Destroy All Monsters
Destroy All Monsters were named after a horror movie. This particular incarnation formed in Detroit in 1977 & eventually boasted not only ex-Stooge Ron Asheton amongst their ranks, but ex-MC5 bassist Michael Davis to boot. Fronted by the dangerously beautiful Niagara,& fueled by the rampantly experimental saxophones & guitars of Larry & Ben Miller respectively, Destroy All Monsters took the loosest of shapes from the depths of their rehearsal basement & welded them into the kind of robust art noise that Sonic Youth have spent the last 20 odd years trying to appropriate (mostly unsuccessfully).
‘Broken Mirrors – Rehearsals & Shows 1977/78’ recently surfaced on FarFetched Records (DM1) & vividly illustrates Destroy All Monsters freeform anti-rock noisenik roots.
Johnny Forgotten recently caught up with former DAM saxophonist, Ben Miller, to dig up the lowdown on those early DAM maneuvers:
trakMARX - How active were DAM 1 & who played alongside Niagara & Cary Loren in this line up?
Ben - As far as I know, like any art band of those days, Destroy All Monsters played ‘in the basement’ and an occasional party. Along with Cary and Niagara, Mike Kelly played drums and Jim Shaw played guitar. I saw them once at a party. It was very sparse. An odd mix of noise and songs. Occasionally Niagra would play some violin or say a few words and then leave the stage. Mike would dabble on the drums while Jim played guitar through an Echoplex. From time to time Cary seemed to try and get the set off the ground.
trakMARX - DAM 2 was basically an amalgamation of EMPOOL & DAM 1. How did this come about?
Ben - Destroy All Monsters was going through a transition late 1976 into early 1977. Of the original band only Cary and Niagara remained in Ann Arbor. At this time, Lar had a band called EMPOOL which was mostly psychedelic free improvisation (guitars, electronics, tapes, saxophone, occasionally drums) along with a number of other musicians including myself and brother Roger (the original version of Empool was just Lar and Andre Cynkin on guitars and electronics). Empool played a couple parties, but otherwise stayed ‘in the basement’ much like Destroy All Monsters. As far as I know, these two bands were the only weird things happening in Ann Arbor at that time. Compared to where Destroy All Monsters were coming from, though, EMPOOL was more music-related. Some of our improvisations were structured around notated compositions. Cary and Niagara would drop in unannounced at our jam sessions and request we do their stuff; two and three chord songs with lyrics -- the exact opposite of what we were doing. Perhaps by default from the fact that we were all outcasts of the music scene, the two groups eventually fused together into the second incarnation of Destroy All Monsters; a plodding garage punk sound with a lot of psychedelia hanging on the outer fringe. This was the fun version of the band where artistic intention was high. Band members were interchangeable and ‘songs’ were not nailed down.
trakMARX - How did Cary Loren talk Ron Asheton into joining DAM 2 (spring 77?)
Ben - I dont know. Cary can be inspiring, though I think Niagara was the lure. This was early Spring, 77. Ron had recently come back from LA. His band, The New Order, hadnt done as well as hed of liked and I think Ron was just ready to dive into it again. The definite prospect of doing a single prompted him Im sure.
trakMARX - How long did DAM 2 function as a 2 gtr unit?
Ben - Well, with Cary it was a 3 guitar unit. Sometimes Cary just sang and played the tambourine, but usually Cary thumped out the basic chord progressions, Ron beefed it up and added his ‘rock’ lead solos while Lar played a more texturous and melodic effects-driven background to it all. My alto saxophone also ran through various electronics and so this initial DAM reincarnation was quite the mess.
trakMARX - Why was Cary Loren voted out of DAM?
Ben - Niagara, Carys long-time girl friend, hooked up with Ron. Shortly after that Cary went to New York for a short spell. When he returned he wasnt quite the same. He was having some drug-related issues and communication had disintegrated. When the band voted him out, it was very difficult for Lar and I to agree to it. We felt that Cary had a big part in the creative element of Destroy All Monsters.
trakMARX - Michael Davis' (MC5) arrival signaled the advent of a more traditional Detroit undercarriage for DAM 2. Was this change in direction a compromise?
Ben - I think it wasnt until our fourth gig that Michael had joined. Cary was still in the band, so it was an odd mix of psychedelic garage and heavy rock. With both Ron and Michael in the band, though, our rock sound was definitely becoming more traditional. Also, when Mike joined, the bands instrumentation finally became fixed and so a certain spontaneity was lost. However; a much-needed consistency in our sound had finally been achieved. It wasnt really considered a compromise, it was just the way things rolled.
trakMARX - DAM 2 played out with the likes of the Ramones, Pere Ubu & Devo (amongst others) - what were those shows like & how did you rate those groups?
Ben - The Ramones are probably the best rock n roll band Ive ever seen. Absolutely. Real nice guys too, though not a particularly talkative bunch. We opened up for the Ramones whenever they came into Ann Arbor. Pere Ubu was the most interesting band we ever played with. Artistically speaking, they were by far my favorites. We opened up for them often at The Pirates Cove in Cleveland. Their 45s are the best! We played with DEVO once in Akron. One of their guitarists (wireless, or very long curly cords?) ran out into the theater space up the aisle as fast as he could. A very fat man was slowly walking down the aisle toward the stage and they collided. Devos guitarist then ran as fast as he could back to the stage. That was amusing. Joining D.A.M. was the first time I had played in public in a long time, so I was astounded to be on stage, opening up for these bands. As a teenager I had done some playing with Sproton Layer, but only in Ann Arbor. It was also exciting to take part in a new movement (punk) after having grown up in the tail end of the Hippie era.
trakMARX - What do you remember about the recording of "Bored"/"You're Gonna Die"?
Ben - I recall Scott Asheton warning me that in the studio its easy to lock up and not feel comfortable. Since I had been recording for years on my home 2-track I dismissed his remark. However; I had never been in a professional recording studio before so when it came time to overdub the saxophone tracks (especially the solo on DIE), I had a real hard time. Trying to summon up the original energy of the band while everyone in the control booth listened was very awkward.
trakMARX - Rumours persist of an EP that was released on Black Hole Records out of Detroit that included early DAM material. Can you confirm this release & add any further details (are copies still around? cost? etc?)?
Ben - Yeah it was called Days of Diamonds, something Cary put out shortly after Lar and I left the band. I still have a few copies. Introduction; is a silly introduction of the band by Ron. Assassination Photograph and Destroy A.M. are rehearsals with the vocal overdubs being too loud. Dream of Me is the best one in my opinion; a rather surreal love song. The last tune, There is No End, is a solo recording by Lar that has no relation to DAM whatsoever, but for some reason Cary specifically wanted that on the record.
trakMARX - Any memories of the sessions for "Meet The Creeper"/"Nov 22nd 1963"?
Ben - I really enjoyed this session since the saxophone went down on tape along with the band. And our sound was well honed by this time. The chemistry was hot. The Engineer was far superior also. Unfortunately there are two songs we recorded that were never released; Broken Mirrors and Taken For Granite. Since Lar and I quit before the record was released, and since we wrote the songs, the remaining band members decided not to include them. Originally the record was to be an EP. David Keeps, our manager at that time, is still holding onto those two songs.
trakMARX - You quit DAM 2 along with bother Larry in Oct 1978 - what were the reasons for your departures?
Ben - Lar and I wanted to work with more varied ideas. We felt limited. Also Ron and Niagara had become a major ego factor. They were what the audience paid attention to, and they took on quite the rock star status, often coming to rehearsal hours late wondering why the rest of the band was pissed off. Even at shows the band would often be waiting for Ron and Niagara to get ready before we could hit the stage. And of course everyone was drinking and drugging. So, along with personal differences, the momentum of the band had gone down considerably since we first formed. Dont get me wrong, sometimes our shows kicked ass. We would have this huge swarming wall of sound, always on the verge of breaking apart. But, other times the set seemed to take forever to finish. Basically, it felt like a dead end to us and we needed to move on.
trakMARX - Why are the Miller brothers absent from the list of credits on Cherry Red's "Bored" DAM singles collection CD?
Ben - When Lar and I left, the sound of the band changed from slightly weird to basic punk. I assume the remaining members didnt want us mentioned in the credits cause they were trying to promote themselves as a quartet. It didnt really surprise us that the band would do something like that.
trakMARX - What happened to you & Larry after DAM?
Ben – Well, thats a big question. Cary approached us in January 1979 to do a recording-only project called Xanadu with DAM drummer Rob King. We put out an EP; Black Out in The City. Right after that I took off for Boston and formed a band with Martin Swope (who later joined Mission of Burma). It was an art-rock project and we recorded a few songs with brother Roger on drums. My wife-to-be at the time moved back to Ann Arbor, and I soon followed. There Lar and I played together in various avant-rock bands between 1980 and 1985; The Same Band, The Other Band, Low Income Zone, Radio Silence, GKW and Nonfiction. Nonfiction was the only band that played outside of Ann Arbor. We were marginally successful. The band was on a compilation LP and also put out an LP on cassette which included my rendition of Laurie Andersons Oh Superman. For the remainder of the decade, I continued to perform with GKW, a minimalist noise band while Lar was in The Empty Set, a pop rock trio (their early incarnation). GKW put out several cassettes and The Empty Set released an EP and an LP. In the early 1990s, Lar formed Larynx Zillions Novelty Shop, releasing several records, sounding much like Adam Ant meets Zappa. In 1993, we released a CD with brother Roger of Mission of Burma; an ongoing project we call M3. M3 released its second CD in 2001, Unearthing, one of the best things Ive been involved with. A subconscious sort of psychedelic improvisation focusing on prepared guitars and electronics with an occasional backbeat. I moved to Chicago in 1993, joining Dirty Old Man River in 1997. Im on their 2nd and 3rd CDs playing prepared stereo guitar. In 2001 I put out Intercom; solo prepared stereo guitar. In 2002, I formed a free-improv quartet; Regeneration. I moved to NYC in 2003 and I am currently playing with a violinist as a duet; Third Border. Its a combination of prepared stereo guitar underneath minimalist violin scores and psychedelic songwriting. I have also formed a rock band with Phantom Tollbooths bass guitarist Gerard Smith (GBVs Robert Pollard just re-released a record by Phantom Tollboth with all new vocal tracks by Robert; Beard of Lightning. Excellent stuff). Lar presently lives in Ann Arbor, performing as Mister Laurence - a children's entertainer. He has released 4 CD's of original kid's music on his own label, pushing the envelope as a healthy alternative to "Barney" and other such frightening pop kid-icons.
trakMARX - You recently self-released a collection of recordings from your time with DAM entitled "Broken Mirrors (Rehearsals & Shows 1977-78)". We've heard ugly rumours of Amazon ripping you off - where & how is the best way for DAM fans to access this release?
Ben - Yeah, someone is selling the CD on Amazon.co.uk. Were looking into it and theyre ignoring us. In the meantime, Fans can purchase ‘Broken Mirrors‘, as well as many other releases, from my website:
Or Lars website:
trakMARX - Are there any more posthumous DAM releases in the pipeline?
Ben - In the past few years there has been talk of doing a box set of various past DAM recordings, a re-release of the Xanadu recordings with an all new recording by the Xanadu band, and selected pieces of solo home recordings that Lar and I did during the 70s as well as Cary Loren and friends. But so far nothing has come to fruition other than the DAM 3 CD Box Set on Ecstatic Peace and Broken Mirrors on FarFetched Records.
trakMARX - In conclusion, how would you best sum up your time with DAM?
Ben - Hmmmm. Exhilarating, intoxicating, aggravating, boring. In that order. Or as Lar puts it - the best worst days of my life.
Johnny Forgotten – tMx 14 – 04/04