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Q&A: Bill Orcutt On The Harry Pussy Reissues, Playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" And His Kids Not Caring He Was In A Band Called Harry Pussy

Q&A: Bill Orcutt On The Harry Pussy Reissues, Playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" And His Kids Not Caring He Was In A Band Called Harry Pussy
Jim Hensley

Bill Orcutt is an American noise music and experimental icon. For a too-brief but essential period in the '90s, Orcutt, with drummer and then-partner Adris Hoyos, terrorized audiences in the Miami-based Harry Pussy, a devastatingly atonal and confrontational noise animal that melted free jazz's spiritual mind trips, punk anarchy and no wave's radicalism into an end result that served as a progenitor for the Noise movement and the experimental music sphere.

Harry Pussy disbanded in '97 but their parting gift was the face-ripping, hard-to-find Let's Build a Pussy, which consisted of a gnarly Hoyos bawl that Orcutt manipulated into a computer-generated fuckery job (hence, the apropos credits of "Bill Orcutt: Mouse and Adris Hoyos: Mouth"). With Orcutt's blessing, Editions Mego has reissued it with liner notes penned by noise guitarist and scribe Alan Licht. Meanwhile, Orcutt has released One Plus One, a mighty collection of duo-only carnage culled from hours of Walkman-recorded jammage with Hoyas.

Orcutt isn't just in the midst of a Harry Pussy victory dance; he reinserted himself into the scene a few years ago. He's put out three string-damaged comeback releases, and he now performs perched on a chair and barefoot, plucking out his manic version of Americana on a battered acoustic. This version of Bill Orcutt is a finger-picking avant-folk beast, dishing out the noisiest and subtlest of jagged notes and shards.

Sound of the City emailed with Orcutt about the Harry Pussy reissues, touring, and playing with drummer Chris Corsano.

You're in the midst of a tour and celebrating the release of Harry Pussy's Let's Build A Pussy. How did it come about that Editions Mego would release it?

It was my idea to do it on Mego. Peter had talked to me earlier in the year about reissuing Harry Pussy records, so I thought asking him to do Let's Build a Pussy would be a good way to test his commitment to the project! But he was into the idea and got Rashad Becker to cut it and Alan Licht involved to do liner notes. The reissue is very luxe compared to the original, which was all xerox'd covers and scrappy as hell. Also I knew I was going to release a compilation of our earliest recordings [One Plus One] on my own label, and I was into the idea that there would be a simultaneous release of our last record as a bookend to the early stuff.

In any event, it's turned out to be an amazingly unpopular decision. Reviews have been scathing [one guy described it as making him feel like "a slug that's just eaten a pile of salt"] and even people that are sympathetic are confused why we'd reissue this particular title. Hey, I love it, that's why!

Why not release Let's Build A Pussy yourself, like you've done with most of your solo stuff [with the exception of How the Thing Sings, which Editions Mego released]?

With the possible exception of Laff Records, Mego—in its original incarnation—is probably my all-time favorite record label. So it's a blast to have anything released by them.

What do you like about releasing your own music?

I get to keep all the money. Also I'm kind of obsessive and like knowing the minutiae of a record's production and distribution which is possible only when you do the work yourself. And there's some good precedents for musicians releasing their own records: Cecil Taylor's Unit Core, Greg Ginn and SST, Loren Connors and Daggett, etc. and I like feeling part of that tradition.

Is re-releasing the rest of the out of print and unavailable recordings of Harry Pussy something you are interested in doing and getting out there?

Maybe. The records are beginning to turn 20 now and reissues seem like a good way to celebrate that milestone.

Has revisiting Let's Build a Pussy and [putting together] One Plus One sparked memories of the band and/or those record in particular?

One Plus One is compiled from hours and hours of 20-year-old rehearsal tapes of me and Adris playing. The recorder was running the whole time so all our conversations, arguments, etc. are there and listening back to it sparked lots of memories, some good, some not so great.

Let's Build a Pussy I did in San Francisco after the band had broken up and I moved away. So my memories of it are not of the band, but of moving to S.F. and also the technical issues that arose from trying to do that kind of audio processing with my mid-nineties Mac.

 

Harry Pussy (live at the Cooler, 1995)

What do you recall about touring in Harry Pussy and playing New York?

We toured all over the the US and Canada every chance we got, from our earliest days as a duo right up through the end. We played and toured a lot with other groups on Siltbreeze: Charlambides, Dead C, Guided By Voices, Shadow Ring, etc. and toured several times as an opening act for Sonic Youth and Sebadoh.

We probably played NYC a half a dozen times or so, beginning in 1992 with a duo performance at the Downtown Music Gallery and ending in 1997 on a bill with Borbetomagus at the Knitting Factory. Our first "real" New York show was at the old Houston St Knitting Factory and I remember the club staff being totally baffled that a group from Florida was playing.

After Harry Pussy ended, you got married and had a couple of kids. Do they know their dad was in a band called Harry Pussy?

They do know, although at ages 6 and 8, I don't imagine they think about it much.

You'll be playing with drummer Chris Corsano at Roulette, separately and as a duo premiering a new work. What can you tell us about the piece you will be performing with Chris? Is it a composed work or improvised?

I'll be playing acoustic for the solo set and electric for the duo set. I have no idea what Chris thinks about the duo, but I approach it like it's Hound Dog Taylor. Just stripped down electric guitar and drums, raw as hell. Hound Dog had six fingers and I have four strings. Put 'em together and they make ten of something. Of course we don't actually sound like Hound Dog, but you know, that's how I think about it.

How do you know Chris? I've read he's way into Harry Pussy.

I knew him from his records and a million YouTube videos where he looks like he's trying to turn himself inside out. Last year we played together with Alan Bishop on bass at a festival in the UK and it was great. In fact, we're going to play with Alan again at the end of this tour and Alan promises this time we're going to play Cream for real, so I'm psyched.

You've essentially been playing solo since you started playing music again a few years back. Is collaborating with other musicians something we can expect more of or is this a one-off type thing and you'll continue to play solo?

When I started playing again it was important to play solo because it was new and scary and I felt like it needed to be confronted. Now that I've been doing it for a couple of years, I've started feeling the urge to play with other people again. But I'll continue to play solo too.

What is it about Chris's aesthetic that meshes well with yours?

You hear him and it's obviously great, but you don't think "jazz" or "polka" or whatever. You just think "Drums!" and that's perfect for me.

How did covering "The Star-Spangled Banner" come about? Were you feeling patriotic?

I've started playing songs this year and I've been playing mostly patriotic songs, religious songs, show tunes, minstrel songs, cowboy songs, etc. Just whatever used up, worn out American songs I can find. I like a nice, worn out song. The national anthem is kind of ground-zero for that sort of song and it seemed like a good place to start.

On a sad note, Dan Hosker, who spent time with you in Harry Pussy and was a vital part of the Florida punk scene, passed away recently. Do you have any thoughts on Dan, what he brought to HP and to bands like Laundry Room Squelchers with Rat Bastard?

Dan joined the band after Marky quit and he made it possible for me to play the music I was hearing in my head. Nobody else has ever learned my music that way except for Dan, who had the patience and talent and generosity to sit with me and really learn it the way I was playing it. I always thought we would play together again.

Bill Orcutt plays Roulette—solo and as a duo with Chris Corsano—on Thursday.

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