Hello! This is “A Litany of Grievances” the new single from Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends (Me: guitar/Vocals, Tony Ash: Bass, Dale Crover: Drums). This is Atom 1, the first volume of a 12 volume series called “Protons and Electrons”. Each Protons and Electrons volume features a great band on the B-side that either plays in Secret Friends, Records with Secret Friends or has some heavy relevance to how Neutron Friends came to be. In this case the other band is TROPHY WIVES, their first release in quite some time. Trophy Wives features the low end majesty of Mr. Tony Ash. Tony and I were label mates with previous bands and toured on multiple occasions. If I am the brain of the Secret Friends, he is absolutely the heart. It would probably exist without him, but I wouldn’t want it too. As per always the incredible Toshi Kasai is in the producer’s chair on this one, engineering and mixing as well, and in this case Cristy Joy provided some excellent background vocals.
The B-Side song: Trophy Wives – “Tomorrowland” was always a favorite of mine live, and it’s a pleasure to have it associated with this series. It’s an ass kicker.
Bob Weston of Chicago Mastering Company mastered and cut the lacquer.
This 7” is available for immediate purchase at $8 each, each one comes in a limited edition hand screened jacket by Christopher Williams of Plastic Flame Press, shipping later in March.
You can also purchase a digital version through bandcamp or through any of the usual ways one does that (as of later this week).
To say that this is a massive undertaking is an understatement of the highest order. It has been a grueling and involved process that is now just beginning to pay off with the actual release. Take all of the hassles of one release and multiply it by a dozen, and then involve other bands as well… yeah… let’s go ahead and say I have some tales. Yet, this is the way we wanted to present this material to you, as singles… months by months as part of this series.
What you will see is a digital single every month, followed by a physical single of the same song the next one.
If you wish you can purchase a “Friends of the Neutron” subscription and guarantee yourself a copy of each one as well as copies of the entire back catalog digitally, a custom t-shirt and another fun surprise. Either way, this is here for you to listen to now, and that makes us very happy. Spread the word!
Free to listen, $8 to pre-order vinyl, $2 to buy digital
Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends is, as always, Conan Neutron on Vocals and guitar, Tony Ash on bass and Dale Crover on drums. This time we are joined by Sean Kirkpatrick of the pAperchAse and Nervous Curtains on synth, piano, keys, etc, and Josh Hensley of the rutabega on harmony vocals.
It’s a lot more low key than a lot of our stuff and is directly written about the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Death Valley Junction California.
There is a stunning documentary on it called Amargosa.
Here’s what that link says:
“In the ghost town of Death Valley Junction stands the Amargosa Opera House, where for the past 33 years former New York dancer and artist Marta Becket has performed her own ballets in the theater she spent seven years handpainting with stunning murals.”
Yup. I (Conan) consider Marta Becket to be a personal inspiration and the Amargosa Opera House to be a paragon of DIY attitude and uncompromising vision. This song is meant to honor her achievements and memory, and to celebrate the idea that empty spaces are places to paint, what is possible.
If you’ve ever seen Lost Highway, it’s the hotel at the end.
It’s an incredible place in the middle of absolutely NOWHERE and Marta Becket was an American treasure.
On the other side is the incredible Maple Stave, Chris does time as second guitar for us quite a bit and does a LOT of our art. Evan has sat in as well, on guitar and drums. They are a hell of a band.
Let me just quote what Chris wrote about their song:
“The short version: the Maple Stave split with Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends is out today. We recorded it in November with the great Nick Petersen, and it was mastered by the great Bob Weston. It is the first Maple Stave recording since 2006 (I believe) to include bass guitar.
It is available for download here:
The long version:
Back in summer of 1998 things were weird for me. I had started listening to stuff like Polvo and June of 44, which skewed my songwriting, pushing it away from the more traditional likes of Sebadoh and Guided By Voices. It was also weird because I was about to start college, and I was scared to some degree. As far as a band went, I knew I’d start from scratch, and, with that, could do whatever.
On August 5th 1998, I went to the Lizard & Snake (long, long gone Chapel Hill cafe/club), probably on the suggestion of a friend. The show I went to see featured two bands I knew nothing about. They were Bicentennial Quarters (local opener; about 20 years gone as of this writing) and U.S. Maple. Like hearing “Enemy Insects,” “My Black Ass” or “Of Information & Belief” for the first time in my car, on Jefferson Road, not long before, these bands blew me away. (note: I first heard “My Black Ass” in a friend’s car in an Amoco parking lot in Boone, NC somewhere in 97/98) I didn’t understand what was happening, but knew it was good. It gave me a much greater understanding of how much you could play with song structure, and though I’d say that I likely lean more toward traditional styles when writing, it broadened my horizons enough to understand that pushing things further than I had been was absolutely ok to do.
I left that show and came up with the name Maple Stave as a nod of appreciation. I wrote it down in a notebook in case I ever needed it.
I moved to Boone, started college, but caught up with Bicentennial Quarters a couple months later at Carrboro Elementary, opening for Shellac. It was a big deal to see Shellac. A growing number of albums in my collection featured at least one of the band members’ names and I had a quickly growing appreciation for their work (which still carries on; I’ll still sometimes think how good something sounds only to find one of their names in the liner notes). I wasn’t in a good band, we had nothing that was worthy of recording or mastering, but I knew one day it would happen. Despite how angular and aggressive the music is, Shellac proved to be perfect gentlemen. After the show, I approached Bob and asked if he would work with my band. He said he would, told me he had a day rate and if he had to fly anywhere we’d have to cover expenses and gave me his phone number. That number remained on the wall of my apartments for years, in case I ever felt like I needed it.
So then, 2018 rolls around, 20 years down the line from all this, and Conan asks us to record something to be a part of his seven inch series. We go out and record with our buddy, Nick Petersen, send it off to Conan, feeling really good about what we’ve done (Nick is great guy, does great work, and always makes us feel at home). Conan sent the file off to be mastered, and, not long after, I got the file back. It was from Chicago Mastering, it was from Bob Weston, and it was one of the happiest moments I’ve had out of a quarter century of playing music.
I wasn’t in a happy spot toward the end of last year. I wrote an angry song, while trying to be diplomatic. Evan helped me a lot with whittling down and rephrasing, as per usual, all for the best. It’s about trying to be honest with yourself and someone else. And it has one of best titles we’ve probably ever slapped on a song.”…
Despite the decentralizing power of technology, there still exists the un-killable notion of musicians leaving whatever flyover states they grew up in and “making it” on one of the coasts. Conan Neutron has it all wrong: Last June, the Oakland, California punk musician packed up after 22 years in the Bay Area and moved to the Midwestern climes of Milwaukee, taking the spirit of his band (if not all the members), Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends, with him. A revolving super group of sorts (the current recording lineup features Melvins’ drummer Dale Crover, and former Coliseum and Trophy Wives member Tony Ash), Neutron and company are no strangers to Milwaukee, with the singer-songwriter’s former band, Victory And Associates, once a part of Milwaukee’s Latest Flame Records. But now, as much as any group with members spread throughout the country can be (other Secret Friends call Athens and San Francisco home), Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends are officially a Milwaukee band.
This Friday at Club Garibaldi, the group will celebrate the release of their first “Protons and Electrons” split seven-inch, backed with a track from Trophy Wives. Eleven more seven-inches will be released over as many months, eventually adding up to a full album. Before the tour-kickoff show (which will also feature sets from Body Futures and Guerilla Ghost), Milwaukee Record spoke to Neutron about his music (“Weird music by weirdos, for weirdos,” he says), moving to the middle of the country, and doing other “stupid” stuff.
Milwaukee Record: So let’s get the big question out of the way: Why move from California to Wisconsin? What are your ties to Milwaukee?
Conan Neutron: Basically, they’re all from touring. My old band, whenever we’d come through town, we would always play Milwaukee and have a great time. Some of my closest friends are from touring, a large portion of which live in Milwaukee. The IfIHadAHiFi guys being some of them.
We didn’t leave the Bay Area because we disliked it, it was pretty much a matter of being priced out. It was a choice between having a life where you can really lay into the things you really want to do, or fight as hard as you can just to stay above water. Moving to a place with a lower cost of living makes it easier to do that kind of thing. Especially for me, with my main creative pursuit being Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends, we’re all spread out anyway, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to stay in Oakland, especially with everything skyrocketing. So we narrowed it down to a bunch of different cities, and Milwaukee was definitely attractive because we had an existing base of friends. There’s a lot in common between Oakland and Milwaukee—there are a lot of differences as well—but that’s how we ended up heading east from the Wild West. [laughs]
MR: What are some of those differences and similarities between the two cities?
CN: The Bay Area is very concerned with technology, with apps, and with things along those lines. That’s where all the energy is focused, whereas actual art…The Bay Area is world-renowned, for good reason, for being a hotbed of different types of art, whether its visual, comics, music, etc. But the focus in the past decade has changed toward tech, and there’s so much going on at any given moment in time, that there’s almost too much of everything. Which, by the nature of availability, kind of devalues the experience. Not necessarily devaluing playing for the sake of playing, but it makes it a different kind of thing.
This isn’t a new thing. I think most bands, or most bands that tour, will say, “People didn’t really get into us until we got bigger around the country.” That’s a pretty common refrain, and it’s that way for a reason. Outside validation. There’s a record label named World Famous in San Francisco. And that’s totally a thing. [laughs] It happens in a lot of areas, where a local band is very well known. But the World Famous in San Francisco attitude is hilarious because it’s so true, because people don’t even go to Oakland for shows, or go to Berkeley for shows. That’s kind of against my mindset.
I’m a communitarian at heart. I got into punk rock to give back a little bit, to give back to something that’s given to me in so many ways. I don’t consider it a musical genre as much as a lifestyle ethos. I don’t mean liberty spikes and bullet belts, but critical thinking, looking out for a community, etc. It increasingly became known to me that I could do a lot more good out here than I could back in the Bay Area, and provide a better life for ourselves while doing it, and have more resources to actually do those things. More resources to tour, more resources to put out records.
MR: You mentioned in an email that people are always confused when you tell them you moved here from California.
CN: [laughs] People are always looking for a specific reason. “Oh, I moved out here for a job,” or, “I moved out here because of a long-distance relationship.” But nobody ever asks that in California. Nobody ever asks, “Why did you move here from Wisconsin?” There’s always the soft tyranny of diminished expectations that comes from being a working-class, Midwestern city. But it’s like, what are you talking about? There are plenty of reasons to live here! It’s great!
MR: How does a band that’s spread across the country function as a recording unit versus a touring unit?
CN: There are two distinctly different things. By nature of my name being on the marquee, so to speak, this is more my thing than any band I’ve ever been in. As a recording thing, it started out with me writing a bunch of songs. I was inspired …