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Toqueface Speaks

    These are questions given to Toqueface by none other than Wild West. It's assumed that if he doesn't know the answers, then I guess it's enough to put it on the website. Read and learn.

1) What was the original plan for Benalto? Did you have a musical direction in mind, or was it just a matter of "Let's not be like everyone else?"

I tell a lot of tales about the birth of Benalto, usually to show alleged foresight in a brilliant light.  There was a musical direction from the very beginning which was to play very noisy and perhaps very slow (even though the "slow" was only a guide, we have mid-tempo and fast songs for most of the first album!). It is no coincidence that this was something we - not-very-good musicians with crappy equipment - could achieve easily. It would be nonsense if we delved into our Yes collection for inspiration, for instance.
And I want to point out from the beginning when I say we weren't very good musicians, that doesn't apply to Prince Cranemaster in general. He's a fantastic guitar player, but a somewhat questionable drummer at the beginning (though he could keep a beat which is all that we needed).

2) By my understanding, Benalto was originally called Check. Why did you call yourselves that, and why did you change it?

No no no, you're wrong. Check was a band from like 88/89. Chupa Rimbey was in that band as was Diamondback Kuahara (on vocals!), a guy named Scott on bass and weirdly a gentleman named Justin Rindal on guitar. (Rindal, by the way, is the sweetest man ever involved in the Central Alberta scene. I think he still plays in it too, in various guises.  The guy was a better guitar player at 17 then I'll ever be). I guess if it was a precursor to Benalto it would be the amazing screech of Diamondback Kuahara which I definitely attempted to imitate but never could surpass. Check broke up in late '89.
The true pre-Benalto band was Cheap Heroin. There were songs (Mike, Steve) written with Cheap Heroin that became Benalto songs. This woulda been about 91/92.  Cheap Heroin was WORSE than Benalto. They had Dirty Pete on drums, and Dirty Pete was no drummer. Let me try to get across to you how bad Cheap Heroin was - we were sooooo bad we just gave up. It's too bad nothing was recorded. Oh, and Yukon Jim played guitar in Cheap Heroin too.
The drums for Cheap Heroin were purchased not by myself or Dirty Pete, but by Prince Cranemaster, who graciously let us use them. After Cheap Heroin imploded, Prince Cranemaster started to bash on them a little bit. And then he wanted to jam, and I was still writing songs for whatever "future project" would come up. The first jam we did, we did the song "Benalto" and thought it sounded so good that's what we decided to call ourselves.

3) You're in a tag-team wrestling match against Grant Hart and Bob Mould. Which Benalto member would you choose as your partner, and who would win?

My first instinct is to grab Wild West, the kung-fu bastard, but then I think that might be a little mean to ol' Bob and Grant. I would get Dirty Pete to give them a chance. I'm pretty sure I could take down Grant Hart but Bob's all buff and shit from working out, so we'd have to dispatch Grant quickly and focus both our attention on Bob. At that point we would win.

4) Benalto did a hell of a lot of covers. Which one do you think was the best, and why?

I have two favourites in particular. I thought we did a great job on the Randy Newman song "Mama Told Us Not To Come". We didn't do no Three Dog Night bullshit, we covered the 12 Songs version and pulled it off well. One of the few covers I would like the original songwriter to hear someday.
But my ultimate favourite is "Slow Hand". It's Wild West and Dirty Pete singing together, old Benalto meets new, for the only time! The musicianship on that is tight (Tea 'n' Biscuits the machine) but the mics are so shitty, everything's so's really a good example of the Benalto aestethic.

5) What's your favorite Gin?

The 5.99 gins in America. Hawkeye gin leaves a nice stain on your innards.

6) You're well-known for telling many a story of debauchery... Drunken fucking and such. Relate your all-time favourite one here.

Oh man, when you're thrust into the story spotlight like this, your mind freezes. The Meat Puppets/Prince Cranemaster story is always a good one - up in some bar in Edmonton, Prince Cranemaster downs a jug of beer during the opening act and mauls his poor arm with cigarettes 'til it's one ugly big burn. Then (while I watch the first couple songs) he and Dirty Pete disappear to get food. They go down an elevator. Dirty Pete steps out of the elevator and starts walking down a hallway. He looks behind him and Prince Cranemaster is lying on the elevator floor. The elevator door closes and then Prince Cranemaster is never heard from for about 8 hours until he is found by campus police on someone's lawn, his wallet and coat gone and no idea what happened. That gives you a pretty good idea on who Prince Cranemaster is.

7) If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, and it had to be a country song, which one would it be?

Does Marie's The Name by Elvis count? 'Cause it should. It's like...Tex-Mex country, or something. Or something by Marty Robbins.

8) Many have accused you of leading benalto in a dictatorial manner. Do you feel this is an unfair accusation? Has it ever resulted in a fistfight?

This is probably a very fair accusation, but make no mistake - with the people involved in Benalto, if someone didn't do SOMETHING there wouldn't be 10 minutes of material recorded.  I'd like to take this time to point out that in the beginning, Prince Cranemaster was just as motivated as I - listen to him yell at the band during "Mike" about playing the riff in time. Later on he had to be pressured into playing as much as anybody else, but anybody who was in Benalto during the later years, just imagine when there were TWO of us yelling at you....
Prince Cranemaster punched me once, but that's about it.

9) When did Dirty Pete start hating Benalto? And honestly, what the fuck is his problem?

A very astute question. I think he started to hate Benalto right after we recorded our 4th album. Before that, he was rather gung-ho, even releasing the first Benalto box set in '94 and sending out demos for things. The "Teapot" album was a very hard and depressing album album to make. We were really trying to go beyond what we had done before, in terms of songwriting and musicianship, but were still cursed by shoddy equipment, ego and apathy problems within the band, and alcohol.  Immediately after we recorded it we were all thinking "Wow, wasn't that a waste of time". Prince Cranemaster and I got over it (and now really love "Teapot") but I don't think Dirty Pete did. He's got an incredible amount of self-doubt regarding his talent - he doesn't realize that his snerring vocal presence makes most "singers" look like mama's-boys-asswipes.  And in the rare moments where he feels like singing, he doesn't think Benalto's worth his time!

What it comes down to is Dirty Pete hates rock and roll.

10) How many people would you estimate have seen your balls?

Probably, oh, 40-50. That sounds like a good number.

11) Are the kids alright?

The kids are ALWAYS alright. Benalto's fans usually get into Benalto around the ages 16-19, when a kid realizes he likes rock and roll but too early to acquire la-di-da tastes. Unfortunately, that seems to be the time where they get frugal with their money....

12) What do you think is the leading cause of Benalto's longevity? Twelve years of putting in countless hours to record albums, released to near-indifference from the world, why do you and the others keep doing it?

I think if I went and tried to write more sophisticated material at the beginning of our mid-period (starting in '94, I suppose) and FAILED we would of just given up. I mean, the first few albums can stand together as like a triple album and make our original point fair enough. But once the  other material came seeping in, well, that's what gets us excited, is making the music and having something concrete to look back on at the end of the day. We never cared much for being scenesters, playing live and all that, but we sure love writing and recording, and it really is for ourselves.

13) Is love REALLY all you need?

Well, the rent needs to be paid and all that. This is a stupid hippie question. I gues the answer is no, I'm not a hippie.

14) What's your favorite condiment?

Pesto mayonnaise. I know! I saw it once, tried it, loved it, haven't seen it since (that was in California summer '98).

15) Tits, legs, or ass?

Uhm. Ass. Or are we talking about chicken? I know you cook a mean chicken. Then, tits.

16) What was the first song you ever wrote? Got any sample lines?

The first song I ever TRIED to write when I was 15 was a horrible fake-metal song called "Blue Curtain" was so bad I never  even got past the first verse and never tried to write another song for 3 or years.

The next big thing I wrote was an instrumental rock-down number for Check which was called "Mangled". It was pretty Hendrix-influenced. A wah-wah excuse.  I can still remember how to play it.

The first REAL song I tried to write thinking "Okay, let's write a damned song" for real with my musical philosophy and such fully formed, as a musical adult if you were that someone familiar with Benalto would recognize was "Smack". Dirty Pete and I wrote this. I forget the verses but the chorus went:
"With the smile on your face nothing matters/ With the river still in your veins/ You know nothing really did matter/ and you have a feeling the pain will go away - with smack, with smack!"
I think most songwriters cringe at their first attempts and will have some landmark early piece with which, for all it's faults, is the beginning of their art.

17) Have you ever smashed anything just to see how much you could fuck it up?

Oh, fuck yeah. I smashed a guitar during a Cheap Heroin practice - just fucking smashed it. It improved the sound. I told you CH was frustrating...

18) What do you think was the best idea you ever had in your work with Benalto?

This is gonna sound like a lame "I love everyone copout" but the best idea I had with Benalto in later years was inviting all sorts of talented people to come and play with us, and just stood as a session kinda guy, letting them take the limelight. Those later records I'm really proud of us complete pieces, rather than the artistic 'statements' of our early days.
Other than that, not much. I mean, the great stuff about the early material was how accidental it all was, and everyone contributed to that.

19) Lastly... Benalto reunion- 2006?

Never ever say never with Benalto, though at some point Prince Craenamster wil have to get new drums. Benalto isn't Benalto without Prince Cranemaster.