A Real Conversation About Music with TV Buddhas

Some bands go through the highs and the lows of their careers thinking more about the system and less about the music, thinking things like: How do I make it in this scene? What websites need to review my music so that I can get big? Who should I work with so that my music can be heard? While all of these things are rather integral to a band’s success today, a minority of bands exist that ignore these terms, and solely concentrate on their music. TV Buddhas is one of those bands.

TV Buddhas is Uri Triest, Mickey Triest, and Juval Haring. The Berlin-via-Israel trio is a band that represents hope during a pretty dismal time in the industry. Their honest, genuine approach to their work has garnered them a loyal audience across Europe, and a budding audience in the United States. The band has most recently made headlines for the documentary they made last year while touring the US. The film shows the difficult realities foreign bands face while trekking across the US for the first time.

THE BOMBER JACKET discussed these issues and others with Haring in an interview about music and how things work in the music industry.

TBJ: So you guys are now located in Berlin–Mickey und Uri have German citizenship–was Berlin the natural choice among German cities? How do you feel about Berlin, having come from Israel?

Juval Haring: Tel Aviv is a very vibrant, exciting, youthful place. Berlin is also all these things, but because it is also very big, it feels to an outsider like you can’t really wrap your head around it. Sometimes me and Mickey would more or less remain in our little quarter of the neighborhood for months. I like Tel Aviv because it’s very small, and it’s easy to get around. You basically live in a central area there no matter where exactly your living. Tel Aviv also has better food. That’s a big plus if your a fatty, like we are.

You have experienced many different music scenes in the United States, Europe, and Israel. I know the difference between the US and European scenes are pretty different, and I will ask you about that soon, but what is the scene like in Israel? You book shows there for other bands too, right?

I haven’t booked shows in Israel in a long time. Not since we moved to Berlin, and even before that. Some people would call me nostalgic, but I don’t give a damn–I think things in the music scene used to be more to my liking than what’s going on right now. In Israel, as in the rest of the world, it’s become less and less about supporting your local scene, and more and more about getting as many “like” clicks as possible on your band’s facebook. I would even go as far as saying that there is a big difference between the time in the early 2000s when we used Myspace to book shows, than the narcissistic attention contest going on in today’s social network sphere. Israel has a vibrant scene, with a lot going on, which I am sure will entertain tourists coming from the US and Europe looking for a plate of hummus, good-looking girls on cool bikes and eternal sunshine, but to me, truthfully, in the sense of scene ethics, it’s become the same Baudrillardian desert as the rest of the world. There will always be bands there doing nice things, but the kind of person to person outreach I grew up on that is the basic element of DIY, is fading away fast.

What’s it like touring with a spouse? I imagine it must be pretty wonderful seeing so much of the world together.

We love traveling, but also love being at home. Maybe even enjoy being at home more than we actually do leaving it. When your with your spouse, you kind of take your home with you. So, it’s not so bad, and you feel much safer than you would with say, a bunch of your drunk friends. We’ve been doing this for very long. We’ve seen many city centers. So right now it’s more about making new friends, seeing old friends, and a bit less about sight-seeing. But we still love to stop off in a nice spot in nature and eat gigantic sandwitches.

It seems like you guys kind of stumbled into playing music. Your sound is pretty distinct…did you guys always have a punk-rock sound, even when you first started playing together?

Well, it was always punk rock because we always loved music done by complete losers. Iggy Pop, The Ramones, The Wipers. We adore people who for the lack of self confidence became these caricatures of themselves. We also feel very much like losers, too old for the scene, too dirty to “make it” in any sense. We look at bands like Dead Moon who are still kicking ass at 60. It makes you think how a man’s personality has a lot to do with the sound of the band. If you’re looking for success, some kind of underground version of “making it,” your band will probably sound something like that. If you’re just shy, and can’t do with dishonesty, and are into rock ‘n’ roll because it reflects your own feelings of alienation, your going to probably find yourself playing punk rock, whatever that means, whether you’re 18 or 60 years old.

You guys have a very genuine perspective about the music industry…you handle all of your booking and management yourselves, correct? How did you guys develop this DIY attitude and what have the biggest joys and struggles been that have come out of the attitude?

We became DIY the same way a person chooses to be a freelancer. We just like the freedom of it. This attitude is healthy in my opinion, to punk rock, or anything in life for that matter. But it comes with a downside as well.

As you know, this is a shitty world we live in, run by shitty people, and even shittier people who have no sense but a lot of money. If our grandparents were hard workers, who believed that if you persist, you can achieve, today everyone is encouraged to believe that achieving is actually being the smartest and fastest one to find the backdoor. You can blame the economy and the fact that the art world has long been over-saturated with artists and bands.

To me DIY is existentialism. You are doing everything because the body is the center. “Indie” music today is not about existentialism. It is a more spiritual thing, like a form of spiritual capitalism. There is a contradiction between us and the music world. This is why we called our website “I Don’t Belong In This World.” This contradiction is the main downside to being really DIY today. You are encouraged by society to have a booking agent, get a label, become labeled. You need the good blogs to like you. Pitchfork to like you. None of these “churches” of sound will ever know you exist, if you just old-school DIY it. Therefore, you will always remain the same, never make enough money, never feel like you achieved anything but some cred here and there.

You recently wrote:

With every tour, we feel surrounded by more and more young people who have no questions at all, who go on tour to get wasted for two weeks, before they “move on.” On that level, it sometimes feels like we exist as a band in a vacuum, as if we were the only ones stupid enough to take it so seriously, while everyone around us is getting high and just being kids. On dark days, it’s the promoters who keep us going when we’re down, with the hard, and mostly very unrewarding work they do trying to make something cool in the DIY scene.

I respect your thoughts here. What kind of positive memorable experiences have you had with promoters?

Well, there were many. Mostly promoters who still do it and tragically lose money. There’s something romantic that we love about people who fight windmills all their lives. This upcoming spring tour we will be making a second film on this subject. We want to document these modern day warriors and find out more about their motivations. Maybe even write an album about it. There’s a sweet modernist truth in these people. It touches the core of art, in a kind of Oscar Wilde sort of way.

Do you think your genuine perspectives on music and the industry have helped others try to see things in similar ways? Have you had social encounters where that has been the case?

No. I really don’t think we taught anyone anything. It’s getting worse with the years. Most people don’t wanna listen. We just try to be honest and transparent. People have accused us of being babies and whining too much or not being “true rockers.” There’s a dangerous wave of hidden macho-ism in the underground.

How do you choose the people who you work with? What kind of person passes the test?

He has to be able to tolerate our “do everything ourselves” kind of attitude. He also has to be a nice person. Just nice. Not flashy, or awesome, or even cool. It’s fine if he’s just a hard worker who cares a lot and doesn’t care much about popular opinion.

For your latest EP that you’re releasing this month on tour in Europe, you worked with producer Steve Fisk, who has also worked with Beat Happening and Nirvana. How did you guys get to know him?

Steve mixed our first record too. I got to know him through Old Time Relijun, who played in Tel Aviv
a few years ago.

Oh, okay. What is Fisk’s take on recording?

Because he lives on the West Coast and we live in Berlin, he only mixes our stuff. But from working with him on the mixes I think recording with him would be really easy, and natural. We record very quickly and usually prefer simple productions, and since he did Beat Happening, I reckon he does too.

Your method of recording is typically pretty bare, with either one mic or one take…I read that you recently bought old recording equipment that you guys are now using for your own studio? Is that still in the works? Are you excited about it?

I keep buying stuff on eBay. It’s an addiction. I see some Soviet microphone I must have and I buy it. I spend the little money we had on a half-inch 8 track. We want to record ourselves. It’s like painting I think. A musician goes into a studio and has to record an album in the two or three or four days he has on
his budget. A painter can stare at a canvas for weeks before even starting. This is what having machines at home will allow us to do.

Back to the topic of touring and the scene in the US. There seems to be quite a difference between touring in the US and touring in Europe…you captured the worst of it in your documentary. I worked at a venue in Dresden, Germany, and when American bands came though, they always raved about European venues and how well they take care of their bands. I also did booking in the US and I saw how poorly bands were treated. Do you think the touring climate will ever change in the US?

No. I think the US has its own unique economy, and also there is very little government money going into venues. In the US everything is very much a business. So it all speaks in business terms. The things that don’t speak in those terms, let’s say, a bunch of nice kids doing shows in a small town, they are very similar to what’s going on in Europe, only they have no money, so they can only give you a good time. In Europe you have those venues that can pay well, and treat bands well, mostly because people make more money, and because of public money going into culture. But I think it’s also a mentality. I often feel in the US, that even though there’s a great “house party” feeling to everything, and Americans are generally very kind and very open, there’s also a overwhelming sense of over-saturation in the scene, and a resulting apathy in the organizing sect in regards to bookers, promoters, labels. In Europe, this over-saturation has yet to choke the life out of people wanting to make cool art scenes everywhere. Just look at Brooklyn right now. Or LA. Who in his right mind would wanna join that party now? I’d much rather be in a small town playing to a group of people who would actually listen to what I’m doing. That’s kind of what Europe feels like, i can imagine, to American bands who come over and play. Like people are suddenly listening. It’s like time travel.

What kinds of things do you think have to happen in order to improve the experiences bands have while touring in the US?

I can’t speak for anyone else. Like in Europe, It’s a matter of finding similarly thinking partners in the US, who would help you organize a tour to your liking. In Europe it took us three to four tours to find out who our friends were. Unfortunately, we can’t afford three to four tours in the US to find that out there. It’s funny but touring the US is a rich man’s privilege.

Are you guys going to do another US tour in the near future? If so, what kinds of things will you do differently?

We would probably make it shorter. And less a “coast to coast” thing. It’s just not financially viable.

What were peoples’ reactions to the documentary? I’m sure the film is educational for bands in Europe who also want to tour in the US but have never done so before…

Well a lot of people got angry and called us “non-rockers.” If life were a high-school, then we would be the geeks and freaks, and those guys would be the jocks. We just ignore people like that. We could have made the film much better. But in the core of it, is a very important and alarming message, which has nothing to do with us personally as a band. The idea was to make a film that doesn’t make us look necessarily cool. If there is anything educational about it, I hope it is that it is a bad thing to lie. Especially if you’re making underground music. We come out of a scene where bands who toured the US would come back and tell completely fictitious stories of cultural conquests overseas to eager yet brainless local press. That just disgusted us.

We also got a lot of great responses and we showed it in a couple of small theaters on tour. It’s generally been great.

Anything you would like to say to American readers?

The greatest music, our favorite bands, were all American. There’s something really great about that environment for art, for young people excavating real feelings from themselves, for the freedom of expression. It’s just tragic that it is becoming harder and harder to actually travel through that environment and survive in it. The jungle has become much thicker. And as a result, those “truth excavators” have become more and more rare, more fleeting, even more invisible.

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