Tea with Tyson Meade (Interview & Gallery)

The Interview

Phonograph Needles and Silver Needle Tea

On 26 May, cen­tral Oklahoma felt an earth­quake. The vibra­tions were from the nee­dle drop­ping on Godfather of Alt-Rock [Sidenote: I’ve not been able to track down the first print ref­er­ence to this coinage. Spin mag­a­zine, Out mag­a­zine, AV Club, Brooklyn Vegan, and the Converse Shoe Blog all seem to have started using the moniker some­time in 2014.] Tyson Meade’s new long player, Robbing the Nuclear Family. The 55-year-old rocker played piano and sang the entire album [Sidenote: This is not quite true, since he for­got the piano part to one of the songs and had to aban­don it. Primarily a gui­tarist, Meade is rel­a­tively new to the piano, so cut him some slack, why don’t ya?] to an atten­tive audi­ence at his­toric music venue VZD’s Restaurant and Bar. Before Meade took the stage, singer Joe Hopkins screened his new music video, a cover of Meade’s Chainsaw Kittens-era The Loneliest China Place, fea­tur­ing footage of Meade him­self. Meade per­formed that same song, as well as other Kittens’ favorites, in between songs from the new album.

In the 4 years since Meade’s pre­vi­ous album Tomorrow in Progress was released, he has pro­duced and scored a short doc­u­men­tary and a fea­ture film, and in early April he announced his can­di­dacy for the Oklahoma 5th dis­trict U.S. con­gres­sional seat.

Meade hosted the Bureau at his 1915-built Oklahoma City bun­ga­low on Friday, where we sipped tea and talked about Robbing the Nuclear Family, our favorite teas, and run­ning for polit­i­cal office in a state where the oppos­ing party seems to have a lock on election.

Joe Hopkins — The Loneliest China Place

Mercury Photo BureauYou’ve got a new album.

Tyson MeadeYes I do! It’s called Robbing the Nuclear Family.

MPBI lis­tened to it again on the drive up here. We both grew up in the shadow of the Cold War; the first three songs ref­er­ence anx­i­ety over the prospect of nuclear destruc­tion in one way or another, but the album takes a sud­den hope­ful turn on the fourth track, Confused 22.

TysonConfused 22 is an extremely hope­ful song com­ing from the view­point of [a young per­son whose] inno­cence and eupho­ria are catch­ing; they’re infec­tious for the per­son who is older and jaded and try­ing to tell the young per­son, Oh, you don’t know what you’re talk­ing about, but, at the end of the day, maybe You do know what you’re talk­ing about; really stick to your guns. But then there’s the outro where I think the older per­son is frus­trated, and the frus­tra­tion may not not be com­ing from the 22-year-old, but from the frus­tra­tion of being the older person.

MPBThere are a lot of per­cus­sion parts that remind me of drum and bugle corps — a lot of marchtime, and also a lot of raga-like bits, but fil­tered through George Martin and George Harrison.

TysonI know it’s on the list of great­est albums of all time, and peo­ple want to shoot it down, but Sergeant Pepper’s [Lonely Hearts Club Band] is part of my DNA. The outro of Strawberry Fields

MPBDaphne Come Out! [Sidenote: The outro on the album’s 8th track is mod­eled on the outro from the Beatles’ song.]

TysonYes, exactly.

MPBAs soon as I heard it, I knew what you were doing there.

TysonAnd it still sounds — I’ve had these debates about the Beatles, and peo­ple talk about how influ­en­tial the Beach Boys were, and I don’t want to take any­thing away from the Beach Boys, but the Beach Boys did one thing through Brian Wilson very well. They did it bet­ter than anyone.

But the Beatles kept rein­vent­ing things. They actu­ally, with Abbey Road, put a blue­print on what FM stereo would sound like for the next sev­eral years, with She’s So Heavy and just the med­ley of A Day in the Life. And not only that, A Day in the Life set the whole Moody Blues career in motion: Tuesday Afternoon is basi­cally A Day in the Life.

MPBYour pre­vi­ous album, Tomorrow in Progress, is 10 songs and 44 min­utes; Robbing the Nuclear Family is the same num­ber of songs and clocks in at 38 min­utes. It feels like noth­ing is wasted; all the songs end exactly where I, as a lis­tener, want them to.

TysonTomorrow in Progress set in motion where I was going; it was get­ting in the car and turn­ing the key and get­ting out onto the high­way. Robbing the Nuclear Family is get­ting on the high­way and going exactly to your des­ti­na­tion, and a lot of that — and I’m try­ing to actu­ally fig­ure out in my mind, because as an artist, in no way was it man­u­fac­tured. I knew there was a des­ti­na­tion, but I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I wanted to get there quickly. Tomorrow in Progress opened my mind to a new way of writ­ing, because I was in China, and then Robbing the Nuclear Family, my mind had been opened, so it was eas­ier to write these songs that were way more free, but tighter.

I started with a real loose sound­scape on Candycanes and Moonbeams, on Motorcycle Boy #3, and also a sound­scape on Grandsons of the Empire. After that I would sing to it and tighten it up.

MPBYou men­tioned Motorcycle Boy #3. Your first solo album was Motorcycle Childhood. Are they connected?

TysonMotorcycle Boy #3 is auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal. I was in Thailand, and there was a motor­cy­cle taxi stand by my hôtel. And motor­cy­cle boy #3, Bang, was always there. And I would come out of my hôtel, and he would say, Where would you like to go today, sir? And I learned his name, and as time went on I felt we became very close, because I was there for a month, trav­el­ing around the coun­try. And he just had this inno­cence and won­der­ful­ness, and I loved him in this way I guess a tourist would love a new friend. But it was a very fleet­ing rela­tion­ship, because I knew I wouldn’t be there for very long.

MPBMany of the songs on here are story-telling songs, but you are not afraid to veer off into the opaque and the poetic. When you write a line like that, do you know what it means?

TysonNo. Never. Lines will come to me from some­where, and I will say, Oh, that belongs in this song, some­where, and I don’t know why, and some­times it may be a McGuffin, but some­times, later, it will make sense. When I’m song­writ­ing I know I’m try­ing to get to a place, but I never — I know some song­writ­ers are crafts­men who will say, I’m going to write this song about this cou­ple who gets divorced, and he gets the pickup truck, she gets the china, but my songs are never that way. A lot of times I’ll have the song and all the lyrics — and even more lyrics than I can sing in one song — in maybe fif­teen min­utes, and notes and notes every­where, and I’ll keep adding lines. And I come back later and edit. The lines that are metaphor­i­cal, I have my mean­ing, but I don’t want that to have to be the meaning.

MPBAfternoon after Practice — it sounds like you got to use that shaker [Sidenote: Tyson brought a shaker that was given to him as a gift to the album release show, but explained that he would not be play­ing it.] on that one. It sounds like it’s the same tempo and key as the song that pre­ceeds it, Grandsons of the Empire; in fact, when I was lis­ten­ing to it on the way up here, I started singing the verse from Grandsons on top of it, and it fits over it. Did you know that? Was it deliberate?

TysonAbolutely not.

MPBIn Grandsons of the Empire, is that a spe­cific empire, or just empire as an idea?

TysonMore of an idea. It starts the sec­ond side and maybe, it recalls the first song [one side one], you know, that we’ve come to this place, and there’s so many of us. That was one of the songs I wrote in China right after I made Tomorrow in Progress. I’d already mixed Tomorrow in Progress, so that song and P.S. Nuclear Forest Dance Boogie were the first songs that I wrote for the new record. They all have to do with home, and try­ing to find home, and what is home. And Grandsons of the Empire is […] try­ing to fig­ure out where home is. And I think, a lot of us are try­ing to fig­ure that out. […]

MPBWhat’s your favorite tea?

TysonYou know, I really do like [long pause].

MPBYou can say Lipton.

TysonI do like just black tea in the sum­mer, and I really like Earl Grey in the win­ter. I’m from the south, or the south­west, or what­ever you call it, and I like just, reg­u­lar iced tea.

Tyson Meade — He’s the Candy (Official Video)

MPBYou’re run­ning for congress.

TysonI am run­ning for con­gress. It’s gonna sound corny: I want to give the gov­ern­ment back to the peo­ple. The teach­ers’ walk­out gal­va­nized me. I was so inspired by what they did; they said No, we’re not gonna take this; we are gonna stand up and fight for edu­ca­tion, for our­selves, for our stu­dents, for our schools, for the future of Oklahoma. It seems to me the leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor are try­ing to dumb down Oklahoma any way they can. […] It’s harder to oppress a well-edu­cated society.

I feel as if they want us une­d­u­cated so they can con­tinue frack­ing, they can tear up the envi­ron­ment, they can dis­man­tle the EPA, all of these impor­tant things. I also feel we need to end the mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion. I never thought I’d be quot­ing [for­mer Speaker of the House] John Boehner, but he said it’s a 70-bil­lion dol­lar indus­try and we need to legal­ize it [Sidenote: John Boehner, Twitter sta­tus 11 April 2018, 5:58 A.M. CDT] , and that’s com­ing from a conservative.

And health­care — sin­gle-payer health­care for all. Medicare has worked for fifty years for 65-year-olds and older; we should make that avail­able for every­one. Through the tax­a­tion of mar­i­juana, we would solve a lot of fis­cal prob­lems imme­di­ately, [Sidenote: Experts and econ­o­mists have dif­fer­ing opin­ions on exactly how much money mar­i­juana tax­a­tion would raise.] one of them being health­care, the other one being edu­ca­tion fund­ing. Yet we refused money that was ours for Medicaid; we shouldn’t have done that; that was ridiculous.

MPBWhat makes you hope­ful about Oklahoma?

TysonI have been excited to be back in Oklahoma because there’s a whole move­ment of of music hap­pen­ing. Mount Terror has blown my mind a cou­ple of times, that’s Brennan Barnes from Deer People. I think they are going to do really well nation­ally, I am excited for them. I love GUM, I love Helen Kelter Skelter, and Skating Polly have moved to Washington [state] —

MPBAre you going to their show tonight?

TysonI’m play­ing H&8th, but I’m going to try to make it.

I guess with Oklahoma, one of the rea­sons I’m run­ning is Oklahoma has always been kind to me, to the [Chainsaw] Kittens, and when we have a plat­form to speak on, we should, when we see that things are not [as they should be]. I’ve never been polit­i­cal, but I’ve been on the front­line, as queer, and I’ve shown that lifestyle in the pub­lic eye. And I’ve had so many kids in high school who came up to me — espe­cially when the Kittens were doing well — and now they’re teach­ers and what­ever now, you know, they’ve grown up lis­ten­ing to the Kittens, and they’ve told me, You made me feel bet­ter about myself, because, before you came along, there was noth­ing like you in Oklahoma, and so — I — I was just doing my thing, back then; I didn’t really think of it. I just wanted to be who I was and I wasn’t going to be — who I wasn’t — and now I under­stand the power of just being yourself.

In a polit­i­cal plat­form, I can be who I am, and I can speak about the issues, and issues as I learn about them, like, human traf­fick­ing, Oklahoma City is the 4th busiest hub for human traf­fick­ing in the United States. We need to look at these things that have been swept under the rug. At the same time this is a won­der­ful place to live, and we are fairly accept­ing of peo­ple here. I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my buddy Trent Bell a while ago, and some­one had said some­thing anti-gay, and he said, That’s just weird, because now, it’s just weird to be anti-gay. [Being gay] isn’t the taboo it once was and now when some­one says some­thing like that they just look like a bigot.

So, I feel like Oklahoma is way more for­ward think­ing than the rest of the coun­try give us credit for. [Sidenote: Short dis­cus­sion of Rivka Galchen’s New Yorker essays and Oklahoma’s social­ist roots omit­ted for length — Ed.] I’m putting a lot of hope in the millenials.

MPBThank you for the tea.

TysonYou’re wel­come.

Gallery: Album Release Show

Gallery: Album Release at VZD’s

All of the pic­tures except for the color por­trait were shot on Kodak Tri-X with a Leica MP Classic 35mm rangefinder cam­era and devel­oped in Adox Adonal (Rodinal). After scan­ning, retouch­ing was made with Adobe Lightroom and NIX Silver Efex Pro. The color por­trait was made with a Leica M9‑P dig­i­tal rangefinder.

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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