Assault the Ancient Bonglords: Talking with The Linus Pauling Quartet About D&D, Videos, & 20 Years of Unadulterated Stoner Rock

linuspaulingquartet2For some bands, the only real goal they have in mind, ultimately, is the music equivalent of The Big Score. They want the mythical perfect record deal, where somebody’ll just throw money at them to make music, and they never have to worry about working again or playing teeny-tiny clubs to crowds of five people.

Now, if that’s what your band wants, that’s fine. Personally, though, the bands I really, truly love, by and large, are bands that couldn’t care less about fortune and fame, that would shrug and meander away from that too-good-to-be-true offer above, because they know it’s not what they really want. For bands like that, the music is the actual point — they just want to play and write songs, sometimes because they feel compelled to, like they don’t really know any other way to be.

That latter part, I think, describes The Linus Pauling Quartet perfectly. In the two decades or so they’ve been around, they’ve cheerfully, boozily made their own trail out from the beaten path into this crazy, fun, entertaining-as-hell corner of the musical universe, where they’ve proceeded to create some truly epic psych-stoner-rock, the kind that alternates between “what the hell?” goofiness and mind-blowing bombast, often in the same damn song.

And the best part is that they really don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks. They really don’t. They’re making music for themselves, and if anybody else out there happens to like it, well, hey, that’s great. If not…shrug. They’re not stopping because somebody thinks some song or album doesn’t fit where it’s supposed to or doesn’t work in quite the way somebody’s expecting it would; why would they? That’s not the point, in the end.

linuspaulingquartet1Nevertheless, it works, and works well. So well, in fact, that the LP4 has garnered a following here in their hometown of Houston and devoted fans in far-flung places like Australia or Europe; if you’re into psych-rock at all, odds are you’ve heard of this band.

So now, with latest full-length Bag Of Hammers out in the world — and yes, it’s an awesomely heavy slab of overfuzzed, head-nodding goodness — the band decided to turn its attention backwards for a bit, to go back through their by-now-extensive back catalog of tunes and cull out a “best of” of sorts, plus some assorted rarities even the diehard fans might never have heard.

And since anything worth doing is worth going absolutely overboard for, the best-of compilation/anthology was transformed into a 3-CD retrospective, entitled Assault on the Vault of the Ancient Bonglords and released on Homeskool Rekordz, with 42(!) songs from the band’s hazy, beer-and-weed-fueled past on up to Bag Of Hammers itself. All the songs have been remastered for the release, which is great, but on top of that, the Linus guys decided to go one further and release not just the music but an honest-to-God role-playing game module, too.

Oh, and then they made a video to go along with it, even throwing in an eponymous new song for good measure (after the release of the compilation, the new track will be available for free from the band’s Website). Whoa. Not bad for a bunch of guys whose primary concern is entertaining themselves…

With the release of Assault on the Vault of the Ancient Bonglords coming up this Saturday, December 15th, SCR caught up with guitarist/vocalists Ramon Medina and Clinton Heider to chat briefly about the anthology, the video, the module, and all the rest of it.


 

linuspaulingquartet5SCR: So, an RPG module? Wow. Where the heck did the idea for that come from? I take it you guys are all gamers?
Ramon Medina: I think Bubba Hightower of Homeskool came up with the idea to package the anthology — which was also his idea — like a module, but we kind of took it to the nth degree.

We were all gamers to varying degrees. I’d played D&D and other pencil-and-paper RPGs back in high school, but I wasn’t hardcore. The rest of the guys played, as well. Let’s see, I played D&D, of course, Villans and Vigilantes was another variant that I played, and there was also a Call of Cthulhu one… Shit, I guess now that I think about it, I played more than I thought. Still, I was too lazy to ever DM, so I still wouldn’t call myself “hardcore” just based on that. Clinton is epic hardcore!

Who actually wrote the thing? I’ve been looking through it, and I’m blown away by the sheer amount of effort that went into it, honestly; for a band that talks about being half-asses, you guys really don’t do things halfway…
Ramon: The 95-99% of the thing was written out by Clinton. We all suggested ideas — like I brought up the idea that the bonglords would be a bunch of stoned-out dudes on a sofa, and tossed in bad ELP and Peter Kaukonen jokes — but Clinton actually sat down, did the work, and wrote out the thing and drew out the maps and all. It was pure insanity, the amount of work he did.

I freaking love the old-school RPG art, by the way; who did the artwork for it?
Ramon: Clinton drew the maps. He used the map that I drew up for the “Crom” video as a basis for the LP4 world, so you’ll recognize the names of the lands from that.

The rest of the artwork was Stevie Sims of Burn The Boats — he did all that, which is crazy! You haven’t even seen but a smidgen of what has been drawn. It’s impressive — Stevie is crazy to have done all that work…there are monsters, and each of our characters has a sketch, much like what you’d seen those old Monster Manuals. We also had a small number of leftover sketches from Eli Brumbaugh, that we added in with his blessing.

linuspaulingquartet9I’m not sure what this’ll get me, but I have to ask: “Druids & Demons”? Is that a little bit of code, right there, to avoid getting sued?
Ramon: That’s actually from a small pamphlet that a friend of Clinton’s made up, and we kept that. It’s been something we’ve sold at shows for ages. So I guess just like TSR’s output grew more elaborate, so has ours, because this is a huge expansion on that original idea.
Clinton Heider: Ramon pretty much covered it. An old friend of mine, Mike Markovich, designed the “Druids and Demons” role-playing game as a tribute to the old original D&D-type RPGs that came out in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he included a couple of references to the LP4 “Bong Cycle” mythology. That little booklet inspired much of what came after with Assault on the Vault.

How’d the video shoot go? I have to say, it looked like y’all had a blast, and I loved how you essentially just kind of shrugged at any kind of special effects, going so far as to have Charlie [Naked, guitarist] use his hand to demonstrate how the blood’s spurting out of his neck. Was that an intentional thing, or did it just work out that way?
Ramon: I’m glad you liked Charlie’s miming, because I could have done something in After Effects but decided not to, because it was funnier without blood. Charlie was awesome, and his whole fight scene, from the Miller HIGH Life helmet to the blood spurt mime, was inspired!

But yeah, it was fun. We went through cases and cases of beers from 2-10PM on Sunday and just got stupider as we went along. I actually bought Mortal Kombat‘s arcade version for my PS3 just so we could film the Bonglords playing it. I don’t know why we settled on Mortal Kombat, but I think it’s because, for the short time I lived in Austin, I played a lot of Mortal Kombat at the Guadalupe Arcade. I’m pretty shitty on the PS3, but I can still kick ass if I play it at Palace Lanes.

linuspaulingquartet-module1When I storyboarded the thing, I expected to have more supporting players, but we kind of forgot to call people, and luckily Robert [McCarthy, of From Beyond] and Stevie were available, because they were gold! Stevie, in particular, was a total ham and just wanted to be in every scene, and I let him go to town. The fact that we had limited costumes — we all cobbled together stuff we had laying about — and just worked with what we had really helped the “feel” of it.

My stage lighting decided to die, so we had to work in the one area of the studio that had ample enough lighting for the green screen, but because it was so crowded there, I knew we were going to get shadows and reflections and other problems that would render it sloppy at best, so I just kind of ran with it, because there is something funny about shoddy production. I honestly think it’s funnier since we didn’t have the time and resources to make a proper video. And it’s also a lot more fun.

Now, for the other “side” of this release, the anthology/retrospective: why now? This isn’t some subtle signal that you’re preparing to call it a day or something, right?
Ramon: No, not at all — this was Bubba Hightower’s idea. He even curated the track listing, because we decided we didn’t want to argue about what would stay or what would go. We couldn’t stop if we tried.

I haven’t yet seen the track listings for the anthology — is it mostly newer stuff, older stuff, an even mix of the two…? How did you go about picking the songs to put on there, given that you’ve got, what, nine albums to choose from?
Ramon: You know, I have no clue what is on it, myself. Honestly, I’m much more interested in the new material we are working on right now. When it comes to music, I prefer the “Don’t Look Back” approach, which I is why I’m shitty about playing our older material — I have to go back and relearn [the songs].
Clinton: Regarding the contents of the anthology — there are a lot of tracks from some of our older, out-of-print albums, but it also includes some things we did for compilations or singles, and a couple of other unusual items. There are some previously unreleased live tracks, an early demo version of a song we did later, and a guest track from The Dunlavy that Ramon and I helped out with, back in the day.

Speaking of those albums, what’s the reception been like for Bag Of Hammers? Good, I hope?
Ramon: We’ve gotten a lot of good response, as far as I can tell, but I don’t know numbers or anything in terms of sales. I think at this point, though, we don’t worry about that kind of thing. We just do it because we’re too stupid to know how to stop.

linuspaulingquartet6For the Assault release, you guys seem to be eschewing the “traditional” release show format by doing it at Cactus in the middle of the day. Any reason for the shift?
Ramon: Quinn [Bishop, Cactus Music manager] actually asked us when we were going to play there again, and we said, “Funny you should ask, because we have a release coming up in December.” So that’s how it came about. It seemed perfect because, given we are playing the Escatones 7″ release in January at Rudz, we just didn’t want to book two club shows back to back.

It’s total cas and laid-back… No projectors or lights, just go up drink a couple beers and hang out. Cactus is awesome, and I’m glad we have such a cool store in town, with such cool people working. After the January show, our plan is to keep working on new songs and gear up for our show at SXSW. So, expect us to lay low in Houston for a few months after these two shows. END

[ THe Linus Pauling Quartet is playing its album release show 12/15/12 at 1PM at Cactus Music.]

Interview by . Interview posted Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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