issued on Splendid International #1 early 1986
Shelley Ganz, interviewed by Chris Huhn, tells the story of the Unclaimed.
Let's start from the very beginning, when and how did you form the Unclaimed?
It was my last year at high school and I really wanted to put a band together. You know, sixties punk is the only music I ever listen to. I didn't even recognize that there was anything else in the 70s, cause to me it all sucks - it was just the most mindless, boring crap. Why listen to the radio when you can go home and listen to the Count Five, the Syndicate of Sound or the Mysterians on your record player? To me that was the greatest music in the world, nothing could even come close to it.
And how did you find out about that music?
I grew up with it, I was really young in the mid-sixties, but I had an older sister and she would bring home records all the time and of course I'd bring home records, too. There was a whole teen culture in America at that time, so if you were young it didn't matter, you could still have a good grasp of the music. I had a radio in 1963 that I got for Christmas and I knew everything that was going on. I knew all the Top Ten hits of my local radio station for the whole period, from '63 on, until it was worth following.
Until when was it worth for you?
Until you could see how things started to get worse every year, by '68 things where really take a nosedive, although there were still some good things around. But surely by the close of the decade it was all gone. Any way, what were we saying? Yeah, I wanted to put a band together. I was sitting in my car, sometime during that last year in high school and I heard "Time all that means" by the Outsiders coming out of the radio and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Of course I knew the song very well, but it just hit me like some kind of Buddhist revelation. To get a band together is just the coolest thing to do. So that's when I started about nine years ago.
Could you already play an instrument then?
No, not at all. I thought I would be the singer and get other people behind me. But over the years I learned how to play guitar and harmonica, write songs or whatever else I picked up. I started putting bands together then and there. First I started doing al lot of old Stones' material like "Grown up wrong" and "Off the hook". And a lot of Pretty Things and early Them and of course some obscure American stuff, too. About seven years ago we became the Unclaimed - before we were called the Uninvited, the Creeps, the Creatures, the Forgotten Few, the Forlorn. We had all these different names, because they were different line-ups. By the way these were pretty good names, which I could try out and see what happened.
How did you get hold of people to join your band?
I put ads in local papers and on the school's blackboard. You wouldn't believe the people I met, like these complete Heavy Metal idiots with a Rod Stewart hairdo - absolutely nobody looked right. I was really specific and telling them "Yeah, I want us to be a sixties punk group like the Standells, the Music Machine and the Chocolate Watchband". And those guys would turn up, playing those horrible 70s metal pop. It was terrible - it took me years to put it together.
Is that the reason why you've changed the line-up so often?
No, that was in the early days, before the Unclaimed. The turning point was when I hooked up with Sid Griffin; he joined years ago. It was around the time that I was getting very close to solidifying my plan once and for all. Sometimes people got tired of doing it, they got tired of wearing black. I guess they just weren't cool. They got tired of turtlenecks, complained it's too hot. They just were wimpy to be in the Unclaimed. We're not a colour group, man, we're too primitive, and we're into black and white. We are white but we wear black. Not in the sense of a racially statement, actually I would have killed myself to get some Mexicans in my group. First of all I think the ethnic cultures have the most rock 'n' roll in them. Secondly I have a great admiration for the Latin bands like the Mysterians and the Sir Douglas Quintet. All the Texas groups had a lot of Mexican-Americans in them. I think they look really cool for that reason, man, they look great and they play great. I have profound respect and admiration for Latins in American music. You know, I dig Sam The Sham so much, these cats really inherent it. Anyway, in the early days I had this cat, he was a Mexican and he looked like he stepped right out of the Mysterians. But he couldn't get it together.
No, it's just too many hardships. People think it's easy, but it's really hard to be in a band. You got to have so many things that you need like equipment. In LA you need a car, and you gotta live somewhere. You gotta be a pretty much together person if you gonna be in a band seriously.
Do you do anything outside the Unclaimed?
No, this is all I do. But back to your former question. Sid was in for a couple of years and I guess he wanted to do other things musically and he was sick of wearing black all the time. I remember he said that, when he quit and that is really the scoop.
Are there any recordings from that time except the Moxie one?
No, that's all that's out. I'm rather embarrassed about that single, I wish it had gone away already. It's recorded pretty badly, it's like a Zero production and I wasn't happy with the group. It just wasn't happening, there's too much internal dissension. Sid was always trying to do something else than I was doing. Even though he joined the Unclaimed and I'm sure he feels that he supported me, he wasn't, because he didn't have those kinds of guts. He was more into a kind of lighter sound. I loved the 60s punk first of all and I liked folk music and pop music from that period. He loved folk music and liked 60s punk. We never could come together on it. Also he wanted to write a lot, too. He was so much into the Byrds. I like the Byrds but I don't think he could write like they did. I thought, I could write more like the Count Five or the Watchband than he could write like the Byrds. Just because he had a twelve string that didn't make him a McGuinn. I mean, we're friends, I like him a lot; he's one of my favourite people in the whole scene. We just couldn't get together musically.
What about your second record, the mini-album on "Hysteria"? It was
released on a very low profile, wasn't it?
The songs on that one are pretty good, the performance are fine, too, really hot. What I don't like again is the production. We have a hard time with production; hopefully the next one will be better. The songs are good; it just wasn't recorded very well. You know, the engineer fucking hated us; he was just disgusted by us. Thought we were out of our minds or something. Again it was done very rapidly - like one take. It was done so fast that we spend a lot of time trying to correct the mistakes in recording. I suppose, if it sounded better and more people would have heard it, maybe better things could have happened. The next one is kind of an Unclaimed adventure; it's Lee Joseph and myself on the production end of it. The songs are all done, it was hard to record about two weeks ago, but we're gonna pick it up again. In the moment everybody is out of town, but we'll pick it up shortly.
What were the circumstances when Lee joined you?
He came out one summer; well I think there are a lot of things involved. I think he wanted to move to LA, maybe he was tired of what he did and he likes to be involved in many projects. So when he came out to LA a couple of years ago, he saw us playing and he liked the band. I talked to him for a while. I told him, that he was welcome to join the band, cause he looked real cool and he knew the music well. A couple of months later he came out to LA and became a member, after an audition. He joined the band playing guitar and organ, because we still had a bass player from the old group and another lead player. We played one or two shows like that and then I got sick of the old band, because they wanted to get a kind of metal sound, a modern metal sound.
Those were Rich Coffee and the others who are now the Fourgiven right?
Yeah, they're all good players, but I can't say anything better than that. Musically we weren't getting along anymore. They used to break into like ten minutes renditions of God-knows-what, stuff I know nothing about. So we parted and it took a couple of months to regroup. We were auditioning people at that time and Lee was playing bass in the audition and when we finally put the band back together again, he played bass ever since. He's a fine musician; his conceptual ability is great. He can think up a lot of good parts.
Who else is in your group now?
There is Danny Obler on guitar and Scott Forer on drums, a brilliant drummer.
Were they just hanging around you or how did you find them?
Well, Danny was bugging me about summer, he wanted to join the band and I wasn't too sure, it just didn't click. He bugged me for weeks and he was really dedicated. He had a great guitar, he knew the music and then one night, I called him saying: "Hey, you're in it man". He was after me for weeks and then he finally came to me in that Friday night at two in the morning. And he's brilliant, really excellent. I thought Rich was great and I can't take away anything from Rich, he's fine. I never thought I would find anyone this good, but then I found Danny and I was really pleased. We got Scott some time later. We had a couple of drummers in between that we played show with. But finally we got Scott and he's a fantastic drummer, he hits real hard, and he knows the music well.
Were Danny and Scott in bands before?
Sure, they played in bands before, but nothing cool. Excuse me, nothing trendy, because these guys are cool unto themselves and they decided to share it with the Unclaimed.
It seems that the Unclaimed are totally your group?
Well, people come and go over the years, but it was me who started the band years ago and the music for us never changed, our whole style and look never changed. We were there before the trend and when it dies we'll be there, if I'm still interested in playing at all.
Are there a lot of Latins, who are interested in the Unclaimed and their kind of music?
Actually, I don't know. I always wanted an audience like a Latin audience. We played with this band called Los Lobos a couple of years ago. We used to do some shows with them and they really knocked me out, cause they did this killer version of "Farmer John". They were really cool and I was talking to one of the members about playing to Latin audiences and he didn't know if they're into it so much. I admire Los Lobos because they are not into a trend, they're not copying anybody, they're just doing what they dig and I respect that. Most of the bands today, they are just trend hopping. They'll do something else tomorrow. I'm not trying to intellectualise the matter too much, but for me the difference is, most bands try too hard to do something and they go "We play these guitars and we grow our hair this way". But it doesn't work like this. You see, you can have it all down outwardly and it can be all bad, because it should come from the inside. The main thing is that you got it inside. It's kind of like the monk who tries to be the Buddha, so he shaves his head and he meditates. But, you know, the Buddha is not trying to be the Buddha, the Buddha is the Buddha, he is there. The monk has to look to the Buddha and he tries real hard, but he can't make it, so he's trying and trying, but he's still not doing it. Even though he looks like him and he meditates like him, he misses the whole point.
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