Music

Alt-Rock Godfather Tyson Meade Returns With "P.S. Nuclear Forest Dance Boogie" (premiere + interview)

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo: M. Tim Blake

Tyson Meade influenced Kurt Cobain, counts Smashing Pumpkins and Iggy Pop among his fans and is back with Robbing the Nuclear Family, an album about searching for home, belonging.

Tyson Meade, former lead singer of Oklahoma City's Chainsaw Kittens and Defenestration, hailed by many as an "alt-rock godfather", returns with his new album, Robbing the Nuclear Family on March 22.

After Chainsaw Kittens disbanded in the early 2000s, Meade traveled to China where he taught English for a number of years. Returning to Oklahoma, he made a 2018 bid for Congress as a Democrat in the state's fifth district. Though he lost in the primary, he still considers the experience an overall positive one.

A new single, "P.S. Nuclear Forest Dance Boogie" reminds us of Meade's ability to weave the unusual into the familiar and create musical settings that are as forward-looking now as they were when he began his recording career in the 1980s. Sounding positively youthful in the song, Meade was joined by a cast that includes violinist Haffijy (from Beijing rock band PK 14), Matt Duckworth (Flaming Lips), and Grammy-award winning drummer Rob Martin, as well as multi-instrumentalist David "Immy" Immerglück (Counting Crows, Camper Van Beethoven, and the Monks of Doom). Additionally, former Chainsaw Kittens Trent Bell recorded the drums on the record.

Discussing the new single from his home in Oklahoma City, Meade waxes enthusiastic about the single. "'P.S. Nuclear Forest Dance Boogie' was written in China," he says. "It was me, looking at them, this really simple, pretty wonderful Chinese life and how they've progressed on way through civilization and we've progressed another way. Those ways have sort of merged now, which is beautiful. I just felt so energized and recharged after all of that, a time when I didn't know if I'd be making records again. Being in China was like being on another planet. It was like I was in a dream world. I thought, 'What would Bowie and Iggy do in Berlin?'"

Throughout a lengthy conversation, Meade discussed his teaching and political careers as well as the drive to make a new album.

When did you decide you were going to make this record?

I look at my last record, Tomorrow in Progress, (2014) and Robbing the Nuclear Family as being Chinese-inspired records. I stopped making music for a time, went to China. I loved it but I felt like I was marking time. It was like The Karate Kid and I was just washing cars, getting ready to put out the most creative records I've ever done. When I finished Tomorrow in Progress, I kept writing songs. In the past, I'd finish a record and think, "It's done. I'm not going to write for a while." This record has songs that were written on the tail of that album. When I moved back, I had new songs that are a call-and-response in a way.

Do you feel like there are lyrical threads across these songs?

I didn't really realize it until I had finished the album. A reoccurring theme is home and finding home. "Piece of Candy" is about fitting into a family when you're [an] other. "Grandsons of the Empire" is one I wrote in China. I didn't know where home was and if I found it I wondered what it would be like. It's like in the original Planet of the Apes. They come back to earth and it's not home. "Moonbeams" is about the acceptance of your situation and embracing it, having joy.

I think the album takes you on a ride of happy moments, melancholy. "Motorcycle Boy #3" takes you on a journey. I went to Thailand for one month at one point. It's about the boys there wanting to leave and go somewhere else. They meet someone and then that person has to leave. They know the other person is going to leave. Home, coming, going, accepting life. Trying to navigate through the modern world.

I'm curious about your Chinese experience. I saw an article sometime last year about how the American Dream is alive and well and living in China.

I've told young bands, "Go teach English. Have a band in China and travel around there. Make Asia your hub." The only reason I really came back was because I wanted to make records. I had a fan base here. But if I was 19, 20, 21, I would go to China and launch a music career from there. You get ahead so much faster there. I started teaching and by the time I left I was running a boarding school.

I'm curious about the album title.

You know how Ringo Starr was credited with these phrases like A Hard Day's Night? I was telling a friend about who I might connect with on a physical level. He said, "You're not robbing the cradle! You're robbing the nuclear family!" [Laughs.] I said, "That's the title of my record." Then I wrote "He's the Candy". If you look at it from the larger perspective, we are changing from the nuclear family of mom and dad, two kids, to mom and mom, two kids, single moms and two kids, two dads, two kids. For the people who don't want change it's the worst thing because they feel like they've been robbed of something.

Not to get political but I feel like I'm in the middle of so many things, but I talk to conservative people and discover I'm far left. When I talk to really liberal people, I think, "Wow. I guess I lean toward the right." I don't even know where I am in my leanings!

I feel like some of that is generational. I'm probably a liberal on many counts but I talk to people 20 years younger than me, and they are much more radical.

Exactly! And that's what they're used to. I do hang out with people in their late 20s or early 30s and they are much more radical. But they're also more about common sense. "What's the big deal about that?" There is no big deal. The older generations are just stuck in their way.

You said you weren't going to get into politics but you now have had a political career.

[Laughs.] I guess I did! Literally. I was really struck by what was going on in Oklahoma with the 2018 teachers' strike. I figured, "Maybe I have a louder voice than some people because people know who I am. I'm just going to do this." I didn't think about winning or losing. I just wanted to make the conversation louder. I feel like I did that.

I do have to ask about Chainsaw Kittens. Do you feel like the band is still finding an audience all these years later?

History has been very kind to us. I know this kid who just turned 18 and helped me on my campaign. He saw me out somewhere and said, "Hey! I just registered to vote just because I want to vote for you because I love your band!" I've experienced that a lot. I get letters from Brazil, the Czech Republic. It's really been cool.

I never imagined what happened with alternative rock where it became this thing where there were platinum artists. I loved Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Cheap Trick. But I never though what we were doing was going to sell. But bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana came along and proved me wrong.

Because I didn't get on the treadmill where I did album-tour-album-tour I got to have this other adventure where I got to China and Saudi Arabia and New York. For me, getting that was much more important.

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