SOUTHERN TRASH, the debut album from one Mr. Jeffrey Novak of Henderson, TN was a garage rock geeks wet dream. One part Reatards mixed with two parts fucked up crazy teenage passion, Novak quickly became a one man wonderboy. All of his early singles are pretty much out of print and highly sought after by Ebay nerds with tons of cash to spare. Jeff's next foray into music was as one third of the Rat Traps, a group that he co-founded with his sister April. The Rats Traps disentigrated before putting out an album which lauched Novak into his next project, Cheap Time, with girlfriend Jemina Pearl (also of Be Your Own Pet). Fungus Boy was lucky enough to catch an impromtu Cheap Time show at Davey's Uptown in Kansas City, MO after a Be Your Own Pet Show down the street. Interview by Mike Fungus, all photos by Jeff Fungus. Cheap Time's debut seven inch is out now on Sweet Rot Records.
Fungus Boy: Tell me about how you got into music.
Jeff Novak: Well when I was real young I was into the British Invasion bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones and then in high school I got into Heavy Metal and Punk rock music. Then when I was a Junior in high school I was really into Sonic Youth and my Brother-In-Law, Joe, told me that if I liked Sonic Youth that I would be into this band Pussy Galore. And so I got really into Pussy Galore, they became my favorite band, from Pussy Galore I found out about all these other bands that Jon Spencer was in like the Gibson Brothers and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Workdogs…
FB: 68 Comeback?
JN: He was never in 68 Comeback, but he was in the Honeymoon Killers, their last line-up. I found out about 68 Comeback because of the Gibson Brothers, because of Jeff Evans. Then I ended up starting---I wasn’t able to get a like band together in high school, but after high school the Oblivians did a reunion show and the Cheater Slicks opened for ‘em, and I saw the Cheater Slicks and after that I was like, “I can’t wait around anymore”, so I started like trying to do a one man band. I ended up doing a one man band for awhile and did like a tour and four seven inches and an album. Then my Brother-In-Law Joe, who liked turned me on to like all this really good music, him and my sister April moved back down from New York because she was living up there working’ in the fashion industry, we ended up starting this band called the Rat Traps that broke up this Summer. We played our last show at the Blackout (day show at the Mutiny). We did like four seven inches and two really long tours and a couple festivals and stuff like that. We never got to do an album, we were supposed to do an album for Shattered and never got around to it because we ended up breaking up.
FB: How far is Henderson away from Memphis?
JN: It’s a little more than an hour. It’s on 40 in between Memphis and Nashville, it’s like two hours from Nashville, an hour from Memphis if you drive fast.
FB: Were you excited that there was a very active scene?
JN: In Memphis? Yeah like, I really didn’t know that that much was going on other than like the Lost Sounds and stuff like that. I had been a big Oblivians fan, but the Oblivians had broken up, and I found out that all those guys still had bands going on like the Tearjerkers and the Cool Jerks that Jack Oblivian had and the Reigning Sound were still a Memphis based band at that time. Eric Oblivian had the New Memphis Legs, but I never got to see ‘em play but then he started the Dutch Masters after that with Punk Rock Pat and Scott Rogers. Joe from the Rat Traps used to be in that band before he moved to Columbus after the Rat Traps broke up to join the Feelers.
FB: Are you sick of the Reatards comparisons with your solo stuff? A lot of people have said the Southern Trash album is similar.
JN: Not really, because like I’m friends with Jay. He’s put out one of my old bands’ records and he traded for a copy of that record back when it came out, he’s like a fan I guess. He’s always been a supporter of mine, he’s a really cool guy. I don’t really care if people compare him to me because we’re friends.
FB: Is that a band that had an influence on your sound?
JN: Uh, definitely the Reatards and the Pursuaders and---but like the Cheater Slicks were like really the band that totally made me want to do my one man band or any band, after I saw them play with the Oblivians.
FB: A lot of the early press I had read about you was things like you puke on stage, like you were really excited…
FB: Did that happen a lot?
JN: I don’t know, I’m not like the toughest drinker so I usually have a pretty low tolerance for stuff but sometimes I would puke. I remember I opened for the Husbands one time in Memphis and I ended up puking all over the stage and they were really impressed with that. But I don’t know, I would do like stupid stuff cut myself. Doing a one man band’s pretty stupid and I just wanted to do anything like exciting, most people---I don’t wanna just sit there and play music, I want to do something exciting, or like sitting down trying to play guitar and drums at the same time.
FB: I can definitely say that I had heard a lot more about you before I had actually heard one of you records. You sent us a copy of your first seven inch and now your other ones a really hard to get now. The one that came out on Perpetrator in New Zealand is hard to get and I think its going for a lot of money on Ebay now.
JN: Really? I heard its gonna get repressed, like a hundred on pink vinyl, but I heard that a half a year ago, so I don’t know if its still happening. ‘Cause he pressed too many covers, so he’s gonna press like a hundred more records. There’s only 300 of that originally.
FB: Does that kind of surprise you though that people are so into your solo stuff? You had only been around for a short time…
JN: Oh I was totally surprised because I had played in Henderson a couple of times before I ever got a show in Nashville and people hated me, I’d get booed and like I was just like a laughingstock of my hometown. And then I sent a CD to Jeff Evans and he asked me to open for him for a show. That’s how I got my first show in Memphis, it was just like really cool because I was such a huge Gibson Brothers fan. He totally let me geek out about like all the famous Memphis shit with him, he’s a really cool dude. His house is like a museum, everything on the wall is amazing.
FB: Southern Trash came out on vinyl on P Trash in Germany and you did the CDR yourself. Any other releases coming out soon?
JN: For my one man band I was supposed to do a seven inch for Cass Records, Ben Blackwell from the Dirtbombs (label), but I haven’t talked to him in awhile. I wrote songs for it but I just haven’t quite got around to recording it because my four track broke like last month. So I haven’t like had a chance really to record new stuff.
FB: The Rat Traps broke up because Joe left the band?
JN: It was a lot more complicated than that, but Joe really wanted to move to Columbus and April wanted to move to Memphis, and I wanted to move to Nashville to live with my girlfriend. I didn’t really work out to keep trying to do the band. We just all had other plans.
FB: Was right around the time that Cheap Time started up?
JN: Rat Traps broke up in May and Cheap Time formed in July whenever I got home. So we recorded a bunch of songs and we played like several shows since then.
FB: You were telling us earlier that you have done six or seven shows.
JN: Yeah, I think we played six or seven tonight, I can’t remember. We’ve been playing like mainly after show house parties and stuff like that. We played in Orlando, we played in Austin, we played in Denton (TX), uh Memphis, and we’ve played in Nashville a couple of times.
FB: Do you have any singles lined up for release?
JN: Yeah, Jeff Green who writes for Terminal Boredom sometimes, I met him at South By Southwest last year, he set up a show for the Rat Traps in Vancouver, he had told that he was starting a label when we I was up there. He wanted to put out whatever new band I was starting, so I sent him the demos we had recorded and he really wanted to do it, so our first seven inch is coming out on his label Sweet Rot at the end of the year, beginning of the year sometime. We have to get that artwork done.
FB: You said earlier that you had a couple of other singles coming out? Florida’s Dying is doing one too.
JN: Oh yeah, Florida’s Dying, Rich Evans he like really got me into touring. I never thought that like I could do a tour, I didn’t know how to set it up or get contacts or anything. He like e-mailed me out of the blue one day and just wanted to get my one man band to come to Florida. So he set like a whole week long tour around Spring Break because I was in school at the time, and I did my first tour that way and he’s helped me ever since. We were hanging out with him the other day after we played a show in Orlando and he really wanted to do a seven inch, so we’re gonna do that.
FB: How do you feel about the whole state of the underground garage scene? Obviously with the last Blackout being done with it’s going to be harder, but there are other festivals like the Horrible Fest. (Goner, Dot Dash, etc.)
JN: My old band played Horrible Fest last year. I don’t know, I’m kinda sick of fests. Blackout was fun for what it was and I guess Goner Fest is still---they had another one of those. Fests are cool because I get to see a lot of friends that I’ve met on the road and stuff, but fests are kinda too much. Partying that hard for three days is hard. It’s cool sometimes, the first two Goner Fests were really cool, I got to go to those. The second one especially because they got a lot of West Coast bands that I wouldn’t have got to see. I got to meet Monty Buckles at that one and we’ve become pretty good friends and our two bands both did a split earlier this year.
FB: Oh, the Lamps.
JN: Yeah, we did a split with the Lamps. And hooking him up with my girlfriends’ band, Be Your Own Pet, he directed two of their videos, so pretty cool. He makes music videos, he did the Black Lips video for “Fad”, he also did some A Frames videos and he’s doing a Ponys video. He’s a really cool guy, he’s our best friend in LA, we always stay with him when we go out there.
FB: One of the things that I liked about the festivals is meeting & seeing bands that don’t necessarily know that they could tour through the Mid West. A lot of bands don’t realize that there is something going on here. Either financially it’s not viable with gas being so expensive or they just don’t even know about it. We have so many bands come through the state to play South By Southwest that are traveling on I-35, which passes through my city, that don’t realize that 20 to 30 minutes away there is a viable scene.
JN: I’d never played in Kansas City before, but Rat Traps played in St. Louis at the Way Out Club on our first tour two years or a year ago, whatever it was. We always wanted to play whatever towns we could. I love touring so much I’m willing to go to pretty much any town. It’s more important like than the fact that like a lot people come to the show or how much money you make, there’s cool people that hang out in the town that like want to have a good time, and a cool place to stay, that’s what’s important to me.
FB: Anything else coming out in the next year that we should be looking out for?
JN: Hopefully Cheap Time will get to tour more and will do an album. I might do another one man band seven inch, I don’t know about anymore shows, nobody’s really asked me about it so I’m not really like pushing it.
FB: Any talk of a Rat Traps singles comp?
JN: I was suppose to get a live show together for a live Rat Traps seven inch. It was gonna have an entire show on it, like a 33 (speed), but I just haven’t had the time. I’ve been so busy, like whenever I’m home I’m always working on so much stuff to like go back out on whatever tour. I haven’t had the time, I’m either focusing on Cheap Time or sleeping.
Left: Southern Trash LP on P Trash Records/CDR on Sonic Assault, Right: first 7" on A Fistful Of Records