Earlier this year we reissued two albums from pioneering Austin, Texas hardcore band, The Big Boys. We were lucky enough to get to ask guitarist Tim Kerr some questions recently. Below we talk about jazz, traditional Irish music and Dadaism with the guy whose smile is too big for emojis. Instead, he actually writes out the word “smile.” How’s that for DIY? (Smile.)
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Is it true that you started out playing traditional/acoustic music mostly? If so, how did you transition to punk?
Up until late junior high (‘68/’69) it was pretty much AM radio and the soul station my oldest brother listened to. I started to listen to FM radio back when it was pretty much free form and gravitated to British/Scottish/Irish folk with a good dose of Country blues. Nick Drake, John Martyn, Bert Jansch but also things like early James Taylor (on Apple), David Crosby, etc. But seeing Richie Havens on the WoodStock film led me to alternative tunings and I was hooked. I was the weird kid in high school because while all my so-called peers were listening to Deep Purple, James Gang, etc. I was listening to Pentangle and Bruce Cockburn. The only Led Zeppelin record I owned was the 3rd one because of all the acoustic stuff on it.
I have said before many times that it was not the music that initially pulled me in to the DIY/punk scene, it was the community of it. The idea that ANYONE could participate in some way (fanzines, photos, posters, bands). The crowd was just as important as the band. I thought that was the greatest thing ever, and hook line and sinker, I was in.
You have a mind-bogglingly eclectic range of musical interests and you’re a multi-media visual artist as well. What, if anything, would you say is the through line that connects all of your various creative pursuits?
Self-expression and the idea to keep seeking. Period. We all have it inside and it’s a shame when folks don’t participate in their own definition of it. I, for one, do it because I have to. Like breathing, I need it to feel/be alive.
Your music seems to always have been closely tied to ideals of social justice and activism. What are your thoughts on the relationship between music (and art) and political/social issues? Can the two influence one another? Should they? And could you explain the idea behind the Young Lions Conspiracy?
I believe that actions cause reactions. To each his own, but I just feel that if I am sending things out into the world, I want it to be something that might cause some sort of a positive reaction. I am living proof of the idea that you really have no idea when and what musical or visual thought might stick with someone else and in turn cause them to act. The Rodriguez story is a great example. What is going on around you is going to influence your thoughts even if you will not admit it. As for the Young Lion Conspiracy, thats a couple of volumes, sonic and written, to put into words (smile).
Was there ever a time in your creative career when you doubted the worth of artistic endeavor, say in the face of disheartening social issues or other real-world challenges?
As I said before, what I do is what I do to live/breathe/feel alive. What I do is always some sort of reaction to things going on around me or something that I feel is maybe being missed by others. I don’t really have doubt concerning the question of doing something, only doubt in the processes and how to maybe go about them when I have that doubt. I think for me, there are more times that I am surprised that something I did resonated with someone else (big smile).
Who (or what movements) are your biggest artistic influences in terms of your visual art?
The 60s, which I grew up through. All the crazy visuals of that time along with the different groups of people making their stands. As far as actual painters, I was always more into someone like Van Gogh where you could actually see the paint sticking up… You could see “his hand” in it. I always knew that art was everywhere we looked if we would just “see,” but being in Garry Winogrand’s classes brought that idea to a truth. I love art that is made because it has to be made, has to come out of that person and consumes them until it does. Visionary, graffiti, etc. Like music, I am not interested in self-expression that is solely made in the hopes of fame, recognition, or money. For me, that output never has “soul,” but whatever… To each his own.
In a previous interview, Chris Gates stated that punk started out being something you couldn’t do wrong because there were no rules, but that by the early 1980s that began to change and a more regimented and narrow view took hold. Are there contemporary bands now that you would describe as being “punk”?
One of my favorite lines that Chris said! (big smile) I have always told people we were playing DIY (smile). As soon as you give something a “name,” here come the rules, regulations, and uniform. DaDa, Beatnik, Hippie, Punk, Mod, etc. ALL came from the seeds of DIY in the beginning. A group of people not liking the choices given to them, so they made their own choices. Me and my friends will always be whatever they call it next. Self-expression is not supposed to have boundaries, so why confine it? Call it Self-Expression, and lets leave it at that (big smile).
Jazz music and figures seem to be a motif in much of your visual art. What does jazz mean to you? Has it influenced your music as well as your art?
I first got into Jazz because of my, now, wife’s mom when I had first started high school. I heard her Dave Brubeck records and it grew from there. Up until the early 90′s I was really into soul jazz and cool jazz. John Coltrane was a big inspiration, but anything from Love Supreme on was a bit much and too out there (sad smile). Through friends, thankfully, I became “enlightened” by Pharaoh Sanders, SunRa, the Art Ensemble, etc. And all the doors and windows inside of me blew wide open to all the endless possibilities. I am SO thankful to my friends.
You’ve mentioned Dadaism in passing in previous interviews. As a rejection of reason and logic, in favor of nonsense and intuition, dadaism seems like a pretty punk movement. What is your experience with dadaism? Do you believe that meaninglessness/randomness is essential to tapping into self-expression and creative flow?
Nobody ever seems to catch that. Yes, Biscuit was gay, BUT even more so, he completely embraced the idea of Dadaism. The idea of being so absurd that people have to stop and reevaluate their thoughts on what is being presented to them. The idea that art is everywhere if you just open up to the thought of that idea. The more you broaden your “vocabulary,” the more you will hear, see, feel, taste, etc.
You’ve also said in interviews that nowadays you’re primarily playing traditional Irish music. Do you see connections between traditional folk and punk?
There is a purpose to that music, and it’s also the whole idea of community and anyone can come participate in his/her own way.
What projects are you working on at the moment that you’re are excited about? Any upcoming shows?
I tell people all the time that I am extremely honored and humbled and proud of all that I have gotten to be a part of, but I am not dead yet, and I hope I haven’t seen the best thing to come! (smile) There is a mini art tour coming up that is based on the idea of doing with art what we were all doing with music in the late 70s early 80s–booking shows and going on tour and sharing information. If we could get some sort of circuit going where artists could come into your town and put up art for a night or two just like bands and their music, we could turn the art world upside-down in the same way the music world was turned back in the 80s. There are more murals in the future, music with my friend Rich Jacobs and maybe some recordings. Up Around The Sun too. Art shows in San Jose and Tokyo and next summer a solo show at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery. Really honored by that one!
(Tim and a friend performing. Tim is on the right.)
Up Around the Sun is a new release of old time music by Tim and Jerry Hagins.