Born and raised on the meanstreets of Detroit, main-Mosquito Drew Cramer now resides in San Francisco's Mission District where he happily equates himself more with the strolling mariachi street singers than with any of the rock poseurs swanning about town these days. Through this genuine mystique, The Mosquitoes line-ups seem to come and go without too much fanfare, ensuring each tour and each show is unique.
With a hefty backlogue of self-released tapes and CDRs and a general disinterest in the music "industry", The Mosquitoes could be mistaken for some kind of punk rock refugees. Alas, their music combines all the elements of classic pop (paying respects to the Kinks and the Who, a nod here and there to the folks at the Brill Building), but in condensed form to keep one's ears wanting and heart beating. The Mosquitoes shows are often concise, but exquisitely so.
Mosquitoes interview with Nick Coppack. A portion of this was used in Time Off (Brisbane) in Feb 2004.
Okay, lame question out of the way first: why call yourself/the band The Mosquitoes and are you sick of "the band creating a buzz around town" puns yet?
The band used to be called the Utensils. A few years ago I recorded a single for drive-in records under that name, but then I started writing stuff that sounded quite a bit different, so that’s when I started the Mosquitoes. I just thought it sounded kind of cool really, like the Crickets or something. Little did I know that it’s such a popular name. I think there’s a band at this very moment in New York called Mosquitos. There was another New York band back in the 70s called the Mosquitos. Jad Fair had a band called Mosquitos. There was a Giligan’s Island episode where a touring band somehow comes to shore, and they’re called the Mosquitos. There’re countless others. I should’ve just stuck with the Utensils. Although I think that’s been taken as well. Shit. We haven’t created a buzz around town just yet, but when we do I’m sure that’ll be the running joke.
Now, it seems you have quite a do-it-yourself attitude to music. Was this originally a conscious decision or more out of necessity (ie. the only way you could release something was to do it yourself)?
The DIY attitude is all I know. When I was growing up I guess I just sort of lucked out and fell into good friends with good ideas about music and art and so forth. We always just took care of ourselves. That’s what’s so fun about music. What are you gonna do all day if someone’s doing it all for you. It’s not that I don’t want someone to put out records of mine, in fact I would love it. I guess it just hasn’t been a priority for me. I’ve never really sent stuff to labels or anything. I just figure if someone sees us play or somehow hears the songs and they’re sincerely interested and impressed, they’ll set something up. What’s happening now is we’re leaving for tour in a few days and we have nothing to give or sell as far as merchandise goes. So we figured we’d just record a bunch of songs and have a few cds pressed down the road. It’s easy. It’s quick. Within the past few years I reckon I’ve made about 300-350 copies of various mosquito cds and tapes. I just sell them at shows. That’s definitely enough to spread the word. I love to record and make music for myself and for the friends and fans that I have.
Can you tell me a bit about the latest Mosquitoes release please?
Marky and I recorded ten songs live in the lounge room with a borrowed 8 track cassette recorder and a few borrowed mics. Drums and guitar on the spot, then I just put some bass and vocals and extra guitars over everything. I wish I had a whole rockin band so we could’ve done everything live all at once. That would’ve been great….maybe next time. It’s pretty rough around the edges, which is always good, but some of it actually sounds a bit shitty. We could’ve taken more time trying to find a decent drum sound, but we were pretty pressed for time. We only had a few hours to get the main tracks down before the place became a flophouse for criminals. The bass could use some help as well. When it came time put the bass down, we only had this tiny guitar practice amp called The Session. It’s so crappy. It’s just like one ten inch speaker that cuts in and out, and it’s black and pink, and it has a Heavy Metal setting. Not great for bass, but we managed. These days I like things to sound dirty and a bit painful at times. Really, as long as the songs are good, the recording doesn’t matter to me. That is, unless it’s all slick and nice. I think that stuff sounds horrible. Right now, we’re mixing it down at our friend Karl’s house. We transferred all the tracks to his computer so we could EQ them a bit, and it’s just too many options. I should’ve just mixed it down to cassette. It’s faster and easier. We’re getting 100cds pressed for tour.
And why are you coming out to Australia? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great and I’ll be at all the Brisbane shows, but it’s not like you’re all over the radio!
Well, I’m really here just visiting and hanging around. I was playing guitar with the Lucksmiths a couple of months ago in Europe. It was a 6 week tour, and we decided that instead of paying me they should just buy me a ticket to Melbourne. I’ve been meaning to come here for a while, but just haven’t had the funds. So it worked out perfect, except now I’m 100% broke. I probably should’ve taken the money. I figured since I was going to be here for a while, may as well make the most of my time and do a little tour. It’s also a good chance for me to see a bit of the country. I’ve been here for two months already, and haven’t really been out of Melbourne. I did go up to my friend Bird’s family farm house. They have a big farm somewhere up in NSW. Saw a roo. I’ll be on the Radio soon. Mark’s been sending copies out. He’s good at that kind of stuff. I’m really lazy about it.
A lot (all?) of our readers won’t be familiar with your work. Can you fill us in on what kind of music you make? Any reference points as far as artists/albums go?
I just make good little pop songs. All of them are pretty short and simple. Really catchy, but not too sappy. Kind of quick and rough. Scrappy pop you might call it. It’s pretty much just guitar bass and drums. Maybe an organ here or there. I’d like to get a french horn in the band. That would be great . Um.. I like the Sonics a lot. They were this great teenage R&B group from Tacoma, WA back in the 60s. It was really high energy primitive punk style soul. I reckon if they were around today, we’d play a few shows together. Although we don’t really sound anything like them, it’s the spirit that’s the same. Last night at the show, a girl mentioned we were kind of like the Ramones that you could take home to your mother. I guess I’m mostly a fan of bright, loud, high energy pop/soul style stuff. I hate rock though. It’s terrible. I like rockin, but rock is useless. These days anyways. I'm a big fan of Scottish pop groups. The early Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, the Yummy Fur, Jesus and Mary Chain. I like Motown, but who doesn’t?
What do you do away from music? What’s an average day in the life of Drew Cramer look like?
A typical day here in Melbourne: Sleep in on the couch till around 9:30-10am (sometimes a bit later) Make a cup of coffee and a slice of toast. Lately we’ve been drinking this Turkish coffee. It’s great. I’ll sip my coffee and watch a bit of the shitty morning news. It’s more morning entertainment than news. Then I might go for a walk or a bike ride. Today we’re gonna ride out to the Op shop. Everything’s half off . I usually just end up sitting around and playing the guitar. Nothing much comes of it. I just have a hard time putting it down. That comes in phases though. Sometimes I won’t touch one for weeks on end. The house is pretty quiet during the day, but around 5 or 6 there are always people around. So we just end up cooking some dinner and hanging around and then go to bed. When I’m back home in San Francisco it’s basically the same although I have to find a way to pay the rent. I had to quit my most recent job to tour Europe and come over here. I was plating deserts at a really great restaurant. It was just 4 or 5 hours a night. It was perfect. I also do a little gardening on the side for extra cash. I don’t know what I’ll do for work when I get back.
If you weren’t in The Mosquitoes what do you think you’d like about them?
Well I would love seeing them play. They really bang it out. Most bands get a bit boring after about 20 minutes or so. The Mosquitoes try to keep it short and sweet so you’ll come back next time to see more. I wish there were more bands like that. And the songs, they’re just so damn catchy. Sometimes they’re stuck in your head for days. That’s a nice talent to have; sticking something in people’s heads. Whether it’s music or any other sort of art. It’s something to remember you by. Most people don’t leave anything.
How would you describe The Mosquitoes’ live show – what should we expect?
Well like I mentioned, we play pretty quick sets just to keep people from getting bored. There have been many missed shows. I remember this girl in Washington D.C. who had been waiting to see us for a couple of years, and when we finally played she was so excited. The band before us finished and while we were setting up she decided to go to the corner shop for a bottle of beer. When she got back she asked, "When are you guys gonna play?" I said, "We just did. Didn’t you see it." Don’t be late. I reckon you’ll never see the same show twice. I travel around quite a bit, so the band just consists of whatever friends I’m with at the time. Right now you can expect Marky to bang the living Christ out of the drums. Not usually for the whole set, but you never know. I think we’re pretty fun to watch. More fun than most bands. There always seems to be a bit of confusion as to what songs we should play. I usually just have a list of all the songs and then decide what to play on the spot. I like doing different versions of songs as well. One night it could be fast and clean. The next night it could be slow and fuzzy. At the show last night, Mark was sweating profusely for a half hour afterwards. Kellie says it’s flamingo style garage pop.
Do you plan on doing any/many touristy things in Australia? What are you looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to tour. Hopefully we’ll have some good drives out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we’ll come across a country pub that will let us play on the spot. That’d be great. Getting into trouble with the locals. I can’t think of anything touristy I’ve done. I’m really just here to live and enjoy the Melbourne life.