The Meatmen Are Back, and Tesco Vee Is Still Here to Call You a Weenbag
Following the release of 'Savage Sagas,' the first new album of original songs in two decades, we catch up with Robert Vermeulen.
Photo credit: Keith Marlowe
Before the internet, it was vital to have hand-made and often self-published magazines like Creem, Slash, Punk, and Search and Destroy to talk about bands and scenes. In the late 70s, Robert Vermeulen AKA Tesco Vee AKA the Dutch Hercules (the eternally foul-mouthed frontman of the Meatmen) teamed with Dave Stimson to start Touch & Go. They used this zine/label to introduce a young Midwest scene to a national audience. They started releasing records by midwest bands like the Fix, Negative Approach, the Necros, and Tesco's band, the Meatmen. In 1983 Tesco handed control of Touch & Go over to Corey Rusk, having built the foundation for a label that would release some of the finest underground music of the 80s and 90s—including the Butthole Surfers, the Jesus Lizard, Big Black, the Didjits, Shellac, and some artists that would eventually crossover to mainstream success, like TV on the Radio, !!!, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Tesco's band The Meatmen became infamous for ridiculously repulsive songs, with such titles as “Tooling for Anus,” “Orgy of One,” and “Mr. Tapeworm.” Their stage shows were an insane mixture of outrageous costumes, crude stage banter, distasteful props, and wanton audience baiting. Thoughout their career The Meatmen have steadfastly refused to be pigeonholed into a single genre of music, releasing albums that run the gamut from punk to hardcore to rock to metal, allowing them to play with many different kinds of bands over the years, including Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Gang Green, Redd Kross, and Gwar. The band had a constant revolving door of members, including Minor Threat members Ian MacKaye and Brian Baker, the latter who quit because he apparently was sick of wearing ballerina costumes and evening gowns onstage. After 15 years of mayhem, Tesco finally pulled the plug on the Meatmen in 1996.
Now, after a long hiatus, Tesco Vee has returned with a vengeance, releasing their first new album of original songs in 20 years, Savage Sagas. I spoke with Tesco Vee about his career, the reformation of The Meatmen, and this history of the Touch & Go zine and record label, and hardcore punk during its formative time. There are a lot of adjectives used to describe this man, but soft-spoken is not one of them.
Noisey: What was the origin of The Meatmen and Touch & Go?
Tesco Vee: Everyone has their inspirations and motivations to start a band or a label. Mine were driven solely out of a love for the music. The whole DIY thing made me realize that I too could hop onstage and do my thing and croon about poop and bones and piss people off. And with the demise of the record industry it seems things have gone full circle. Lots of great bands out there are playing music from the heart. Starting a label was born out of a need to help my pals the Necros and the Fix get their brands of mayhem out to the masses—well, at 100 and 200 copies pressed, more like get it out to those who were rabid enough to seek one out.
When was the beginning and end of the Touch & Go zine?
It started in 1979 and put a fork in it in 1983. It was time, because 83 seemed like the end of the chapter. I had done the last five issues solo after moving to DC. I'm proud of the legacy I left behind, and what Dave and I put together. We shot from the literary hip and from our hearts because we loved the music and wanted to shout it from the mountaintops! Or as Dave puts it, “we were just bored.”
Do you ever have any regret about handing control of Touch & Go over to Corey Rusk when you moved to DC? How many of the bands/records he put out did you like?
No, not really. I was a little miffed that at the 25th anniversary in Chicago the video made no mention of me starting the label. Whatever. Some of the Touch & Go bands I dug were the Didjits, Jesus Lizard, Man or Astroman, and all the early stuff.
What caused you to get the full collection together after all these years?
It was inspired by Steve Miller, singer from The Fix and author of Detroit Rock City. It took us five years of pitching it until we found Bazillion Points, which was a match made in hades. Everyone wanted us to truncate it, but Ian Christie said, “Truncate this!’ and let us make it as long as we wanted. Ian is a saint as well as a metal scribe of note himself. The love letters to MacKaye, vintage flyers, drawings, the whole nine yards—the response has been way better than I could have ever dreamed, and it's continuing to sell well. It's very cool to see those four years of my life encapsulated into one missile sized tome!
You were a schoolteacher when you started Touch & Go?
Yup. I taught third and fifth grade for a couple years. I used to sneak in at 3 AM and make photocopies for the zine. I had no budget, but the mag had to come out! Those were some special times. I was broke as fuck but still managed to buy a bunch of records and zines and start Touch & Go. Four years of my life is right there in that brick of punk history.
Did you ever see any of your students at a Meatmen gig?
Yeah, a few of them have come up to me over the years. Pretty cool.
Your parents have no idea that you're Tesco Vee? Have they heard of The Meatmen?
Well my dear old mom is tits up with a lily taking a dirt nap in a horizontal phonebooth, so unless she's looking way down on me she doesn't know much of anything now. She knew about the band but just didn't know the depths of the depraved content and just how much I had rebelled against all the religion they forced down my gullet. Pops is 92 and it’s a little late to try and explain.
When was the first time you played as The Meatmen?
Sometime in 1979 me and some high school chums got together and drank a bunch of swill and came up with all the early hits in an attic in East Lansing.
What were the first shows like?
Rough, but fun...rough as in raw...but we didn’t suck! The first show was at the Coronation Tavern in Windsor, Ontario. The bartender was whacking patrons on the head with a frying pan! I almost got stabbed that night but talked my way out of it—that should have been my clue to never play another punk rock show, but no.
How's it been reforming The Meatmen?
This has been a great year for me and the band. Savage Sagas is the first new album in 20 years and people dig it. I knew I had at least one more platter in me and really wanted to put out something new, so we aren't just plumbing the past at all the live shows. I'm damn proud of that record. We played with Gwar at Gwar-B-Que and again this fall in Grand Rapids. We played shows with Antiseen in October down in Texas. We toured the west coast and that was great too. I'm just happy to take what the market gives me at this point in my career and happy it allows me to blast aggro at 100 DB. I have the best back up band I've ever had. You read that right, Weenbags!
What caused you to play again after all those years?
My son really inspired me to re-light the fuse. I did a comeback 30-minute set with Negative Approach backing me up and it was like, "Man I can still do this. I'm having more fun than ever!" And my son got to tour and road manage me for a couple years until life called and he had to get a steady job.
How many dudes have been in The Meatmen at this point?
I've lost count! A lot!
How did you hook-up with the dudes from Chapstik to be the new Meatmen?
I saw them online and was like, "Man these guys are killer," and I was gonna ask them to be The Meatmen in 2008 but didn't. It just sort of happened eventually. I’ll pit this line up against any in Meat history.
What future plans do you have for The Meatmen?
At this point, I'm just having a blast. We're going to combine with some bigger bands next year for tag team assaults, both punk and metal—we play both sides of the fence. I just wanna keep on going as long as I can deliver the goods, unlike Greg Ginn. If you're gonna be a legacy punk band don't stink up the joint like Black Flag is now. You have to really bring it every night. I still have a chip on my shoulder and am hungry and scrapping for everything I get. That’s why we felt a kindred spirit with Self Destructo records, a young upstart label with an old upstart band. A perfect union.
Photo credit: Keith Marlowe
You were at the FEAR’s famous Saturday Night Live performance. What was that like?
Man, it was really fun and really embarrassing. Seeing my compadres slam dancing into FEAR and knocking their guitar cords out and the microphones into their grilles. I didn't hang around long, went upstairs and watched the melee from the Green Room. It was a who’s who of punk at the time. At the end right before commercial break John Brannon grabbed the mic and yelled out "Negative Approach is gonna fuck you up!" live on national TV. It doesn't get any cooler than that.
You were buds with Glenn Danzig until he started Samhain. Did you get any satisfaction out of the video of him getting knocked out with one punch?
Yes. I thought it was pretty choice. We used to be friends, but in 1985 he ditched all his old buddies on his way to fame and fortune. Fuck that guy! I've buried the hatchet with anyone who I fell out with except that sawed off piece of shit. No matter how many times he steps on his dick people give him a pass. I don't get it. So glad he lost that lawsuit. Fuck. That. Guy.
You've been married for over 30 years now. Did you really shit the bed on your first date with your wife?
Yes I did. I loaded up my BVDs with Rio Grande mud. And she still married me! Now that’s a good woman! I blew an evil fart this weekend at our cottage that smelled like a cross between BBQ sauce and fermented fruit. As she was leaping out of bed I was cackling "Come back! That smells like the Holy Spirit!" and as she was running away she said, “I cant believe people flock to him!”