Interview with Corey Brennan
By Roo Simpson
It would be fair to say your career path has shifted somewhat since your time in the Lemonheads, can you talk us through how this came about, and what you've been doing with yourself these past years?
Holy moly…Evan’s fans are going to write me off permanently once they learn the horrible truth. I landed a job as a university lecturer in 1990 and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since - first at tiny Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and for the last five years, at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. I teach Classics: Greek, Latin, ancient history. I was on that trajectory even when I first met Evan and friends in 1986, and so it’s actually a lot more organic than it sounds.
Are you still involved in music at all? Any bands or projects on the go?
I recorded a solo album in 1994 (Benelux only) which promptly went south. But since 1998 I’ve been totally immersed in DJ culture, and over the past few years have been spinning funk, soulful house and salsa under the name DJ Korenelius. I swear this is true.
How did you first meet and start working with Evan and the Lemonheads? What are your recollections of this period?
It’s hard to tell this story in less than 5000 words. I met the Lemonheads right at the beginning of their career, in June 1986, when I was working as a DJ on WHRB, one of the four major Boston college radio stations. There I was hanging out with Evan’s high school classmate Patrick "Amory Arms" Amory (who later put out the first Lemonheads EP and now works for Matador), and folks like Jim Barber (recent ex-manager and ex-lover and ex-attackee of Courtney Love). In May 1986 the four of us (and about 20 other people) organized a one week, 168 hour broadcast of the 5000 (literally) greatest punk rock records. Even weeks later I was still buzzed from this massive radio show when these three kids from Boston’s Commonwealth High show up at the station - Evan Dando, Jesse Peretz and Ben Deily - with the tape of their "Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners" EP. We went to listen to it in Jesse’s car, and it sounded to me like the best 70s style punk I had ever heard.
Now, I had a band of my own, a punk/metal crossover outfit called Meltdown, and I wanted to cash in. We did two shows together with the Lemonheads that summer; their entire high school showed up at each one. But when I saw the Lemonheads completely take off in fall 1986 (playing with the Pixies etc.), I decided to form a new band, Bullet Lavolta, with two other DJs from WHRB, Clay Tarver and Bill Whelan. The whole thing started as a Government Issue/Black Market Baby/Hüsker Dü tribute, as I remember it; our secret mission however was to blow the Lemonheads off the stage. There always was a rivalry between those two bands, at least from the Lavolta perspective. Recollections? A million, of which here’s just three. A) Dean Wareham (Luna) worked at the same radio station, and was the one who taught me how to slip cue records; I played some guitar with him and thought at the time he was talentless. B) Evan Dando, Juliana Hatfield and Chris Brokaw each frightened me as true musicians on first meeting - eighteen, nineteen years ago C) I was chilling backstage at the Rat sometime in 1987 when Kilslug’s singer Larry Lifeless lunged at Evan Dando with a six foot agricultural scythe - by all appearances he was trying to put the blade, which he used to drag around on stage, right through Evan’s skull. It was a real William Tell moment; Lifeless missed by about a quarter inch and planted the scythe deep into a nearby wall.
Oh, back to the basic story. Before doing any recording with Lavolta, I had committed to a year in Rome, and so off to Italy I went in September 1987. I had another band there, called Superfetazione; when I was with them we put out a cassette which contains the original version of "Cazzo di Ferro", which was recycled (like much else!) for Lick. I was asked to join the Lemonheads to record Lick soon after returning from Italy in late 1988. I was pretty much out of the band (it was never expected that I stay permanently) by August 1989, though I wrote and played on two songs on Lovey ("Lil' Seed" and "The Door") and toured with them in Europe in summer 1989 and 1991.
You've been involved with a few bands over the years: Superfetazione, Bullet Lavolta and the Lemonheads, does any one of them stand out as the most enjoyable experience?
Great experiences with each. Recording “Baggage” and “Overloaded Circuits” with Lavolta and engineer/producer Tom Hamilton, which may be the best things I’ve ever done. Practicing with Superfetazione at pain level in a chamber underneath the Fountain of Trevi in Rome. Touring Europe in summer 1989 with Lemonheads and my friends in Lavolta, and wondering how in the world we ever got to that point.
How did you find working with Curtis Casella at Taang?
I always loved him, but you gotta go with the flow. For instance, I once threw a party and he offered to bring rock videos; what I got was a Last Rights show that lasted 30 seconds on a loop. OK, it wasn’t what I expected. But it remains the best footage I’ve ever seen.
Do you know roughly how many shows you played during your time on tour with the Lemonheads? Do you recall any specific high and low points of touring with the band?
Certainly less than four dozen shows between 1989 and 1991. I wasn't really prepared for the totally insane greatness of the club scene of northern Europe. Those tours quite literally changed my life. I have particularly vivid memories of shows at the Vera (Groningen - my absolute favorite), Democrazy (Gent), Rose Club (Cologne), Zelt im Bad (Hannover), Spot (Kassel - where the club owner was engaged with a life and death struggle with the police of the town), Konkret (Hohenems in western Austria - insane), Hirscheneck (Basel), Rote Fabrik (Zurich), K.I.F.F. (Aarau, Switzerland - also insane), and the Jugendzentrum in Backnang, Germany (most insane of all).
The worst memory I have touring with the Lemonheads was in summer 1989 when we missed supporting Living Color at the Gent opera house because a band member (not Evan Dando - nor myself!) went missing in Schaffhausen, Switzerland the morning we were supposed to drive to the show. Living Color is not my favorite band, but it was our biggest venue to date. Vernon Reid gave us an intact cheese platter when we finally showed, for which we were grateful. My best memory came from the start of that same summer - staying for a few days at the world's most elegant squat, De Refter in Nijmegen in Holland, and then kicking it out at the Doornroosje.
You wrote Cazzo Di Ferro and (The) Door with Evan, how did you find working with him on these songs?
Really scary in the case of “Cazzo”, because we did it on the studio clock. The Lick album needed an extra song, as I remember it, and I dredged out an old Superfetazione song called “Depressed”. Now that song was, uhh, heavily influenced by a 1980 powerpop classic by the Colors called “Jealousy”. It needed some rewriting and new lyrics and so Evan and I drove around Boston for about half an hour - that’s all the time we had - and came up with “Cazzo”, approximating some Italian lyrics. I don’t remember how or why Evan and I came up with “(The) Door” - maybe to irritate as many people as possible. We used to perform that well before it crawled onto the “Lovey” album. I sang it on the 1989 Peel session, which has to be heard to be believed.
We've heard that there may still be some unreleased early Lemonheads tracks to be heard, do any tracks spring to mind, and are there any other Brennan writing credits out there?
Evan and I co-wrote a song called “I’m Coming Alive like Frampton” which (amazing but true) Jesse Peretz recorded as a demo in 1999. There’s any number of complete shows on tape from the Taang! era, starting with the first club show 8/19/86, with some really surprising covers. As far as original tune-age is concerned, c’mon, even “Rat Velvet” eventually made it to vinyl. But Curtis may have some stuff still in the vaults…
You were involved in Lick and Lovey, between which albums Ben Deily parted company with the band, and Lemonheads moved from Taang! to Atlantic. This has to be a turning point in Lemonheads' history - how did it feel to be involved at a time when there was a lot of tension in the band?
I think I gave a lot of the background to the split between Ben and Evan in the liner notes I wrote for the Lick rerelease. They weren’t constantly at each others’ throats in 1988/89, but in general the dynamic at that time really struck me as more than a bit sick. For instance, Evan was staying at Ben’s house for the better part of a year, sleeping behind this partition that he had decorated with Manson memorabilia. Evan is an ultra-scary sleepwalker, and it was for good reason that Ben bolted himself into his bedroom every night. The lyrics to the Pods’ “Name in Vain” actually capture the mood of that time pretty well. I tried to keep things moving during the notorious recording of Lick, but I do remember fighting with Deily over “Seven Powers”, which I loathed. Once the album was in the can, things smoothed out a bit for all parties concerned.
I have to emphasize that no one “threw out” Ben from the Lemonheads. It was definitely Ben's own decision to leave the band in late spring 1989, ostensibly so that he could devote more time to his girlfriend and his interest in Gaelic and Irish literature. In fact, when he started making plans to attend a Yeats conference in the Emerald Isle, he put in jeopardy some lucrative Boston shows - not to mention a prestige summer European tour (five and a half weeks of shows, and with it, a John Peel session). Thank heavens Evan and Jesse came up with another drummer - Mark "Budola" Newman, a sullen gothic rocker from parts unknown. Now, no Lemonheads figure - not even the brothers Deily - have been subject to such abuse as this man has received over the years. (See the Everett True lemonheads biography.) For what it’s worth, he was the first lemonhead to perform under a pseudonym ("Johnny Bravo") - even the band’s first drummer (who could have used one) didn't resort to that device. But he was one of the best drummers with whom I’ve ever played, and in a very real way the fact that he was up for anything saved the band. We of course did the European tour, and ended it with a Peel session and then a wild final show, headlining at the London Fulham Greyhound (30 June 1989). By now, the reviews of Lick were out in the main British music papers, and the hypesters liked what they heard. I have to mention that Michele Kirsch in the NME review of the Greyhound show gratified me to no end, by underestimating my age by a decade: "at 17, he is of the generation that rediscovered Iron Butterfly’s 'Innagaddavidda' and proclaimed it a good thing." Right on! And by early July Lick was firmly in the number one slot on every US college/independent radio chart that mattered, where it would stay well into the fall. But the strange success of Lick brought the Taang! era to a close.
By the end of summer 1989, the band had won its deal with Atlantic Records. Evan and Jesse had also changed the lineup once again, this time moving the very wonderful David Ryan in on drums (see Everett True's book for the reasons why). However, I'll end by sparing a thought for 'Johnny Bravo', who inadvertently answered the lemonheads' ad for a drummer - several weeks after being expelled from said band. Of course, there's no such thing as a second chance.
Also, did you find many differences in working with a major label? Were you aware at the time, of how much this would affect the band's career?
Oh yeah, and I didn’t want any part of it, maybe because I didn’t want to do the US touring. However I was completely psyched to be asked to play on Lovey, which Paul Kolderie (later Hole, Radiohead, etc.) produced at Cambridge’s Fort Apache studio. The guy is a pure genius. He wisely decided to keep in the mix an unexpected radio transmission of Fidelio over Evan's amp during "(The) Door", thereby adding even further grandeur to this majestic opus. I thought that Lovey was going to sell a million copies. Then I was devastated when it semi-flopped. In truth, I attribute the success of “Shame About Ray” and all subsequent Lemonheads Atlantic albums to the fact I had nothing whatsoever to do with them.
This site recently hosted an interview from a German video fanzine, in which you seemed to be doing most of the talking! Do you remember this interview at all, and did you often find that you were the spokesperson for the band?
I remember the interviewer, who followed the band around to about a half dozen shows, but not the content. Man, I talked non-stop to anyone who would listen when I was in the band. Now, that interview with Ralph Traitor from Sounds (July 1989): I knew him as Jeremy Gluck, lead singer of the Barracudas, in a previous life, when I lived in the UK in the early 80s. Hence all the yakking. But in general sometimes Evan and Jesse were missing in action when the press showed up, and so I filled in. Other times I just took over; it's no accident that I later went into university lecturing as a career. But I was at my worst at the actual shows, when I found out that someone backstage had played for Ivy Green or Funeral Oration or some other legendary European band.
That person was subjected to a full-frontal discographic attack.
Did you follow the band's work after you moved on? If so, what did you make of the direction they took?
Yup, I followed the Lemonheads pretty obsessively right to the bitter end. Evan really took it to a whole new level, and I worship pretty much all of the Atlantic stuff. I do remember I was taken by surprise however when I went to a Lemonheads show in 1993 in Philadelphia and saw the audience-mostly girls ages 12 to 16, with a few barely pubescent boys thrown in for good measure. I also got very depressed about that same time when some kid tried to convince me that the Lemonheads had written "Mrs. Robinson", but not as depressed as when in 1989 a reviewer in Melody Maker thought the band had written "Luka", and that the song was about a lonely old man. By 1996 you couldn't move backstage for the supermodels. Someone after a Lemonheads show in that era once dumped an entire beer on my wife, and we were both pretty annoyed until we noticed that it was an ultra-apologetic Helena Christensen.
Are you still in touch with any of your former bandmates?
The last great reunion was at Evan's wedding to Elizabeth Moses in October 2000, which was a big lovefest. Since then Jesse Peretz is the only person with whom I've communed, that was just a few months ago. I haven't seen Ben Deily since 1989.
Evan is evidently at work on a new Lemonheads album. Would you ever consider playing with the band again if asked?
Sure, that would be strictly out of the fridge.
Do you listen to a lot of music these days, any bands or artists you'd like to recommend?
It's really insane-probably more than at any point in the last twenty years. But with my dance fixation I'm pretty distant from whatever is happening in indie rock. If I had to single out just one newish group it would be the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. It's pretty hard-hitting salsa. I'm also working through in pretty academic fashion the almost 400 hours of archived raw funk and hip-hop that Montreal's Professor Groove and DJ Static have put together on wefunkradio.com
We're currently compiling a tribute CD of Evan and Lemonheads tunes, if you had to pick any song from the back catalogue to perform, what would it be and why?
"Dawn Can't Decide." I just think it's really life affirming, like "Hey Jude" but more so. My version would be a minimum eight minutes long.
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