These new wave punkers aim to bring you back to reality with their new single, "21st Century Failure". A nice jam for anyone who wants to grab a bag of popcorn and take a gander at the world's current affairs.
(From Left to Right) Doc Michaud,Trip Tompson, Xeerox Feinberg
Originally formed in Worcester Massachusetts during the 1980's, the Prefab Messiahs began as a DIY group among a local community of fellow creatives. Another group of freaks seeking an outlet for expression; up and comers learning the tools of their trade. They didn't really know what they were doing and hadn't tapped into the significance of their music, but who really does from the get go?
After playing a variety of local shows and wrapping up a few short recording sessions, the group disbanded in 1983 once Trip Thompson moved to a new school. Although the band came to abrupt halt, the idea of Prefab Messiahs was still alive and well which allowed the group to remain in contact over the years.
With the release of their project Devolver, the group started to play shows again during the 2010's. After an enjoyable time playing the songs on the road, they decided to regroup and start writing new material. Eventually, they gained the attention of LA/OC legends like Burger Records and Lollipop Records to release their albums, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive and Psychsploitation Today.
By creating the art/sounds for all their albums and music videos, The Prefab Messiahs have succeeded in forming their own stream of new wave. Often giving a voice to those who don't agree with the state of our current reality here on Earth, their music speaks to a younger crowd while giving insight into the world before the invasion of the Internet. With all that's going on around the world, their new single "21st Century Failure" is sure to pop anyone's bubble of blind optimism.
We had the opportunity to chat with the group about their experiences over the years.
Here's what they had to say:
Q: Could you describe what the scene like when you first started up in the 1980s?
A: (Trip Thompson) That depends on whether you mean the national scene, or the local scene that we started out in ("Wormtown," aka Worcester MA). The national scene then was very different, mostly because there was no internet. Music freaks had to rely on some combination of fanzines, magazines, college radio, adventurous record stores, and open-minded club bookers. Information was more scarce and took longer to filter out to those who were interested.
(Xeerox Feinberg) As far as our local scene, Worcester was mostly a classic hard rock and heavy metal town, but a local punk and new wave scene had taken root there a few years before we started. It was mainly supported by a couple community radio stations, a couple of little nightclubs, and a fanzine, Wormtown Punk Punk Press. Without that burgeoning new original music scene, we never would have gotten any sort of foothold…or really have had a reason to exist. Wormtown was the whole music world to us at that time, strange as that is to think.
Q: Did you ever tour? What were some memorable concerts you played?
TT: We never did tour outside of Massachusetts in our original 1981-83 run. We made it to the outskirts of Boston just once! I mentioned that info was hard to come by in the pre-internet age — and that included info about how to go do shows outside of your own area, or about who was willing to book new punk and post-punk acts. We've done a couple of mini-tours since reuniting in 2012, though.
XF: As far as memorable shows, there were a few in the '80s — playing an art gallery loft with crazy film projections (which wasn't common at all at the time), playing in a local historic theater with some other new local bands, and playing an outdoor festival (the WCUW Music Fair). You have to realize, for most of that time we didn’t even have a car between us! Since reuniting, we got to play a couple good shows at The Middle East in Cambridge. My favorite show was at Death By Audio in Brooklyn, which sadly now is gone. We had a great show there with Weyes Blood, Bobb Trimble, and Spectre Folk.
Q: What caused you to take a hiatus? What pushed you to keep playing music in the 2010s?
TT: I guess I can take the blame for the initial breakup. I transferred to another school, and at that point it wasn't feasible to get together regularly enough to practice and keep working up songs.
XF: We’d been bashing around for about a year and a half when we stopped, without really trying to. Frankly, we didn’t really even know what we were doing, we had no money, didn’t really have a sense of what to do next. We were still weirdos learning our instruments. For what it's worth, I was graduating college without a clue what to do. Trip had transferred away. The bohemian charms of gritty old Worcester circa the early Reagan era can only take you so far. We all wanted out. What is unusual is that we always shared a vague sense that The Prefab Messiahs was somehow more than what we proved it to be at the time. It was more of an idea of a band than an actual, realized band. There was unfinished business.
Meanwhile, all of us went on to play all kinds of music over the years. Doc Michaud and I were briefly in a band in Boston together called The New Improved that could have almost been Prefabs 2.0. Trip actually produced a couple demo songs for us while he was in still school. But that didn’t last either. Anyway, we were always in touch.
Years later (in 2011), our 30th anniversary was coming up, so we agreed to play some shows to mark the occasion. Also that year, Fixed Identity Records (run by Gary War and Taylor Richardson) released an LP with eight of our '80s songs.
The fact that our old stuff was finally getting some unexpected appreciation made me think about "our legacy" differently. I started wondering ‘what would The Prefab Messiahs be like recording all these years later, and started pitching new songs to Trip and Doc.
TT: After the 2012 mini-tour, we agreed that we'd had enough fun doing it that we should record some more songs together. At that point, we considered ourselves to be "reunited" as a project.
Q: How did you get involved with Burger Records?
TT: I can't remember which of these events happened first. One was that (Doug Tuttle's excellent old band) MMOSS was visiting the Burger Records shop while on tour and mentioned us as a band that they might be into.
The other was that I (as Bobb Trimble's manager) got an email from Burger saying "We love Bobb!" — and in the course of some back-and-forth emails, I sent them some Prefab Messiahs sounds (because Bobb had produced a couple of our early tracks). Our first release with Burger was in 2013 — Devolver was a 27-track anthology of our '80s stuff. Next (in 2015) was the first album of newer recordings, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive — a split release with KLYAM Records here in Boston. And then in 2018, Psychsploitation Today was a split with Lolipop Records.
Q: Do you design your album artwork?
XF: Yes, in my supposedly real life I am an animator and a cartoonist ("rock star" is my fall-back career). I do all the artwork and videos for the band. The image and graphics were always very important to us. Back in the day we were plastering Wormtown with my Dada-esque photocopied flyers (thus my self-appointed nickname Xerox, or XEEROX.)
Q: Has the DIY music scene changed much since the 1980s?
XF: Maybe it was more "underground" and cult-ish back then. There were small pockets of music communities that didn't have an easy way of connecting with like-minded people in other areas. You couldn’t just google somebody!
I suppose Worcester, Mass felt particularly isolated, at least to me. It was a tough town with a tough attitude. Even there, we were definitely outsiders as "college kids." My feeling is that in general (and it’s a big generalization) musicians and creative people are more outwardly friendly and polite and aware of ‘community’ these days. But the early '80s was punk-influenced. Being cold and insular and aggressive was was the way everyone thought they had to act, even to people they had the most in common with.
TT: There's a much larger community of people trying their hand at playing music these days. While I'm in favor of that, the result is it makes it harder to wade through all the results to find what I like best. So that takes extra work (and some trusted curators), but I find myself driven to keep the discovery going for myself.
Q: Do you usually have themes in mind while writing new music?
XF: When I write songs for The Prefabs, I definitely try to re-inhabit an alter-ego from the original times. And the themes are the same: Basically, “what the hell is wrong with this fucked up world and why isn’t everybody else noticing?” Obviously, I’m much older and maybe a little wiser…I can play music a lot better, I have hands-on access to simple but amazing recording technology…but there's no point in being some old dope talking about how much he loves his wife, or hanging with friends, or what a great guy I am, or whatever most music crap is about these days. I don’t expect to be taken seriously, but I figure it can’t hurt to try to say something sort of true about the human condition with a sense of humor. And let the lyrics be heard. That’s basically in the tradition of most of the great rock music I've always liked.
Q: What inspired your newest single, “21st Century Failure”?
XF: Basically just the overwhelming sense that all the hopes and dreams for this new age have gone straight into the toilet. We are living in a massive societal FAIL. Politically, economically, socially. It could have been different, but it isn’t. It seems very much like a song the early Prefabs would have done, if they were beamed into this future. Sort of New Wave, sort of punky, sort of jangly. I started tinkering with the song over the summer and then the whole virus/mini-apocalypse thing happened. So I adjusted one of the lyrics (“Get a new disease when you hear a sneeze”) and then pushed the other guys to help rush it out. 'Cause, you know, what if somebody else beat us to it…!?
Q: Do the Prefab Messiahs have any plans for the rest of the year?
XF: We're recording remotely, like we have been for a while. With the pandemic sheltering, that's our only choice anyway. So, we'll release a series of digital singles, and then release an EP or album with the best of those. I make a video for every song that we do, so that's a big part of our identity too.
TT: We're also working with someone on a mini-documentary about us. It'll be ready by next year, in time for our 40th(!) anniversary. It seems pretty crazy (but in a good way) to be working at stuff so long after we first started. But we're not just filling time. We wouldn't be bothering to do our thing if we didn't feel that we had something vibrant and engaging to put across.
XF: We just might be the most obscure, un-famous working original band ever to celebrate a 40th anniversary. I think that’s an achievement!