Interview: Larry Livermore

Posted: October 23, 2014 in Small Talk

I’m going to keep this short, because I’m pretty sure you all know this, but Lookout (without an exclamation point) records co-founder Larry Livermore released an incredible book Spy Rock Memories last year, detailing the time he spent in the early-to-mid ’80s in the wilderness of California’s Emerald Triangle and the formation of Lookout Records. It’s an affecting, personal and entertaining read that I cannot recommend enough. Larry answered questions about the book, as well as his future projects and looking back on Lookout records.

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Hello Larry! How are you on this fine Autumn day? What have you been up to during the last few months?

I am at least as fine as this autumn day, sunny, breezy, and a little cool. I have been cooped up in one room or another for the past several months editing my new book. I kind of wish it were done, but it isn’t, not quite yet.

It has been over a year now since Spy Rock Memories was released. How do you feel looking back on it now? Did it turn out like you imagined?

I’m very happy with Spy Rock Memories all around. It’s one of the first things I’ve ever done where I didn’t feel the need to do a lot of second-guessing after the fact. Of course it’s not perfect; nothing ever is. But it told the story I wanted to tell, it looks and feels beautiful, and it’s a great feeling to know it’s in print and out there for people to read should they so choose.

Since its release, what has the feedback been like from the punk community? And more specifically, those from Spy Rock who feature in the book?

Feedback has been mostly positive. In fact, to my surprise there hasn’t been a single (at least that I’ve seen) wholly negative review. The comments I’ve gotten haven’t been specifically “from the punk community,” probably because the book’s subject matter, while periodically intersecting with punk themes, isn’t specifically punk. I think at least half my readers have been more interested in the “back to the land” aspect, or have a direct personal knowledge of or interest in rural Northern California, where the story is set. Nobody who’s portrayed in the book has had any complaints, at least not that I’ve heard of. I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding where a number of the main characters were present, and they all spoke highly of the book

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According to your blog, you have been working on another book for a while. Can you tell us any more about it? Do you have a release date in mind?

The new book has been “in the works” for some years now, but I actually started writing it on August 29, 2013, and was hoping to have it done within a year. As my calendar dolefully reminds me, I’m already a month and a half past that deadline. It’s essentially about what comes next, after Spy Rock Memories, but there’s some considerable overlap, since “what came next” was Lookout Records, which was already well underway before I left Spy Rock. I was hoping for a December release, but it looks more like spring 2015 now.

In regards to writing about “what comes next” post- Spyrock, am I right in thinking that this includes your time living in London? What time frame are we dealing with in the new book?

No, actually, the third book will deal with London. So although a certain number of Lookout-related events took place in the UK, I’ve kept discussion of them to a minimum in this book.

Aside from the book writing, are you still writing any new music?

I wrote and recorded a couple new songs with the Potatomen a year or two ago (actually, more like finished a couple songs that had been in progress for some time already), but nothing much ever came of it. I think they might be released someday, or maybe not. Other than that, no. I noodle around on the guitar or piano from time to time, but that’s about it.

A couple of years ago, you released a compilation showcasing all the hot young stuff in pop-punk today on Adeline Records- The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore. Do you think it helped increase exposure of said bands? And do you have any plans to do another compilation in the future, or was it a one-off?

They’ve asked me a couple of times to do a follow-up to The Thing That Ate Larry Liverrmore, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I’m sure it helped the bands involved to some extent, but as I said in response to a related question just the other day, I think most of those bands, regardless of how great they are – and they are great – are not likely to get the kind of exposure they would have if they’d been around in the 1980s or 90s. The specific question I was asked (this was at a book reading, actually) was which of today’s bands I would sign if I were still running Lookout, and I pointed to that compilation as being a pretty good illustration. But I followed up by noting that if Lookout had issued that same identical compilation in 1994, it probably would have sold 50 times as many copies as it would today. Not because of any fault on Adeline’s part – they did an excellent job all the way around with it – but because the demand for that style of music just doesn’t exist on the level it once did. At Lookout, we sold most of our records to kids – teenagers and young 20-somethings. People of that age nowadays are, for the most part, simply not interested in pop-punk.

Looking back in time, what is the part you miss the most about running Lookout Records?

Well, it’s nice to have a little excitement in one’s life from time to time, and there was certainly no shortage of that during the Lookout days. Also, it was nice getting in to almost any show I wanted for free, and having complete strangers treat me as if I were “somebody.” But seriously, I think perhaps one thing I miss the most is having the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. For example, today if I see a great band who really have something to offer the world, I’m limited to wishing them luck, whereas back then, I could say, “Hey, do you want to make a record?”

The Lookout Roster included such pop-punk greats as Screeching Weasel, Green Day and MTX, but is there a band you regret not having signed, or missed out on?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “missed out.” There are bands we could have worked with that would have made us millions of dollars, but weren’t necessarily Lookout-sounding bands. Or who might have fit in at Lookout at first, but later went on to evolve into very different bands. AFI, for example; their first record was standard East Bay pop-punk, and they really needed a label to take a chance on them, so it would have benefited both them and us. Maybe if they’d been on Lookout they wouldn’t have wound up going goth, you never know! But as it was, they released their first album on a label that went bust, and it was at least a temporary setback to their career. They did well in the end, though! I recently ran into Davey AFI at an event and apologized for dropping the ball on that occasion. He was cool about it. The Offspring, too. In 1992 they’d been a band eight or nine years and were going nowhere, so I thought Lookout might be able to help them, but in the end Epitaph was able to pull them out of the doldrums, so to speak! And Rancid, I really do regret them leaving for Epitaph, because they were an East Bay band with a Lookout pedigree. Once again, though, they did rather well for themselves the way things worked out. You know who else I think we could have done well for? Jawbreaker.

Did you find much of a similarity between the punk scene you were involved with in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and the scene you part of in the ‘60s?

In terms of energy and excitement, maybe, although it’s important to bear in mind that the 60s scene was far larger, and perhaps more driven by a quixotic idealism that rather quickly turned to cynicism when young people realized that all their fantasies of a more perfect world were not about to materialize. At the same time, there was not nearly as much of a DIY spirit, at least when it came to music – there were many other independent enterprises: underground newspapers, food co-ops, political movements, etc. – but the music was largely marketed by corporate entities and the masses of fans tended to see themselves as consumers rather than producers.

Final question. As I’m asking you these questions for a blog, and you are a blog-writer yourself, do you think that blogs are now more relevant than print fanzines (as you used to write for in the ‘80s/’90s) for today’s generation? Do print zines still have a place in punk rock?

Print will always have a place in many aspects of culture, including punk, but I think they’ll be more of a boutique/specialty item, much as vinyl records have become. Both print and vinyl are wildly impractical and inefficient, as well as being far more expensive means of transmitting information, but obviously they have a strong appeal to a certain sort of connoisseur, and will always be with us to some degree. But I suspect upwards of 90% of all information will ultimately be conveyed digitally, until or unless space aliens or a nuclear war or some massive solar storm wipes out the entire electronic data base, at which point print and vinyl will prove to be highly useful artifacts after all.

 DB

Buy Spy Rock Memories here: http://dongiovannirecords.com/product/90-spy-rock-memories

Read Larry’s blog here: http://larrylivermore.com/

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