Thin Lizard Dawn Interview
Thin Lizard Dawn is certainly the most refreshing new band of the past year. Their new CD (on RCA) is one of the strongest debut discs I have ever heard. The band plays what might best be described as techno-bubblegum. The music is extremely upbeat and catchy, but the lyrics have an obtuse quality that transcend mere pop. Tunes like "Sexual Dynamo," "Killing Charlie," "Happy/Loonies," "Anesthesia," "Power Ballad," "Sucks," and "Heavily Addicted" are certainly some of the highest caliber pop tunes ever recorded.
Thin Lizard Dawn consists of Greg Lattimer (vocals, guitar), Howie Statland (guitar), Mike Gagliardi (bass, backing vocals), and Dave Berk (drums, backing vocals). The band is based in New York City where they have already amassed a devoted following.
This interview was done by phone with Greg Lattimer from his home in New York. Greg was born in Philadelphia. His dad is an infectious disease doctor, and his mother is a housewife, and he has one older sister. Now 26 years old, Greg had previously only played as a solo acoustic artist, citing James Taylor as an influence.
Interview with Greg Lattimer
What inspires you to write songs, Greg?
I usually find that if I get in a fight with someone or if I'm angry I can't really write it down. That emotion fades too fast for me to actually capture it. Love songs are tricky for me because I don't think I could ever express how much I actually love someone in a song. The medium almost isn't heavy enough for the emotion. I guess one thing that really frustrates me is the whole indie rock mentality. I think the basis of it, the origin of it, is fantastic...but I think that the attitude that's come out of it is against what it stood for to begin with...with people being independent and doing what they wanted to do...doing it yourself. We've gotten shunned a lot just because of the three letters of our label. A song like "Say What You Want" on the album was kind of inspired by the mentality of people that can't open up or are too secure deep down...and try to act really cool and better than...I dunno... So I guess some of the songs are based out of frustration like that, but I'd say that most of it is me just trying to be a kid again almost...like trying to recapture the AM radio in the back of my head almost...
What other interests or hobbies do you have outside of playing music?
Outside of playing music? Let's see. Sports-wise, I skied...downhill skiing for most of my life. I haven't gotten a chance to really do that as of recently. It's pretty much all-encompassing. My girlfriend and I collect junk off the street. Here in New York people just throw out the most beautiful things...it's amazing...
I do the same thing here in Atlanta.
That's kind of a hobby of ours. There's one certain day in New York where all the larger stuff has to be thrown out, so we get in the van and motor around all the richer areas of town and see what we can find and bring it to the little shops to sell it and get some money for it. The band is one thing, and then songwriting for me is almost my hobby. I never sit down and say okay, I'm going to write a song for the band because once I try to do that it's not as pure. But if I sit down and say I'm just going write some weird tune it always ends up being something cool that the band plays.
Would you consider yourself basically happy or unhappy?
That's funny. Someone called us "upset about being happy" at one point. I'm very, very positive. I've always been an almost happy-go-lucky kind of person and I always get really angry with people when they express hopelessness or when they speak negatively. "Oh, I could never do that" or "I could never start my own business." I feel like the main reason they can't start their own business is because they believe they can't. I guess I'm positive to the point that I get frustrated easily with people when people give themselves pity parties. Not that I'm not guilty of it, you know, I definitely am...but it's a very hypocritical thing. When I was growing up I did a lot of weird programs that were out there. There's one called Warner Ehrhardt's Forum, which I guess used to be called something E.S.T. in the sixties. It's been quoted as the most brilliant marketing scam ever, but it's got a following more dedicated than the Grateful Dead. It basically just teaches you a new way of thinking of things. An example is...there's 300 people in a room and there's one person up there who's basically breaking down all the beliefs that you have to rebuilt a new set of beliefs. One of the things that I got out of it was...they had an example where a woman went up on stage. She was picked because she thought she was uncoordinated and couldn't catch a ball. The guy says, "Well, how's your vision?" The woman says, "My vision's great. I've always had great vision." So he throws the ball to her and says, "Tell me which way the ball spins." She catches the ball and says, "Sideways." He keeps throwing the ball harder and harder and she keeps catching it. The point being that she forgot all about her being conditioned that she was uncoordinated.
Have you heard about the sheep cloning thing in Scotland?
Yeah. I just saw that on the news the other night.
What's your reaction to that?
God, I don't even know. I was kind of speechless. I just read a little quip that one of the...oh where is it...it's on the cover of the New York Press this month... It says their Name of the Week goes to Dr. Ursula Goodenough, as in "good enough", a cell biologist at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Goodenough was quoted Monday on the subject of successful sheep cloning in Scotland. "Are human xeroxes next?" she says. "Then there would be no need for men." It sounds pretty scary to me. I guess recently I've been exploring in my writing the meaninglessness kind of thing where...it's kind of like I did this Warner Ehrhardt thing and I only went halfway with it. The problem with it is that after you get out of it you can only talk to people that have done it, otherwise people just think you're absolutely nuts because you don't make sense to anyone. So I'm kind of like stuck with these different, conflicting visions of what society thinks now and what this taught...which is kind of like this Utopia thing... At some point I just want to be a mountain man and live off the earth because I feel like that's what's natural for us as humans. Yet, we've kind of evolved into this...this other kind of...things are way too complicated I think than we're set up to handle.
You led yourself into the next question. What is important to you?
I think the most important thing to me is probably communication. Understanding is another big one.
What is the difference between right and wrong?
It's all perspective. Even morals, it's all perspective. It's all basically options... What's another word for options? You could be standing in a corner and if there were ten people around you who knew who you were there would be ten different versions of who you were in that room, eleven actually including your own self-perception, and not one of those is right and not one of those is wrong. I could kill someone and a million people could think I was wrong and one could think I was right, and I wouldn't necessarily be wrong. There is no right and wrong. It's just how you perceive it. There's only possibilities.
Do you think all people are equal?
Yeah, inherently. I do have faith in that. I think people are more intelligent than business and marketing or radio make them out to be. In songwriting more and more now I guess, it's kind of like pop songs have a hook and a chorus and it just goes over and over and over again. I always feel like people were intelligent enough to get it after a couple of times. You have to understand that everything I'm saying I'm completely hypocritical about. I want to make that clear up front. I basically say it to hear myself say it so hopefully I'll do it more.
Do you have pets?
No, I used to have a couple of birds...but they died.
What kind of birds?
What were their names?
One of them was Budgie and the other one was Molly-O. Molly-O and Budgie.
Do you think success generally affects people in a positive or a negative way?
It depends on what the definition of success is. I think if someone is looking for success monetarily, it can be a negative thing. It's so hypocritical. I get so caught up in this. Money is such an evil thing. It seems like it causes so many evils in the world. But success as far as accomplishing your goals, or creating something that you feel is beautiful, I don't feel that that's too harmful. I think that could be a positive thing...
Do you that that things in general are getting better or worse?
Hmmm... To tell you truth, I have no idea. I really don't know. I feel like I'm at an age where I'm kind of transforming into an adult or a different phase of life, so I don't really feel connected with young kids...the whole rave scene or any of that. I don't understand it. I don't understand electronic music. I guess I understand it, but it doesn't move me. I'd have to say I really don't know if things are getting better or worse. Probably both. I imagine it'll be both until the asteroid comes down and blows the planet up... I just saw some crazy thing on t.v. the other night saying that's how the dinosaurs became extinct...
Maybe that's what we need at this point.
Yeah. I used to have this really bad philosophy that if the world ends I want to be here when it does. Recently, we had an interviewer the other day that said they had just interviewed Marilyn Manson and we were saying how we were actually the antichrists of rock because why would you want to be that obvious? The antichrist isn't going to come and say, "I'm evil. Follow me."
All these people wearing black and trying to look so alternative and weird... That's a very shallow way of expressing yourself because if you really feel that you are unique inside, I think you don't have to express it so much with your appearance...
Oh yeah. Absolutely. What gets me the most is...I live right up the street from CBGB's and every Sunday they have matinee punk shows...and it kills me that these kids that all dress alike are supposedly revolting against being alike.
So they all dress like each other.
Yeah. I was just home and my dad had signed onto Tom Robbins' web site and he had this quote running across the screen that said, "You're an individual just like everyone else." That one really got me.
What motivates you?
I don't think it's really anything tangible. I don't know. I feel like I've always had something inside of me that feels inherently good...that's just a really positive energy. Whenever I wake up in the morning and I see the sun's out I can't go back to sleep because I feel like, "Yes! I'm awake again! This is awesome!" It's almost like every day is new. I just think it's something inside of me... I moved around a lot as a kid. There was a sadness to that, but there was also a comfort in getting to know myself and having to rely on myself to be my own friend almost. I think a lot of why I'm where I'm at is blind confidence. There's a choice you can make. You can completely believe in yourself and say "I can do anything in the whole world. Nothing can stop me." Or you can say "I can't do this." It's a choice and I feel like it's futile to think the bad one...
It's funny how people either fall into one category or the other...
I was just talking to someone at college who did a big marketing experiment, and the results came out that if you go out to a club and you have a good time and you enjoy where you're at and the people you're with, you'll probably tell about three people. If you go to a club and have a horrible time and don't enjoy yourself, you'll tell about eleven people.
I'm the exact opposite.
Me too. I hate gossip. I hate all that kind of stuff. I get very frustrated with it... Once I was told that, I thought "Oasis" immediately because they seemed to have garnered so much attention just from being such negative creeps.
It worked, didn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. It inspired one of my favorite melodies on our record.
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