Sittin' on the big Throne

Olympia's soft-spoken loud music master discusses going deaf for his art and shares secrets of the stage.

JOE PRESTON, who sometimes goes by Salty Green, is a hulking lumberjack of a man with impressive credentials when it comes to being noisy. One-time bassist for the Melvins, he's droned and dirged with Earth, and is now challenging sound systems nationwide with his one-man scoring machine, Thrones. Thrones rages somewhere between a homicidal life-support system, an errant domestic android, and a broken blast furnace, which is, as Martha Stewart would agree, a very good thing. This interview was captured on a misbehaving cordless phone on a drizzly Monday.

Seattle Weekly: There's not a whole lot of info about you out there. Is this a tactical decision on your part?

Joe Preston: Maybe. It isn't the kind of success that I enjoy, the publicity-style stuff. Plus I don't think there's that many people into what I do, so no one else would have anything to say about the band. Most people who like it would be more into what I was actually doing as opposed to what I was acting like, or what I look like, or whatever.

SW: What's going on with Kill Rock Stars?

JP: Well I'm putting out some EPs with them. I was working on a full-length last year, and it took me a long time. When I was finished, I was backing it all up, and my hard-disk recorder crashed. I lost the whole thing.

SW: The whole album? Oh no.

JP: Yeah. What I had been working on for the last three years pretty much. I decided to put out short records, so I wouldn't just . . . quit. So [Kill Rock Stars is] putting out a couple 12-inches and then putting them together on one CD, which should be out in May.

SW: What were you recording it onto? A computer?

JP: It's one of those Roland hard-disk recorders. Usually when you're about to do something major, it will ask you, "Are you sure you want to do this?" This time, though, it didn't ask me that. So, my advice to people using this sort of stuff is to save everything all the time.

SW: I was listening to the White Rabbit EP this morning on headphones, and I started getting really dizzy and weak. Do you have some secret frequencies in that mix?

JP: Well, if I do, they're a secret to me too.

SW: Maybe I just had the headphones on too tight. So, no subliminals? Not that you'd tell me.

JP: I think you'd figure it out if I did. I don't think I'd be able to keep it a secret for long.

SW: What sort of noise makes you happy?

JP: Anything that's self-satisfying, I guess. I don't like most of what I record. I actually like that White Rabbit EP. I just think that there are a million bands, and nothing that I'm doing is imperative for people to hear. I just feel a compulsion to do what I do.

SW: Are a lot of the noises you capture spontaneous, just whatever's coming out at that time?

JP: Yes and no. I just start putting sounds together, and it's not always preplanned. But a lot of times I have a certain sound in my head that I want, and I try things until I get it. I just see what happens. If I like it I'll keep it; if not, I'll get rid of it.

SW: Are there any everyday noises you find yourself drawn to? Chain saws? Purring kitties?

JP: Drawn to? Not really. Actually I like everything to be quiet. Peace and quiet.

SW: Do you wear earplugs on stage?

JP: Yeah, but I'm going deaf anyway. I used to live out in the country where it's really quiet, and after playing some shows, I'd sit there at night and could hear my ears ringing. But I've always worn earplugs on stage. I'm still going deaf though.

SW: Do you think people are more or less accepting of loud ugliness coming from the stage than they were 10 years ago?

JP: I don't know if they've become more accepting. I just don't think they hear it as loud ugliness anymore. Bands, and people who make commercials, just throw everything together and try to make everything so . . . spectacular. Everything's deliberately weird, heavy distortion in a car commercial, that sort of thing. It's not shocking anymore. So I don't think they're more accepting, I think it just doesn't make an impression on them. They've heard it already.

SW: Is there any truth to the widely held belief that the sound guy always turns the opening bands down so that the main bands sound louder?

JP: Yeah, definitely. There's no hard and fast rule about it though; that sort of depends. There are some sound people that take everything so ridiculously seriously. That there's a system and a way you treat each tier of band, and the main band gets everything.

SW: That sucks when you're there to see an opening band and don't care about the main act.

JP: Exactly. I've had that experience many times in my life, but I've also had the experience that if you just go talk to the sound person like a human and aren't a total asshole right off the bat, they'll usually bend over backwards to help you out.

SW: Do you ever get frustrated that they don't make you loud enough?

JP: Not anymore. I get more frustrated when they do a poor job and what I'm doing on stage doesn't get represented correctly. Volume used to frustrate me, but I eventually got enough equipment to where I could be as loud as I wanted to be. As long as I can hear it all right, then it's fine with me. Sometimes it doesn't translate over well to really large places, but some places are so small that you're really . . . ruining things for people. I just get grouchy when the sound person is being an asshole on purpose. Bottom line, the only thing I expect is that the PA is on and that vocals are available. I can't sing as loud as I play.

SW: What are the logistics of your one-man show? Are things prerecorded?

JP: Not really. I have my drum machine on stage, which I suppose is sort of prerecorded, but I'd feel really corny just playing over a recording. I guess that's splitting hairs, but I like to have everything on stage and running.

SW: So you're going on tour?

JP: Yeah, I'm going out by myself for a month, and then I'm doing some dates with Men's Recovery Project in July. And then I'm supposed to play a tour that's being set up right now by JP from Pleaseeasaur. Supposedly it's Aphex Twin and Pleaseeasaur and Thrones and a few others—the idea being solo bands on tour together.

SW: What are some advantages to being a one-man band?

JP: Jeez. You get final say in everything, get to eat what you want when you want, get to sleep when you're sleepy; you don't have to worry about taking care of someone else when you're on tour. Those are some of the disadvantages too. You're the final say on everything; you have to come up with all the ideas.

SW: So Thrones on tour is just you in a Honda? No one else comes along?

JP: Actually it's me in a van; I couldn't fit all my stuff in a Honda. I used to have a pick-up truck, but it was hard to fit everything in the front seat. So it's just me alone in a van. I sometimes give people rides from town to town, and sometimes I'm on tour with another band, but I usually tour alone, and try to book everything so the drives in between shows aren't so bad. I like it that way.

SW: What's the loudest show you've ever experienced?

JP: I think it's probably when I used to play in Earth. We'd all play as loud as we could. It was really, really loud. Godheadsilo too. They were pretty outrageous. It was more like an envelope. You would just see the drummer wailing and you couldn't hear anything.

SW: Can you foresee a circumstance under which you would fire a loaded handgun into the audience?

JP: Yeah, definitely. But I think I'll just leave it at that.

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