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His Problem Is Your Problem Too

Gibby Haynes returns to rock your (small) world

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Superman has killer weed / He gets it from Dan Rather / they both fly at the light of speed / to some exotic island / Laser beams come from their eyes / lazy lights up in the sky / across the ocean at the light of speed / Superman has killer weed! / Everything is super, man. Everything is super. --Gibby Haynes and His Problem, "Superman"

Buried in the track that accompanies the lyrics above is a common cellphone ringtone, inaudible at low volumes. If you're listening closely, however, it's instructive to note how hard it is to control the impulse to look for the ringing phone, even upon repeat listens. It's a reminder of how controlled we are, by authority, technology, things.

The song's author, Gibson Jerome Haynes, is a subversive. There's a long record of proof. It's a given that any kind of moral authority or prudish restriction on the id or cultural sacred cow has at one time or another been unsentimentally violated by Haynes and whatever supporting cast of hedonist maniacs happened to be present. Haynes will also fuck with you and your presumption of safeness.

If you're reading this article, it's a good bet that you're familiar with the Butthole Surfers, Haynes' longtime (and still extant) band, the lore from which could fill books (or at least an interesting chapter in one book--Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life). The Butthole Surfers followed perhaps the strangest trajectory ever for a rock band--from obscurantist performance-art weirdoes to the mainstream in the form of Capitol Records and the Top 40. And yet many newspapers will still not print their name, like they're forest creatures out of M. Night Shyamalan.

The moveable feast of the freakish that was the Buttholes managed ever-greater levels of drug-soaked success, from club shows, to theaters, to Capitol Records, to the first Lollapalooza (where many a sheltered suburban goth got their first introduction to Haynes in the form of blasts from a shotgun loaded with blanks), to Haynes' famed rehab stint with none other than Kurt Cobain, to radio stardom (1996's Beck parody "Pepper") and back down again, to nigh irrelevance. If Blake's aphorism that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom is true, then the Butthole Surfers and Gibby Haynes must be frigging oracular by now.

Haynes is re-embracing the scale of the pre-Capitol-years Butthole Surfers years with his new group, His Problem, acknowledging that he prefers the pressing of flesh that comes with playing a club the size of Plush.

"I really like playing, and if you've ever gone from playing on a small stage right in people's faces to playing on an 8-foot-tall stage 30 feet away from anybody, it's not such an organic experience," Haynes says. "I dunno, there's something really cool about playing small clubs. People are right in your face." Indeed, owing to Haynes' creative unpredictability, his most memorable performances tend to be wrung from the sweat and fear generated by his proximity to an audience.

His Problem have a notable pedigree that is somewhat overshadowed by Haynes' towering reputation.

"The original thought was to kind of make it just me and the most recent bass player from the Butthole Surfers; his name is Nathan Calhoun. We were just gonna do like a couple a' laptops, a guitar and vocals, and we were gonna all have it all choreographed to a video, kinda make a semi-you know, a little electronic-y guitar/vocal onslaught."

Enter drummer Shandon Sahm, who played with Curt Kirkwood in an incarnation of the Meat Puppets and is the son of Texas music legend Doug Sahm. "Shandon came and said, 'Well, you guys oughtta get a drummer,' because he didn't understand--a lot of guys just ... well, anyway he was dumbfounded that we didn't have a drummer and were thinking of doing some sort of live musical presentation. So he set up his drums, and then he never took them away, so we just started playing with him, and with that, with a drummer, a guitar player and a singer, kind of just do live music, ya know?"

Sahm later brought in famed keyboard player Augie Meyers, an old pal of his father's, to put down some tracks at a recording session for His Problem's self-titled debut.

The record was released in late August on Surfdog (also the Butthole's current label), and while it's not gloriously original like early BH Surfers, it's enough of a return to form that one can almost forget the unreleased abortion that was After the Astronaut, the Surfers' "effort" from 1998. And in a move that is perhaps aimed at replicating the success of "Jesus Built My Hotrod," a Ministry hit with Gibby on vocals, Surfdog arranged for electroclash goddess Peaches to remix the album's last song, "Redneck Sex," for the dance floor.

His Problem eventually decided to add a bass player for touring, given that it was getting too complicated to man all the electronic devices that are a part of the new band's repertoire. "I'm playing, like uh, all the little bits and pieces that we have on the, on this His Problem album we just put on a sampler and then I just kinda trigger those. So it's weird, I'm triggering maybe three or four synth lines at once just with one finger (szzsszt). Don't worry; I'll pretend like I'm playing with the other hand," he jokes.

Do not get the wrong impression about the wookie shaman that is Gibby, though: He is a man who knows what he is doing, but even if it gets confused somewhere along the way, all the better. An American original, he seemed to anticipate a question about whether he ever felt pressure to ramp up the weirdness. "Kick up the absurdity? Kick it absurd-stylee? We need to kick this ridiculous? (laughs) It's honest, what I do is ... I don't really think about. I do the best I can. I can't, I don't consciously, I'm not separate from the creative process, I'm there, in it, so it's, I can't really make any decisions like that."

You have it on no better authority than the man himself. Take it to the Bank of Weird; his word is coin of the realm.

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