If you know Sam McPheeters from anything, it’s probably from his work as the engaging vocalist for ’90s political punkers Born Against, or perhaps from the cynical pranks he pulled in the LSD-damaged noise unit Men’s Recovery Project.
But that was the ’90s. It isn’t all Crystal Pepsi and Clarissa Explains It All anymore, you know. In recent years, McPheeters has been writing regularly for publications such as Vice, the Huffington Post and the Village Voice. Some of what he does can be considered journalism. Some of it can be considered fiction. In either case, there are two things his writing most certainly always is: mind-bending and very spit-take worthy.
McPheeters is currently on a nationwide tour to promote his first novel, The Loom of Ruin, a disturbingly entertaining tale about Trang Yang, a good man with very bad luck. Since McPheeters is taking the time to do two readings in one day, we thought it only fair to give the singer-turned-author a jingle and chat with him about his new book.
I was taking a look at the itinerary for your book tour; it’s pretty long. The first thing I thought of were those four- to six-week tours Born Against used to do back in the day.
Well, this tour is scheduled far more humanely, I think. I’ll probably be staying in a lot of hotels. I’m not going into it cold. I’ve done spoken-word shows before, and I know what works and what doesn’t work. I think speaking shows aren’t as arduous as playing live with a band.
You think the speaking shows are easier? I’d think bombing with a band would be easier than bombing all by yourself.
Yeah, you may be right. At least if you fail in a band, only 25 percent of the failure is yours. I have bombed twice at a spoken show, and it’s a bummer, but I think the pros outweigh the cons. At least when you leave, you’re just bummed out—you’re not bummed out plus sweaty plus exhausted plus very confused.
With all the bands I was in, there was always that nagging question of motive. If you’re in a bar band called Danger Zone, and you want to make it, then that’s your motive. In a punk band, the tour was the motive, and that got really confusing to me after a while. There were too many times I found myself in a parking lot in Iowa asking, “Why am I doing this?” and it wasn’t a rhetorical question!
Are you fine with the idea that a majority of the people coming out to the book events are fans of your musical endeavors?
That’s fine. I’m not embarrassed of anything I’ve done—but I’m not proud much of it either. I’m grateful for it, because I know a lot of small authors who don’t have this tiny advantage. I’m aware that me being in Born Against is far more important to most people than the other bands I’ve been in, and that’s made for awkward situations in the past. But at least if someone screams out for me to play [Born Against song] “Mary and Child” at a book signing, it’s a far more absurd act than doing it when some band I was in is trying to get through a set.
Sam McPheeters appears Sun., April 8, 5pm. Brickbat Books, 709 S. Fourth St. 215.592.1207. brickbatbooks.blogspot.com; and Sun., April 8, 7pm. Molly’s Bookstore, 1010 S. Ninth St. 215.923.3367.
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014