By some accounts, Ben Weasel is an opinionated loudmouth motherfucker who raises hackles everywhere he goes. Weasel has inspired “I Hate Ben Weasel” T-shirts for punk purists, as well as the less-notorious “Ben Weasel Don’t Like It” single by No Empathy. Other accounts paint Weasel as a hilarious, no-bullshit former columnist for Maximumrocknroll and frontman for Chicago bands Screeching Weasel and The Riverdales. After loudly breaking up to concentrate on The Riverdales two years ago, Screeching Weasel is back with a new album (Bark Like A Dog) on a new label (Fat Wreck Chords). He’s also been busy writing a new fanzine, Blood On The Ice, which is devoted to his new love, the Chicago Wolves hockey team. An Onion operative met with Ben Weasel at a Wolves game, and found that, despite statements to the contrary, Weasel is a pretty nice fellow. Balancing diplomacy with a dose of bile, he discussed his new album, his old label and a lot of hockey.
Onion: Tell me, what’s going on exactly?
Ben Weasel: What’s gone on so far is that the first period was a very fast period. There were few stops in play. There were two icing calls, an injury call; the puck flew into the crowd twice. It was a very quick period. Not a lot of off-side calls or icings. Do you know what off-sides and icings are?
O: I know what off-sides are. Icing I don’t know.
BW: Icing is when you hit the puck behind that red line and it goes past this red line and the other team touches it. You’ll see the goalie put his arm up. Icing.
O: It was disappointing because most of the action was taking place on the other end.
BW: Yeah, it’s funny. They usually play a lot better. They’re a lot better at keeping it within the zone. Now, next period, our goal is going to be down here, so I hope there’s no action down here. But, uh… [Skates, the hideous Chicago mascot, glides past.] I hate that evil Skates. I say in my newsletter that this, this thing… It looks like a rat. It’s supposed to be a wolf. That thing should be caged, muzzled and neutered.
O: So you don’t live in Chicago proper any more.
BW: Yeah. I live in the suburbs. In suburbia. I’ve been out there for three years now. [The audience erupts in furious applause as the zamboni comes out to smooth the ice.]
O: I didn’t know people actually applaud the zamboni.
BW: People are into the zamboni. [People scramble as Skates lobs a T-shirt in their direction.] It’s a T-shirt, for God’s sake! Relax!
O: What sucks is that he’s throwing them to the 25-dollar seats.
BW: No, you missed it before. See that bungee cord? They use that as a sling-shot. Most of the T-shirts end up in the cheap seats.
O: How do you feel when you hear [former labelmate and tourmate] Green Day being pumped over the PA system at these things?
BW: I’m used to that, just from watching any sporting event on TV. I mean, you hear “Blitzkrieg Bop,” too. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem weird to me anymore. It’s, like, so distant. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything. You put on a tour and put out an album, and it takes on a life of its own. I would feel weird if it were one of my tunes.
O: So why are you starting Screeching Weasel up again?
BW: [Rubs thumb and forefingers together.] That was the initial reason. But then, it’s like, “Okay, let’s get a big fat contract, blah blah blah.” Well, we didn’t get a big fat contract, so we ended up paying for the whole record ourselves. Then we signed to Fat and got the money we wanted. By the time we had done so, the record was done, except for the mixing. I do think it’s a good record. And being on a new label, I’m totally fucking energized now. We’re even going to go out on a short tour, which was unthinkable six months ago. We’re going to try to play some shows, and if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’re actually pretty excited about the band again, but I won’t deny that the initial reason was money.
O: Was that why you went to Fat instead of Lookout! [Records] again?
BW: Ah, I can’t discuss that under the advice of my legal counsel. Literally. I can say this: We went to Fat because we didn’t have a record label. We no longer had a record label.
O: Are you having to break down [Lookout! Records founder and leader] Lawrence Livermore’s door in order to get royalty checks from your previous albums? They’re still selling pretty well.
BW: Ah, I can’t comment on that under advice from my legal counsel. I’m serious! I hate to say it, but it’s true. And you wanna know something that I’m going to comment on whether my lawyer likes it or not? I’m fuckin’ pissed off that I have to say that, and I’m fuckin’ pissed off that I have to have legal counsel, and the only fuckin’ reason I need a lawyer in the first place is that they hired a goddamn lawyer who represents Janis Joplin’s estate and gave us a 14-fuckin’-page contract! We had to. We didn’t have a choice. Jesus! The band has paid out 8,000 bucks to these criminals, these lawyers, who are from Highland Park, by the way! So… [Loses momentum.] Actually, we haven’t paid them yet. We’re broke. But you get the point.
O: So you’ve had some fallings out—
BW: [Breaks in.] Look at that! A little shoving going on right here. There’s this little fucking punk named Shawn Gagnon from Fort Wayne. Opening night, the Wolves got beat by Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne. They were ahead 7-3 in the third, and they ended up getting beat. IHL hockey is not like regular hockey: You don’t have a five-minute overtime period if you’re tied. You have a shoot-out. Sort of like a ping-pong match. You’ve gotta win by two. It’s like a break-away: One guy after another shoots against the goalie. So they lose the game on the shoot-out, but during the course of the game, our guy—number 33, look for him. His name is Penn, Shawn Penn. An unfortunate name, but I call him The Crusher. They just killed him in Fort Wayne. Hammered him into the fuckin’ ice. He’s our enforcer. Watch for these two to go at it tonight. Anyway, go on.
O: Historically, you’ve had a lot of fallings out with different people.
O: Well, there was Lookout! Records, there was Maximumrocknroll…
BW: Aw, I get along really well with Tim [Yohannan, MRR‘s perennially cranky publisher/editor]. I wouldn’t call that a falling out. I mean, based on what I’ve written, I had it coming, losing that gig. I fought for it, and Tim agreed to give it back to me, and I said, “Look, I don’t really want it. I just wanted you to agree to give it back.” I like him a lot. I don’t agree with him about a lot of things. He pisses me off sometimes, but I’m still on what I consider to be very good terms with him. Tim as a person is a really, really great guy. You can’t really say a bad word about the guy as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to his fuckin’ opinions, you sure can. But over the past 10 years, that guy has done a lot for me. I owe him my appreciation.
O: How did you link up with him in the first place? Because generally, the eyes of the punk-rock musical community aren’t on Chicago or the Midwest at all.
BW: Oh, hey! Hey! [Action on the ice ensues.] Ooh! Well, at the time, the only band in Chicago was Naked Raygun, for all intents and purposes. That was the only band anyone from out of town knew. And we started this whole suburban-core thing, which was based on really liking Adrenaline O.D., and we started doing shows out in the suburbs and… [More bone-jarring occurs.] Yes!
O: Given that these people are holding big sticks, I’m surprised they don’t start hitting each other with them. That must take a lot of restraint.
BW: They do. Especially the goalies. So anyway, the Maximumrocknroll thing… Hey! That’s a penalty. Good call. So anyway, Tim started [premier all-ages punk venue] Gilman in ‘87, which is the same year Lookout! started. Tim was booking Gilman, and we had sent in our demo tape and our first album, and got really good reviews. He had been really supportive, as had other people at the magazine, so he booked us at Gilman. We went out and played there in ‘88 and stayed at his house. Those were the days before he stopped putting bands up. He used to put up every band that came through town. I don’t read the magazine anymore, ‘cause it really really really depresses me, but I get along with Tim. I mean, I haven’t had fallings out with a lot of people. I don’t really have any enemies. There’s only one person I can think of who I absolutely fucking hate. Well, actually, there’s two.
O: And under legal advice… [Hockey action changes the subject.] It seems like basketball is the alternative-rock sport…
BW: I hate basketball.
O: …and hockey is the punk-rock sport.
BW: It is.
O: You’ve got your Hanson Brothers, your DOA and your SNFU, all of whom are the most loyal hockey fans in the universe.
BW: Yep. It really is a punk-rock sport. It’s aggressive, it’s fast, and it’s hard-hitting, and nobody really gets hurt. Which is just like punk rock. Nobody really gets hurt. Well, people die very seldomly. Very seldomly. [Wolves enforcer Shawn Penn skates by.] Hey! Penn! We’ve gotta get his attention. Penn! Over here! I wrote a tune for the Riverdales called “Blood On The Ice.” It’s about my man Penn.
O: When did you write that?
BW: A couple weeks ago, but we’re recording a Riverdales album in early January.
O: How’s that going to work? Are you going to tour as Screeching Weasel and then as the Riverdales?
BW: I don’t think the Riverdales are gonna tour. [Bassist Danny] Vapid doesn’t want to tour, so we’re bringing out a replacement bass player for Screeching Weasel—the guy who used to play in Propagandhi. He just quit recently because he didn’t want to be in a band full-time. So I said, “Hey! We’re not a full-time band. Come with us.” Okay, power play. Get on the power play. Ooh! Rebound! Rebound! Power! [Wolves score.] Yeah! [Makes adjustments to stat list in Blood On The Ice.]
O: When is it regular legal contact, and when is it a foul?
BW: Well, there’s checking, which is perfectly legal. Cross-checking isn’t. That’s when you have both hands on the stick and no part of the stick on the ice, and you hit a guy with the stick.
O: I’m surprised the attendance is so low. I called Wolves headquarters, and they were really friendly. They answered my questions about transportation, prices, what have you.
BW: They’re desperate. They seriously want our band to play here during a game. They gotta fill the seats. I think the seats should be filled. We’ve got a great team. Whoa!
O: Do you think you’ll do it?
BW: I told her I’d do it and I’d do it for free. All I want is 15 tickets and I want to put a big banner up. The other thing is that I’ve got to get her to agree to set up an interview with The Crusher for my newsletter.
O: How did you set it up in the first place?
BW: When I bought my season tickets, I told her I was a musician. She said, “Oh, maybe your band could play!” I was like, yeah, sure, because people say that kind of stuff all the time. But then she kept bringing it up, so I told her I’d do it. See that guy with the beard over there? That’s Wayne Messner. Do you know who he is?
O: No. Who is he?
BW: He’s a famous National Anthem singer, who used to sing at all the Blackhawk games. I think he’s part-owner of this team. He used to announce the Cubs games for years. A couple of years ago he got shot in the throat outside of a bar on Wells Street. He made a miraculous recovery, singing like an angel. I mean, the guy’s got a really nice voice. Seems like a really nice guy. He sits there, lets fans come up and talk to him, and signs things for people. I mean, he’s somewhat of a celebrity. Really accessible. Anyone who grew up in Chicago knows who Wayne Messner is.
O: [The Crusher skates by.] Go Enforcer!
O: Go Crusher!
BW: As long as you don’t call him Shawn Penn. As I explain in [Blood On The Ice], the height of hockey cleverness is to add an -ie to the end of someone’s name. I don’t want this guy getting called “Pennie.” It’s just wrong. He’s The Crusher. [As if to accentuate Weasel’s point, Penn crushes somebody.] And he just crushed his man!
O: So the bass player from Propagandhi is going to tour with you.
O: Do you think you’d have [Green Day’s] Mike Dirnt do it again?
BW: I think they’re busy. He’d probably catch so much shit, too. It would be horrible for him.
O: Shit from bandmates?
BW: No, shit from punks. You know, rock-star slumming, that kind of thing. The same reason the guy from Rancid got the crap beat out of him while playing with a friend’s band in New York. The crowd attacked him and beat the crap out of him. Because punks are fucking idiots, that’s why. [Skates struts by.] Who does this guy think he is, Mick Jagger? You know the guy in that suit is the biggest loser east of the Mississippi. [Skates slings a shirt into the crowd but fails to clear the wall.] Ha ha! He hit the wall, the jerk. [Shouts.] You suck!
O: So what’s the deal with the cover art for Bark Like A Dog?
BW: The cover is great. It’s a take-off on the old EC comics. The woman on the cover is sort of like a combination of Bettie Page and Aunt Fritzie from Nancy—and she’s got a pack of chihuahuas. We were going to call it …And Out Come The Chihuahuas [a play on Rancid’s …And Out Come The Wolves], but we decided against that. It’s a good record. I’m really happy with it. If there’s anything different about it, it’s that some of the songs are a little bit slower. But we’ve always had at least one three-minute-plus song on every album. It’s a little bit slower, and some people think it’s a lot slicker, but that’s because we spent our own money in the studio, so we spent a lot of time. It’s produced by the guy who’s produced all our albums since Wiggle. I think it’s a cool album. There are about three tunes on there that are different from what we usually do, but for the most part, if you’re a fan of the band, you’re getting exactly what you expect to get—which is the way I think it should be. If the Ramones had always done that, they would have remained a great band throughout the years. [Skates passes by.] Have you ever read Rivet Head?
O: No. What is it?
BW: My buddy Ben Hamper wrote it. He’s briefly in the movie Roger and Me, and he has a bit part in Canadian Bacon. He’s friends with [director] Michael Moore, and he wrote a book about working on the GM assembly line. One of the funniest things is that, in order to increase productivity, they got a mascot called Howie Makum. It was a giant cat who would walk around the factory. People would whip rivets at him.
O: What was the deal with the Best Buy commercial [which prominently featured the Screeching Weasel album Boogadaboogada-boogada! about three years ago]?
BW: I don’t know. Whoever directed that commercial must have been a fan of the band. I later heard that some of the guys in that commercial were in the band the Quincy Punx. It was shot in Minneapolis. We heard about the thing, and I kept scanning the TV trying to find it. Everybody’s going, “Oh, it’s on all the time.” Finally, I saw it, but I had to call and pay $30 to get it on videotape. We didn’t have anything to do with it. They just did it. It was neat, but everybody was like, “Sellout!” C’mon, Crusher!
O: How about your appearance in the video for Ministry’s “New World Order”?
BW: You can see my arm in it for about half a second. I did that solely for—it wasn’t the $30, but solely because I knew it would be something to write about.
O: Have you ever written a column that got you in a lot of trouble?
BW: With whom?
O: Fans, whoever.
BW: That was all my columns. People were really upset with one of the last ones I did, which is about the punk-rock dress code. [The game ends, a stunning Wolves victory.]
BW: So are you going to ask me the Onion question, the Justify Your Existence thing?
O: Sure. Ben, why should anyone buy your albums?
BW: ‘Cause I gotta pay off these seats!