Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Looking Back; With Iann Robinson Part II

(Iann Robinson interview from Unite Fanzine continued .)

James: Fast forward a couple of years after Monkey Butt Sex and "oh shit, that dude from MBS is on MTV. I couldn't help but wonder "What the fuck was he thinking?" "What the fuck was MTV thinking?" How did the job come about?

Iann: This guy Ocean Macadams used to watch Monkey Butt Sex with his friends and when he became a big wig at MTV he remembered me. Originally they were casting for some countdown show and wanted a metal guy, pop girl, hip hop guy and techno fan to report the news for various scenes. He found me and asked if I would come in and read. I did a camera test and then didn't hear back from them.

A few months later Ocean called and asked if I could do a fake set up in a bar pretending it was a news segment. I did that and then a few months past until I was called again. I went to a Powerman 5000 show and did am entire news segment as if it was live. Suddenly there was silence, I mean almost six months of it. My old band Puny Human was playing a show so I emailed the MTV people I'd met and invited them to come down. I got an email back from a producer telling me I couldn't play a show that weekend because I was going to cover the Metallica/System Of A Down show for them. It was a shock to me, nobody had told me anything about it.

I did that and then was told that I wasn't being hired because MTV decided to go for a girl due to the original show not happening and MTV only having a need one news reporter. I said fine and went back to MBS Productions. About four months later I was called and told they wanted to offer me a job on air. Apparently my test tape went out and had the highest rating of anything ever tested for MTV.

James: Did they try to change your abrasive style or perhaps polish it up a bit?

Iann: Oh yeah, they had to. I was way too rugged for TV just in the normal sense of I cursed too much and gave too many offensive statements. I didn't mind that but when they started trying to change me into this "metal guy" character and tone down who I was it got ugly. See I'm one of those assholes who needs things explained to him or at least for it to make sense or I fight it. MTV never explained anything they just said, "do it" and right there I was armed for a battle.

I also have no truck with hypocrisy and MTV is as hypocritical as you can get. They would pull news stories because labels asked them to, run segments on performers because they wanted the label to be happy, etc and so on. Then they'd tell me I couldn't have an opinion because it would hurt the credibility of MTV news. Let's keep it real here folks; MTV News has no credibility because it's entertainment. That kind of hypocrisy sets me off so we were fighting all the time.

You can see the reality coming to light now as MTV News has, much like music, disappeared almost completely from the channel. Looking back I didn't realize what I was fighting or how to fight it. I just swung my arms and kicked and screamed, which was the wrong move. In 2000 when I started MTV was just beginning to change from a music channel to the reality TV, pyramid of cowards channel it is now. If I had realized that I would've held on for the ride and laughed as it crumbled. Instead I made so many people angry they opted to get rid of me.

James: You kind of gave the channel a short lived sense of street cred. Here was this guy from the Hardcore scene perhaps trying to show that there are alternatives to the garbage that was out there.

Iann: The term "street cred" always makes me shudder because it's a goofy term. I didn't bring the ills of street life into MTV or anything but I did bring a sense of reality. Everybody on MTV is so polished, so worked out and put together nobody can really relate to them. Even when MTV goes for a "normal" look it's usually a pretty boy dressed down. There I was fat, bald, tattooed and in t-shirts not something chosen for me by wardrobe. I looked like your buddy or a guy you worked with plus I knew what I was talking about. Combine those two and you get a sense of honesty that MTV lacks and people felt I brought that to the channel.

It goes back to the hypocrisy thing. MTV is forever trying to pull the wool over their viewer's eyes whether trying to sell some hugely backed major label artist as an "underground" artist or shilling their news reporters as people they just happened upon when in reality it was a long exhausting search. I cut through all that so people trusted me plus I had actually been in the music scene for a long time.

Lastly I delivered the news differently than anybody else ever had. I talked to people not at them, I was weird and random and made stupid jokes. I wanted people to always know I knew how dumb this all was and how ridiculous it was I was getting paid to do it. It was like when George Reeves would make a joke about Superman and wink to the crowd, it's a unsaid thing we all respond to. People liked that about me so they responded to it. MTV still tries to get their news people to mimic it with varied results.

James: Were there a lot of instances where you were interviewing or covering a band that you absolutely hated or thought were complete garbage?
Moments where you had to kind of bite your tongue and just kind of suck it up?

Iann: Of course, it was a job and just like any job you have to do things you don't want to do. I interviewed bands all the time I had no interest in and just sucked it up. The funny thing was it wasn't who you'd think I'd hate interviewing. I enjoyed sitting down with Britney Spears a whole lot more than Korn or talking to Eminem was way cooler than dealing with Godsmack.

I never bit my tongue when a band would ask me what I thought of them but I didn't march into an interview ready to start bitching. The worst of the lot was Limp Bizkit because I completely hated them. Not only was their music garbage but Fred Durst was a cunt, a bully and an all around piece of shit. I couldn't hide how much I hated him and at that point he was MTV's darling. We had a few run ins, the worst was when we nearly came to blows at Metallica Icon. 

Fred boasted a lot of threats and gestured a lot and blew off steam but nothing happened. I think Fred thought that when he "stepped" to me I was going to cower and cry for mercy. When I just stood there looking at him like the joke he was he had no plan B. So after ten minutes or so of him priming like thirteen-year-old girl he just walked away. Later Fred called a truce and I nearly pissed myself laughing. What are we in the third grade?

James: Any experiences that really stick out or left a mark? (Good or Bad)

Iann: Oh lots of good ones, it's easy to make MTV seem all bad but it wasn't. I got to go to Lucas Ranch and meet George Lucas, of course that was before I realized how badly he'd raped my childhood. I got to meet Black Sabbath, Lemmy, Megadeth, Dave Grohl, etc. The main thing was I got to bring exposure to bands I felt needed it and get press to shine on those I felt deserved it. I also got to travel and do things few ever get to do.

There's no one experience that really jumps out, it's all an amalgam of things that happened to me there. It's also been seven years since I was on MTV so it all tends to blur. Touring with Slipknot was fun, hanging with all the big rap dudes at the NBA thing in Atlanta was cool to. As for bad experiences that came more with the day-to-day of working there.

MTV isn't set up as a community or a place that creates an atmosphere of compromise or creativity. You are told what to do and either you play the game or go home. MTV big wigs are really into acting like parents and scolding their workers like children. They also like to mess with people's livelihoods by hiring everybody as "permalance", which means you're always there but still considered freelance. Then they can fire you with impunity, which they do often. Letting people stress their jobs is how they maintain control and that makes the place hard to work.

James: I'm not a science fiction fan in the least but I'm a complete and total Star Wars nerd. (I've got an unopened Sand People action figure on the shelf next to my desk.) But you hit the nail right on the head when you mention "having your childhood raped." (Eluding to the prequels) If you had met him after their release and had an opportunity to engage him honestly. What would you say?

Iann: At this point I'd just ask him why. Why did he let his ego destroy something so precious to all of us? Why did he make Anakin's turn so anti-climactic, why include Sam Jackson, why do any of it. I guess the biggest question is why make Jar Jar Binks an annoying loser who sounded like a Jamaican talking underwater? Why make the bad guys in the first one Asian?  The biggest question was why not let people who can write and direct do these stories? Write the treatments, tell the tale and then let people who are actually good at this take it from there.

Lucas has no sense of dialog, pacing, structure, timing or character development. One second Anakin is saying "Oh God what have I done" when he kills Mace Windu and then five minutes later he's killing children? What the fuck Lucas? The movies should have started when he was a teen and shown his gradual turn, plus it should have involved the Clone Wars more. Amedalla or whatever her name was dying of a broken heart? Are you fucking kidding me?

I would want to point out every problem with all three movies and have George explain it to me. Not with excuses but with actual reasons why he made these three movies so ungodly bad. I'm just as big a Star Wars geek as anybody, I have an entire forearm of tattoos dedicated to those movies and I just can't watch them anymore. Even the ones I grew up with are tainted for me. It's like this giant part of my childhood has been ripped away thanks to Lucas making what amounts to a reverse Roger Rabbit movie with humans in a cartoon world.

James: One of my favorite memories of your time on MTV was the episode of MTV Cribs that featured you. Here was a really badly scripted show that was a bad copy of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" The people seemed fake, the comments always sounded scripted and the cars always seemed strategically placed. The episode that featured you was the only one that actually made me laugh. How did that come about and were you completely taking a piss out of the show?

Iann: They actually came to me about it because of my massive toy collection. Part of my self-medicating when I was miserable besides eating was buying toys and collectables of all kinds. It was out of control and I literally had a huge two bedroom apartment overflowing with toys and pop culture items. I wasn't trying to take the piss out of the show itself but I was taking some swipes at the rich folks and their whole "player" thing.

The funniest part of all of it was I made some innocuous joke about Lars Ulrich and he lost his shit. He called MTV, tried to get me thrown off the Metallica Icon show, was a prick to me, anything you could do he did it. I just laughed that he was such a little bitch over a joke but he pitched his tantrum and then it went away. Since then I've sold everything I ever owned in that show, all of it. I got into some rough times and needed the money plus slowly I was getting out of the whole impulse buying thing. Now I just kick myself because if I had all that money I could buy a fucking home.

James: One of the funniest things about watching the early "Real World" episodes is there was always a musician or a guy in a band who made a point of pimping his music on the show. It always turned out to be a really shitty band or dime a dozen soul act. None of these bands ever went anywhere. Maybe they put out a record or two but they always went right into the cut out bin or better yet the good old circular file. At the time you were working for MTV you were also playing drums for Puny Human. (A very good, heavy fucking band) There you were working for the biggest Music network on the planet yet you never talked about. In retrospect that seems like a very wise choice.

Iann: I never thought about bringing Puny Human into MTV because it was my one chance to live away from the channel. In the circles we toured in my being on MTV had no bearing at all people didn't care. I could just be me and hang, play shows and exist. The other thing was in that circle it was about the merit of your band, if we'd rang bells and sung songs announcing my thing on MTV we'd have been sunk, people would have seen us as a joke band or not respected us.
You also have to remember I was the drummer, as far from the front man lead guy as you could be. I always hated when photographers tried to put me in front of a picture or started asking me all the questions at interviews, I felt like it would be incredibly super douche to take on the front man roll just because of my job, Fearing that I made a conscious effort to stay in the background so we didn't become stonerrock's answer to No Doubt.

James: I got to see the band a few times and still listen to "It's not the heat..." and "revenge is easy" Can you tell me a little bit about the band?

Iann: Puny Human started from the ashes of a band called Grey and the fact that I wanted to play drums with Josh (guitar) and Jason (bass), two brothers who at the time were my best friends that I respected as musicians. Originally we were going to be called Master Blaster but we were being big fans of the band Deadguy who had a song called Puny Human as well as comic geeks we settled on that name. We had a singer at first whose name I forget and he sucked. He sounded very Brett Michaels and jumped around on stage like it was an arena GnR show. After firing him the band kind of went nowhere and stalled.

A few years later we were thinking of enlisting our friend Brian who sang in Crawlpappy to be our frontman but he lived too far away. He suggested this guy Jim Starace who we instantly clicked with and loved his voice. From there we banged out songs and recorded our first album Revenge Is Easy, which is still my favorite. We toured some, played shows, did normal band things and it was great. My two best friends and I with this new awesome dude making music we loved, I couldn't have asked for more.

Things started getting hinky during the writing for our second album. Josh and Jason were amazing players but they had one Achilles heel, this weird fear of not being seen as consummate musicians. Our songs became more complicated, we veered away from the straight groovy stuff we were doing and it ran some tensions high. We also called in J. Yuenger from White Zombie to produce our second album It's Not The Heat It's The Humanity and while he is a kick ass producer and an amazing human being we didn't need that many bells and whistles.

I'm very proud of It's Not The Heat It's The Humanity but it was really where the cracks started. After I left MTV and moved to Boston we had a terrible falling out that resulted in myself and Josh and JAson losing a fifteen year friendship and my relationship with Jim becoming strained. The whole thing ended badly, with really bad moves and harsh words from both sides. None of us handled it correctly and I think it was part of a bigger issue that had been breeding in our friendship for a while.

Somehow I was labeled the bad guy in all of this, which I don't think is one hundred percent fair. Right when the fallout happened I had moved to a new city, I was broke, getting divorced for a second time, dealing with the MTV loss and all these other things. I was a terrible mess but not without reason. My reactions to things were way off and incredibly harsh and I regret that but it was during a dark, dark time for me.

It was sad that people were quick to believe the worst about me and a great deal of people I had helped turned their backs on me and that hurt, still does. I tried to patch things up but it became out of sight, out of mind. I wasn't invited to the party anymore and since I wasn't there nobody thought about me.

It's been five years since all of that and we're all different people now. Everybody who was in the band has a kid except me and while Puny Human did release an album without me on drums I think it's pretty much defunct now. It's too bad it all went down how it did and I hold a bit of hope that one day we'll all be in the same room and maybe work it out but if not it's so far removed from my life now that I can't really be too upset about it.

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