Mindless Self Indulgence

When MSI Was Pink
September 7, 2015 4:17 pm

In 1990, Manhattan’s East Village hadn’t yet developed into the glorified shopping mall that’s become so popular with big-haired tourists and yogis alike. It was still fertile ground for people who wanted to create. And it was within this landscape that the band Mindless Self Indulgence, and the character of leader Little Jimmy Urine, were born.

MSI, as fans know them, ripped the music scene a new asshole when they released Tight in 1999. If you were a teenager in the early 2000’s, there’s a good chance you were hanging out in a musty basement somewhere shouting the lyrics to “Bitches” from their year 2000 release Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy. But what happened before that?

Bootlegs of MSI’s earliest work have been circling the Internet for at least a decade. Finally, their early work is getting the attention it deserves. Pink, coming September 18th on Metropolis Records, contains 15 never-before-released MSI tracks, plus covers of “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode and “Girls on Film by Duran Duran. The album is a snapshot of who MSI was from 1990-1997; a celebration of being young and dirty in New York City.

ATYPICAL SOUNDS spoke with singer and writer Little Jimmy Urine (born James Euringer) about the new/old album, what it was like growing up in the city, and what’s in the future for Mindless Self Indulgence.

Your new album Pink is comprised mainly of previously-unreleased music from the early days of MSI. What made you want to release it now?

JU: Well first off, people were selling the self-titled record on eBay for like 500 bucks and I was not seeing any of that money. And I was the only one who had Pink in my possession. But fans knew about the record since the early 2000’s from the Internet. Whether you like Pink or not, one thing is true – it is the most anticipated record of ours because fans knew everything about it for so long but no one even had a bootleg of it. In fact the “bootlegs” that went around were never Pink, they were other bands using the name to promote their own bad music to my fans. So I was like “Fuck that, I am going to put out the real Pink.”

Pink also has covers of “Personal Jesus” and “Girls on Film”. What attracted you to these? Has 80’s synthpop been influential to your sound?

JU: I think synthpop is influential to every single person that has ever worked with electronic music equipment, period. Even if you’re anti-synthpop, that is also synthpop influencing you to do something different. For me, I love melody and 80’s synthpop has some of the best melodies and songwriting ever.

As far as covering “Personal Jesus” and “Girls on Film,” my number one reason to cover a song is, “Can I make a bangin version of this song?” Most people cover songs because the song means a lot to them, but all my covers are based on, “Does the MSI cover slam the fuck out of the original song in some way?” And honestly “Personal Jesus” is my least favorite Depeche Mode song ever – I am a “Strangelove”/”Black Celebration” guy myself. But man does the MSI version kick ass, so of course I’m going to cover it.

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Will you be touring to support the album?

JU: We won’t be.

Do you and your wife [Morningwood vocalist Chantal Claret Euringer] ever collaborate?

JU: Hell yeah! All the time. She did a lot of the little vocal samples and background vocals on Pink, How I learned To Love MSI, and If. We’re both working on stuff all the time and we ask each other’s opinions, help each other with lyrics and melody here and there, talk about art production, business etc. My wife is super talented at so much stuff so, of course, I love to work with her.

You have your own record label, Uppity Cracker. Can you speak a little bit about the process of setting up and running an independent label?

JU: Well, it’s really easy; you just make up a stupid name and get an LLC.  Then BAM! you’re in business. It’s just a good thing to have an imprint even if it just handles your own music. But really just go on the internet and look around you can probably find a video on YouTube that would walk you through the whole thing.

Uppity Cracker was started in 1999. Do you think setting up an independent record label is something that could still be done today?

JU: Yeah, easily. Record labels are not magic they are just small business. If you can open up a cupcake shop you can start an independent label. But it will have less cupcakes…

MSI has been around for a reasonably long time, and I’m sure some of your fans have grown up with you as well. Do you keep in contact with any of them? Are there fans you recognize that come to your shows?

JU: Of course, and I am sure that is the case with a lot of bands. But I think even more so with Mindless Self Indulgence because we have always come right off the stage literally at the end of every show and mingled with the crowd no matter how big or small the show or festival is. So being in the crowd every night for twenty years you get to know the regulars.

Growing up in New York City, how great was the temptation to cut class and do something fun?

JU: That is all we did! We grew up in an X-rated adult mall basically. With a bus/subway pass for free transportation that took you anywhere and everywhere 24/7. We would go to 42nd Street, play video games, go to peep shows and jack off, sneak into movies, go to comic book shops. It was the greatest.

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Who has the best pizza in New York?

JU: Joe’s Pizza on 6th & Bleecker, and Stromboli on St. Marks & 1st.

Have there been any New York venues you’ve performed at that you enjoyed going to as a teenager? Was it a special experience for you?

JU: CBGBs, Irving Plaza and Webster Hall definitely had that full circle effect of “Man I saw a ton of shows here, and now we’re selling out three nights in a row here, holy crap!” type of feeling.

As a musician, have you ever felt pressured to “grow up”? How do you respond to this criticism?

JU: Nope. One of my biggest influences is Mad Magazine – it’s a subversive satire written and illustrated by smart, talented guys. But it’s also considered lowbrow humor for kids. As long as I’m me I am happy, and I have always been me and I will continue to be myself. It is very satisfying.

What do you see in the future for MSI or your other projects?

JU: I love Mindless Self Indulgence. That’s my favorite band because it’s the band that pays my rent and I will do it for as long as I am physically able. But I do not want to see Jimmy Urine on stage in a wheelchair. And as for other projects, I do a lot of work for TV, movies, comics and video games which are all things that I have loved since I was a kid. So I sleep very well at night.

Listen: Mindless Self Indulgence

Save B&H Dairy/A Short History of Diners in Music
July 9, 2015 11:00 am

East Village restaurant B&H Dairy has been closed for over 3 months at this point. Narrowly escaping the gas explosion that destroyed Pommes Frites on March 26th, B&H Dairy has yet to reopen, and the 73-year old luncheonette is at risk of going out of business.

Though B&H Dairy was unharmed in the explosion, subsequent inspections of the restaurant found it needed a new fire system at a cost of $28,000. A post on the blog EV Grieve outlines the full extent of the red tape the owners are trapped in:

For starters, owners Fawzy Abdelwahed and Ola Smigielsk needed approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (the building is in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District) to install the new fire suppression system. The LPC approval finally came through last week. And as of Wednesday [July 1st], the DOB had issued the necessary permit for the job. Work starts on Monday. (The contractor needed to be first approved by the FDNY.)

Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York adds in his own article on the diner:

…the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City promised financial assistance to residents and businesses impacted by the Second Avenue explosion, but no funds have made their way to Fawzy and Ola, and no one from the city has been in touch with them.

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So what’s the big deal about this place? It’s the best diner on earth. In its 73 years on Second Avenue, it’s been a home-away-from-home for countless people looking for comfort in a bowl of mushroom barley soup and a few thick slices of house made challah with butter. Little Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence was kind enough to share his memories of B&H with ATYPICALSOUNDS:

I was born and raised in New York City and for 14 years I lived on 7th Street and 1st Avenue with my roommate and drummer Kitty. We spent most of our time on St. Mark’s Place and the surrounding neighborhood and one major staple of that neighborhood was and is B&H Dairy. It is a small, one-counter, old-school establishment with the most famous Challah French Toast in the world.

I’m not a vegetarian and have never been and I tend not to eat at super healthy places, but B&H was different. Kitty and I ate there thousands of times. Sure there are tons of places on the Lower East Side to get a good knish or blintze but B&H has a charm and a quaintness that is packed into the smallest restaurant I have ever frequented.

For years I would write songs all night until six in the morning and inevitably end up around the corner at B&H downing an omelette before I crashed for the day. I’m proud to say that B&H is a very big part of mine and Kitty’s life working and living in New York City. I don’t know much about the current situation that B&H is in as I have not lived in the city since 2005, but I would be very saddened to see another great local L.E.S. establishment lost like so many before.

Jimmy and the rest of Mindless Self Indulgence are getting ready to release Pink, an album of never-released tracks from the band’s early years. Pre-order the album here.

Another East Village native, indie folk musician Jeffrey Lewis, offered his memories as well:

B&H is a mainstay of the neighborhood, and has been for generations. I’ve been going there for years (I grew up a couple blocks away), and despite the small size I often bump into friends or neighborhood familiar faces; bumping into an ex-girlfriend there inspired a song on one of my albums a few years back.

When Lower East Side cultural hero Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs died in 2010, Ratso Sloman catered the local memorial with borscht from B&H, a Tuli favorite. In fact, I may just be the only person who has figured out that the dark, obscure photo of Tuli on the back cover of his 1967 solo album No Deposit/No Return is, if you look closely, a photo of Tuli standing in the doorway of B&H. You can’t see the name, but the door-frame and surrounding details are unmistakable, for those who would know!

Jeffrey Lewis just completed a tour of Europe in support of his recent album, Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams. Order it here.

What can you do to help B&H Dairy? Donate if you can. If you can’t, Jeremiah Moss has started a Twitter campaign to light a fire under the ass of city officials. And to remind you all of the importance of diners in pop culture, let alone New York City, here is a short list of diners in music.

Suzanne Vega – “Tom’s Diner”

While this pop iconoclast is on every. single. list of food-related songs, it would be wrong to leave out. There is no better place in the world for people watching than your local diner, and this song is a perfectly concise illustration of that. The song’s namesake, Tom’s Restaurant, is located at the corner of Broadway and 112th Street. It’s also known as the exterior for the fictional Monk’s Café on Seinfeld.

Listen: Suzanne Vega – “Tom’s Diner”

King Missile – “Detachable Penis”

Bet you haven’t heard this one since high school. While searching the East Village for his missing phallus, our hero stops for breakfast at the now-gone Kiev Restaurant. Closed in 2000, Kiev was known for its Eastern European fare, including blintzes and mushroom barley soup (much like the menu at B&H Dairy). Kiev was open 24/7 at the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street, and must’ve seen some pretty incredible characters in its nearly 30 years in business.

Listen: King Missile – “Detachable Penis”

Rent OST – “La Vie Boheme”

This one isn’t about a diner, so much as it is a celebration of diner culture. In the Rent musical, the characters meet at the Life Café after Maureen’s protest of the eviction of the homeless from a vacant lot. It’s late at night, and Life Café stands out like a warm beacon on a dark city street. They celebrate. The real Life Café was located on Tenth Street and Avenue B. It closed in 2013 after 34 years in business.

Listen: Rent OST – “La Vie Boheme”

The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

This classic song about a failing relationship between a cocktail waitress and a jerk is a still a mainstay on dance floors everywhere (or just in Williamsburg). Since its release in 1981, the song has also appeared in commercials for mops, shower heads, cookies, and chicken.

Listen: The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

Greta Gertler & The Extroverts – “Veselka”

This polka-infused love letter to Ukrainian diner Veselka is all the more poignant when you learn Gertler originates from Australia, but still has a place she feels at home at the East Village diner. In it, she sings, “I used to go there on my own a lot/or with my best girlfriend/over coffee and pierogi/our hearts began to mend”. Veselka still stands at the same place it’s been since opening in 1954 at the corner of Second Avenue and Ninth Street, just over a block from where B&H Dairy remains closed. It’s clear Veselka won’t be going anywhere soon, and B&H Dairy shouldn’t have to either.

Listen: Greta Gertler & The Extroverts – “Veselka”