort of gang ritual, we marched the bag out of there (it really was big, but light) and then stood around it and compressed it in a mall stairwell. The thing exploded and everyone was covered in popcorn as we trooped onstage and strapped on our instruments. We kicked into “Stay Behind The Cones,” and not two measures into the song, Heinous’ brother, who was dressed as a chef, flew backwards, taking out his guitar, his amp, another amp, unplugging a guitar, toppling some toms and cymbals, and bending the trombone. It was a flashback to the “pull the plugdays,” the change in volume was so drastic. I recorded a 7″ with the band — that was produced by the same person who produced 95 South’s “Whoot There It Is.” There’s been a live CD, culled from radio performances, and a new multimedia disc that’s really good, not just some songs with pictures and bios tossed in.

Your opinion of Bill Gates?
As evil as I think the man is, he was put in his position by millions upon millions of idiots who believe the lies he tells, and buy the crap he sells. Not only that, but in a true twist of multi-marketing genius, he’s created a legion of parasitic system administrators whose only function is to keep the boat floating despite Microsoft’s sorry-ass welding and gapped plates. And when the captain asks them what should be done about this sinking problem, they’re thinking “if we recommend they get a boat that floats, we could lose our high-paying bucket brigade jobs!” So instead, it’s “We need more men sir! And more boats like this!” Bill Gates has made a lot of people think of personal technology as something malicious and fallible. Anyone who’s worked in UNIX will tell you that there exist computers that are turned on and work 24 hours, 7 days a week without a “General Protection Fault.” And if you’ve worked on Macintosh computers, you can see what a poor attempt at an graphic user interface Windows is. I can’t claim that the Mac’s OS is a rock-solid as UNIX, but it does let you do some pretty incredible things, all in avery intuitive fashion. Everything works the same way. One way or another, I think he’s going down. If the government doesn’t mire him in molasses, something else will catch up with him. From a historical perspective, I think he’ll be like Thomas Edison, who was not as neat a person as most schools teaches he was, what with Tesla and the AC/DC battle.

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