Unlocked: Informed Sources’ Frank Blank Moriarty on bridging Philadelphia punk past and present
As soon as I saw the CD come across DJ Robert Drake’s desk here at WXPN – a three-track teaser, its cover art a photo of an old punk rock demo tape – I instantly wanted to know more. That was the first wave of appeal in Informed Sources‘ Fun Under the Sun retrospective, released in full this week and celebrating with a one-night-only reunion at The Legendary Dobbs next week: it’s a time capsule of sorts, a window into an earlier era of Philadelphia music that I wasn’t able to experience first-hand. As I dug into the record, I discovered how much the music holds up and sounds relevant some thirty-plus years down the pike. And swapping e-mails with founding band member and lead guitarist Frank Blank Moriarty, I was also pleasantly surprised to learn how he too was fascinated and inspired by an earlier era of rock.
The Key: Listening to Fun Under the Sun and looking at the collection of archival images on your website, show flyers and the like, it feels like Informed Sources had a relatively impactful presence in its short time together. What drove you guys to do so much in such a short span?
Frank Blank Moriarty: When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to find myself in an wildly creative era of rock. I saw Jimi Hendrix when I was 13, which was an incredible event to me. That opened me up to the possibilities of rock music. Having seen bands like The Who go from Who’s Next right into Quadrophenia and Led Zeppelin release Physical Graffiti on the heels of Houses of the Holy was inspirational. When I got my own opportunity to play in a band, I’d developed a real work ethic from seeing these other bands building such great creative careers. I knew we needed to have everything from graphic carryovers to stage introductory music to make an impact. After having watched and heard so much incredible music before I got to try my own hand in it, I just wanted to make the absolute most of chances presented by Informed Sources. Did we get anywhere near “superstar” status? No, but that’s not the point – you’ve got to go for it the best you can, take it seriously and ride forward motion.
TK: Can you give us a quick overview of what direction things went with the band after its last gig in October ’83?
FBM: That night we were on a bill with the great experimental band Bunnydrums, who were not only one of my favorite bands but also good friends. I played guitar with them on their encore – playing a cover of Link Wray’s “Switchblade” – and within a few weeks they’d asked me to join, paired with their original lead guitarist, Frank Marr. And our Informed Sources drummer in 1983, Sky Kishlo, went on to play with Strapping Fieldhands, as well as the Heathens, a very cool project with Beth Lejman from The Stick Men. Our original drummer, Doug Mosko, returned to Philadelphia and has played with me in several projects, including the heavy metal band Third Stone Invasion. We were signed to Jay Barbieri’s J-Bird Records, labelmates with The Who’s John Entwistle, Billy Squier, Andrew Gold, and more.
TK: What sparked the reunion and retrospective? I love how it’s seemingly random; not tied to a milestone anniversary or anything of that sort.
FBM: Yes, there is no rhyme or reason behind it – I just had all the material, we’d talked several times about getting it done, I had an opening in my time from writing books and other musical projects – so we made it happen!
TK: Tell me about the process of going through the archival material to put the retrospective together. Was there a lot of cutting things down / leaving outtakes on the floor or does this represent the totality of recorded Informed Sources material?
FBM: Well, we wanted to put just about all of the studio material out, so that meant the master tapes from that time period had to be literally baked so they could be transferred to digital format. That’s a problem all Ampex tapes from that era share, whether you’re Zeppelin or Sources! Then it was a question of going through a couple dozen cassettes – cataloging it all, rating sound quality, rating performances on energy or cohesiveness. Once that was done, the next major effort was split into mixing the multitrack masters and extracting the cassette material. Aside from photos and posters, outtakes, the Fun Under the Sun liner notes and history info about Informed Sources, www.frankblankmusic.com has a PDF telling the story of each track selected for the album.
TK: A lot of folks – myself included – were too young to hear Informed Sources in its heyday and are being introduced to your recordings for the first time with this comp. What do you hope listeners like us get out of it?
FBM: My hope is that people who did not live through that era will be surprised at the breadth of scope in our musical approach. Songs like “Going Out” and the “Suntan/Desperation/Zoo” medley are squarely in the hardcore punk vibe, but things like “Horror Passion” and “Situation Tragedy” are anything but. And “Landscape of Fear” was influenced by Carla Bley’s avant jazz opus Escalator Over the Hill. There was a lot more going on in our material than the stereotypical vision of “punk rock,” and I hope that comes across. We really wanted to develop and challenge ourselves rather than just play in safe waters.
TK: How did you find the guest vocalist who’s standing in for Joe Stack? What’s it like performing with him?
FBM: Matt Mulhall sings with the Pennsylvania band the Cut-Offs, and he’d worked – non-musical labor – with our bass player Dave Gehman. When we decided we wanted to let the band come alive, Dave suggested we give Matt a try. Joe’s death meant it would be impossible for the songs to sound exactly the same as they once did, and from the very first time we got together we told Matt, “do your own thing – don’t worry about trying to mimic Joe.” Expecting Matt to phrase identically would be unfair, and restrictive. He’s been just great to work with, and he’s a beekeeper, so the natural honey’s a bonus! But seriously, his presence has allowed the songs to take on their own life in 2012, not sound like regenerations from decades in the past.
TK: Your one-night-only reunion show is at Dobbs, which in the 80s was a massive hub for the punk / art / rock scene in Philly. Seems like, in its present incarnation, it’s found a stability that hasn’t been at that room since it was the Pontiac in the late 90s. As someone who was there the first time around, what’s your perspective on the room, the scene and the South Street of today as compared to the South Street of yore?
FBM: Well, it’s interesting that the punk scene inhabited various areas along South Street as time passed. David Carroll really planted the flag with The Hot Club at 21st and South, where punk was really born in Philadelphia, hosting the first gigs of everyone from Elvis Costello to the B-52s. Later the Love Club on Broad Street just off South brought in bands like Meat Puppets as well as local bands like us. We played with X at the Long March hall at Broad and South. And of course the Dobbs building has heard everything from George Thorogood to Nirvana, so that’s quite a span. Add in the East Side Club at 13th and Chestnut, Omni’s – which I helped book – at 9th and Walnut, and Filly’s at 2nd and Chestnut, also booked by David Carroll, and you have the pages that hold the story of the scene. But you know, it doesn’t matter when music was created. Trying to define music based on the date it was recorded just doesn’t make sense to me. If it was alive and vibrant when it was recorded, it should still communicate those qualities now. That’s what we’re after with Informed Sources now – vibrant musical life. We can’t wait to play next week – the band’s fired up and ready to rip.
Fun Under the Sun is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted song “Imagined Fears” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review; watch a live rehearsal video of “Condition Red” video in yesterday’s post and check back tomorrow for a gallery of archival photos and show flyers.