Pere Ubu Guiding Light Rules & Musical Principles

Pere Ubu Band Rules

1. The Penny/Pound Principle

The Penny/Pound Principle is the non-negotiable bottom line. "If an Ubu musician, partner or not, expects equal footing with other Ubu musicians he must be prepared to take the good with the bad. If he expects to be offered any and all Ubu work he must make himself exclusively available for any and all Ubu work. Once an Ubu musician, partner or not, makes himself unavailable for Ubu work he is liable to be replaced with no guarantee or assured expectation of reinstatement." Directors' Meeting, January 6 1990.

2. Crossing The Line

A band member 'crosses the line' when he/she threatens the integrity of the band because of an attitude or course of action. When a member crosses the line they become poison in the system that must be purged. See: Internet Protocol.

3. Personality Cult

Pere Ubu does not recognize politics. Pere Ubu does not recognize swarm think. Pere Ubu does not proceed based on what others think or don't think, or how other people live their lives. Pere Ubu recognizes people who get up, go to work and 'just get on with it.' The world changes. Pere Ubu doesn't. Any effort by a band member to politicize Pere Ubu, or to superimpose socially-motivated doctrine, is crossing the line.

Pere Ubu Musical Principles

1. Don't Audition

In all the permutations since 1975, all the comings and goings, we have only auditioned once and that was in 1975. We don't remember the fellow's name. He was a nice guy and thoroughly competent. But Peter, Tim and David didn't feel right about him. So "feeling right" about somebody became more important than ability. Here's a summary of how everyone came into the band:

Tim Wright
Tim was RFTT's soundman. He didn't play anything but David thought he should be in the band. Tim volunteered to learn bass, bought a Dan Electro six-string bass and within a few weeks was playing great.

Peter Laughner
After Rocket From The Tombs broke up David went over to Peter's apartment at The Plaza and sat in his kitchen drinking beer. David said, "I'm starting a new band. It's going to be called Pere Ubu. It's not going to play live, just record..." Peter said he wanted in.

Scott Krauss
He lived at The Plaza and had been in Cinderella Backstreet with Peter. Peter said he'd be good.

Allen Ravenstine
He lived at The Plaza, owned it with another fellow and was the janitor. He collected odd audio boxes, wired them all together and played in art galleries. He had an EML synthesizer and was a formidable character.

Tom Herman
He lived at The Plaza and was a steel-worker. He jammed with other Plaza musicians at a nearby house. He punched a hole in his wall and then wrote "Dumb Ass" beside the hole. To remind himself.

Dave Taylor
He worked at Record Rendezvous over on Coventry Road with Scott Krauss. He had an EML, like Allen.

Tony Maimone
He lived at The Plaza. He was a barber and said he played bass. Actually he was learning bass. He would go home from rehearsal every night, take a lesson from Al Dennis, and work like a demon to be ready for the next rehearsal.

Mayo Thompson
Tom left. Allen and David were at The Agora watching Talking Heads. David said to Allen, "We were better than these guys." Allen said, "Mayo Thompson."

Anton Fier
He played in Peter's Friction and was a friend of the band. He was the best store manager that Record Rendezvous ever had. His returns percentage approached zero. He was a record store legend. He managed the Rendezvous on Public Square where Alan Freed "discovered" rock n roll.

Jim Jones
He worked at Record Rendezvous on Prospect Avenue, one block from Public Square. He made split channel Beatles tapes. He was in The Mirrors and sometimes Electric Eels. He was the Ubu roadie for the first European tour mainly because we wanted to take him along.

Chris Cutler
He was a friend and advocate of the band. He showed up at the second date on our first tour.

Eric Drew Feldman
David met him in an elevator at Snakefinger's last show at a festival in Bari, Italy.

Garo Yellin
He was in David's improv combo with Ira Kaplan.

Robert Wheeler
He had an EML. He was in Scott Krauss's Home And Garden. He grew up on the street next to where David grew up. He was a childhood friend of David's younger brother.

Michele Temple
She was the guitarist in Home And Garden.

Scott Benedict
He was the drummer in Michele's band, The Vivians.

Steve Mehlman
He was Scott Benedict's replacement in The Vivians.

Keith Molinè
Nick Hobbs was manager of Pere Ubu in the 80s, 90s and early Noughts. Keith was in Nick's band, as was eventual Ubu soundman, Dids. Nick suggested Keith for David's solo shows in the UK.

John Thompson
(Ubu's art designer since 1978), aka Johnny Dromette. He owned Hideo's Discodrome, a record store at the bottom of David's street. David worked there. They ended up sharing a house. In the living room was a life-size reproduction of the Hollywood Squares set.

Darryl Boon
a passionate fan of Dixieland, attracted David's interest while playing in a pub jazz band at a local pub.

Gary Siperko
a Cleveland guitar legend, was suggested for Rocket From The Tombs, by Steve Mehlman. Without hearing him play, David asked him to join. A couple years later he was asked to play in Pere Ubu.

2. Self-expression is evil

For decades this motto, beneath David's crudely-drawn smiley-face-with-horns, adorned the Suma control room. The emphasis should be placed on self.

3. Trust the first idea you get

This principle is not for the weak-willed and untrained. It's possibly inspired by Eric Carmen. Eric Carmen was the leader of The Raspberries, a 70s Cleveland pop band with a number of big hits. He had a vision. He was going to write a hit record and he was going to call it 'Hit Record' and it would be a hit record. He went to the record company and they said, "You can't call it that," and they made him change the title to 'Overnight Sensation.' It became a hit record and the word is that Eric was so crushed by the disappointment that he never quite recovered. Possibly apocryphal but that's not relevant.

4. Self-expression should be left to the professionals - people uniquely qualified to endure the disappointment and overwhelming sense of failure

This seems to conflict with Principle Number 2. Too bad. Deal with it.

5. Don't try - if you're good enough and concentrate on the art of it - the business will take care of itself

We never tried to get a record contract. In 1977 Cliff Burnstein, head of A&R at Mercury, found the first two Hearpen singles in a shop in Chicago. He called David and said, "We're not the right record company for you but I love the music and if I can ever be a help call me." Two days later somebody from Chrysalis called David and offered a deal. Cliff said, "Don't do anything for a week." A few days later he called, "I've formed my own label at Phonogram for you."
More important was this conversation. In 1978 Cliff, then the manager of Pere Ubu, came to hear the finished Dub Housing at Suma. He said, "This is a great record. Do two or three more like it and you'll be stars." Allen said, "What if we can't? What if we don't know how to do it again? Or don't want to?" Cliff said, "As long as you make great records, somebody will want to put them out. You'll never be pop stars but you will be able to keep making records." We thought that sounded like a good deal.

6. Not being able to hear yourself is Nature's Way of telling you that you're playing the wrong part.

More volume is rarely the solution. It's nearly always the problem. A musician who proclaims "his sound" is always going to be a problem in Pere Ubu. It's not his sound - it's the band's sound. Constituent elements must conform. (We are The Borg.) If what you're playing can't be heard then it's most likely that too many instruments are trying to occupy the same sonic space at the same time. Something's gotta give.

7. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Self-explanatory. The most important sentence in any musician's vocabulary (quoted below in full):

8. Avoid irony

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Nearly every Pere Ubu song is funny in some way and meant to be funny. Often at the same time as being tragic. That's because the passions and obsessions, fears and desires, of human beings are funny when seen from a particular Point of View. You, the reader, are funniest just at the point you feel least funny. We learned this perspectual tool not from cynical European or smug East Coast art creeps but empirically. We apply it not from an elitist mind-set but from affection and self-knowledge... hopefully.

Lesson #1:

When we were growing up the Cleveland Indians were a perennially dreadful, snakebiten baseball team. The only way to deal with it was to sit in the bleachers, the cheap seats, as far away from the action as it was possible to be in the old Cleveland Stadium. (An 80,000 seater with barely 5000 fans in attendance is a unique experience.) From that POV the passion of the game was a distant horizon. Detached, we watched opposition homers float in slow motion across a summer sky. 3-0. 5-0. 7-0. It was OK. It was just a dream. It was happening Somewhere Else to Other People.

Lesson #2:

Heartbreak Hotel. This song expresses the unique narrative POV of rock music succinctly. No song before or since is as seminal. The song is not about the Elvis Presley narrator but the bellhop who is witness to the hyperbolic, comical maundering of the Elvis character. Note that, of course, the tragedy of the Elvis character is no less tragic because of its humor. But it is also no less humorous because of its tragedy. This is not irony. It is humanity. Human beings... ya gotta love em!

9. The best guitar part is the one that requires you to move your fingers the least

A Tom Herman-ism, known as the Herman Doctrine.

10. All sound is created equal and endowed with an inalienable right to not have its waveform brutalized

11. A song has three things. You got three things, you got a song

12. Liars own all the words

People who don't understand feel obliged to talk too much. Nothing good can come of most talk. If talk is necessary or deemed beneficial make sure you are well-acquainted with Hemingway's work and knowing how to say something by not saying it.

13. We don't promote chaos, we preserve it