When I heard that The Pharmacy’s drummer Brendan used to be a weed farmer, I had developed a few preconceived notions about him. Firstly, it made perfect sense that he kept postponing our meeting due to his forgetfulness and oversleeping and stuff (took two weeks and, like, eight rainchecks to make this interview happen). Two, I was pretty sure that he would have long, stoner hair, smell faintly ‘herbal,’ and throw around a lot of “yeahhhhhhhh duuuude it was totally rad’s” while relaying highlarious anecdotes from the weed farm.
But when I finally met Brendan at McCarren Park on a Sunday afternoon, he wasn’t at all what I had expected. He was friendly but in a somewhat worn out way (maybe hung over). He had normal guy hair (?), never once called me “duuuude,” and as ridiculous as his stories were, they were tinged with sorrow as he recalled the abusive seven months he spent on a weed farm with a batshit crazy guy named Sparrow Hawk: his penis-flapping, acid-eating, Dead Head junkie pot-planting partner.
VICE: Psst, word on the street is you’re a weed farmer…
Brendan: Yeah… [laughs]
That makes sense.
Not really, though. Because of our band name, people tag us as drug addicts or whatever, but we’re really not. We occasionally smoke pot, but that’s it. We’re not hopped up on painkillers like people think we are.
How did you end up in this business? Do you have to be a gardening type to get into it?
That’s the funny thing — it was my first time working with plants. It’s a friend’s operation, but I won’t mention his name because people are super paranoid about it, and it’s based out of California. I didn’t know my friend was in this business at all, but I got a call from my best friend who said she was hanging out with him in LA. She said she had been trimming pot for him, but didn’t make the connection that he was my friend until later. When I found out, I started hounding him for a job. I thought this was a good way to make a quick couple thousand dollars because we’re on tour a lot.
Does the job pay really well?
It does, yeah. Well, I was just really naive going into it. I thought I’d just be there a month trimming pot – which I thought was going to be an easy job. You sit at a table for 12 hours straight and that’s all you do. If you’re lucky, you can trim up to two pounds a day, and that’s like $400.
I’m guessing it wasn’t as easy of a job as you had expected.
It’s really grueling and soul-sucking. I didn’t know that at the time. I also didn’t know I would be there for eight months. My friend flew me out and offered me 20 grand up front – which seemed really good at the time, but it’s nothing compared to the million-dollar business that it is.
Oh wow, when were you there? Did it kill your social life working on the farm?
I worked there from March to November 2011. Yes, everyone there is only concerned with the business. When I was there, I would fantasize about my outside life and I wouldn’t care too much about growing pot. It was just me and this one other guy on the farm whereas my friend is sort of the overseer, so he only came by once every two weeks or so to check up on us. This guy I lived with was a 55 year old, jaded, ex-Dead Head, total asshole from Wisconsin. He had a redneck, white trash mentality but he had dreadlocks and was into the Grateful Dead. I lived with him for eight months straight.
Let me guess, he was a druggie too?
He ate acid every few days. He’s totally off his rocker. Also, his name is Sparrow Hawk — obviously not his real name. He met some other traveling hippie like 15 years ago who was on the run from the police. While on acid, Sparrow ended up giving him his birth certificate and passport for some reason, thinking that he was doing the right thing. He felt stripped of his identity but then a sparrow and a hawk flew by or something at that moment and he put the two together. Pretty lame.
Did he give you a bird name too?
No. Also, he traveled in a bus just like that [points], which was parked in the middle of our farm:
Sparrow’s bus lookalike at McCarren Park.
So was this Sparrow guy like your boss? Was he there to keep you in check or something?
It was actually more like living with an evil, angry stepdad. He really broke me down. I felt like I was 12 again. I had all these rules I had to follow.
What kind of rules?
I was supposed to be really discreet, so whenever I called people he would always listen in on conversations. He’d flip out if I mentioned his name. He was an absolute nightmare. He would yell at me all the time, throw shit at me, punch walls… He was an alcoholic too, so he’d get shitfaced everyday.
Oh my God, he sounds like the worst! What was it like meeting him for the first time?
I remember the first time I was there, we were in the garden. All of a sudden he gets naked and I’m like, ‘Oh… OK. I’m not really uptight, he’s a hippie. He can do what he wants. I’ll be cool with it.’ But just the way he was doing it—he was prancing around—made me think something was going on. Sure enough, a car pulls up and two of his friends show up.
So as Sparrow’s parading around the car like a rooster, I go to the greenhouse to take over for a while. All of a sudden he comes up to me and his eyes are bulging out of his face because he took a shit ton of acid with these people. Then he says the weirdest thing to me: “I think Benji wants to fuck me. Should I do it?”
Benji’s one of the friends who showed up?
Yup. Then there was also a lady with whom he’s had a relationship in the past.
What’s Sparrow’s sexual orientation?
He had never been with another man before, but he’s certainly had a lot of ladies. He named all his plants after ex-girlfriends. Actually on my first day, he told me stories about each woman the plants were named after. It was really personal and I didn’t really want to hear any of it.
Right, so did he end up fucking Benji?
Well, he tells me, “I’ve never been fucked by a guy except for when my grandfather raped me!”
What the fuck??
Yeah, then he gets into this whole other crazy story. I don’t know what to say so I just tell him “You just do what you gotta do, Sparrow.” He says, “I think I’m gonna do it!” He puts a drop of acid on my forehead and tells me it’s for my third eye – whatever that means. I didn’t think that would do anything, but apparently it can seep through your skin.
Oh, I didn’t know that could have an effect either. So you got fucked up from forehead acid??
Yeah I started feeling really claustrophobic, so I stopped what I was doing and went outside. That’s when I see Sparrow, Benji, and the lady having an orgy right in the parking lot. I couldn’t help but glance… Sparrow was giving Benji a blowjob and Benji was pouring a giant, five-gallon bucket of water all over himself. Then this fat lady was just massaging her tits and it was the weirdest thing to see on acid. I exclaimed “Oh God!” and ran into the forest.
Wasn’t that frightening too though—running into the forest while on acid?
Yeah and I forgot there was poison oak everywhere in California. It was a forest of poison oak! But I really couldn’t go back to these people fucking, you know? So I hung out in the forest for a few hours, just staring at bark and touching sap.
How did you get yourself to go back?
Well, I decided to go take a walk but I heard Sparrow yelling my name off the top of his lungs because when he needed my help pulling the tarp over the greenhouse. When I went back, they were all still naked and fucked up on acid, trying to cover the greenhouse. It was a total shitshow, especially because these naked people were complete strangers to me.
Though you’ve already seen way too much.
Yeah, way too much. The lady had at least put on some underwear at this point, but she was still topless and massaging her breasts under the moon, talking about the moon and how good it makes her feel.
Ha! How poetic?
Meanwhile, Benji was pretending to be on a sailboat with his flaccid penis flapping in the wind. It was so awkward! They stayed for three days, and it turned into a sexcapade. They didn’t stop eating acid or fucking. I remember waking up at 5 AM to the raunchiest sex screams.
My question now is why’d you stick around for eight months?
They wouldn’t let me quit! I tried so many times. I mean, the stories I just told you are pretty laughable but shit got worse… like, Sparrow threw a chair at me, he broke my ankle, and all sorts of crazy shit went down.
That’s so traumatizing!
Absolutely. Sparrow also didn’t know what he was doing. Before this job, he was a chicken farmer for nine years. He also looked like a chicken – really skinny and gaunt with this weird belly people get when they’re malnourished.
So day-to-day life with Sparrow was basically angry screaming, fucking, nudity, drugs, and abuse?
Pretty much. He also went through musical phases going back and forth between the Grateful Dead and trance music. He’d play music insanely loud—so loud that our neighbor would come out and shoot a shotgun in the air.
He sounds like a complete nightmare! I’m sorry!
He was so awful to me the whole time, even though I tried really hard to befriend him and be nice. He would even point out like “I’m not here to be your friend.” I basically became his therapist instead. Whenever he got drunk—which was really often—he would tell me stories from his dark past, like about getting molested by his dad and granddad. He also claimed to remember being abandoned by his mother at the age of three days old, which doesn’t seem possible. He had never felt unconditional love or kindness from anybody.
That’s… really… sad. It also explains his behavior, I guess.
Yeah, it’s really sad.
What was going on with your band this whole time?
They had another guy they played with during the time. Actually, the other two guys from The Pharmacy came to the farm in my last month to help with trimming.
Oh no, they got involved too!
Yeah, but for only a month. The first night they were there, Sparrow went outside to take a piss and came back without his pants. He was like “Oh, I was just staring at the stars and pissed all over myself so I took my pants off.”
That sounds like quite the initiation. I’m sure people are paranoid about discussing their job. What jobs did you guys use as a cover?
Well, since we went to the local hardware store a lot we would just say we were in construction. But everyone in the area grows pot.
Does Sparrow continue to live on the farm, abusing other poor souls?
No, he got fired.
Previously - Justin Finch From Fanfarlo