I apologize for getting all LiveJournal on you, but Landed are one of my personal favorite groups to come out of the ’90s – not only did they put out fantastic records, they really meant something to me as well. They opened my mind to so many fresh and new concepts as a teenager entering adulthood (unhinged live performance, improvisation, costumes, unusual musical instruments, the concept of a “rock band” completely deconstructed), they sounded freaking great – it was like they took the scariest parts of rock songs, made them noisier, and stretched that moment into infinity. They were the Fort Thunder band that offered the fewest answers, came with this air of mystery that seemed completely unmanufactured, and produced a small handful of records that still sound fresh. When I first released an album of my own band, I ripped off Landed’s cover art design (shamelessly might I add), but what can I say, their influence was that strong. I won’t gush any further over Landed, because much like their music, this interview is long, intense, hilarious and worth paying close attention to. Founding members Dan St. Jacques, Joel Kyack and Shawn Greenlee all graciously participated.
How did Landed start? I’m not as interested in how you guys met, unless there is some great story there, so much as how did you all agree to create and perform the music you made? I can’t imagine there was much of a musical precedent you were following.
Joel: Landed started out of necessity, like all freakish things do. Things had reached a terminal head of convention. Granted, tons of sub-genres of music had evolved, but in each sub-genre there seemed to be rules and conventions that were silently adhered to. Shawn and I were just coming out of the Rhode Island School of Design, where we were trained in a particular line of thinking. We were after a larger idea than just some assembly of notes that were dutifully rehearsed and performed. We were lucky enough to be at this moment when a bunch of us (RISD grads) stayed around Providence after school, and began to become friendly with the local freaks. The bands like Six Finger Satellite and Thee Hydrogen Terrors, Arab on Radar – these were bands we’d seen but not people we knew. Then we got to know them as musicians ourselves living in the town, dedicated to Providence, not just kids passing through to go to school. For me, that’s when the real magic happened – between 1995 and 1997, when this openness invaded the scene and there was a sweet intermingling. In school we knew Dan as the dude that worked at the sandwich shop and was the sickest bass player in town, but then we started going over to his house and jamming. He was such a stone-cold freak that Shawn and I knew it was on… true love.
Shawn: Before Landed, we played under the name Land for a few months. So, Landed came out of Land. We had developed quite a bit as a band during our first months playing shows and the name-change acknowledged a new path we were on. What brought us together for Landed and what allowed it to thrive was the warehouse we all moved into in 1997, known as 556. We started as a three-piece that year, Dan and I both on bass and Joel on drums. We had played music together before. Joel and I had a couple early bands together, and were already friends with Dan. 556 was across the street from Fort Thunder (another warehouse, where Lightning Bolt was based). Joel and I both lived at the Fort earlier. Many of Landed’s other members lived in these warehouses. That community was really important for Providence music in the late ’90s.
The Fort plays a role in the Landed origin story. Fort Thunder would stage these big, tag-team, mock wrestling matches where wrestlers would dress up in absurd costumes and battle in the ring. At one event, Dan and I were a team, and Joel was the referee. In a match, Dan sprained his wrist, and couldn’t play bass at our next show, which was at a local bar. Rather than cancel, we decided to improvise a new set, maybe with one rehearsal beforehand. Joel and I stayed on drums and bass respectively, while Mat Brinkman (of Forcefield/Mindflayer) joined on electronics. Dan had a shortwave radio he was going to play. Up until that show, Joel and I were doing some vocal stuff, but we were mostly instrumental. We had already gotten a reputation for having an “active” live show, but this is when Landed really reared its head. As we started, Dan’s instrument broke. Without any warning, he took on a frontman role with vocals. We had not discussed this beforehand – it was a spontaneous decision. I remember Dan’s bass cab on the floor, him eating the speaker cone, and the audience in frenzy. The bartender freaked out on us after our set; he hated it. There was a tense, public argument with him and the rest of the show got shut down. On our track “Why I Live,” you can hear Dan chanting, “fuck One Up.” The bar’s name was “One Up.”
I guess we knew we were onto something different at that point. Dan was a singer, and the music we wanted to play was definitely about reacting to circumstances prior to and during performance, not about perfectly matching something precomposed. Both Joel and I kept accidentally hurting ourselves, which caused us to change instruments or the ways we played. This set us on a path to frequently change things as a working method. At one point in ’97, I had broken ribs and Joel had severe back and knee problems. The philosophy was that if we booked a show, we wouldn’t cancel on account of injury and we’d keep booking shows despite whatever issues arose. We’d figure out what to do with the ongoing circumstances and our performance deadline. I think this had a big impact on the music we made. Sometimes this involved adding or removing players. This is when Rick Pelletier enters as a core member. John Dwyer and Mat Brinkman were also regulars. We had arrived at the idea that we should write basic song structures around which we could improvise, and change these from show to show. We didn’t over-rehearse as we wanted the audience to be there for when we really nailed it. Members changed instruments. New members were added to the mix. Altogether, I think there have been thirteen Landed members. Shows were full of “obstacles”, either self-imposed or granted by the audience.
We knew that Landed shouldn’t be a band that was organized around a collection of songs, because as soon as creative differences or other circumstances happened, the band could easily die. We wanted a structure that actually reveled in the creative differences and the unforeseen circumstances. Something that was capable of adapting, allowed members to drop out and come back, and as a founding principle couldn’t “break up.” Sometimes we repeated sets for short tours, but a lot of Landed material was only performed once and went undocumented (or maybe documentation hasn’t yet surfaced).
The show that put us on the path to making some records is the one we played with Men’s Recovery Project, Dropdead, and Forcefield in Providence. That’s when we met Sam McPheeters who put out the first Landed stuff on Vermiform. That’s the show where Dan set himself on fire.
That’s an excellent early recap. I guess I am curious to go a little further back, not necessarily time-wise, but in the formation of your musical philosophies… like, how did you even come to the conclusion that a rock band could get up on stage and improvise the songs, get injured, and allow spontaneity and energy to reign supreme? I feel like for most people who start playing guitars and drums as teenagers or whatever, the general ideology is that “practice makes perfect”, and that being tight and well-rehearsed is a sign of superiority, even for punk bands. How was it that you were all so willing and eager to throw out rock’s rulebook from the get-go?
Shawn: I’d say our rehearsals have always been about preparedness for the performance. To me, improvisation is about being ready, having honed one’s skills, so that you can create extemporaneously. That’s where the dedication in rehearsal has been for Landed, much more than composing the details and hitting all the right notes at the right time. Even when we’ve agreed upon structures that have allowed us to get really tight, improvisation has been a factor. Sometimes it’s been completely free, and sometimes improvisation is constrained… like maybe certain players get more freedom, while others have to hold down the core; or there is a tightly composed rhythm everyone is playing, but otherwise it’s open; or there is some timing variable which isn’t resolved until we play it live. There’s a lot of care in crafting playing experiences that include potential discomfort and risk, and that’s a good thing.
In a basic sense, the ideas that were formed in our early days were about setting the music in motion and not stopping on account of difficulties. Like, if someone breaks strings, a guitar neck, a drum head, or a mic… keep going. There’s no stopping to re-tune an instrument or fix what’s broken. If the audience comes crashing into the drum kit and knocks everything over, that’s part of the music, not outside of it. In that way, Landed has been about the live event, much more than about delivering a live version of recorded/written songs. Reconciling that with the other rock contexts you’re getting at is tough, as I’d hazard to say that most rock bands want to play their tunes for the audience, have the audience listen to recordings of those tunes at home, and have that process repeat. Eventually the audience becomes so familiar with the songs, that enjoyment comes from the familiarity with and recognition of them, including the ability to evaluate differences between live performances and recordings. Then, ideas of good and bad performance tend to become really simplistic; it becomes about meeting expectations as listening habits are formed. Landed should totally register as dissatisfaction with that formula of music production and reception. But, that stance is only possible because we all have experiences in and also care about those other rock contexts you’re getting at. We’ve all had other bands before, during, and after involvement with Landed that aren’t anything like Landed. Landed provides a context to experiment.
In the various changes the band has undergone, we’ve had shifting notions of what preparedness should be depending on the music we decided to make. So, sometimes it’s involved doing something over and over for weeks in rehearsal in order to establish a framework from which to diverge from or return to in performance. Sometimes it’s involved establishing a set of cues to watch or listen for so that we can arrive at the same place at the same time. That might take three or four rehearsals to get right. In the early days, we might have met once or twice before a performance to devise a strategy, but we had a lot of performances, so one live experience was feeding into the next cumulatively.
Most importantly, I think that preparedness involves playing a lot of music together over extended periods of time, like months and years… and hanging out, listening to and talking about music. We’ve gotten to know one another’s vocabulary and be able to anticipate each other’s moves. We’ve been able to play within that relationship, sometimes subverting, sometimes complying, sometimes instigating. The individual vocabularies and group dynamics change, so that’s exciting too, to realize that your old expectations are wrong or that you have a new perspective.
Joel: Shawn was out in LA a few weeks ago and one thing that we talked about that I had almost forgotten was how much fucking music we listened to. As a group. Seriously listening, not having music on in the background and partying. This went on for years. We would go to Dan’s or Rick’s place (which was in the same warehouse where Shawn and I lived), and sit in the near-dark for hours listening to records of all kinds. We would sit without talking for entire record sides, over and over again. Then we would talk about it. Dissect it. Not only technically, but what made it tick in its dirty core. It was like a formal education, a seminar class in graduate school. We wanted nothing more than to thrill ourselves and impress one another. As for tightness and well-rehearsed-ness showing superiority, even in punk bands, I think we thought of that as total bullshit. Punk is a name for a kind of music that we can talk about, name, describe, and give examples, and punk is also a certain kind of attitude (outside of the music) that we were interested in exploring to our own selfish, extreme ends. Real freedom. Not according to some fashionable code of conduct. We played with a lot of these “punk” bands, and I think that by the end of those nights we had illustrated that those bands weren’t as punk as they thought they were.
To an outsider, that seems like a pretty academic, thoughtful approach to what might seem like insanity on par with pro-wrestling, mosh pits and Jackass-style stuntery. You say that Landed provides a context to experiment – at the same time, how much was it about just going totally crazy?
Shawn: There’s a lot of stories about Landed live shows which would back you up on claims of insanity and hedonism. I’m not going to dispute that at all, and totally acknowledge it. For sure, a good amount of irreverence and debauchery has been a consistent baseline for the group. Plenty of hijinks. It’s hard to imagine Landed performances without some buffoonery and misbehavior (for the players and audience). It’s a critical factor… otherwise, it wouldn’t be Landed. But, that shouldn’t undermine what I was saying early. It goes together. The music incites the revelry and vice versa.
Joel: If it sounds academic it’s because to a certain degree it was. We discussed and planned very seriously a way to perform without planning. I’ve always thought that live, Landed is about creating a chaotic situation. Inside of that situation unplanned things emerge, either moments of brilliance or complete failure. Both of these are good. If your ear is tuned right and your body is ready to move, you react to this situation by contributing, by pushing the other players to evolve their strategy in the moment. We don’t pick the notes or the rhythm or the “melody”… it picks us. We become conduits in a reactive state. The only note that matters is the first one. All the others are just following that one, dealing with it, responding and trying to put something together that (hopefully) to the audience is obvious that it is being done right there, for the first time, in the moment of performance. The band and the audience are all hearing this for the first time, together. That’s where the energy is, the freedom. I think we even became snobs about this. Playing with really great bands that went out there and did their duty started to seem laughable.
So the story of Dan setting himself on fire needs to be re-told. As I remember hearing it, he was wearing a sweater soaked in oil, and then had to give some bogus excuse to the hospital, so as not to be sent to the mental institution?
Dan: I think Shawn did a fine job explaining things thus far and I would be happy to carry the torch (so to speak… ha!) a little further in regards to “the fire incident”. A little explanation may be in order, as one does not come to the decision of lighting themselves on fire in a vacuum or should do so without good reason… unless they’re completely nuts. You make the call! Ha!
Anyway, the night of July 27th, 1997 was definitely one to remember! We were asked to play a show with some local faves: extremist hardcore-punk heroes Dropdead, along with the avant sounds of Forcefield and the legendary act Men’s Recovery Project headlining the night. Of course we jumped at the chance to play on such a sick bill, and I remember thinking we’d really have to make an impression playing with such heavy hitters, which leads me to some necessary background info.
The music we were working on at that time was quite unconventional. It was a very exciting atmosphere with all kinds of customized instrumentation and frequent line-up changes. With most of us the living in the same building, we were able to play all the time, but purposely didn’t do a lot of arranging other than the most basic outlines as Shawn already mentioned. We wanted that open and spontaneous feeling to be conveyed foremost over rigid form. It was an odd blending of post-punk, noise and electronica without the contrived efforts of creating a certain sound or fitting into a specific genre. The vibe of the music felt very dark, yet had an energy that was not apathetic or depressing (as some music with that tone can easily fall into) but had more of a cathartic and psychedelic effect on me. I had only recently become the vocalist of the band (itself a result in spontaneous combustion as Shawn also already explained) and quickly found myself immersed in a new sense of freedom of expression and performance.
This is where my head was at the time. I had always been into the idea of the spectacle and embraced the dramatic performances of some of the more peculiar bands that I witnessed as a youth. As a member of the local music scene here in Providence (since my teenage years) I was fortunate to be a part of a very exciting time in the development of underground music of the mid/late 1980s. It was very reactionary – rock, metal, punk and then hardcore had pretty much run their course and underground musicians all over the country once again began tinkering with new sounds and influences that were not necessarily connected to music. I saw a ton of bands play during those years but what I was really impressed with were the ones whose performances were on the more wild/experimental side. These were the groups that rose above the limitations of their specific style and sometimes exhibited almost superhuman attributes to their performances. I witnessed acts where the vocalists would cut their faces up and bleed all over the place or jump into the crowd only to land on their head and crawl back to the stage. I saw all kinds of shit that blew my mind as a teen and it really made an impression on me. That a “live” band should kick your ass, not only sonically but physically as well, and that the band’s energy should be projected outwards and not drain those bearing witness… yawn! Anyway, these are some of the things that helped create and inform my sensibilities about how I thought music should be made and performed (more specifically with Landed) and which ultimately lead to “the fire incident” which was (ironically) only hastily “practiced” the night before without much forethought or planning. I was not looking for a death-wish or trying to reenact some type of Buddhist monk self-immolation political statement (although I was very fascinated by those dudes), I just thought it would come of as visually stunning (in other words…crazy as shit!) and stir things up a bit for the “I’ve seen it all ‘arms folded’ Providence crowd”, and I can say that because it takes one to know one – ha! It was something I would have wanted to see myself – fire is a powerful thing, and it always arouses the human mind both positively and negatively, for better or worse. Although I wasn’t originally looking to get seriously injured, I soon found out it would end up costing me several weeks of some hard-ass healing time and more than a few painful nights being stuck to my sheets. All this being said (in hindsight of course) I do have to admit that it was definitely some sort of mixed/confused act of perverted/subverted/vanity/bravado/masochistic type of shit, which (for a time) seemed to only escalate with each Landed show thereafter.
So, back to the story: from the assumption that we would be the openers of the show (being the “newest” band on the bill) and reacting to the ominous droning sounds of J Ryan’s Moog synth, Shawn’s psychedelic “slide” bass/Optigan and Joel’s relentless tribal-like drumming at practice that week, I was inspired to come up with an idea that would initiate the perfect mood for the entire evening. Something that would not only startle the crowd, but also let the headliner know how dead serious we were about music/performance and our commitment to both. We had rehearsed our set for the show at least a couple times in the proceeding week in typical Landed fashion, going over an amalgamation of a few pre-arranged riffs but still relying on a lot of improvisation, a craft we were just beginning to hone – using very little to create something much larger than just the sum of it’s parts.
Having the fortunate position of being the first band on that night, we were able to set up our equipment/sound-check and then leave it there, ready to play. When we were finally told to hit the stage, I hung back in the dressing room while Shawn and J started warming up the stage with a creepy ambient intro vibe. I quickly removed the t-shirt I had been wearing and put on the polypropylene thermal underwear top I brought to douse in rubbing alcohol as I had practiced the night before, and with a last minute decision to use a little more accelerant than originally planned, I quickly found out it definitely would do the trick. I remember ditching the lighter as soon as my right arm went up as I ran out towards the stage. I tried to make it to the microphone but I went up in flames so fast that I completely knocked it over trying to get my shirt (now partially melted and still on fire) off of me. I was supposed to grab the mic and we would then all kick into the set together but it didn’t go quite as planned, but as you can see in the clip on YouTube, Joel did actually wait for me to get the mic in hand and then we all hit that shit as hard as we could for just over twenty minutes, if I remember correctly.
It’s funny that it has been almost seventeen years since that night, but it still feels so fresh in my mind. I clearly remember running out, knocking over the mic, seeing people backing up with terrified faces, ripping my shirt off, hitting the ground, grabbing the mic, screaming bloody murder (the lyrics I wrote for the main riff were “United States of pee / suck on my… techno pussy”), then jumping back onto my shirt (still on fire) and rolling around on it, then picking it up and throwing it all the while thinking to myself am I going to get into serious trouble here? I remember crawling around on the floor through the crowd, licking the floor, grabbing people’s feet, doing some weird version of the “windmill” slipping and sliding around in my own pool of lymph. I also remember a “cold” feeling beginning to encircle my neck and armpit, only later to discover that was where my skin was most burnt.
After our set, I quickly made my way to the men’s room to get some water. The vocalist for Men’s Recovery Project, Sam McPheeters, came in and asked if Landed wanted to put out a record on his label. He wrote a little piece about our “meeting” in the men’s room in his rag Shooting Space a couple of years later.
After much suggestion by a few buds, I finally drove myself to the hospital after having a look at myself in a mirror. I wanted to stay for the rest of the show but my lips were black (what was left of them) and my body was still smoking (steaming?). I wasn’t really in any sort of pain, I just felt cold. I was in shock, but still quite lucid considering the situation. By the time I got to the hospital my adrenaline must have worn off, because I definitely began hurting all over quite a bit and I remember not being able to stop my legs from nervously shaking – and then the throbbing set in, a pulse that seemed to have no end. The nurse who interviewed me upon arrival asked me what happened and I told her that I was a performance artist and had an accident during a show. I explained that it was an unexpected result of a poorly practiced piece involving rubbing alcohol and fire. I have to admit, I was a little nervous that they might send me to the funny farm for further analysis, but luckily I was coherent enough to be believed and the nurse was open-minded enough to take my story at face value as the truth. Which it was… for the most part anyway. I left out a few minor details, but nothing that was going to inhibit my treatment in the emergency room, namely the shot of Demerol that was offered to me.
Meanwhile, back at the Met, Forcefield was on next and decided to pump the club full of carbon monoxide via a scooter and a very long hose hitched up to the exhaust pipe….slowly poisoning the crowd. Then the Dropdead boys leaked lighter fluid across the stage and onto the floor of the club before setting it ablaze. Finally Men’s Recovery Project went on and did their thing as well, but unfortunately I can only recall what other people have told me of the rest of the show because I was at the hospital for most of it and was released only in time to get back to help with the equipment at the end of the night.
Note: this show and its display/use of extreme themes took place years before the somewhat recent tragic event concerning an infamous Rhode Island night-club and its irresponsible negligence for the death of a hundred music fans. A display of this sort would not likely ever happen again without serious fines and perhaps legal ramifications that no band would be interested in seeking out.
The aftermath: most of my face was somehow saved and only slightly burned, but my lips were burnt to a black crisp. They eventually fell off after a few days, revealing a fresh pair of pink ones underneath. My earlobes dripped a yellowish liquid/gel for about a week. My nose had a similar situation going on for about the same amount of time. My neck and chest were covered with very painful second-degree burns in some spots, healing time about three weeks. My hands were only slightly burned with a couple of spots having second degree lesions, healing time about two weeks. One of my armpits got the worst of it, maybe when I pulled the burning shirt off? There was a huge chunk of second-degree burns and a couple of third-degree burn holes as seen on the back cover of Landed’s How Little Will it Take (photo taken after about a week of healing), healing time about a month. Fortunately all of my burns healed with minimal physical permanency, but I can’t fully ascertain what the experience did to me psychologically. Those scars will last forever… just kidding! They’ve just been converted into tattoos.
Some people have asked me if I would ever consider doing it again. My answer: no, it’s kind of something you only have to do once.
Joel: I remember when the backstage door opened. The audience could not see in the door, just the people on stage. Shawn had set up in the crowd and J and I were on the stage. It looked like a second sun had risen when that fucking door kicked open. J and I shot each other a look I will never forget, something like, “Our friend seems to be in serious trouble, but we both know he’d rather have us push on…” And so we did. The second Dan hit the mic, my arms came down on the drums and the whole place “lit” up. Some people made for the door right away, thinking something really awful and unexpected had happened. But for those who stayed…
Amazing. So, in moving forward with Vermiform, and putting out your debut album and 10″ EP… what was your thought process behind transitioning Landed from a live entity to a recorded one? Were you trying to capture the live show on tape, or do something completely different?
Dan: I handled some of our earliest studio recording efforts, and we basically set out to document what we would do live by recording the set a couple of times and picking out the one we liked best. We would then do minimal overdubbing if needed. We used a Yamaha 8-track so it was a very straightforward approach and it made the most sense economically. We would then take it to somewhere to be mixed and mastered.
We also recorded at Six Finger Satellite’s studio, The Parlour for a few sessions. They had a much more traditional recording setup with a proper mixing board and separate tape machines. But even with access to that equipment, we usually went for the “live” vibe and tracked most of the material together in the same room, reacting off each other as if it was a live performance. It wasn’t until much later (more recent Landed recordings) that we would sometimes create something completely in the studio and then “learn” to play it for a live show, mainly due to all of us living in different parts of the country, etc.
Joel: At first, the live energy seemed to be pretty important. Dan had a cassette 8-track that we recorded on, and Dan had this amazing King Tubby-style of live mixing that was pretty unique and gives the recordings he did a really singular, unique sound. But yes, at first I think that’s what we were after. Then Shawn began to evolve as an engineer and all-around digital bad-ass, and the stuff started getting more refined in the recording. For me personally, the recording always followed the live shows in order of importance. Landed was one-night only, night after night. Andre Breton famously said “always for the first time”. For me, that was Landed.
Shawn: Specifics on the releases would be a lot to get into, as almost every one was handled in a different way. Sometimes with the intention that it would become a record, and sometimes simply recorded to remember what we did that day in rehearsal. I remember that the Times I Despise 12″ was recorded entirely live to stereo DAT. Rick set up some mics to record the set after we got back from a tour. Our intention wasn’t that the recording would become a record. We recorded that in 2001 and the 12″ was released in 2006. Then, we were simply documenting where we were at with the songs after touring. Recordings were often just for us. Of course, we wanted to put out records, but we never felt the need to make that a priority.
Those early recordings that Dan did on his 8-track underscored for me how difficult it is to capture the live set. The context of the live performance is simply gone. The volume, the physicality of the performance, the sight, smell, interactions with the audience, etc. What I’ve always liked about recordings was the possibility to get a new perspective on the live event, mostly from the positioning and selection of mics, but also in post, with mixing, processing, and editing. It was important that we always had mobile recording setups, so that wherever we rehearsed there was some device recording. Sometimes we had the foresight to use a multi-track and set up mics properly. Other times, it was simply a stereo mic, placed a little closer to the drums than the amps. The released recordings reflect that range.
Recording definitely became a form of “instant replay” during rehearsals. We used recordings to pick apart what we did, to understand the dynamics that emerged and figure out where we wanted to go. I remember listening to recordings of rehearsals between rehearsals again and again. Repeated listening was preparation. It helped to find new directions.
You mention touring – how much did Landed tour back in the ’90s? As someone who never lived in Providence, I feel like Landed was so directly linked to that town and the Fort Thunder scene, that I’m wondering if audiences elsewhere were as receptive to your live performance. Was it a big difference, playing other cities?
Joel: Landed didn’t properly “tour” all that much, considering the amount of time we were actively playing. We’ve played as far west as Texas, so half of the country had the chance at some point to see Landed. Most of them didn’t. In keeping with the overall ethos of a band that can never die / have a permanent lineup / play a song consistently / do an encore, touring also wasn’t something we managed to fully embrace. I can’t totally say why even, other than that sort of planning, maybe, seemed too imposing. Our duty was to the music, and we really didn’t give a shit about much else.
When we did tour, people in other cities either had no clue and no one showed up, or people showed up and were really psyched to see us. On our first tour (1997) we were “the new Vermiform band”, so that helped get people out and provide a context for what we were doing. Pretty quickly we developed a reputation as a wild live show, so people came out for that as well, often with unrealistic expectations. Because our most active period was before everyone had a video and still camera in their pocket, the actual insanity wasn’t preserved for everyone to witness on YouTube. What remains instead is legend, which has a certain power over the imagination that we definitely embraced and fed upon. People were expecting us to tear our heads off or spit blood sometimes, because they’d “heard” it had happened somewhere before. That energy and expectation on their part fed into the intensity and purpose with which we played and most often made for a memorable evening. I think that we were lucky that way, to be active pre-internet. Don’t take me as some codger, but there really was something amazing to the way tales were twisted and exaggerated, and how those twists produced expectations that were sort of born on their own, the bastard children of what had really happened. And then that becomes the new reality that the band exists in. And that was sort of Landed’s goal all along in some way. To produce situations that created their own temporary “rules”, and then to operate inside that rule-set. And then to immediately break those rules.
Do you consider Landed to be a “Vermiform band”? Was there any camaraderie amongst the rest of the label’s roster at that time?
Shawn: Neil Burke lived in Providence for years, and Sam McPheeters relocated Vermiform to Providence for a time. We did the Why I Live 10″ and Everything’s Happening album with Vermiform. Load put out the Dairy 4 Dinner 7″ in between those Vermiform releases. Besides some comp tracks, those three releases were all of Landed’s recorded output until 2006, when we started releasing things from the archives and recording some new material.
Though our recorded output wasn’t a lot during our most active period as a live band (1997-2002), I think we did identify as a Vermiform band. Simultaneously, we were a Load Records band. Though in the big picture, we’ve always been a Providence band through and through.
With Vermiform, the camaraderie was mostly with Neil and Sam, and other Men’s Recovery Project members and associates we met through them. Neil performed in Landed on a number of occasions (including “Dairy 4 Dinner”), and Joel and I did one recording session as the rhythm section for Men’s Recovery Project, the outcome of which was the track “Sexual Pervert” released on the Grappling with the Homonids MRP/Sinking Body split LP.
Joel: I felt there totally was, at least with Sam and Neil. Neil Burke was a close friend of the band’s, and often played with us. Shawn outlined that relationship already. Funny thing is it still now feels a bit family-style. Sam McPheeters lives in Claremont, CA, and I see him as often as anyone sees that crazy hermit. And the only employee Vermiform ever had – Anthony Berryman – is one of my closest friends here in LA, the singer from a past LA band of mine called Megafuckers.
I’d say Landed were pretty unique and somewhat influential – I can’t think of any bands who sounded like Landed before Landed. Was there ever a point where you started noticing other bands who kind of adopted Landed’s style, one way or another? How did that feel?
Shawn: In thinking about bands that were influential on Landed, I’m sure we could each list important artists, records, labels, or live experiences that were formative. But rather than that, I’d focus on the bands we were connected to in-person. I think these relationships were key to Landed’s growth, what made us think about what we were doing. I think Men’s Recovery Project was certainly an influence. There was this mixture of absurdist performance, rock music, and sometimes odd / sometimes standard instrumentation that made sense to us. Joel and I had gone to see MRP in Philadelphia well before Landed started and before we became friends with those guys. I remember Hose Got Cable played the same show (with John Skaritza from MRP and Rah Bras on drums). I managed to see MRP another time in San Francisco. Must have been 1996.
Another clear influence is Six Finger Satellite. Dan has known those guys forever. Joel and I had seen them play while we were students at RISD, but didn’t become friends with them till 1997. Shortly after we did, Rick and J were doing stints in Landed, with Rick quickly becoming a core member. There was some crossover the other way too. Joel and I were in 6FS from 1999-2001, and Dan joined for the most recent lineup.
Another important influence is Dropdead. This town would be nowhere without those guys. Other Providence bands too, we played a lot of shows with Lightning Bolt and Arab on Radar. Just looking over the Load Records roster, there’s a lot of clear connection points and intersections. A lot of short-lived bands that sparked other short-lived bands that have impacted what might be a Providence sound.
Personally, I don’t have a good sense of Landed’s influence on other bands. I think certain aspects of what we did were unique, but I’d locate that somewhere in our overall approach and attitude to making music. I think we rubbed off on other bands in Providence, like they rubbed off on us. I’ll meet people from time to time, who know our records better than I do, which is cool. I’m glad there’s people that really care, and I’d be absolutely honored if some newer bands were using Landed’s approach as a model to build upon. If they do, I’d rather that they think more about our process and how that might lead them to new places rather than trying to emulate what’s on our records or what happened in our performances.
Joel: Wow, I’d say unique, but I don’t know about influential. We ran around in the pre-internet days, or at least we weren’t participating in it when it came around, so we didn’t hear much from other folks about our influence. I think that a band can become legendary in two ways. 1. You play forever and tour everywhere and everyone gets to see your thing. 2. You play a ton for a short time, in a small geographic region, to the same few people every time, and hardly anyone gets to see your thing… but then people hear the stories and the records after the fact. We were a #2 band. Sam still has a garage full of Everything’s Happening records. I look at their dust-covered boxes every time I go over to his house.
You guys all seem pretty keen on wild performances, improvisation, general ‘out-there’ musical behavior… were there any particular moments with Landed that really shocked you? Any shows, or recording sessions, or random run-ins with a fan on the street that took you completely out of your comfort zone or freaked you out?
Joel: A million of them. One small example: we played a sports bar in New Bedford that was horrifying. Large screen TVs showing Friends when we were loading in. Patrons mumbling that it “looks like they have AIDS” (not kidding). We brought Dwyer’s rooster in a box with us. As we played the locals moved in as though they were going to kill us, yelling threats at us. Dan is carrying the box around under his arm for the first ten minutes of the set while singing. Just when violence seemed imminent, we start really going crazy and Dan pulls the rooster out by its feet and raises it above his head at full arms-length, it’s body puffed up and wings flapping and feathers everywhere and us still ripping. The crowd shut the fuck up after that. There are many many stories like this. It could be an entire other article. It’s almost too much work to even begin thinking about these moments.
More details of personal shock and awe:
– Headlining the No Fun Fest in Brooklyn, watching Dan get sucked horizontally, about three feet above the floor, feet-first into a jam-packed basement crowd of the – what was that club’s name? It was sincerely out of a horror movie, some zombie-apocalypse kind of shit. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen real fear in Dan’s eyes, truly. My kit was being torn apart by the surging crowd, I didn’t know how long it could last, I had busted my finger at the beginning of the set, and then the look in Dan’s eyes… The crowd closed around him like quicksand, around his shoulders and head and then outstretched arm and hand and fingers and then he was just gone. If they’d told me he was dead I wouldn’t have been shocked.
– Taking the stage at Sudsy Malone’s in Cincinnati to the bartender and his two friends, on tour with Arab On Radar. We decided to have two of those guys play with us that night. I got off the drums and grabbed a guitar. Eric (AOR singer) was playing my kit, Craig (AOR drummer) was playing something else, Shawn and Dwyer out front. We start playing. Dan’s not around but that wasn’t uncommon – we’d often start without him, either by design or circumstance. After a minute or two I hear his primate growl come over the PA, and I sense his presence behind me. He’s close enough now that I also hear him just straight yelling, along with the PA. Without turning I begin to lean sideways and into Dan, not an uncommon move when I’m playing the guitar. He stinks. Also not uncommon. After about ten seconds I turn to face him, and it’s this crazy homeless guy from out in front of the club who we had met earlier. He had told us he was BB King’s cousin. Dan had brought him in and gave him the mic and set him loose. I looked through the club into the laundromat that was located at the back of the club, and Dan’s standing there behind a washer with his arms crossed laughing his ass off. There were more people there doing their laundry then had come to see us. The Assistant District Attorney of Cincinnati was there doing her laundry. After the show she took both bands out drinking in this fancy part of town, and then back to her condo to stay the night. I think there were nine of us.
– First tour, Pittsburgh, some second-story joint… a cafe? During the set Dan takes an intentional tumble down the flight of stairs we had hauled our gear up. This was an obscenely long flight of stairs. Dan ends up on the street, mic in hand but with no cord – keeps singing. He eventually finds his way back inside and up to the club just as Shawn and I close out the set. Afterwards, two high-school girls, who had just finished talking to Dan, ask Shawn and I, in all seriousness, what country Dan is from. We tell them Rhode Island.
– Baltimore – Store front, all ages show – first note of the set, Dwyer knocks a kid out cold with the head of his guitar.
Shawn: It’s almost hard to think of a Landed show where I wasn’t surprised by what unfolded! Partly this is attributable to whatever we had “set up” collectively (the known) and what the repercussions would be (the unknown). For the other part, this was due to what individuals or factions within the band planned ahead in semi-secrecy; here I’m thinking mostly of antics. The “Dairy 4 Dinner” set sticks out in my mind. We played at the Living Room and set up in a side-room bar which had tile floors. Dan carted in and dumped what seemed like 1,000 gallons of ice cream which quickly turned the entire room into a giant, sticky slip-n-slide. People flailed around on the dairy-soaked floor. One of the things I remember most about that night is that Randy, the owner of the Living Room, hung out with us way past closing, pouring us shots after we mopped up our mess. Rewardable behavior.
Other highlights involved firecrackers-in-pants, hidden seaweed, poultry assists, various props like scythes, full duct-tape body coverage, quasi-hallucinations, questionable costume choices, ill-fitting lingerie, pants-free percussion, welts, bruises, blood, mustache trimming, phenomenal crowd maneuvering, and stampede-like situations. I could go on. The “I Can’t Get Hurt” set also stands out. A week or so after the show where Dan had set himself on fire, we were back for another performance. Dan didn’t miss a step, no shirt, covered in his burns, belting it out. I feel like the fire show was a question, and that show was the answer.
Why did you go with the standard rock-group structure of bass/drums/guitar/vocals for Landed? From the way you describe the group’s general thought process and aesthetic choices, it sounds like Landed could have just as easily existed as synths and saxophones, or four guys on drums, or any sort of musical configuration. Was it important that the group was presented as a ‘normal’ rock group?
Joel: Landed often was synths and saxophones! We mixed that up quite a bit. But I think to a degree it was important to have the band have a consistent nod towards a traditional instrument set. Doing what we do with traditional instruments seems more radical and less obvious than slamming on a table of pedals (though we have had our share of pedal slamming!). The ability to make “new” sounds coming together with these traditional instruments felt amazing, like we were defiling these things that were meant to be treated in a particular way. I think that’s a big part of the Landed ethos – defilement. As much as we were celebrating this new way of being, we were very conscious to be sure that we were violating something, sullying its reputation, leaving it beaten down and exposed. To revel in something made while simultaneously exposing its making.
Shawn: There’s been lots of times when it hasn’t been a bass/drums/guitar/vocals set-up. In the mix we’ve had double drums, multiple synths, multiple vocalists, tapes, saxophone, harmonica, slide guitars, mixers + effects, and more. I think the largest line-up was the “Dirty Bomb” set where we expanded to seven members on stage; the smallest is probably the three piece (Dan, Joel, and I) doing vocals, drums, bass. For a good hunk of the 4-piece stuff, it was double guitars with one on the low end. The rotating membership has contributed to reconfigured instrumentation. There was an era when it was Rick, Joel, and I (drums and double guitars). Joel and I sang in that line-up without microphones. We could yell loud back then. A tour when it was Dan, Brian Gibson, and I (vocals, drums, bass). That tour was done with no rehearsals beforehand, just got in the Bronco with the gear. Totally improvised, one night building on the next. A classic line-up was a 5-piece. Joel and John Dwyer on guitars. Rick on drums, me on bass, Dan singing. Dwyer and Dan were always unplugging each other, not always by accident. Some of the more recent recordings feature the non-standard rock-arrangements. “Blow Your Burger,” for instance, is all synth, drums, and vocals (zero guitars). I think it’s important that we’ve oscillated between what’s considered a standard rock arrangement and what’s not.
Will there be any more Landed records?
Joel: Absolutely. Sands of Darkness. 2014. Get ready.