Monday, May 25, 2009

A Quick One: Billy Synth


Every "shambling" post-college indie-popster's peppering his tunes w/ keys these days, but I can't say any of those Tom/Dick/Harrys possesses the swingin' nutbar necessary to being a Billy.

Billy "Starboy" Synth's been mashing keys & smearing horny synthstatic 'cross unsuspecting ugly mugs since the late '70s/early '80s.  Sure, lotsa folks were doing same in NYC's no-wave commune way back when, but Billy's provenance of Harrisburg, PA might as well've been ten planets removed from Max's or CB's.  (And if yer Billy, it probably is.)

'Sides, BS's discog (see below) dwarfs that of most of his contempos...  Not to mention his manic onstage onslaught (again, below).  And did Rev or Vega have the exhaustive knowledge of '60s psych anyone'd need to curate those legendary Psychedelic Unknown comps?  You tell me.  Or let BS tell ya himself...

Eric/Attacking the Beat: How and when did you first start writing, recording and playing music under the name of Billy Synth?

Billy Synth: When I bought my Arp Odyssey synthesizer.  We first had a group called Blue Ice, and we recorded one 45.  Then, when "new wave" came along, I liked it and left Blue Ice to form a more punk-like band, the Janitors.  That didn't last long, really, even though we did release a few EPs...  After a year or so, I got back together with Blue Ice (with new drummer Joe Gear).  They had already "gone punk" themselves and changed their name to the Turn Ups, so it was all-cool again.  When we recorded our first LP, it was like Stevinyl-guitar, Billy-synth, etc., and that's how I got the name.

ATB: Were you always playing toward punk/psych/new wave sounds, or did you begin with more conventional ideas?  

BS: Actually, we began as an early '70s "classic" rock band, because we were hippies and that's what we grew up with.

ATB: How did you connect with the Janitors?

BS: I eventually left Blue Ice because I liked the new wave scene and wanted a strictly punk-oriented band.  I hooked up with Bernie, the original "punk rock janitor" (yes, he was in another punk group AND a janitor!), another friend, Mikearama, and Dave Tritt on drums, who later joined Rat At Rat R.

ATB: What were early shows with you and the Janitors like?

BS: To be honest, I can't remember any official shows with the Janitors, except a party for a friend.  We only played in Bernie's basement.

ATB: What sort of opposition did you face as an other-worldly synthpunk band playing in Harrisburg, PA?  

BS: Well, there really was no opposition.  I was just so strange that they had to see!

ATB: What was the scene like at the time?

BS: There were actually quite a few "new wave/punk"-type bands around here then.  We played shows with groups such as the Sharks, the Late Teens, Reesa & the Rooters (Philly) and the Slickee Boys (DC).  There were a few nice venues to play, such as the Metron, Rumpelstiltskins, the Landing...  Also, an annual pig roast!

ATB: Can you provide some background on those videos that were recently posted on YouTube?  

BS: Those clips were from a show that we did with Reesa & the Rooters at the Metron in Harrisburg.  I guess it was early '80s...  That was a wild night.  I was all fucked-up on some kinda drugs!  Neal, our guitar player, worked for ABC News (he still does), and it was actually filmed by a few of his co-workers/friends from there!  They also helped us do the video of "I'm So Sick of It," also on YouTube.  That one was shot at an old movie theatre.  I'm trying to get the guy to submit more of the live Metron show, and we got LOTS of other videos, also!

ATB: What precipitated your collaboration with Jad & David Fair for the 45 on Sordide Sentimental?  Any stories from that recording session?

BS: I can't remember how we first connected, but Bernie & I from the Janitors went down to see Half Japanese with our instruments, and when we got there, we just started playing.  I mean, it was 1, 2, 3, 4, and we all started playing ANYTHING.  No rehearsal, no NOTHING!  That's how it came out.  Sooo strange!

ATB: What made you decide to start compiling the Psychedelic Unknowns series?

BS: I used to see those commercials on TV advertising these boring, over-played compilation of hits, and I thought it would be cool to make a comp of ultra-obscure 45s!  I made it happen and everyone loved it, so I continued with the series.

ATB: How did you feel about the way keyboards were ultimately adopted as a main ingredient of mainstream "new wave" pop-rock in the '80s?  

BS: It SUCKED!  It was crap like A Flock of Seagulls, later Joy Division, and 100s of others.

ATB: What's your take on modern music?  Any bands ringing your bell these days?

BS: I do like some "modern music."  I like stuff  like Jenifer McKitrick, Krezip, the Sounds, KK and the like...  Google their names and take a listen!

Selected & Abbreviated Discography
*Blue Ice - "Power Play" b/w "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" 7"
*Billy Synth & the Janitors - "Everytime You Give Me a Call" + 3 EP
*Billy Synth - "Off the Deep End" + 3 EP (on yellow vinyl)
*Billy Synth - "Everytime You Give Me a Call" from 30 Seconds Over DC compilation
*Billy Synth - "State of Confusion" + 6 EP
*Billy Synth w/ Half Japanese - EP on Sordide Sentimental
*Billy Synth & the Turn Ups - Off the Deep End LP
*Billy Synth & the Turn Ups - Disorderly Conduct LP
*The Ketamine Millipeeds - appearance on compilation issued by Inner Mystique Magazine
*Billy Synth - Remastered version of "State of Confusion" on 12" EP
*Billy Synth & the Turn Ups - "I Dig Your Mind" from Battle of the Garages #1 compilation
*Billy Synth & the Turn Ups - "The Mask" from Bona Fide Records compilation
*The Windowpaynes - "Green Slime" b/w "Planet of the Apes" 7" (Get Hip Records)
*The Windowpaynes - "Lost Friend" b/w "Bonzai Pipedream" 7" (Get Hip Records)
*The Windowpaynes - "Off the Deep End" + 3 (DIG Records)
*Starboy - 8 different CDs...
*Plus compiled MANY comps, such as Psychedelic Unknowns, Psychosis from the 13th Dimension, Acid & Flowers, Growing Slowly Insane, Surftime on LBI, Marijuana Unknowns, Strange Unknowns, Songs of Faith & Inspiration (psych), The Soulville/Jaywalking Records Story (Harrisburg soul/funk comp on Get Hip Records) and many others!

Watch Billy Synth & the Turnups tumble through the call-to-armsy "I'm So Sick of It" here:

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