Do a search on “Visqueen” and you get as many results for the kick ass Seattle band that’s been hailed by NPR as “The Year’s Biggest Surprise” and the epitome of a working band out hustiling for every dollar as you do for the blue plastic tarps that cover dry-docked boats across this great nation. Described as tight, durable, inexpensive and dependable…the plastic shit is good too.
Glorious Noise caught up with boss lady Rachel Flotard to talk about the origins of the band name and the benefits of being named for an industrial product at the top of Homeland Security’s must-have list and what it takes to be a working band today. And then we catch some cartoons.
GLONO: I want to know if I am an idiot for thinking—for just a moment—that it might be pronounced “Vie-queen” like a viscount?
RF: As if we were in France?
Well, no. You’re the first person that’s ever done that.
So, maybe I am brilliant?
Well, I’m not certain that you’re not…it’s kind of a hard “s” and maybe you’re from a shire and you’re just special and that’s why you went this route. It’s not weird.
But really, the question was am I an idiot?
Oh, well, yeah. But is this going to be this hard? Because I am terrible at math.
There won’t be any math but we will be testing on your reading and comprehension.
The origins of the name: I know that Kim [Warnick] came up with the name, but is she just fascinated with building materials or what?
The deal is that it has “queen” in it and Kim’s a big Queen fan, as am I, and I guess she just liked the word as a kid. It’s really a deep, sentimental fixture for her—the plastic sheeting that goes over motor boats and old refrifgerators and crap—and I was coming up with some really stupid names, so if that gives you any inkling on how Visqueen became the Holy Grail. Because I was like, “What about Capezio or The Nativity Scenesters?” which I still think is going to be an excellent holiday band.
Yeah, I am picturing a label’s office party that’s themed the Nativity Scenesters.
Well, it’s coming but now I’ve just given it away. But you get a stockpile of band names that are all hilarious for one second and then you check back in on them the next day and they’re really not good. I mean, you could go with acronyms and dots and numbers…what if you’re Alien Ant Farm? You’re just dead.
But hopefully this [name] will retain those physical properties of cracked, plastic blue lining that just rides it out. And I know this isn’t making a lot of sense but I am all jacked up on cold medicine.
I don’t know, I kinda dig the imagery of your band name as this weather-beaten sheeting that endures.
Well, we were a band during the whole Anthrax scare, the whole “home security measures need to be taken” thing in the early 2000s. So Homeland Security was telling everybody to block off their windows with Visqueen, which pretty much got the word in the American lexicon a little deeper than it already had been—at least in the non-Hillbilly conversations.
Hey, we gotta throw some Visqueen up thar…
We were saving people with our name. In fact, the first time NPR interviewed me it was for All Things Considered in 2003 and they brought that up as one of the hilarious tid-bits. Like, “How does it feel to be mentioned in Homeland Security precautions” and I told them it feels real good.
Video: Visqueen “Crush on Radio”
So do you some of your success to George W. Bush?
Yeah, all of it. And Will Farrell.
Oh my God, is he not the funniest person on Earth? And he has this uncanny ability to look hot and disgusting at the same times. Like, sometimes he looks like Lee Majors and then other times…well…
Were you tempted to go catch that one-man show where he just played Bush?
Yeah, he did a whole one-man show on Broadway show just as George W.
I think I did hear about that but was unable to go and it’s now causing me grief.
I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anybody describe Will Farrell as hot.
You got a thing for Will Farrell? Let’s talk about that for a while. We can throw away the rest of my questions and just talk about that for a while.
We can. I am balancing a flashlight between my toes at my sister’s right now so we can have whatever discussion you need to have. We can talk about Will.
I’m kind of fascinated by it. We can come back to it.
But we were so close.
Let’s talk about your trip to Laos.
I went there a year ago with a friend of mine who is Laotian and stayed with his family and it was a very moving and amazing experience. My dad had died about 6 months prior to me going and I was just in a daze of grief and hurt and “what do I do with my life?” and this opportunity presented itself to put like jumper cables on my temples, and that’s pretty much what it did.
What did you do over there?
I toured a couple of schools and it pretty much just broke my heart. I’m never, ever gonna forget that and I’m going to use it whenever I think something is dumb or insurmountable.
What did that do to your psyche?
It inspired me to make some plans and to realize that life goes on with or without you. It was time to figure it out, or at least try to.
I started a record label and put the album out and then it dawned on me that, “wait a minute, I get to go to Laos again” and so I went back again last Christmas. And this time I made sure that I brought a lot of stuff.
You had some help this time?
It was weird because I put this record out and people liked it and then I was able to take the stuff that people liked about us and go back to companies like Jansport and say, “Hey, I’m going back to Laos. Why don’t you give me a dozen shoulder bags for the teachers who have to cart their stuff back and forth to school?” And they were like, “Sure!” So I basically started Robin-Hooding things from larger companies to help.
I also threw a party in Seattle called Foot Laos, of course, which was a Kevin Bacon inspired Laotian party.
Well, he’s from Laos, no?
Yes, six degrees of Laos. I was a little nervous. I’m glad that you are tracking with me here.
Does it have bigger meaning to you now?
Laos means to me just stepping out of my comfort zone and you’re not going to die. And even if you do die at least you will have done something pretty cool and good and not about yourself.
Did that experience realign your approach and your expectations with the band and your career?
I don’t know, probably. It was just me realizing oh wow, there are hardships. It totally makes the music business a snap, because cancer SUCKS. It did make me at least want to do this, or at least go through the bullshit of having to do the business side of it all too.
What is it you think a lot of new bands—or even what you thought when you were starting out—what it meant to be a working musician?
I never thought I’d get paid. I figured it would be like the Peace Corp being in music. I never thought about my gold grill or my crunk cup. I mean, you hope that you eventually make money to survive but what I thought in the beginning was “making it” was just playing shows and having people clap. I don’t think too much has changed, except maybe the attention span. I guess, back in the 1800s when I started…
Yeah, in France…when I first started or even in 2003 when the first record came out it wasn’t Internet mania or it was just beginning. There was no MySpace or Facebook and now things move really fast. The days of giant earth moving events like Nirvana are gone.
It’s a lot of work.
I’m the one who books the band! Not only do I have to get into the songwriting and playing, which I love, but I have to climb up into a club owner’s butt! I just finished booking an east coast tour from Detroit to Atlanta to Nashville…it’s just one big job.
And isn’t it exhausting to do the business side and the creative side?
Yes! But I kind of like the OCD challenge of the business side because I am built for it. I could be the foreman of a flooring job, which is what I’ll probably do in the next phase of my life. I think I get off on it because it’s such a learning experience and challenge to keep your head down and keep plugging away.
The road is paved with “you suck” and “we love you” and “you’re yesterday’s news.” Rejection is at every turn. You have to not pay attention and keep trying because there are like 35 dipshits that are doing it. I don’t know, it’s become like gambling for me.
Is it surprising to you that it’s so much a matter of just being willing to do it? If you put the effort out, if you make the connections, you can do this and you don’t necessarily need a booking agent or management to do this?
I’m surprised all the time that I’m able to do it. I can’t be the only band, and I know I’m not, but it takes a certain kind of Teflon kid. The club owners just want you to come in, do a good job and bring people in. I work extra hard to do everything I can to make sure that people know that we’re playing and I’ve always been like that. There are clubs on the east coast I haven’t played, other than with Neko [Case], in five years! But they know I’m gonna work hard for it. I’ve been able to book a three-week tour with two nights off.
Is that a skill you’ve developed; this thick skin that allows you to take the beating or is that just how you’ve always been?
No, no. I get sad and discouraged but you have to laugh it off, but what are you going to do, quit music? I mean, singing is the most rewarding thing. Going into a studio and making a harmony is like crack! I love it. It becomes a vendetta.
Do you find it uncomfortable at all to have to negotiate your fees or take at the door?
Well, I don’t make hardly anything…
So it’s not too uncomfortable.
Yeah, it just sucks. I’m not doing major dollars, but when it comes to licensing then hell yeah I want to get paid. But when I come to a club for the first time I’d rather just go and prove myself and get a couple hundred bucks and get invited back. But I don’t have a problem after the show going up to the promoter and getting my dough.
I’ve talked to a lot of artists recently, at least in Portland, where some of these guys are embarrassed to ask for money. They feign this whole pose of “I’m not in it for the money, it’s all about the music.”
Are they really young? I think it’s a confidence thing that they don’t think they’re good enough to get paid. It’s that typical artist thing where they question their worth and so they say they’re “in it for the right reasons” and I’m like, “you’re damn right you are and you have to pay your practice space rent.”
I have to wonder if it’s also this weird twisting of the punk ethic? That if you even ask to get paid then you’re seen as money grubbing.
No way. What’s more punk than getting paid for playing your music? Any band that is struggling and touring and actually gets out of their town will tell you that there’s no way they don’t ask for their money at the end of the night.
And don’t you value what you do?
Oh God, I would undercut myself all the time. But at the same time if a club is making money off the people there to see you then of course you should get paid. There’s nothing worse though than getting paid after nobody shows up. Nobody wants to do that. Like, when a club has to lay out a guarantee and no one shows.
How are your cold meds holding up?
I have to get sinus surgery on Wednesday. I just found this out. I have to go under the knife. They basically take a drill to my face. Because I sound like this all the time, which is like half-dude, half someone’s pounding my nostrils.
On that point, since Jay Bennett’s death and recently Alex Chilton, it’s a topic of conversation around here and neither had insurance I have to ask if that’s an issue for you?
Oh my God yeah. I handled my dad’s healthcare for years and I can tell you that if he didn’t have health insurance then I wouldn’t be here. I’d be working some ridiculous jobs to pay off debt. I pay out of pocket every month for my own plan. I have macular degeneration in my left eye, so I went blind in my left eye years ago, so if anything ever happens I have to be ready to act on that.
I have a couple of friends who are musicians and who have gotten sick and it’s like there are benefit shows everywhere. It just so fucking sad. And so even though it sucks and I have to pay out pocket and prescriptions are a joke, but you have to have it. So someday I would love to have health insurance for my band, like when we’re flying around in rocket cars. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
I love rocket cars!
How lame is it to talk about influences and gear? Does everyone ask about that? Do you like talking about that stuff?
When I think of influences I think of Tom and Jerry and Bewitched and things that made me laugh.
Well that’s valid, isn’t it?
Kinda. It forms your personality. But as far as music if I am thinking of being a little kid then a Stevie Wonder 45 was the first record I ever owned. My dad gave it to me and I had this little green record player. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was the first record I owned. I grew up listening to 70s and 80s Top 40 radio so it was like Gary Wright and “Dream Weaver” and Chicago and then I’d fire up some Human League and Gary Numan because that was the deal.
But really it was cartoons, wasn’t it?
But really when I was a little kid it was cartoons. They were all orchestrated and used symphony music. I remember one Tom and Jerry where they pulled out the freezer wires and the kitchen floods but then the freezer turns the whole kitchen into a skating rink. And they just fly around but then the fridge door opens and there’s a flash light behind the jello mold and it spins around to create a disco ball effect…I think a lot of my humor is hitting someone over the head with a hammer.
But there was no dialog, it was just a fucking cat and a mouse but the music provided feeling and I think that’s what made me realize that music is powerful.
OK, what do you want to ask me? You can ask me a question.
Did you ever eat Gummy Bears and have like a surgery time with them? You bite the head off and then you can make tri-colored Gummies?
Like you stick a green leg on a yellow body and then attach a red head? I’ve done that a time or two.
Yeah. Ok, you’re cool. That’s the biggest question.
Well, Cristina [Bautistaand, bassist] and I were in the van and were like, what do you wanna do? What do you wanna do? And the Gummy Bears came out and it started again.
The cause and the cure to all of life’s problems.
It’s so f-ing true.
It’s a Gummy world, we just live in it.
You like that? You can use it. It’s yours. That’s from me to you. When will you be in Portland again?
I’ll be down in a couple weeks, but not to play. I’m shooting something with my friend Whitey.
I’m sorry, you have a friend named Whitey?
What? Are you living in the Gangs of New York?
Look up Whiteyfilms.com. He’s hilarious.
Visqueen’s Message to Garcia is released on vinyl May 18. For kicks, the band has inserted 100 random copies of the record in sea glass blue!
Visqueen East Coast Tour Dates:
* 05.12.10 – Bozeman, MT @ the Filling Station
* 05.14.10 – Minneapolis, MN @ the Triple Rock
* 05.15.10 – Madison, WI @ the Frequency
* 05.16.10 – Detroit, MI @ the Majestic Cafe
* 05.18.10 – Albany, NY @ Valentines
* 05.19.10 – Boston, MA @ the Middle East
* 05.20.10 – Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwells
* 05.21.10 – Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
* 05.23.10 – Philadelphia, PA @ the Manhattan Room
* 05.25.10 – Washington, D.C. @ the Black Cat
* 05.26.10 – Asheville, NC @ the Rocket Club
* 05.27.10 – Atlanta, GA @ the Earl
* 05.29.10 – Nashville, TN @ Grimey’s In-Store Performance at 5 PM
* 05.29.10 – Nashville, TN @ the Basement
* 05.30.10 – Cincinnati, OH @ “A Taste Of Cincinnati”
* 05.31.10 – Chicago, IL @ The Hideout