By Jeff Walsh, Oasis Editor
Pansy Division knows what people say about them: They're a gimmick band, a bit too penis-centric and not to be taken seriously. And there are enough songs which support that theory, quite honestly. But as bassist Chris Freeman pointed out in a recent interview with Oasis, they might be seen as a gimmick band, but they're about to release their fifth album and making a living. The new album, "More Lovin' From Our Oven" on Lookout Records, is a compilation of their latest EPs.
Freeman said that compilation will mark the end of Pansy's run of "dick songs" and launch a new direction for the band, which is now a four-piece with the addition of luscious drummer Luis and lead guitarist Patrick. Freeman said the band's overall influence is The Beatles and that they serve as an indication of the future direction of Pansy Division.
Oasis was present the first night Pansy Division ever played as a four-piece, and the results were a definite improvement, adding new depth to Pansy staple songs like "Fem in a Black Leather Jacket." With this new direction, Pansy Division may very well be poised to be the Fag Fab Four.
Oasis: So, it seems a lot of new things are happening with Pansy Division. What brought on the changes?
Chris Freeman: We've been doing the same thing for over five years now. So, we wanted to have a little difference in our sound and one of the obvious weak points in our sound has been the guitar. Jon has always been the only guitar player and we've always gone along with that as part of the 'charm' of Pansy Division. But we'd always get feedback -- not directly, but indirectly -- that people didn't take us seriously because of our guitar. It wasn't this big guitar sound. And we thought, let's go that way and add some melodic guitar on top of what we were doing.
O: Jon has mainly been playing rhythm?
CF: Jon's been doing rhythm all the time. We're going to break up the parts a little bit, make it fuller. We'll have three-part back-up harmony soon.
O: What's the name of the new album?
CF: It's called "More Lovin' From Our Oven' and it's going to be a collection of the seven-inches we've put out. One of them was before 'Wish I'd Taken Pictures,' and then three after that.
O: It's kind of like another 'Pile Up'?
CF: Exactly. And it will have old stuff from the original demos and live stuff, little odds and ends that we recorded here and there that ended up on tribute albums and compilations.
O: One of the things people still seem to think is that Pansy Division is all just a humor, or joke band that people listen to for a while, but there isn't as much of a lasting impact. Is that something you're trying to address?
CF: I don't think it's going to change much on this record, since our singles are a chance for us to be wacky and just do a little verse of one thing or another. I'm sure we'll get a lot of 'Oh, it's just Pansy Division being silly again,' but the songs that we're writing now which we'll be recording for the sixth record, which will come out early next year, are going to be a lot more serious in nature. There probably won't be as many 'dick songs,' which is kind of what we call them. You can only rewrite the same song so many times. We're going to try and write together more, as well.
O: What's the connection with [record producer] Steve Albini?
CF: In January, we went and did nine songs with him. And it was truly a great experience. He was really good to work with. I think he's one of the truly great recording engineers around.
O: Those recording will be on this album?
CF: Yes, those two singles are out right now on seven-inch, and they'll be on the CD.
O: Good, because I've always looked at your seven-inches, but I've never had a record player, so I always wait for the CDs to come out.
CF: That's why we didn't wait as long for this one, and we're starting to de-emphasize the seven-inches after a while. We've kind of played out our ideas. For example, the metal tribute only lasts three songs. We don't want to go too far. We're probably not going to do EPs like this anymore.
O: And is this the end of your Spinal Tap drummer odyssey?
CF: I believe so. I feel like we've finally hit the right lineup. It's the right group of people and the right feeling between us. And with Patrick in the band, it's just going to get better. The four of us get along very well.
O: What's the creative mix as far as when you're writing?
CF: It's going to change. When we first started, Jon had two albums' worth of material and the first album was already recorded when I joined the band. So, my job was to come in and help him sift through the songs and determine what would make a good album, what would make a single, and just sort of arrange things. And I had to get used to how he was writing, and sort of write in that mode. Because I had been writing all sorts of songs, but nothing like what I had gotten into with Pansy Division. So, it took me a while to sort out how it was going to be. And I would throw little songs in like 'Here's James Bondage, what do you think of this?' 'Yeah, that fits the whole thing.' And as that group of material tapered off, he would come in with partially written songs and we would finish them. So, like, half of 'Wish I'd Taken Pictures' we wrote together and there's a couple of mine on there. And, so, Jon writes a batch and I write a batch and we just put them together. The last two singles, we wrote just about every song together, and I assume that will be continuing.
O: Will it be expanding now?
CF: It should also expand so that we're all writing together in the studio. We've never jammed. We're not a jam band. We usually go in with finished songs and just work the arrangements out. We've never really sat down and came up with music spontaneously, which is something I like to do, but we've just never done it. We want to try and do that more. In our rehearsals, we've been playing around with stuff like that.
O: How did 'Pictures' do as far as sales?
CF: It did as well as our other records. I'm not sure why it didn't do more. We did a lot more publicity for it. We did a video, and spent a lot more money, but looking at it in terms of the big picture, everybody had bad sales in 1996. So, I think we did pretty well. We're not dissatisfied with it, but we were hoping for more.
O: What about the video [for 'I Really Wanted You'], I know I saw it on 120 Minutes, did they play that a lot.
CF: No, they played it once on MTV. That one showing. You saw the only showing. But they have another channel called M2, and we've been played eight or nine times on M2.
O: And that's your only video?
CF: Yeah, well, that's the only showable video. We have another video, but we won't get into that. We're going to make another video probably within in the next couple of weeks for the song 'Manada,' which is our Canadian single. We're going to do it really cheap. The last video cost us like $5,200, which was pretty low by video standards, but on this one, we're only going to spend $500. So, it's going to be really cheap. Mostly, it's going to be for the Canadian version of MTV, which is Much Music, which is more lax about the quality of video they put on the air, as long as it has Canadian content. And this one will have lots of Canadian content, so we hope they'll play it.
O: Describe what we're going to see in 'Manada?'
CF: We haven't sat down with the director yet, but he kind of knows what we have in mind. We're going to do it cheap by having the camera set up to do a one-shot, and it's going to be like a classroom. And Jon's going to be the teacher and Luis and I are going to be the students. And, we're learning about the country of Manada. And we'll have people appear and disappear with editing.
O: And this one can be shown on TV.
CF: Yeah, we're not going to do anymore nasty ones.
O: So, Bill and Ted's Homosexual Adventure was the naughty one?
CF: Yes. We're not going to circulate that anymore. We can get sued.
O: I assume Keanu and Alec are in this video then?
CF: Yes. Actually, Keanu has a copy. We sent one to him. We haven't gotten any feedback from him. He requested it through someone we knew. He heard he was in one of our videos, and he said 'Send it to me.' And we deliberated over sending him one for a long time. But, we sent it to him.
O: Is the Pansy Division/Extra Fancy rift over?
CF: I don't really want to comment on that, just because I think there's enough crap out there and I'd prefer to forget about it. They're in their own world, we're in our world and they don't meet.
O: Which bands to you align yourself with?
CF: Anyone who's not in competition mode. I feel there should be solidarity between bands, because it's like divide and conquer. I like Tribe 8, Team Dresch, Brown Star, Blue Period is a band I'm about to produce. There's a lot of bands, but so many get together quickly and break up.
O: Why has Pansy had so much staying power?
CF: Because we're good business people. We're able to make it work. Also, I think it's the music. People like it. It's something different. People have said 'Oh, you're just a gimmick.' Well, yeah, but we're on our fifth record and they're all selling and we're making a living. We've having the last laugh I think.
O: Is Pansy a full-time gig?
CF: I don't know yet. We've been able to eke out a living on our spartan lifestyles with the three of us. And we've been anxious about the fact that we'll have to divide this among four instead of three. But we're going to try to make it work. We'll see how it works. We've taken a few months off, and I've actually been temp-ing and our drummer's been temp-ing. I've got the dress shirt and tie routine to keep the money coming in. If you don't tour, you don't make money, quite simply.
O: How often do you tour? It seems you're always on the road.
CF: We usually average seven months a year touring, but last year, because of the anxiety level in the band at that point, after we put out 'Wish,' we did not tour as much as we wanted to. We only toured for about five and a half months. And that was all we could psychologically take. We're hoping once this next record comes out, we'll tour for about four months, take a little time off to record, then put the next record out and tour our brains out on that one. '98 should be a heavy tour year.
O: How did the new members come to join the band?
CF: We met Luis on tour. He was interviewing us at a show in San Diego for a local magazine, and we got along with him really well. We ended up staying at his house after the show. And he said, 'if you guys ever need someone on the road, give me a call, I'd love to do that with you.' And then he mentioned he was a drummer. And we said, play us some tapes. And at that point, I already knew we were hitting the end of the line with Dustin. And I don't want to put Dustin down, because he's a great guy. Now, we get along. But in the context of where we were, we did not get along. Now, we do. So, we talked a little bit, kept the tape and when we knew we were going to look for a new drummer, we gave him a call. He was all excited, and we caught the fever from him, too. We went down to San Diego, tried him out and he was great. He was exactly what we wanted. So, we busted his butt for a few months and rehearsed him into the ground, and it worked out really well. Patrick's just someone who's been at every show in town here. And we've known him, and known that he's liked the band. We have similar interests, so we know he's not going to come in here and wank all over our stuff. He had a clear picture of what we were about to start with. And so far, it's just been great.
O: What kind of stuff is going to be on the new album?
CF: It's all over the map, since it's all the seven-inches. there's going to be an cappella song we recorded. The heavy songs we did with Steve. Very heavy, like the heaviest songs we've done. It's a good variety. We wanted to show we can go all over the place with what we're doing. We don't want to be pigeonholed in just one thing. We never really thought we were one thing. Even on the first album, we had 'Surrender Your Clothing,' which was kind of slow and quiet. So, our biggest influence is the Beatles overall, between us. And they did everything. So, that's sort of what our goal is.
O: Who is which Beatle?
CF: Well, just look at the instrument and that's who it is. I'm the Paul McCartney, and even Luis plays a Ringo kit. Check it out, it's an old Beatles kit.
O: Do you have any experiences on the road with gay youth approaching the band?
CF: That happens a lot. In fact, when we're feeling really down about ourselves, that helps. What's really great is getting letters from kids from small towns in the Midwest saying 'Don't write me back, my parents look at my mail. But I just wanted to tell you I'm gay, and nobody I know knows. But, I found your record and now I know other people feel the same way I do.' Letters like that make us cry. That's more than we ever bargained for when we started the band.
O: What was your own coming out like?
CF: It was traumatic. I knew there was something different when I was nine or ten, and when I hit puberty at 13-14 -- I was a late bloomer -- it was pretty obvious what was going on, but I didn't want it and rejected it heavily. I was going to be married at 19, and then when that didn't work out, I decided to cut myself off from my friends at that point. The girl I was with, we were all tied into a group of people. We were all living in a big house, and we were in a band together, and I just cut off. And eventually found a place where, I didn't know it, but it was a gay beach. And I met somebody there, I had my first gay experience and it was all over. 'OK, there's no rejecting this. The fire's burning boy.' So, I gave any pretension that I was going to be able to give up being gay. For those of you who are questioning it, in my mind, it's like being left or right-handed. When you start to write, you pick up with your left or right hand. When you start to have sexual feelings, it's gay or straight or in-between. Some people are ambidextrous, they can write with both hands.
O: Does Pansy Division have a sexuality screen to get in the band? Do you have to be gay?
CF: No, Dustin was straight. We want the best players. We had thought we would want a gay drummer to keep the 'purity.' And, in fact, we had people come up to us and say 'He's not gay? What's this about?' And, it's like, we don't discriminate. We're not discriminating backwards against straight people. But it just so happens now that all of us are gay, so it works out pretty good.
O: On the TV show 'Friends,' the cast members have this pact whereby they aren't allowed to sleep with one another.
CF: I don't think that's going to be a problem in our band, no. No Fleetwood Mac here. Well it's just... I mean ... I think... never mind. It's not going to happen. There's nothing there.
O: When you're up on stage now, do you ever reflect back on what you went through to accept your sexuality and how far you've come to be up on that stage?
CF: (confused look) No, I'm just in the moment when I'm up there... I'm not really thinking about my coming out.
O: Hey, you have to try to ask the Barbara Walters question at the end. It's good when it works.
CF: (laughing) Well, sorry, I never really think of the coming out process when I'm on stage. I'm thinking about, is everyone having a good time? are we playing well?
O: If you're trying to get away from being the 'dick song' band, so you still wear the big cock shirts and the Don't Panic stuff?
CF: No, and we're going to change our look for the next tour. We won't be doing any of that old stuff. We're moving on. It's time to move on. There's going to be something thematically that will bring us together, but I'm not going to divulge that just yet. It's all in the works. It's not going to be a drastic change, it's just looking at what we've done and figuring out how we can be stronger. It's time.