Q&A With the Fluid's John Robinson
John Robinson of the Fluid, which reunited on June 20 at the Bluebird Theater (click here and here for the lowdown), is one of the great should-have-beens in the annals of Denver rock. He had everything it took to be a star of global proportions, but for whatever reason, it didn't happen. Nevertheless, he exudes grace, not bitterness, throughout the extensive Q&A below.
Robinson shares tales of his Texas youth and early musical inspirations; his move to Boulder and acquaintance with drummer Garrett Shavlik; his observations of the Fluid and other bands than stirring up a racket in these parts; Shavlik's invitation for him to sing with the remnants of a group called MadHouse, which co-starred Rick Kulwicki, James Clower and Matt Bischoff; the Fluid's acceptance among members of the hardcore contingent despite the fact that the outfit didn't really fit the mold; early recordings and the difficulty of capturing the Fluid's live sound; a detailed description of the Fluid's leap from a European imprint, Glitterhouse, to Seattle's Sub Pop, and the role a collective called Green River played in making it happen; the misadventure with Hollywood Records, which was exacerbated by executives' interest in teaming the Denver five with none other than the Goo Goo Dolls; the Fluid's fracture in the wake of Robinson's decision to pursue quieter music; a possible collaboration between Robinson, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan that fate prevented from happening; the New United Monster Show, a New York-based musical creation that proved to be another near miss; excursions into modeling and set design; a meeting with two Sub Pop executives planning the label's 20th anniversary festival, which sparked the Fluid reunion; and his interest in cementing the band's legacy.
He's just about to write another chapter.
Westword (Michael Roberts): Where are you from originally?
John Robinson: League, Texas - like Little League.
WW: I'm not familiar with that. Where's it near?
JR: It's in between Houston and Galveston. At this point, it's basically a suburb of Houston. When I was a kid, it was basically just a tiny little Texas town. For me, I basically came from the Houston punk scene prior to moving to Colorado. In the late '70s, there was a great punk scene in Houston, and I am mostly a product of that scene.
WW: Let's back up a little bit. How did you first get into music?
JR: Really, the Fluid was my first real band. I've always been a fan of music, and even from a really, really early age, I was always looking for something that had a certain edge to it. I grew up as a big Rolling Stones fan and later got into Alice Cooper, and after that Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, David Bowie, Lou Reed. That kind of music. I was always listening to rock music, and all of it was something that had some kind of an edge, whether it being in the guitars or in the lyrics or in the personalities. But better if it were all of the above.
I never played an instrument, but in the late '70s, I found the Houston punk scene, and it was really vibrant - and seeing all of that really kicked me into high gear with it. When I was a little kid, once I got into the Rolling Stones, I decided at that point that I really wanted to be a singer in a rock band, but it wasn't until the Fluid that I got a chance to do that.
WW: So in Houston, you were more a fan of the scene than a participant in it.
WW: When did you move to Colorado?
JR: For me, it was back and forth a lot in my childhood, because my father lived in Boulder. I was typically in Boulder over the summers and a little bit in between. I lived in Boulder for a year around '79 and for a year around '81, and then relocated there permanently in '84, and ended up in Denver in late '84, and stayed throughout the term of the Fluid.
WW: When you arrived in Colorado before permanently relocating, did you explore the music scene? And how did it compare to the one you knew in Houston?
JR: I did. The year I went to high school there, at Fairview High School, I saw a lot of shows in Denver. During that time period, the original Mercury was open, and I saw a lot of shows there. During that time, it was like the Young Weasels, and there were a lot of touring bands that came through: Gun Club and those kinds of bands. And later, in '81, Garrett from the Fluid and I were roommates in Boulder, and he and James were playing in White Trash, and was seeing a lot of shows in Denver at the Pirate and places like that. And the Frantix were playing a lot back then. I saw them quite a few times during that year.
WW: How did you meet Garrett?
JR: Garrett and I met in high school, the year I was in high school in Boulder, '79-'80. We were in the same class, in the same school, and we kind of recognized each other. Really, there wasn't anybody who was into punk rock or anything, and you could tell if they were. I was coming from Houston, where there was already a really well-established punk scene, and I had already kind of made that transition in the way I looked and everything.
And so that year, in Boulder, there really wasn't anybody there... There were people who were listening to the music, but there wasn't really a scene, and there weren't people who had made a complete shift in the way they appeared and everything. So it was kind of cool in that anybody who was aware of punk rock, and was listening to that kind of music, would say "Hello" and "What are you into?" Garrett was one of those kinds of people, and we hit it off right away. We traded records and things.
WW: Tell me about your memories of seeing the Frantix play. How good a live band were they?
JR: I always really enjoyed it. The scene in Denver was... well, compared to what I was used to, the scene in Denver was a little young. There was a heavy Los Angeles influence in it - kind of a thrash influence in the scene in general. And coming from the Texas punk rock scene, that was a little bit of an older scene, and the people who were making it happen were a little bit older. There wasn't a violent element in it at all, and there was one in Denver - and I was a little put off by that. But the Frantix, I always remember it being a really electrifying show. They had a couple of songs that had a lot of hooks in them, and you definitely had those songs kicking around in your head for a while after you'd seen them.
WW: After the Frantix ended, the band transitioned into MadHouse - and that didn't last very long. Is that right?
JR: That was during a time when I wasn't living in Colorado. I had moved back to Houston in '82, and got married and came back to Colorado in '84. And so I ended up working downtown in Denver, and I think Garrett heard I was down there, and came down and said "Hello" and said, "We've got a band together. You should sing for us. Come and try out." In my listening taste, I had steered really far away from punk rock. I'd sold all my Ramones records. It's kind of crazy when I think about it. I thought I was through with listening to all that music.
WW: What were you listening to instead?
JR: I was listening to a lot of super-peaceful stuff. I had just about worn the grooves out on all my early Brian Eno records - maybe even not the early stuff, but all the ambient series. Music For Airports and all that kind of stuff. Some of the early new age stuff. Bob Marley. I was really listening to a lot of really peaceful stuff. In that kind of post-punk time period, some of the musicians in those bands steered toward rock music, and some of the others steered toward making really pretty music, like the spinoffs from Talking Heads - the Tom Tom Club or whatever. So I was steering towards really pretty stuff, and I had pulled out my old Rolling Stones records and had grown my hair really long, basically as a reflection and rebellion against the punk movement.
Then Garrett comes walking in, and he's got super-long hair. We were both a little surprised. He said, "We've got a band. We're just playing straight-up rock and roll. You should check it out." Of course, that was MadHouse. I don't know how long they were doing it, but I knew all of the members. Matt and James both, were from the Boulder scene - and sorry, I didn't know Rick personally, but I knew him from the Frantix, so I knew who he was. So I met Rick and we hit it off, and I went and listened to what they were doing, and I thought, I've always wanted to sing with a band, and this sounds like the first music I ever got into, so it's probably the perfect place for me to start. And we all gelled.
WW: How did Garrett know that you'd be the perfect singer, since you hadn't sung in a band before?
JR: Well, actually, that's probably a missing link in what I've described. When we were in high school together, that junior year in '79, we both had little bands we put together. Mine, we didn't even compose our own songs. Me and some friends got together and played covers. We learned Sex Pistols and Joe Jackson and stuff like that. And Garrett had his own band, and I can't remember if they were doing originals or covers or what. But one evening, our two bands decided to put on a performance in our high school, and the high school was agreeable to it, and we actually played in the auditorium on a Friday night, and that was it. It's kind of interesting, because that's pretty much all my quote-unquote band ever did, but that was enough to clue him in that I might be an option for the Fluid.
WW: Do you remember the name of that band?
JR: I do: the misguided name of Death Wish.
WW: Apparently you had one, since it didn't last very long.
JR: It's kind of funny. We got that name from a Police song. It didn't mean anything more to us than that. It's kind of funny when I think back that five guys thought it was a cool name. However, Garrett's band had the cool name of Editorial (laughs).
WW: Was it clear from the first moment you sang with the band that you guys had chemistry and the potential to be great live?
JR: It was clear to me, and I can only assume that to them, I was more of what they were looking for than the other people who auditioned. I knew the other people who had tried out for them, or got to know them later, and they were all people in the scene who were cool guys. But I guess there was something that worked for those guys as well. But for me, I thought they were great from the get-go. I thought that they sounded really, really good. And again, coming from punk rock, what they were doing to me sounded very much like the Rolling Stones. When I listen to Punch n Judy, when I listen to the first record now, it very much sounds like punk rock with a Stones influence. But at the time, to my ears, it sounded really groovy.
WW: When the Fluid first started playing out, was there an immediate impact? Did people immediately think, this is a new level for a Denver band?
JR: My impression is that we did have an immediate impact. Our shows were very well attended, and we always had great bands wanting to do shows with us. We usually booked our own shows in various music halls, and would put three or four other bands on the bill. So it ramped up really quickly in Denver in my recollection. There was never any animosity toward us, but Denver, at the time, there was still a residual hardcore scene there, and all of those guys knew the guys in the Fluid.
And it's kind of interesting: The only people I knew who had grown their hair out long were all basically in the Fluid. And all of us were maybe a year or two older than a lot of the people in the scene or were a year or two earlier in the punk scene than a lot of people were in the scene. So it was natural for us to make a progression out of it, but a lot of the different punks didn't really get it. They liked a bunch of our music, but then again, I think they hated looking onstage and seeing a bunch of guys with long hair. They came up in a scene that taught them they weren't supposed to like that.
WW: Was there a "You're a heretic" or "You're a sellout" vibe? Or was it more mild discomfort at what you were doing?
JR: I guess, through my eyes, a mild discomfort. I just don't think they really got it. Especially in the punk scene and what it continues to be today, people kind of buy this package, where it's got to be all of these things or it's not cool. And back then, we were playing music I think they thought was pretty cool. But the fact that we might be wearing purple Beatle boots and long hair, they thought that was supposed to be not cool. So they just seemed confused by us. At the same time, they came to the shows, and for the most part, they didn't cause too many problems. We were frequently getting banned from one venue or another because somebody would get too rowdy and break something or punch holes in the walls. That was typically the skinheads would do that, and we didn't like that too much, but we liked the fact that our shows were well-attended and rowdy.
WW: It sounds like that cut both ways. On the one hand, it gave you guys a reputation that drew more people in, but there weren't that many places to play, and you were perhaps alienating some club owners.
JR: In the beginning, we were kind of doing our only thing: booking shows at the German House and stuff like that. So early on, we weren't really playing too many clubs anyway. And there seemed to be a lot more exciting in creating events out of each show and more fun for us, more money. I don't really even remember the earliest clubs we were playing in then. But it wasn't very long after that when some of the newer clubs came up. 23 Parrish and places like that.
WW: You mentioned Punch n Judy earlier. How did that come together?
JR: Well, about half of those songs were songs that MadHouse had completed, lyrics and everything, and I just learned them, and liked them. And the others, we wrote like we always did, collectively, at practice. One of the guitar players would usually come in with a well-defined riff, and we would work with it and work with it and kind of arrange a song together. And then, more often than not, I'd write the melodies and lyrics for it - although that wasn't always true, either. So half of the songs they had, and half of them I contributed to in some way.
There was a guy in Denver who was a big fan of ours named Brian Nelson. He was younger, but had kind of an entrepreneurial spirit about him, and I guess he had a little money to play with from a lawsuit. He'd had some sort of an accident where he was hit by a vehicle as a pedestrian, and there was some money - there was a settlement. He came to us and said, "I've got a little money to play with, and I really like you guys. I'd like you to make a single, and I'll pay for it." And we said, "Great," and started thinking about it. And we thought, if we're going to book this studio time, and we've got all these songs. Why don't we record more songs? So we went back to him and said, "Hey, if we're going into the studio anyway, why don't we record a few more songs and make an EP?" And he said, "That would be great." And then we started thinking further, and thought, if we've got all these songs, and we're going into the studio anyway, why not make an album?" And he said, "Okay, sounds good to me."
And so we booked the time and took a few friends of ours who were engineers into a studio and did it. And even though we pulled in locals that knew how to engineer and all of that stuff, I think all of us were a little bit uncertain how to capture the sound that we had. There was a lot of experimentation going on with mic placement on the amps. We were trying to get that really big guitar sound, so we were putting the amps in a really big room and cranking them really loud and putting a room mic on the other side of the room as well as one up-close to it. That's something we never repeated on any of the other recordings we made, but we were just trying to figure it out. I don't know that we were too successful at getting the sound we were after. But in hindsight, I think there were some pretty good sounds on that record.
WW: In talking to James and Rick, both of them talk about frustration about not being able to capture the band's live sound on a recording. Do you think any of them really captured about what was best about you guys onstage?
JR: I think all bandmembers share that frustration. I'm not sure that we came anywhere close to capturing what we actually sounded like. However, there are a few moments here and there. In general, the record Glue, to me, has the best sound - has the loudest and livest sound to it. To me, the sound of that record still holds up, whereas all the others are questionable and probably can be made better by remixing and remastering at this point. So no, I don't think we ever really captured it, and I think all of our fans who saw the band live would agree.
But we were always under the gun. We had no money to make records, even once we moved on to labels that were fronting the money for recording costs. It was very little, and we were recording and mixing those records in four or five days sometimes. Certainly less than a week. Especially for me at the end, once all the basic tracks were down, and I had maybe a day, a day and a half, two days if I was lucky, to do all of the vocals and some of the backing vocals. I was always under the gun, and you just had to say, that's good enough, let's move on.
WW: If James' memory is correct, the exception to that was Purplemetalflakemusic. He told me you guys actually spent $125,000 recording that album. Does that ring true to you?
JR: I'm not really sure of the amount of money we spent, to be honest. We had that much to spend, and we spent a good deal of it, but I don't know the exact figure. I don't think we spent that much money on actual recording and mixing costs, but it could have been.
WW: That was a much different process of recording, from what I'm told. James talked about it being a four-week process.
JR: It was. We had a more leisurely recording process with that. I don't think it garnered the results it should have. But that's get into a time period when I think we were making some bad decisions - one of them being our choice of producers for that record. Mike Bosley, who was the one who produced it, was someone who was philosophically very much in alignment with the band, and we thought he could do a really good job, but perhaps it wasn't the best choice - especially considering the conversations with the other producers who wanted to make the record.
The most notable of those was Tony Visconti, who really wanted to make that record. We had a conference call with him when we were up at Hollywood Records in Los Angeles, and he was very, very eager to make the record. Of course, that's something we all really listened to. All of us knew clearly who he was. And it got around to the money part of it, he said, "I want to make the record so badly that I'll do it for half of my normal fees." And we said, "What is that?" And he said, "$40,000." And we said, "That's half?" And he said, "Yes." We got off the phone and all looked at each other. Our last record, with Butch Vig, was made for something like $4,400. We were coming from such a do-it-yourself arena that the thought of that much money going to one person to make a record, it was inconceivable to us.
And in hindsight, it shouldn't have been money that dictated our decision on who we chose to make the record. To me, now, it's such a no-brainer. A band like ours, at the time, to have moved on to Tony Visconti to make the record - that probably would have been a really good choice. Would we have made a better record? I don't know. Would Hollywood have recouped their costs? I don't know. But it was flattering that he was interested in it, and I think Hollywood probably would have gotten behind the record a little bit more. I think it probably would have energized the label more than having us go in with a record where we had cut costs to make it a particular way.
WW: At that point, since Nevermind had already come out, I imagine that Butch Vig's fee was pretty high, too. Was he ever in the running?
JR: We didn't speak with him directly, and it could be that he just wasn't available then. But it's another strange thing in hindsight. In hindsight, I can't believe we didn't just go back to Butch. I think that we had a limited time period in which to make the record and he wasn't available, and so he came off the list. If we were to do it again today, I wouldn't give it a second thought as whether to go with Butch Vig.
WW: We've gotten away from chronology here. Could we flash back to Sub Pop getting interested in the band? I understand that came through a connection with Glitterhouse.
JR: Correct. When Punch n Judy came out, we sent it around to all the relevant fanzines at the time and ended up getting all very positive reviews. Most of our reviews sited a handful of bands: the New York Dolls, the MC5, the Stooges, etc. And Reinhard Holstein, who ran Glitterhouse Records, had read the reviews and he had a guy who was in one of his bands and needed to come to Denver on a business trip. And he asked that guy to look up the Fluid and bring back our material.
Rick ended up at a bar one night talking to this guy who was in town from Germany, and they had a few beers and were really hitting it off. And after about a three-hour conversation, the guy looks at him and says, "You're really from here. You've been here a while. Do you know the Fluid?" Rick says, "Yes." He says, "Do you know how to get a-hold of them?" And Rick says, "I'm in the Fluid." I think that was one of those really coincidental moments for both of them.
So we looked back all of our stuff, and he liked it, and he wanted to put out Punch n Judy over there, and he did so, and it sold really well in the first six months it was out. I think he sold about 3,000 copies in the first six or eight months, which was a lot. So he financed our second album, and we recorded that in Denver. We recorded eighteen songs and put out an eleven song selection, Clear Black Paper, in Germany. And then Glitterhouse became aware of Green River and wanted to release their record on his label, and called Sub Pop and said he had an American band on his label that you guys would probably like, and he'd send them the tapes, and if they liked it, they could do a license trade. So he sent Sub Pop our music, and they liked it and called us and said, "We want to put out your record." And nobody else was doing it, so we agreed.
WW: At that point, what was your awareness level of Sub Pop? Had you heard of it? Or was it new to you?
JR: Totally new. Nobody had heard about them, really. They had a couple of releases, but there wasn't much going on there yet. In fact, there wasn't really much of that scene in Seattle yet. It was just bubbling up. But by the time Clear Black Paper came out on Sub Pop, that was their twelfth release, and that includes cassettes that Bruce [Pavitt] was putting out called Subterranean Pop. They'd put out a handful of cassettes. I don't know how many. And then they'd put out a few singles and a few EPs. So Clear Black Paper was their first LP by a single artist, and their first release from a band that wasn't right in the Northwest.
WW: When you visited the Northwest, did you sense that something big was about to happen - something that could have larger repercussions? Or did it seem to be a bunch of musicians pretty much like yourselves?
JR: I wouldn't say there was much of a sense there would be larger repercussions from that scene. However, when we first got there for our first live show, it was clear there was a good rock scene there. Soundgarden was there, Mother Love Bone was there. Green River had already broken up and from that, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone had formed. Our first show up there was Soundgarden and us and Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney opening.
So it was clear there was a good scene there, and they were very, very appreciative of us from the first show on. Our first show in Seattle was just as manic as any shows we ever had in Denver. There was definitely something buzzing, but at that time, it didn't necessarily seem like a better rock scene than anything else that was happening in the country. It had a little bit of cohesion to it in that there were a handful of bands that were at least orbiting around the same concept that we were - the same type of music that we were doing.
WW: When things started to take off, and there was a frenzy of signing Sub Pop bands to major labels, it took you guys a little while to get signed by one. Was it frustrating at all to watch it happening for others and not for you?
JR: It wasn't as frustrating seeing it happen for other people as it was just frustrating that it took a long time for us. We were happy to see people succeed who were from that scene. It took us a long time to get a deal after Glue was released, and it was a strange lull. After Glue was released and we severed our relationship with Sub Pop, which had more to do with a lack of financial support from them than anything else - after that happened, we kept touring as if we had a new record.
We stayed out on the road as much as we ever did, and a lot of our shows had become A&R fests. We were being told every couple of months by somebody, "Oh, Virgin's going to sign you guys." "Oh, cool." "Oh, Geffen's definitely going to sign you guys." "Oh, cool." Elektra - we heard the same thing about Elektra. Somebody in the business would call and say, "Elektra's definitely going to make an offer," and we started getting flown around by these labels and taking meetings with Geffen, Virgin, Elektra - having dozens of A&R people at shows who were schmoozing with each other.
It was confusing that it took so long for somebody to drop an offer. It got to the point where we were sitting in these people's offices and they'd talk and talk and finally, they'd say, "Do you have any questions for us?" And we'd say, "Yeah - are you going to sign us or not? Either way is okay by us, but everybody's telling us you're going to sign us. What do you say?" Finally, the head of Hollywood Records came through with a big offer, and one that was big enough, and had time parameters built into the offer, to prevent a bidding war. He put it on the table, and we called all these other labels, and we said, "If you aim to bid on us, you need to bid now. We have a good offer on the table and we aim to take it unless you convince us otherwise that we shouldn't."
None of us knew Hollywood Records any better than we knew Sub Pop in 1987, but one of the things we felt we were looking for in our limited understanding of how the music industry worked is that the president of the label is the one who really got what you're doing - and Peter Paterno did. He sat down with us, and it was pretty much him who outlined the offer. There were A&R people there who were interested in us, certainly, and there were people there who'd know the band for years who helped snowball Hollywood Records. But once we sat down with Peter and he was able to talk about specific songs intelligently, and he was able to talk about what he thought our influences were intelligently, and he was accurate in that. We just thought, "It's a big deal. The president of the label is into it. What more could you ask for?" So we made the deal.
WW: In retrospect, should the fact that Hollywood hadn't ever had success with a band like yours been considered?
JR: It should have. That shouldn't have precluded them from being able to do a good job with us, but Hollywood had machinery that didn't work too well for any of the bands they signed. The only thing that kept money coming in to the label at that point was the fact that they'd purchased the whole back catalogue of Queen. The bands that they were signing, like the Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E. to - I can't even remember what the other records they were putting out were at the time. Musically, the bands were all across the boards, and I don't think they were able to make a success out of anything.
So should they have known what to do right? Yeah, even though they hadn't had any successes. But it's hard to say. Hollywood probably didn't market us correctly, and at the same time, the band made many decisions that were misguided as well. So having a label that didn't work us properly and probably didn't know exactly what to do with us, and then at the same time having a DIY punk band trying to marry its philosophy with the music business - that was uncomfortable all the way around.
WW: Was Peter Paterno still in charge when the album came out? Or was that part of the problem?
JR: He was still there when the album came out, and while we were on tour, I think, was when he started to be demoted, and all of a sudden there were other names and other voices on the phone with us sometimes. So that could have had something to do with it. Then again, we were attempting to keep the same momentum in the same way. By that time, we were a very well-oiled touring machine.
We'd made money on our tours from '87 onwards. We'd always made money on our tours - not a tremendous amount, but enough to pay your mortgage on your house after you got home from being on the road. So it was really easy to keep it going, because there was money coming in for our efforts. But once we moved on to Hollywood Records, and there were more slices of the pie going out to more and more different entities, it looked like we weren't going to be able to make any money touring any more. And Hollywood wanted us to go out in support of the Goo Goo Dolls.
JR: Yeah. And the Goo Goo Dolls hadn't broken yet. They weren't a big band. We were getting offers to open tours for the Ramones, we were getting offers to open tours for the Buzzcocks, and we were still wanting to do our own tours. So to go on tour with the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, that felt familiar to us, and was something we really wanted to do. And Hollywood wouldn't support those shows. They said, "The people at those shows are older. They're going to the shows for nostalgic reasons, and they're not record buyers - and we don't want to spend the money to put you guys on those shows." They said, "Will everybody at those shows love the Fluid? Sure. Will they go out and buy the record? I don't think so."
I'm not so sure that was true, but that's the way they felt. And they said, "On the other hand, we want you to go out on a national tour opening for the Goo Goo Dolls, and the Goo Goo Dolls love you. You're the only band that all three members of the Goo Goo Dolls agree on for a support act." And we said, "That's very flattering, but realistically, you've got to understand our position. We just moved from indie labels internationally to a major label for one global release, and already we're running the risk of alienating a certain percentage of our fans just for having made that move. If our next step is to go out and open up for the Goo Goo Dolls, we're going to lose the rest of them."
We tried to get them to understand who we were and that we weren't against making good business decisions, but everything had to be considered. They kept harping on it, and finally we said, "Okay, give us a list of all the places the Goo Goo Dolls are going to play. If it means that to do that tour we're playing for a lot more people than we'd normally play for, perhaps we'll do it." So they gave us a list of the venues, and it was pretty much all the places we were already playing on our own, headlining. So we declined.
WW: So the one tour after the album came out was a headlining tour?
WW: During that time, had cracks already started to appear in the band? Or were the problems with Hollywood really the central reason for the breakup?
JR: My impression may be different than the other guys. It's pretty easy to say that Hollywood had more to do with it than anything else. I guess to answer that, I would say there are a lot of stresses on the band and on the relationships within the band that trying to move into the music business created. We weren't happy with Hollywood, we weren't happy with a hundred different suggestions of things that nobody thought were good ideas, or thought were cool. So there were definitely stresses within the band that were created by Hollywood, or our relationship with Hollywood. But at the same time, I kind of look at the Fluid as an implosion. I think it kind of fell apart from the inside out. I guess as the relationships within the band started to sour a little bit, I see it mostly as just stresses that were created externally and weren't managed very well internally.
WW: After the breakup, what did you do?
JR: The first thing I did was modeling for about a year, just because an opportunity fell in my lap to make a little money. I got an agency in New York and went to Paris for a month and really tried to do that. I never did do much, but it paid the bills for about a month. I ended up moving to New York and put another band together there in the mid-'90s with Jim Wallerstein from Das Damen. We were called the New United Monster Show, and after a few years of rehearsing a lot and writing and recording a lot, we became a pretty good band. But at that time in New York, it wasn't very easy to get yourself seen and heard. We ended up demoing and showcasing for a couple of years, and then it just sort of fell apart in equally stupid ways. Different ways, but equally stupid.
That's the only thing I've done musically since the Fluid, and that ended in mid-'99. I had what seemed like it was going to be an interesting opportunity present itself right after the Fluid broke up. Nirvana came through Denver at the end of '93 - I think it was in December - and I was hanging out with them. Of course, the Fluid was friendly with all the bands that came off of Sub Pop, and we would typically always hang out with them when our paths crossed. Nirvana would typically stay at my house prior to Nirvana-mania when they were touring like the rest of us did, in a van.
I was talking to Kurt after the show, and they were all very curious about what had happened with the Fluid. They were all big fans, and of course, we'd done a handful of shows together before they blew up. At the time, I was feeling a little bit bruised, I think, and just wanted to do really pretty music. I had a piano songs at home, and I was writing songs on piano - and when I started to think of additional instruments, I was thinking along the lines of cellos and French horns. I wanted to do something really soft and pretty and described that to Kurt, and he said he wanted to do exactly the same thing. I said, "I'm just a little tired of screaming," and he looked at me and said, "Me, too." And he said, "You know what? I've been talking to Mark Lanegan from the Screaming Trees - we've been talking about making a record like the one you're describing. Why don't you come to Seattle and make this record with us? We'll do three or four of your songs, three or four of mine, three or four of Mark's, and make a pretty record."
Of course, I was excited about that prospect. He told me they had one more tour to do in support of In Utero over in Europe, and told me that when they got off the road, why don't you go in and record the songs you have while we're doing this tour, and then send me a cassette and we'll start working on this project after I get off the road. He didn't survive very much longer after that tour in Europe ended, and I'm not sure if that ever would have become a reality. But at the time, I thought that would become my next project after the Fluid, and I was very excited about that possibility for numerous reasons. One, I knew Kurt fairly well by that time and liked him. And I really appreciated him as a songwriter. It never was a mystery to me why Nirvana blew up bigger than anyone else. It was clear to me that they just had the best songs. Their songs had a structure to them that was a little bit unlike everybody else's. And then the other aspect of that is, if my first followup to the Fluid was making a record like that, it probably would have been a pretty cool thing.
WW: What are you doing now, aside from Fluid-related projects?
JR: For the last eleven years, I've been a freelance set designer. I do a bit of creative direction and set design, prop styling, that kind of thing. I work mostly in still-photography advertising. I've been fairly lucky with that stuff, too. It's something I started doing when I lived in New York, and now I live in New York and just outside of Austin, Texas. I've been lucky with this work. I've gotten to work on a lot of really prestigious advertising campaigns. I've gotten to do a lot of work with Target, did a lot of their national billboards - a couple of hundred of their big, branding billboards. So I've been kind of lucky working on campaigns like that - mostly print and outdoor advertising. Primarily that's what I've been doing the last eleven years.
WW: I understand you're the one who ran into Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop and lit the fuse for the reunion idea. Is that correct?
JR: I ran into Jonathan, but he lit the fuse with me. He and Megan Jasper from Sub Pop, both, I ran into them at a Band of Horses showcase in New York, and they told me about the 20th year reunion and were very flattering about the Fluid in general, and about what the Fluid meant to the Seattle scene and to the label early on, and strongly encouraged me, in a very positive way, to consider reuniting for their show. They were both really genuine and really sweet, and I always thought that a Fluid reunion of sorts was in the cards someday. After fifteen years, this seemed like a good opportunity to do it.
WW: Had you stayed in touch with all the other guys?
JR: Not everybody. I hadn't spoken with Garrett, but the other guys, I stayed in touch with in a peripheral kind of way. I was moving around and had moved to other cities, so I wasn't really staying in close contact with anybody. But we never really lost contact, either.
WW: When you floated Jonathan's idea to everyone else, was there immediate enthusiasm? Or was there some trepidation on some of their part?
JR: I think everybody was immediately enthusiastic about doing it, but there was trepidation about whether or not they felt everybody would want to do it. Everybody internally really wanted to do it, but I'm not sure we all thought everybody else would be into it. It took about a week for everybody to get back to me after I first floated the idea, and after a couple of weeks, I got e-mails back from everybody with thumbs up. At that point, it just got to be surreal to think about being another Fluid show.
WW: What are your expectations about the reunion? And are you thinking about anything beyond these shows? Or are the shows enough at this point?
JR: Well, I expect that the two shows we're going to do will be really good. I expect the band will be as good as we ever were, if not better. That was kind of a prerequisite going in. All of the members agreed that the only reason not to do it is if we ended up being less than we ever were onstage. So there's effort going into making us just as good as we ever were, if not better. So I expect that we'll be really good, and I expect that we'll have a really good time. And beyond that, I don't know. I don't think anybody in the band is particularly closing any doors to it becoming more. But at the same time, I think we'll all probably wait and see if any other opportunities present themselves.
I can imagine other things happening. Will it become a full-blown reunion tour? That's not likely. But I can imagine there will be a few opportunities that present themselves that we will all be amenable to. I don't need it to be anything more than it's going to be this summer, but one thing I'd like to see become of it is to have our recordings revisited and remixed and remastered and to see maybe a best of the early years digital release come out. Another byproduct of this reunion is that we're capturing the story of the Fluid really for the first time and putting a website together. Nobody in the band has put any effort together toward a MySpace page or anything like that, so our story is still untold and is therefore intact. It's never been watered down and never been told. So we're using this opportunity to pull it all together and choosing elements from our past whether it's photos or fliers or videos or recordings to tell the story of the band. As it turns out, we played a neat part in the incubation and in the explosion of the early '90s rock scene, and the part that we played is largely unknown.
WW: For you, it sounds like being able to get that part of musical history out there make the reunion worthwhile. But I gather that you also think it's going to be fun, too.
JR: Oh, I think it's going to be great fun - and it's time. It's been fifteen years and the guys in the Fluid are all my brothers. It feels really good to be doing something to honor what the Fluid was, and if that's all this ends up being, that's enough for me. I think that none of us really sit around talking about the Fluid being a great band, or sit around listening to our records. But at the same time, I think everyone in the band realizes that we played an important part, and that we were typically about two steps ahead of what was going on musically. So it'll be fun to honor what it is that we did. And what comes of it, I don't think anybody's really predicting where it goes from here. But I think it'll be interesting to see if it does go anywhere else.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.