Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
I was in New Zealand when Mecca Normal’s album Sitting On Snaps came out on Matador in 1995. I was working at a record label called IMD, as the EP (Exotic Publicist) while Peter Jefferies was A&R. I didn’t know I had a job until I landed in Dunedin and was met by Geoff, the label’s owner. I had been talked up big time by Peter, whose specialty is enthusiasm. I set to work faxing letters to labels and media contacts in the U.S., to get IMD into a better position overseas. My one big success was securing U.S. distribution through Matador. (I think I can say I worked out that deal.) Oh, and I had the rubber stamp made that said “disturbed by IMD.” Peter was bringing in a lot of great music from the U.S., getting it around N.Z.—into shops and reviewed in magazines. He did an amazing job. I believe Sitting On Snaps sold more in New Zealand than it did in Canada—my own country—based on Peter promoting it.
I was merrily stamping everything on the shelves “disturbed by IMD” instead of “distributed by IMD,” and Geoff blew a gasket over this. Often businessmen can’t understand creative genius—especially when she is in their employ. Some years later they put out an IMD compilation called Disturbed By IMD, so I guess it was OK after all.
The IMD office was in a basement pretty much around the corner from the Empire: a pub with a pool table, Mecca Normal on the jukebox and a non-stop lineup of wild shows. The Empire was the place to be.
Peter and I met in 1994, in Nijmegen, a small town in Holland, at the Fast Forward Festival, appropriately enough, and from then on, we were definitely fast forward. Peter and Mecca Normal had a mutual tour manager: the incredible Dirk Hugsam. The start of our tour collided with the end of the Peter Jefferies & Alastair Galbraith tour. When we got to Nijmegen with minutes to spare before we went on, Peter came rushing into the street to greet us. He was a Mecca Normal fan.
I had successfully pitched an interview with Chris Knox (Tall Dwarfs) to Raygun magazine, but I decided to write an article about Peter instead. “Tape Hiss is A Sign Of Life” was finished on a manual typewriter in the front room of our house south of Dunedin. It was my work room—with a view of the sea. The house was a short walk from a beautiful beach, but this was after a lot of other things happened. After Fast Forward, Peter got on a train and came down to Bavaria, where Mecca Normal was going into the studio, so he played piano on a few songs. At the very beginning of “Vacant Night Sky,” you can hear me uncrumpling the lyrics, which didn’t start with “This is not what it’s supposed to be,” but that’s what I started singing. Nothing was what it was supposed to be. In a really good way.
Mecca Normal and Peter Jefferies toured in the U.S., then I moved to New Zealand. After that, Peter and I moved to Vancouver—in between, Mecca Normal and Peter Jefferies (solo) toured in New Zealand and Europe, and then 2 Foot Flame–the band Peter and I started with Michael Morley (Dead C)—released the first of two albums on Matador, followed by tours in the the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. It was all fairly extreme. Peter was in two bands with me—on drums in Mecca Normal and playing piano and drums in the Flambé, as he used to call us, and he was doing his solo set. On tour, the guy barely had time to smoke.
Peter had different skills than David and I, and as it turns out, when partnering up with collaborators, it is important to have different skills. I learned a lot from Peter in terms of sound and recording, listening and enthusiasm, but after three years of intensity—touring, recording, moving—nothing was what it was supposed to be in a more usual way.