I Was a Teenager in Ben Stiller’s Punk Band
Capital Punishment probably would have been forgotten with the hundreds of other bands from the early 80s, if it weren’t for the fact that their drummer is Ben Stiller.
If you were on the New York post-punk scene in the early 80s, you would have been used to seeing bands in weird masks singing in affected British accents and sampling white noise. Capital Punishment, a bunch of weird kids still in high school, would have seemed like just another band.
They probably would have been forgotten with the hundreds of other bands from that time too, if it weren’t for the fact that their drummer is Ben Stiller. Now, 33 years since the band broke up, indie label Captured Tracks are set to re-release Capital Punishment’s only album Roadkill for our listening pleasure.
Peter Zusi, now a lecturer in Slavic Studies at UCL tells us what it was like to be in a punk band with Ben Stiller.
We started the band completely for our own amusement. We went to the same high school, and Kriss, who was the central figure in the band, invited us to join. We never played any gigs. He had rented a studio for us to record ourselves in, so we went in and recorded some crazy shit. We booked several seven-hour sessions and it was very intense. There was a professional engineer there, and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing!
If you look on the back of our record, you can see the weird things we’ve all been credited with. We brought our friends from school to join in, so we have people credited for ‘breaths’, ‘processed white noise percussion’, ‘jars’, ‘pot tops’ and ‘saw-like ploit percussion’. We had strange breathing exercises, “ohmmm” type of things. Looking through the credits, with pieces of kit like ‘VL Tone’, ‘Prophet 5’ and whatever the fuck a ‘Merv’ is, it’s like a history trip through early 1980s musical technology.
I remember there was what I called the Floyd Kuta; I don’t think it’s on the album, and it’s just this odd exchange between Ben and Kriss, and they just started doing this weird voice of somebody named Floyd saying 'did you like that song Floyd?' and the other person would say 'yeahhhhh' and it goes back and forth like that for about three minutes. We were just trying to do things that we thought sounded damn cool; there was no grand plan behind it. I have to confess, I don’t listen to the album very often, and I don’t think anybody does. It was all about the experience of making music.
Ben and Kriss’ parents, being involved with acting and film productions, had connections, and we also got to speak with Gene Simmons. Gene was a really good sport, and came over to speak with us for fifteen minutes. We just sat there and shook and shivered. I don’t remember a word he said.
If you look at the front cover of the record, you’ve got Kriss on top looking like an insane duck, that’s me in the centre with that sort of Darth Vader meets The Joker outfit, and then Ben is the Che Guevara on the bottom. I should probably point out that on the back there are these pictures of road kill, and that's me on the moped with the squashed bunny, but just for the record, that bunny was found. No bunnies were hurt in the production of this album.
Ben was, and still is, just a regular guy. If I think about the way Ben's career has developed, a lot of it has been around making connections between weirdo behaviour and regular people. Ben always had a quirky sense of humour, and he was good at communicating that to people that weren’t as quirky as we were. With this album, it was all a certain type of rebellion in the direction of oddball. And that's what this album reflects to my mind.
Thinking back about those early Reagan years, the country was changing and New York was changing radically. There was a sense of the city becoming corporatised, life becoming more financialised and sanitised, and this album was just a little bit of teenage resistance against that.
Since Capital Punishment, I've gone into Academia. I studied Literature in College, and then I spent a number of years in Europe, in Germany, in Prague, in Czechoslovakia, or the Czech Republic as it then became. At that time I met my future wife. I've got a position in Czech literature at University College London. So that's my life.
The three of us actually met up in November 2014 and had a long conversation; it was the first time we’d been together for 20 years. We spoke about Capital Punishment and Captured Tracks wanting to not re-release, but release it, as it was never released in the first place, and we were like yeah, let’s do this! So you can go buy the album soon I’m sure.”
All photos courtesy of Capital Punishment. Interview by Lucas Fothergill. You can find him on Twitter here: @lucasfothergill