Tesco Vee (The Meatmen)

The Meatmen are back! They’re nastier than ever! On the new album, Savage Sagas they beat people up, smoke weed, go to low-rent strip clubs and talk about genital disease.

But little do people know that instead of being led by a drugged-out, base goon, the band is fronted by 35-year punk veteran Tesco Vee! On stage he might scream about doing speed and beating people over the head with sex toys, but did you know that he used to be an elementary school teacher? Did you know that he was raised a strict Calvinist? Did you know that he’s actually an intellectual? Did you know that he loves Abba?

To get to the man behind the mucous, Punknews’ John Gentile spoke to Tesco about the new album, his place in the punk rock pantheon and his massive vintage toy collection.

Has punk rock become too soft?
The term punk is so general it’s hard to say that. But, overall yeah. It’s gotten away from what I consider punk rock to be -- anger, hostility and fuckin’ shit up. There’s not a lot of bands out there that are really going for the throat. There’s still some. Punk has become such a ubiquitous term. Punk is about rebellion and that’s why it has resonated with so many generations of fans. It has sort of been bastardized and metamorphised. Punk doesn’t mean what it used to the ‘70s, but it does remain viable source.

Do you think that’s a symptom of society becoming tamer in general?
It’s hard to say. The Internet has changed everything and not always for the better. I like to use the analogy of the dark ages -- or when individual scenes were finding their way without outside intervention. Now outside intervention is everywhere and everything is immediately viewed by everyone everywhere. I still think that there are a lot of angry bands out there, and good young bands. Back then, the DC scene was 100 to 150 kids, and Detroit was 100 to 150 kids, and now it’s a completely different landscape. For good and for bad.

Tesco, you talk about how you like aggression and hostility. But, nearly every spiritual leader urges peace and understanding. What are the virtues of aggression and hostility?
We all feel that. We all have the little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. For me, I’m just shooting for the hip. I go for reaction. I try to stir the pot. Everybody gets upset about something during the day. I vocalize and bring it to the light. If you take it at face value, maybe it does come across as hate rock. But most of what I'm putting out there is tongue-in-cheek. A song like "I’m Gonna Fuck You Up" is just about day to day aggression. I do hate things. I hate the religious right. I hate religion in general. Religion is like shooting fish in a barrel. People think that I’m right wing -- au contraire. I’m quite the opposite. I’m a free thinking, free swinging liberal. People might form the wrong idea from what they hear on the record. I’m going for reaction and I always have. To me, that’s what punk rock was always about.

You were raised in a very strict, religious household.
I was, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, under Dutch reformed Calvinist, which is about as strict as you can get -- church three times on Sunday and during the week I had to go to choir and catechism. I really got it shoved down my throat. When I got older, I made mommy and daddy not very happy. You could say my reaction is an overreaction to a steady diet of God that I had to guzzle as a little boy.

I remember as a little boy, seeing the priest pounding his fist on the lectern, angry and red faced, and it reminded me of Adolph Hitler. You hear that God is supposed to be about love, and the preacher is out of mind. I had to rebel, so I ditched it.

Did the band cause a big rift between you and your family?
Yeah, to be honest, they never really knew that much what it was about. They knew my personal beliefs and weren’t too happy with it. My sister just told me last week that she’s a born-again Christian. I said, "Well, that’s fine. That’s not for me." My parents knew about the band and they knew it wasn’t gospel rock, but they never knew the true extent of my depravity. I shielded them from it a little bit.

Though, coming from their background, which I assume was very religious, they were sort of understanding. It’s not like they stopped speaking to you.
Right. But, they weren’t exactly proud, like "He’s in a rock band!" They were every old school. Rock 'n' roll is bad and there’s no discussing it. I’m a very good son, but we have to disagree on that.

Your father is still around, correct?
Yeah, he’s going to be 92.

Do you get along now?
Yeah. There are no problems.

You used to teach elementary school students when the Meatmen were first getting started.
I was doing the Meatmen while I was still teaching. Eventually, I started to get some weirdness. I was doing shows around town and it was a small town. I was printing "Touch N Go" magazine at the middle of the night so I wouldn’t get busted. I was juggling all those lives, and eventually I got laid off from my teaching job, through no fault of Tesco Vee, so I moved to DC.

Did the kids like you?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I was a great teacher.

Do you think one of the reasons the Meatmen have endured is because fifth graders and young males, and even adult males, all think on the same fundamental level?
Ha ha ha! Well, I never thought of it that way, but it’s very possible. By the same token, I never thought that our music was lowest level common denominator, like the Mentors or something. I always thought that the Mentors were the Meatmen with their brains kicked out of them. You can read our lyrics at face value, but it takes a master's degree to read our lyrics and get through them. I think our lyrics would make a great piece for a grad school paper. I’m a semantic tactician. The English language was always my strong suit. My mother, who never attended college, did a large part in making me the writer that I am. She was always correcting my grammar. She, in a large part, made me able to put pen to paper like I do.

Is it frustrating for you that people do not dig deeper into the Meatmen’s lyrics?
Yeah, I think it’s easy to dismiss us as a joke band because we have humor in our lyrics. I think based on what we’ve done in the past, I understand why people might want to dismiss us. I’m content with where I am in the punk rock realm. I’ve always done it as a hobby, not as a vocation. It’s a toy I pick up and put down when I weary of it. It’ll probably be after I’m dead, people will say how great I am. I do have fans out there, loyal Meatmen. People need to rediscover the chronology of the Meatmen and see what we stand for.

Tesco, you’re a fan of the Fugs… but the Fugs were hippies and you’re a punk rocker!
Ha ha ha! Very good point! They were geniuses. That was the stuff that we would listen to in high school while smoking bad Mexican. "Coca Cola Douche," "I Couldn’t Get High," "Saran Wrap." I’ve robbed or borrowed various lines from them over the years. They are geniuses. I tried to play them for the guys in my band and they are like, "What is this shit!" They didn’t go through the same phases I did -- Frank Zappa, the Fugs, Captain Beefheart. It was way out music with an element of humor. I think the Fugs live at the Fillmore is one of my desert island tens. It’s genius. It really was. I know those guys were on some good drugs, but I didn’t know what they were. Those were the guys that made me want to do punk rock. I couldn’t sing, but punk rock happened and the light bulb went on over my head. But, I didn’t want to sing about Reagan or my girlfriend, so I sang about poop and boners.. and that’s how the Meatmen were born.

You are frequently spotted in Abba gear. Are you genuinely a fan of the band, or is it an ironic appreciation?
It’s genuine. I‘m no Abba-come-lately. I’ve been a fan of Abba since 1972 since I heard the first album. I even got my dad to be a fan. In conjunction with the fact that Agnetha is the most beautiful creature on Earth, the production was awesome. I still love them. People go, [in doofus voice] "Hey Tesco, how come you like Abba?!" I just love them. It’s Alpine musical majesty. The fact that the two chicks are pretty hot did not hurt.

You mention that the girls in Abba are good looking. How come most modern punk bands don’t talk about sex in their music?
I think a lot of punk rock is formula. I think they are singing to their fans. The beauty of the Meatmen is that we do whatever we want. I don’t know why they don’t sing about sex -- maybe because it’s kind of funny. Everyone does it. I just had to write about it. Sexual function, sexual dysfunction. I had to write all about it.

Tesco, the new album is really, really great. Did you know that it would turn out so well while you were recording it?
I’m close to it. it’s self-serving to say. I feel like we’re back in the game, back on the map. I put my heart and soul into it. I made people wait almost 20 years, so it better be good. I think it stands up against anything else that we’ve ever done.

The new album argues for weed legalization. Why are you pro-toking? Are you pro-all drugs?
We could talk for a half hour about that. More people are arrested for marijuana than all violent crimes in the USA. Too many people are in long term incarceration for marijuana offenses. As for all drugs, I suppose Tesco Vee would say yes, but, realistically, no.

The marijuana thing really chaps my ass. In Michigan, it’s virtually legal. But, in Arizona, it’s a felony to have a roach. The country is a mish-mash of state and federal laws. In California, it’s legal but the feds can come down on you. They need to standardize it -- just make it legal. It’s been around for thousands of years and it’s a wonderful drug.

George Carlin had an interesting perspective on weed. He said that he actually didn’t smoke that much in his older years -- only when he was feeling particularly creative.
I don’t smoke as much as I used to. All of my lyrics up until this new album were written under the influence of marijuana. I don’t do it that much anymore. I’m still pro-legalization. It just sort of opens up a gate into the crazy, wacked out world.

Do you ever have a problem separating your true self from Tesco Vee?
Not at all. I have a straight a job. Tesco Vee is a character I crawl into, but it’s also who I am. I’m totally comfortable -- I have to, like, flip a switch. Some of that stuff, I do have buried in a layer of normality. I still feel the same way, though. As to mellowing or changing -- my dad went from a Democrat to Republican as he got older which I was always disappointed in. Like a right of passage as you get older, like switching from briefs to boxer shorts. But, that will never happen to me -- never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever.

Do you think you are becoming more extreme in your beliefs?
Mmmm…. I think I just believe what I believe. I don’t think I’m changing. I feel strongly about what I believed 30 years ago. I still feel like a young person that likes fun. They say men become angry at 70 because everything starts breaking down, but I still have a way to go before I hit that. I think my beliefs are basically what they were 40 years ago.

You’ve got a new song called "The Dwarves Are the Second Greatest Band Ever (After the Meatmen)" which is in response to the Dwarves' "The Dwarves Are Still the Best Band Ever." Are you trying to beef with the Dwarves?
Nah, it’s big time wrestling. We played it for them and they loved it. It’s all based on a true story. There’s an old interview where the Dwarves’ Blag bought a bunch of albums to see what he wanted his band to sound like and he heard We’re the Meatmen and he said "That was terrible! I knew we could do better than that!" That’s what started the fire. I had to paint a picture about Blag. It’s tongue-in-cheek. We love the Dwarves. They are kindred spirits.

On "They Just Don’t Make ‘em Like That Anymore" you praise a bunch of bands, including Minor Threat, and I know members of Minor Threat were in the Meatmen years ago. I find it interesting, that the big, bad, nasty, villainous Meatmen would praise Minor Threat, who are often painted as these noble, upstanding guys.
It’s not black and white. It was all punk rock. They were probably my favorite band live, because of Ian’s sense of conviction. I did have a period of non-drug use… though I quickly popped back into it. I don’t not like the band because of what they stand for. I think the whole straight edge thing got blown out of proportion. Ian got me my first job when I moved there. We were all one semi-happy family there for a while. That song is from the heart. It’s kind of like the old man telling the kids how it was and the bands that inspired me and the bands that put a mark on the early punk scene. Those are the bands that I still respect today.

You’re often, perhaps wrongly, grouped in with bands like GG Allin and The Mentors. I don’t think that they were happy people. But, I think, fundamentally, you are a happy person. Is that true?
That is absolutely, true. I’m a very happy person.

Why do you think that you are a happy person, but you make this wild, nasty, aggressive music?
Well, some of the nicest people make some of the angriest music. I can’t explain it. People expect me to be mean to them, but I’m a nice guy. I like my fans. I’m a happy guy. I’m a happy man. I’ve got a good life. I’ve got a good family. I’ve got a good toy collection. I get to play punk rock at 58! How could I not be happy?

You’ve got a massive toy collection. Is that a way for you to reconnect with your youth?
It’s what keeps me sane. I’ve been doing it since the late '80s. I was at a toy show and then I drove home and did an hour and a half set. That was the perfect day for me. That was as good as it gets. The toys and the bands are what keep me from going postal. I get to jump around on stage in a crazy costume. It’s a wonderful life.