The Prefab Messiahs started as a politically-oriented psych-pop group in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1981, lasting for just over a year. The band met through college radio and the underground art-punk scene, writing songs that critiqued consumer culture and the general 80s mainstream mentality. Thirty years later, they came onto my radar when their Peace Love and Alienation LP was plucked from obscurity and reissued by Fixed Identity. In 2012, after the band played its first shows together since disbanding in 1983, they decided to write new songs.
Burger Records reissued their 80s anthology Devolver in the fall of 2013, and this past March the West Coast tape label teamed with Boston’s KLYAM Records to press a brand new collection of songs, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive. The title track is just what is sounds like — an ode to staying creative, active, and inspired in the face of an oppressive day-to-day grind that just wants to stay in a cube. “Sip a cup of coffee / from your daily grind / it’s a full-time job / not to lose your mind,” it starts. “You gotta do what you gotta do / to survive / keep your stupid dreams alive!”
“To me the song, and the album, is pretty much the record the band might have made if we’d kept going, give or take everything that’s happened and we’ve learned,” Prefabs singer, Xerox, says. “It felt surprisingly easy for all of us to slip back into the old group mindset. The new recordings are both about the band and by the band … a sort of time-warped homage to those times and about what happened to get us here now.” The animated video for “Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive” below, as well as a conversation with the band on its history, new music, and more.
For the Impose readers who are just getting introduced to the band, can you give us the brief history of the Prefabs – how did you all meet?
Xerox: The story starts long ago in the forsaken city of Wormtown (Worcester MA). I was sleepwalking through college and wanted to start a band, even though I couldn’t really play and only owned a guitar that couldn’t be properly tuned. Kris (Trip) and Mike (Doc) had already been rubbing shoulders with local art weirdos and experimental musicians and saw a flier I posted on campus and we carried on from there for about 2 years.
Aside from vaguely hoping to miraculously become rock stars, our goals had something to do with spreading anti-’80s cultural messages and pop culture satire mixed with self-deprecating enthusiasm for ’60s jangle and Ramones-y new wave. The resulting lo-fi ‘snarky psychedelic garage pop punk’ was somewhat accidental given our level of experience and resources. By default, I became the lead singer and as a cartoonist who was into writing things, basically the songwriter. But The Prefabs was always a creative collective. We hung around the local community radio station, played a bunch of local shows and ran through a vast number of drummers.
At the time it seemed our creative efforts landed on the collective consciousness of the world with a massive thud of indifference. We eventually all got the hell out of Worcester and moved on to other creative and musical things, never imagining The Prefab Messiahs legacy might be resurrected a million years later.
Trip: I was literally a teenager for most of our original tenure. Doc and I met during our freshman year in college while Xerox was on his junior year abroad in England. At the start of our second year, we spotted Xerox’s flyer that read “talentless guitarist and drummer seeking bassist and lead guitarist to form post-new wave pop pseudo-psychedelic band.” At that time (1981), none of the later terms like “lo-fi”, “Indie”, “alternative” or “college rock” were in usage. We were naive and had limited resources, and ended up forging our own thing — spurred on by interests in both ’60s psych & ’80s new-music. People have noted that much of those results shares some overlap with the scrappy high-energy garage pop of today — so it’s been interesting sliding into place with in 2015 without needing any “comeback dudes” handicapping.
At what point did you decide it would make sense to write a new record?
Trip: In June 2012 we did a four-date “micro-tour” to mark 30 years since our original heyday. We had such a good time with it that we became inspired by the prospect of getting some brand-new sounds going. A year later we were in Jesse Gallagher’s project studio in Cambridge MA [who recorded Quilt’s first album for Mexican Summer] working with him and [ex-MMOSS leader] Doug Tuttle. At that point, Burger was already in the process of putting out our [early-’80s] Devolver anthology — and also a live Bobb Trimble album that I’d played on. When I told them we had brand-new stuff in the pipeline, they were anxious to hear the result — and ended up loving it. The album is a co-release with KLYAM Records in Boston.
Xerox: Before and during the mini-tour I’d started imagining what “Prefab Music” might sound like in the modern era and there seemed to be some interesting answers. I’d been home-recording songs for years and found it oddly natural to start work on a kind of “Prefab Messiahs Today” type project. I sent some song demos to Kris and Mike to see what would happen. The Prefab era was a really formative, intense period for all of us and in some ways I think we all reached a point where we realized we had nothing better to do with ourselves anyway. Meanwhile Kris had been slowly massaging interest in the band back to life with the Devolver re-release and assorted other projects. So we ‘suddenly’ found ourselves more and more in touch and thinking about the band. It didn’t seem like a spent force for us at all.
What are some ideas that you’ve always played with on Prefabs lyrics, and how does the new collection of songs fit into the bigger picture?
Xerox: Back in the day we had a strong sense of being outsiders and not fitting in (’cause we were and didn’t) and also a sort of don’t ‘believe the hype’ sort of approach to things (while also being fascinated by hype.)
Somehow referencing the band history and what happens to ‘people like us’ over decades became the general theme of the new songs. We definitely didn’t want to record anything new that didn’t capture the original feel of the band. The new songs and the old songs, though separated by 30 years (and a lot of experience) mesh together as part of the same vibe… which was the whole point. Part of the idea was to make sort of a mini-rock opera about our experience, but we couldn’t have created it until it all happened.
Trip: A lot of the original writing was a balancing act of things like being subtly socially critical without actually becoming “political”, or denouncing conformity without coming off as a buzzkill. A recent review described us as “both serious and fun,” opining that very few have pulled off a dichotomy like that. That continues with the new songs, as in “Ssydarthurr” where a crush of humanity “push and shove amid the glare / For love and sex and plasticware.” One of my favorite lines on the new album is in “Bobb’s Psychedelic Car” — “The winking signs along the interstate announce the news / Every place is now the same.”
Can you tell me about this song, “Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive”, which is also the title of the record?
Xerox: Not that it’s all that clear, but the album starts off with the song ‘Ssydarthurr’ — introducing a character who progresses though different scenes and moods through the years — and “KYSDA” is sort of the self-explanatory endpoint. It riffs off the typical dumpster-load of cliches about ‘following your dreams’ and making them come true and all that… as if that’s all it takes.
All The Prefab Messiahs can offer is some reflection of this basically ridiculous experience we’ve had. We’re a “comeback” band that never “made it” in the first place. It’s stupid! But should you give up ‘being’ just because a clock is ticking somewhere or you haven’t made a million bucks somehow? It’s really about any creative activity, any attempt at finding some meaning. You (probably) just gotta ‘Do It’… whatever ‘It’ is.
To me the song (and the album) is pretty much the record the band might have made if we’d kept going, give or take everything that’s happened and we’ve learned. It felt surprisingly easy for all of us to slip back into the old group mindset. The new recordings are both about the band and by the band… a sort of time-warped homage to those times and about what happened to get us here now.
What does the future have in store for the Prefab Messiahs?
Xerox: I think this record was what we had to do first if we were going to do a new record… but we’ve already been thinking about what the follow up would be/would have been. We’re planning to record some new material as soon as we can… and then maybe we’ll just keep going and see what happens, or doesn’t.
Trip: We’ll play shows when we can, but it’s probably more in our game plan to keep some fun and creative recording projects moving along. We love playing out, but even intensive tours can’t bring you everywhere. With recorded material, you can reach receptive folks anywhere.