I won’t pull punches: I love Blood On The Wall. From their self-titled debut to 2005’s Awesomer and the even, yes, awesomer Liferz the trio’s managed a scowling Mudhoney rock explosion that feels on the verge of tearing its seams until you notice it never had those annoying hemmed spots in the first place. A couple years ago, I carried a tiny, borrowed mini-disc recorder to their Greenpoint practice space and recorded an in-the-red (literally) version of “Junkeee…Julieee…” for a CD I was co-curating for The Believer (the tune shows up in better recorded form on Liferz). Watching them up close across a couple takes made me realize that while BOTW sound exploded, they’re incredibly tight in their noisy shredding. I also realized they were great people.
A couple weeks ago I dropped bassist/vocalist Courtney Shanks a line, asking her what the band was doing for daytime work. I knew she and her brother, guitarist/vocal Brad, used to run a store called Rejoice, and that they might have some new enterprises. Turns out drummer Miggie Littleton — the only member left in NYC — sells records on the streets of Brooklyn, Brad’s doing double duty between a record store and bar in Kansas, and Courtney’s selling clothes at Built By Wendy in Los Angeles.
As far as a soundtrack, we posted Liferz roaring opener “Hibernation” some time ago. And I noticed RCRD LBL has the bratty Brad-fronted squealer “Sorry Sorry Sarah.” For a sweet change of pace, take a listen to the chilled Courtney-sung “Lightning Song” after the Q&A.
Miggie Littleton, drums
STEREOGUM: How many days a week do you need to sell records?
MIGGIE LITTLETON: I used to have a store in Brooklyn for a few years called Big Deal, and the only time I made a flyer, I listed the hours as Thursday-Sunday 1-6, with the clause of being OPEN BY CHANCE. One day way back when, it was snowing and I was walking with my White Magic friends and these kids said, “Hey aren’t you that guy who has a record store that’s only open when the weather’s bad?”
STEREOGUM: Do you have a regular spot on the street you use?
MIGGIE LITTLETON: I try to sell on Sunday afternoon for a few hours on Bedford Ave and N 7th, in the hipster mecca of Williamsburg. Everyone there and their granny is a DJ or collector. I actually met Courtney Blood when she dug through my crates and picked out the best shit, and I said to myself, “Who is this cool girl with great taste in music?” Within a few months she was one of my best friends.
STEREOGUM: I remember reading old zines — Pathetic Life, some others — where folks sold things on the street and had this entire community around it. Do you have any sort of support network like that? If you need to run and get coffee, is there some guy you can trust to keep his eye on your stuff?
MIGGIE LITTLETON: I don’t trust nobody, especially not the toothless guy who every week always asks if I have any Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush albums. I just hold the pee pee in till I’m about to burst.
STEREOGUM: Any repeat customers worth mentioning? Maybe folks who don’t buy anything, but just want to talk?
MIGGIE LITTLETON: One guy used to hang out and speak Italian to me for 5-10 minutes. I didn’t understand a single word he said, but he was quite friendly and every once in a while would say something in English like, “I Like Indian Music.” One guy claimed to be in a doo wop group in the early ’60s, but he couldn’t remember the name. First he said they were called The Sparkles then he said it was the The Sparklers, then he finally said it was The Sparkletones and they briefly got signed to Columbia Records but they were dropped because “four guys from England called The Beatles” were signed at the same time, leaving The Sparkles in the dust. “Weren’t the Beatles on Capitol?,” I asked. “Yeah, one of those.” Then he started to tell me that “Whatever you do, don’t do cocaine! Johnny, the lead singer of The Sparklers had a heart condition” and I asked him, “Are you doing Cocaine?” He says no but he did cocaine at his 50th birthday party and died of a heart attack while he was eating his birthday cake. “He died with the cake in his mouth?,” I asked “Yeah, in his mouth, so whatever you do. DON’T DO COCAINE!!!”
STEREOGUM: Where do you get the records? Do you shop in second-hand shops and find things you know you can sell for a bit more, etc? What’s been your best find to date?
MIGGIE LITTLETON: I shop everywhere for records except for record stores in NYC. In my experience I have found that most of the rarest records I have ever found are far from the best. Most James Brown Funk 45’s are worth $3, but a 45 that’s trying to sound like James Brown, but not as good, might be worth thousands because it came out on a small label with a small pressing and didn’t sell.
A few years ago I found 10 copies of Tori Amos’s very first 45 record from when she was 16 years old. The A side is a song called “Baltimore,” essentially an advertisement for the great city. It has amazing lyrics like: “The sun sets across the bay, / I’m glad I spent my day in a working American city with all the people who make it that way.” The repeating chorus line is “I got Orioles baseball on my mind.” It is one of the worst things I have ever heard and it paid my rent in NYC for almost a year … I recently sold a Francoise Hardy 8 track tape for $400. That blew my fucking mind and helped buy lots of diapers! [Note: Miggie has a child.]
A few treasures from thrifting over the years that made me giddy…
Michael Hurley: Armchair Boogie and Blue Navigator
Karen Dalton: Both albums
Moondog and his friends 10″ record from 1955
Harry Smith: Anthology Of Folk Music
Lee Perry & Full Experiences: Disco Devil
Bob Marley & Wong Choo: Keep on Moving
Sun Ra: Atlantis
Milford Graves: Nommo
An amazing collection of Ethnic 78’s from the ’20s and ’30s, mostly Indian, African, and Southeast Asian Gamelan.
STEREOGUM: Ever find any BOTW records in the used bins? If so, ever sell any of your own discs? Like, just mix ‘em in there?
MIGGIE LITTLETON: Never found a Blood record, but every other other band I was in, yes. I never sold records I played on cause I’m terrible at self promotion and would feel like a capital D-O-U-C-H-E.
Brad Shanks, vocals and guitar
STEREOGUM: You work in both a bar and a record shop. What’s the the time split?
BRAD SHANKS: I work at Love Garden Sounds in Lawrence, KS during the day then I have a couple of shifts at the 8th Street Tap Room at night.
STEREOGUM: You owned Rejoice with Courtney. What was it like closing that down?
BRAD SHANKS: Kinda sucked, but we had been in the used clothing business for four years and we couldn’t keep the business going and be on tour so we chose rock ‘n’ roll. Might have made the wrong decision, but it is a ballsy one, so no one can call me a pussy for not taking a chance.
STEREOGUM: What’s it been like going from being a business owner to working
BRAD SHANKS: Well, my bosses are bros of mine, so it isn’t that different. I mean I get paid a lot less and I can’t take off when ever I want, but when I fuck something up we usually laugh about it.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been at the bar? The store?
BRAD SHANKS: Since March of 2007. Jeremy Sidner gave me my fist shifts at the Taproom immediately because he knew how desperately I needed them. And the Love Garden I just started poking my head around and then point blank asked for a job. Eventually they surrendered and gave me a couple shifts.
STEREOGUM: As far as the record store: What are your duties there? What kind of
place is it?
BRAD SHANKS: Love Garden Sounds in Lawerence, KS is the best record store I have ever been in. There are few that are close, like Mississippi records in Portland. And of course Miggy Littleton’s short lived record store Big Deal records, but LGS takes the whole enchilada. We also have four cats that roam around that live there. Jack the cat has been in that store for 18 years! Longer then anyone that works there. A real bad ass.
STEREOGUM: Do customers recognize you?
BRAD SHANKS: Maybe. No one ever says anything.
STEREOGUM: And the bar? What are your duties there?
BRAD SHANKS: I check ideas and I barback. I have a night every Tuesday called Juke Box Jones. Where it is a free jukebox all night and we made it look like an actual person. And it talks. Yes, that is right. It fucking talks and tells stories about the Lawrence of old.
STEREOGUM: Does the bar have live music?
BRAD SHANKS: Yes we do! Awesome fucking bands all the time, and the best DJs.
STEREOGUM: What’s your specialty drink?
BRAD SHANKS: The Dusty Dog. Damn they are good.
STEREOGUM: Do you end up having to make small-talk with folks who’re down in the
BRAD SHANKS: I kinda stay away from that. I know a good bartender is supposed to do that, but I am not a good bartender.
Courtney Shanks, bass and vocals
STEREOGUM: Can you tell me a bit about Rejoice?
COURTNEY SHANKS: Brad and I made a store called Rejoice. It was a small vintage store we ran on Orchard St. on the Lower East Side. The building it was in got torn down to be turned into apartments or a fancy hotel. It was pretty rad being on that block for a couple years. When they kicked us out to build the fancy stuff, they tore down most of our block. Some of the last one story buildings all in a row. We had an old Deco storefront … We then found a spot in Brooklyn and continued there for about two years. We started touring more and more and decided we wanted to tour more than run Rejoice. it was kind of a sweet place in time for a couple years. A lot of hard work, too, but I am glad we did it. Also glad I am not doing it now.
STEREOGUM: You went on tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs around then, right? Then your own headlining tour?
COURTNEY SHANKS: Yes, a month after we closed it down we had planned a headline tour with our buddies the Psychic Ills. Then the Yeah Yeah Yeahs asked us out as their main support in the US for Show Your Bones. We canceled the first couple dates of our headline tour cuz they overlapped a little — to go out with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs then meet up the headline tour we had planned. Almost eight weeks on the road. It made us realize it was a good choice to close Rejoice.
STEREOGUM: Did you put the inventory in storage? Sell it off?
COURTNEY SHANKS: We sold off most of it and donated stuff to charity. Had notions of selling on ebay. I still gotta try to get down with that…
STEREOGUM: Can you imagine ever opening up another store of some sort?
COURTNEY SHANKS: Nope. I think that four years was my run. I have notions about moving to a mountain town in California and running a pine cone stand. Have been getting real good at finding sweet pine cones.
STEREOGUM: So, you’ve been at Built By Wendy for a year and a half now? How’d you get the job?
COURTNEY SHANKS: I had known Wendy for awhile and loved the company and her bad-ass clothes for a long time. Damn, when she designed the Wrangler stuff it blew my mind. Her stuff has just gotten more sick since then. I don’t ever want to wear anything else. Her jeans are f’ing sweet. So I tried to scrape by after that long eight-week tour for a like a week or two then realized, “damn, I gotta to get a job.” I sent a resume to Wendy. Wendy hired me to work in the Brooklyn shop. They do the internet orders and have the warehouse for the company there. I might have packed up a t-shirt if you all ordered something out there. With love and care I packed it up.
STEREOGUM: You’re in L.A. now…
COURTNEY SHANKS: I left Brooklyn last March and landed upright on the ground in Los Angeles. I have been living there since late April. I spent almost 11 years in Brooklyn. The City of Angels has been good to me. Last summer I went to the beach a lot. Started to remember daytime can be fun like nighttime. Wendy let me work at the store in Los Angeles. It has been rad. I really like being in that place. Now I sell pants with love and care. Am truly proud of the clothes I sell. Love and respect the people I work with. That lady is Bad ASS. Normally a company of that size has a team of designers. All of the clothes are designed solely by Wendy. You don’t get more independent than that. And the clothes dawgs are dope.
STEREOGUM: How many stores are there?
COURTNEY SHANKS: There are only three stores: Manhattan, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and now she is opening in San Francisco.
STEREOGUM: What are your duties?
COURTNEY SHANKS: I work in the shop. The LA store is just a retail place so that is what I do. “Another size, color?” But just thank god I respect the stuff and the lady so I say that stuff with some pride and respect for her and her company.
STEREOGUM: What’s the difference been between owning your own store and working at one? Am guessing … less stress?
COURTNEY SHANKS: Yes, the pressure is just not there. I want to do a good job for the people I work for, but other than that no stress. Customers aren’t that jerky in Built By Wendy. They tend to be pretty down to earth and rad. Makes it better.
STEREOGUM: You’re in the midst of another tour. Is the store cool about giving you off when it’s time to hit the road?
COURTNEY SHANKS: They have been letting me go and come back. Our tours are booked in advance, so I give a lot of notice. Wendy says she supports my rock. Likes our band. I think my eyes are getting a little misty … couldn’t pull this off with out them. They are good to me and I am wearing some sweet jeans and my cardigan is warm.
STEREOGUM: Can you imagine doing the band full-time without work?
COURTNEY SHANKS: I would love to! That would be the dream, I guess. i like being on the road and I love playing guitars. Then it could be my day job. It already is sometimes. Time to close my eyes, cross my fingers, and say that prayer to lady luck…
Liferz is out on The Social Registry. It’d definitely one of my favorites of this young year. You can also catch BOTW live, sometimes with Black Mountain.
2/13 – Birmingham, AL @ Bottle Tree Cafe *
2/15 – Atlanta, GA @ Earl *
2/16 – Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle Tavern *
2/17 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 *
2/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s (with Sian Alice Group and caUSE co-MOTION)
2/21 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott (with and caUSE co-MOTION)
2/22 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg
* w/ Black Mountain
[collage for Liferz. Courtney’s on the upper left with her face removed. Brad’s on the right smiling with something orange in his mouth. Miggie’s wearing cool pants on the bottom.]