Tea with Tyson Meade (Interview & Gallery)

The Interview

Phonograph Needles and Silver Needle Tea

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

Meade hosted the Bureau at his -built Oklahoma City bun­ga­low , 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 ] , 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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