Interview: The Slow Poisoner
by Horatio Dark
The Slow Poisoner is a one man surrealist rock band based in San Francisco. He travels the west coast with his guitar, bass drum and props, spreading his sly stories of the mysteries and horrors of the denizens of the fringe. When not performing wherever he can, he is busy writing, illustrating, throwing hexes in the woods and spreading the word on his genuine invigorating miracle tonic. I ran down The Slow Poisoner for some questions to get a grasp on his creative process and what it takes to keep him motivated.
Horatio Dark: I first heard Run Rooster Run when was looking up the story of Miracle Mike, the headless chicken, after someone mentioned him at my local bar. Is Miracle Mike the inspiration for the song?
Slow Poisoner: When I first wrote Run Rooster Run I was just thinking about the few minutes that your average chicken spends post-amputation, flapping bloody about the barnyard. At some point I learned about Mike the Headless Chicken, and became pretty obsessed. I started to tell the story before playing the song, as a kind of motivational speech about triumph over adversity. I even traveled all the way to Fruita, Colorado during a tour in order to see the town where the incident occurred. They have a statue of him in the town square, made out of rusted wrenches. The Chamber of Commerce sells a very strange DVD about it, called “Chick Flick,” and of course they have their annual headless chicken races – with people dressed as chickens. I was especially struck by the fact that after two years of exhibiting Mike, his owner got too plastered one night and left the feeding syringe back at the carnival, so Mike “the living miracle headless chicken” starved as a result of one man’s drunken failure. A strange, lonely death.
HD: How’s the miracle tonic selling? Have you thought of branching out into snake oils, elixirs or other panaceas?
SP: The patent medicine sales are good. Lots of folks are suffering from elephantiasis and disinterested bladder these days, not to mention lavender fever and wandering limb syndrome, so as long as folks are sick I think I’ll continue to offer it, though it’s been more of an under-the-counter item lately as I’ve had some warnings come my way. It’s dovetailed nicely with my advice column “Ask The Slow Poisoner” which is in a magazine called PORK, wherein I dispense with all manners of helpful information. My best-selling merch is my black velvet paintings, though.
HD: In addition to being The Slow Poisoner, one man surrealist rock band, you are Andrew Goldfarb, author and illustrator. Tell me about the interplay between Andrew Goldfarb and the Slow Poisoner.
SP: As for the connections between my writing, art and music – I see it all as being the same thing, really. I display paintings for each song when I perform live, or sometimes I use felt cut-outs to illustrate what I’m singing about. I act out my rock opera, “Lost Hills,” and recently I built a giant monster head that will swallow me on stage, so visual stuff is a big part of the music show. Some of the songs have become comics, like “The Hex”, which is an instruction manual to the black arts that appeared as a song on my 2nd album but also as a comic strip in various places. It’s all about getting a certain mood across, inviting folks into some weird place that I’ve been to on occasion and that I want to share with others. To that end, the more media that I employ the more effective it all is.
HD: The life of a one man band has to get to be trying at times. What keeps you motivated?
SP: Being a one man band is actually very easy, especially when compared to having drummers and bassists to contend with (although bizarro writer John Skipp has been joining me on percussion sometimes and he’s fantastic). There’s a law of physics that an element in motion with no opposition will remain in motion in perpetuity, so I plan to carry on ’til I’m 100 and go over Niagara Falls. As for motivation, I tend to employ numerical goals to keep me on track. I aim to do at least 31 shows per year, and I have 1000 episodes of my comic strip (“Ogner Stump’s One Thousand Sorrows”) to complete, so I stay busy and avoid staring into the endless black abyss.
HD: With that kind of workload, you must need to keep a rather consistent flow of ideas. How do you deal with creative blocks when they arise? Any day to day habits that keep you focused?
SP: I’ve found that napping is really important to my creative process. I got to sleep at least twice, sometimes three times a day. Perhaps it’s narcolepsy. But after I wake up, whatever my first idea is, I go with that. So when I get an idea for a song or comic, I run with the first fool notion that hits me, I don’t judge whether the idea is good or bad – I’ve learned that I don’t know the difference. I’m just happy that I have any idea at all. In a sense, I think quantity is more important than quality – if you make enough stuff, some of it is bound to be good.
HD: All of your music is put out by Rocktopus! Records. Is it a fair assumption that Rocktopus! is you? What are some of the ups and downs of putting your music out yourself? What have you learned that you would do differently if you could?
SP: Yeah, Rocktopus! Records is my own label and it just has me on it. I believe in the Gideon Bible method of distribution – I slip CDs into hotel room drawers, under the windshield wipers of interesting cars, I tuck them into pamphlet racks at government bureaus. You never know who will come across it. I don’t have any complaints, though it is nice to be part of something bigger on occasion, as with Eraserhead and Bizarro, for the human interaction with fellow freaks – it’s always a pleasure to be among other folks treading the weird path.
HD: Tell me about how fans and community have affected your process.
SP: Audience reactions have definitely shaped my music performance – the difficulty of reaching into folks’ brains in dark bars has led me to become increasingly over-the-top musically. I used to perform delicate ballads of ethereal mystery, but I couldn’t hear myself over the sound of the bartender, so now I scream about cutting off chicken heads and throw eyeballs into the audience, and everyone has a better time, including myself.
HD: Now that everyone is captivated by The Slow Poisoner, where can we find more about you and your work?
SP: I’ve got a couple of Internet sites – my music stuff is at TheSlowPoisoner.com and my comics and art is at OgnerStump.com. I contribute regularly to the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, and people in the Western half of the US can catch me on tour a couple of times a year – in only the finest lounges, cafes and laundromats.