Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.
Peter Conheim: They’ve only made one single LP, in 1982 (and it barely even got released at the time), but to my mind, San Francisco’s Mutants are the most eccentric pop band to ever come out of the city. Ostensibly lumped in with the punk scene of the time, starting as they did in 1977 in the first wave of the Mabuhay Gardens alongside the Avengers, the Nuns and the Dils (and, later, the Dead Kennedys and Flipper), the Mutants are really an edgy pop-music circus act, complete with three lead singers (Sue, Sally and Fritz, or Freddy, as he was sometimes called). Their unbelievably catchy, yet furiously double-guitar-driven tunes are about things as benign as furniture, clocks, magazines and wanting a new drug. (Yes, they really did have Huey Lewis rip them on off his peculiarly similar hit single.) But the songwriting and musicianship on display is anything but benign. Brendan Earley is a hooky genius of a melody writer, and the Siamese twin-like vocals of Sue and Sally presage the B-52’s and Crack: We Are Rock. And then there is Fritz, a good foot shorter than Sue, yowling over the top of it all like a terribly nervous advertising executive being shouted down at a staff meeting and having to rise above the fray to get his points across.
The original seven-piece band still plays together from time to time, though the group went through several dramatic lineup changes towards the end of their initial era that left the singers the sole original members. Those later iterations of the group were also startlingly brilliant, and they produced an EP that never saw release at the time. Most people are familiar with Mutants through their handful of pre-LP singles and compilation tracks, but their magnificent Fun Terminal album is worth tracking down, especially when it inevitably gets a proper re-release with some of the amazing bonus tracks that this writer has heard, but the world at large has not. Are you listening, “hip reissue” record labels? I have all the master tapes. You can find me.