Jim Shelley & Book Of Kills

The Tape Op Interview

"Under The Radar"
An Interview For
TapeOp Magazineby Rob Christensen

If you've been involved with hometaping for any time at all, you've probably heard of Book of Kills. BOK has been around for over ten years and has been featured in Alternative Press, Demo Universe (formerly associated with AP), Gajoob, and Free Agent, among others. Demo Universe's Jim Santo has been raving about BOK for years: "Those interested in excellent songwriting in its purest, most immediate form must pick up on this guy!" "That no label, major or indie, has seen fit to put the man in a proper studio is case-closed evidence of the intrinsic bankruptcy of the music business. Are they all deaf?" After reading countless references to BOK I decided to make contact.

Book of Kills is essentially Jim Shelley, a high school teacher from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. A life long rock and roll / punk fan whose likes and influences range from The Beatles to Patti Smith to Bob Dylan to Husker Du and Nirvana, Shelley got started playing around age twelve: "I first got into the Beatles, I think... Really the whole first British Invasion thing. I'm sure even as a little kid listening to those British bands I dreamed about being LIKE them. I can recall designing album covers for my 'band'. I'd even make up song titles. When I was twelve, my parents gave me a cheap electric guitar and amplifier. I learned a few chords from a book I got somewhere, but I was pretty frustrated by how hard it was to play a guitar like I heard people playing on the records I listened to. To be honest, I haven't really progressed in my understanding of the guitar from when I was twelve, which is probably as much a blessing as a curse."

Though Shelley has been recording and releasing material off and on since the mid-seventies, Book of Kills really got started in 1989, both as a live band and as a recording entity. "Back in 1987, I formed a group that was a sort of dry run for what would later become Book of Kills. The band lasted maybe six or seven months and didn't play out much, but it was the first time I'd really decided to put together a set of almost exclusively my own stuff. I learned a lot from audience reaction to various songs as to what worked and what didn't. I also just plain learned how to play guitar better. When you sing and play at the same time in a high energy rock band you're really in a sink or swim situation and you either work like mad to make your guitar playing almost an unconscious act so that you can concentrate on the singing part or you get frustrated and hang it up. Anyway, by 1988 I was gaining confidence as a composer. I wrote 'The Night John Lennon Died' in '88 and that was the key song in my maturing as a songwriter. It was the first thing I'd ever done that I felt was really me and not just an imitation of someone else. There were a few people around who liked what I was doing and they encouraged me to write more, which I did. I recorded Bloom or Die in the spring of '89 and somehow got the guts to send a tape of it to Jim Santo, who was writing a great column called "DemoRandom" in Alternative Press. He not only reviewed the album positively, he also published part of the letter I'd enclosed as the main focus of that month's column. It legitimized what I was doing. Jim has no idea how important he is to my music. Ha! He's to blame, people! Once I saw that someone of significance actually kind of liked what I was doing, the flood gates opened and from '89 to '97 I wrote and released 21 albums/singles of my stuff. I guess I've kind of slowed down since then."

In the studio BOK is basically a one man band. For the first bunch of albums, Shelley used a 4-track Tascam Porta studio to record his songs. Starting with 1992's The Haunted Life, he got a TOA 8-track and used that almost exclusively until 1996 when he bought a new 8-track Tascam 488mkII. "I have a Shure SM-57 and a '58, both of which I use for vocals, though I prefer the '58...it seems a little clearer. That stuff about buying $500 - $1000 mics is bullshit, by the way. Buy a '58 for $100 and spend the rest of your money on food or something. People aren't gonna hear the difference. They don't even care. I have a Telecaster (a cheap Japanese one and a nice modified one with three pickups) for all the electric stuff. 95% of the time I record guitars direct. I have a little Zoom effects box that I've used for the last 2-3 CDs. I have a nice 100 watt Crate amp but can't play it loud because of the neighbors. I have a Yamaha 12 channel powered mixer that I used to use for shows but it's really on its last legs...very noisy...that I've used since '89 for mix-downs. These days I often just mix down to a master tape right from the Tascam. I'm not wildly into pristine sound quality. My drum machine is an Alesis SR-15, I think. I've had it forever. Sometimes I'll program just a bass drum track and do a snare drum live. My acoustic guitar is some piece of shit Korean thing...totally funky. No resonance or decent tone at all. I should buy a good acoustic I guess. For keyboards I use a Casio that I bought at a department store for about $150. $150 is a big purchase for me. I have a hard time paying that much for musical equipment. Which means, of course, that all I've got to work with is utter shite. Everything I've got is broken or breaking. I drank too much Virginia Gentlemen and threw up on my Zoom pedal not too long ago. Now it makes these annoying crackling noises but I'm not gonna buy a new pedal until it just doesn't work anymore. I don't use a compressor. Never have. You'll laugh, but I think compressors make music sound fake...kind of like Velveeta cheese. I don't get into perfect machine music at all. I use a drum machine only because I can't play drums worth a damn."

When asked about the recording process, Shelley had this to say: "If there are drums on the track, I do them first. Next I will do a rhythm guitar track. After that, it varies. There's no set pattern, although I usually do the bass last, or at least before I do the vocals. Sometimes I do a guide vocal early in the recording. More often than not I end up keeping the guide vocal because I'm a big believer in the emotional honesty of the first take. Once you start doing something over and over it becomes a very self-conscious process and less and less 'real', if you ask me. I hate working things to death. I rarely take things beyond eight tracks, by the way. Occasionally I will bounce eight tracks onto a second machine and add more stuff, but that's not all that typical really. I do little tricks all the time to maintain my interest in writing and recording music. The older I get the harder it is for me to channel energy into making music so I sort of trick myself into composing stuff. On Haunted Life, I decided I wanted to get a really loose feel to the album so almost all the vocals and solos are first takes. I'm not so sure that was a good idea now that I listen to the record, but it seemed like a great thing to do at the time. On Don't Stop The Scream, I decided I was going to do every song in a non-standard tuning, but I sort of wimped out on that idea. I guess about half the songs are in weird tunings of one sort or another. But those are the sort of things I will do. I don't generally consciously make the decision to do or not do something. I kind of approach recording as an intuitive process. As I'm doing overdubs, ideas come to me about how to do the arrangement and I work that way. The way a guitar sounds on a track, for instance, might suggest that I should play the bass in a certain way."

From 1989 - '97 BOK releases were available exclusively on cassette on Jim's own label, Ain't Records. In 1998 Ain't Records released the first BOK CD, If I Should Fall. Since then Jim has re-released several BOK albums on CD, many with previously unreleased bonus tracks. BOK releases are no longer released on cassette. "I don't bother much with tapes anymore, sad to say. I think cassettes are great. They liberated the home musician. They're still the medium of choice for many people around the world. But I just don't listen to them much these days. I think, as others have already said, that CD-Rs are the new cassettes for home tapers. Technology, however, is moving so quickly, I have a feeling that CD-Rs are going to become outdated much more quickly than we might suppose. They won't remain the medium of choice for twenty-five plus years as cassettes managed to do."

The thing that has impressed me is the passion Shelley has for his music. BOK has drawn comparisons to Guided By Voices, John Lennon, The Cure, Neil Young, and Echo and the Bunnymen, but, as Jim Santo said, "Comparisons are an insult. The man is an original." Like many of us, Shelley would love to make a living with his music. It's a shame that some indie label hasn't snatched him up, but maybe that's just as well. When you put out your own records you can do anything you want (within your budget).

Shelley has a very comprehensive website, featuring lots of in-depth articles and interviews, photos, mp3s, and a constantly updated news page. It's a fantastic resource for BOK fans. There's also a fan club which gives its members special releases, has contests, and puts out a nice newsletter.

At no more than $6.00 each, BOK recordings are a tremendous bargain. You can find out how to get 'em, or just learn more about Jim Shelley and Book of Kills, by visiting the website at bookofkills.com, emailing: bookofkils@aol.com, or writing to Ain't Records, 206 High Street, Bridgewater, VA 22812. You can also buy BOK recordings, as well as many other releases from DIY artists, through www.homemademusic.com.


The RIP SNORT MEOW Interview

You're approaching middle age, you're married, have a couple of young kids, and you're a teacher...why punk rock? And why now?

Well...it's not really a case of 'now.' I mean, I've been playing music since I was 12 years old. When my parents gave me my first guitar. It was a Sears Silvertone. Wish I still had it. Anyway, I've been in and out of bands since I was fifteen. I've played with both Dusty and Brian before...as long ago as 1987 with Brian. I always hoped I'd get another chance to play with Brian. He's an awesome technician but he also has a really emotional side to his playing too. And Dusty's a really inventive and powerful drummer and knows so much about every side of music. Sometimes I just stand there during a song and watch them play. And George our guitarist...he really has a unique style of playing. He does really fresh things and doesn't just go for the cliches. As for why punk rock? That's what comes out of my head. I don't really think of it according to labels like "punk rock". It just is.

How do you manage to reconcile all those responsibilities with being in a band?

It's really hard. I'm also handling trying to come up with gigs and all that shit that has nothing to do with music but that you have to do and that's the most time consuming thing you can imagine. I'd like to find someone who could us out. Someone who loves our music and will work her or his ass off for us. But yeah...it's tough balancing all those roles. My family has been very understanding. My kids love music. My being is a band is no big deal with them. It doesn't really affect my teaching. But a day job just affects how much energy and time you can put towards the band. It'd be nice to just make music all the time.

How are people reacting to your being in a group?

I thought there'd be a lot of snickering and criticism, but it's really strange how behind this thing people are. I mean I'm sure there are some boring old farts out there who aren't too pleased with what I'm doing, but if they're out there, they're too chicken shit to say so to my face. People are really supportive and almost excited about it. It's almost like a community thing. Everybody that comes to see the band on a regular basis is almost part of the band. Does that mean we're a cult? I don't know. I think I'd like to be part of a cult.

Do you ever wish Book of Kills would become your full time job?

Oh, hell yeah. Who wouldn't like to make a living doing the thing they love to do most?

Well, maybe second most. I think all the guys in the band have it in the back of their minds that we could go places with this band, whatever that means.

Who has influenced you to make the music you are making?

I can't really speak for the other guys as far as influences go. So many bands have influenced me. You can go all the way back to the Beatles. John Lennon has probably been as big an influence on me musically as anyone. That playfulness he had with so much of his music...and yet it always seemed like a life or death thing with him, too. He wasn't a great musician per se, just a brilliant songwriter and singer. Also, the Sex Pistols, but everybody names them these days, don't they? Definitely Husker Du. The Pixies. Probably Patti Smith is the one who led me into punk. Her first album, Horses, changed my life. I'd never heard anything like it. She rearranged a lot of people's heads with that record. I'd like to do a Patti Smith song with Book of Kills, just as a sort of way of honoring her. (EDITOR'S NOTE: How about "Babelogue/Rock and Roll Nigger"?)

What's in the immediate future for the band?

We're in the process of trying to get a 7" together. We need to do a little work on the recordings still. It's like $400 just to put out 300 copies of a single. I want to make sure the three songs we put on that record are as good as we can get them within our limited means. We're also trying to scare up as many gigs as we can. I think we're playing in NYC in the not distant future. Also, D.C. and Philadelphia. We want to concentrate on the East Coast right now I guess. It'd be great if we could do some serious touring this summer, but I just don't know if I can get it all put together myself. "Book Your Own Fucking Life" is gonna help, believe me. It's tough making contacts and setting up gigs in other cities but we're making some headway. There are a lot of good people out there who want to help you play in their city. I'm finding more and more people who'll put the band up for the night and give them something to eat and so on.

You recorded the songs for the single on a four track cassette recorder, didn't you?

Yes. We couldn't afford to go into a real studio and record some songs and then put them on a seven inch. So we borrowed a friend's four track and a little mixer and a few mics and just did what we could to get the sound down. So at least we cut out the studio expenses. It made me realize that anybody can do this if they just try. To tell you the truth, I think it's a shame a band has to even worry about putting out a record. We should all be able to put our music on cassettes and just trade them back and forth. Everybody has a cassette player and just about anybody can afford to go out and buy some cassettes and a couple cheap mics or whatever. To me, putting out a record is sort of a vain thing.

What's the most rewarding thing about being in this band?

Playing live is the best thing. The energy that flows back and forth between the crowd and the band...it's like this living thing that grows in front of your eyes while you play. And it gets to the point where there is no separation between the band and the audience because everybody's the band. It's great. I like to practice too believe it or not...especially when we're working out a new song. I just wish our schedules allowed us more time to work on our music...

What's the most frustrating thing?

For me it's not being able to set up shows on a regular basis. But I suppose if you're not playing you can at least be working on putting together new material. I think if new bands get caught up in playing too many live shows initially you start practicing not to develop musically as a group but just to be able to put together a decent length show.

Any thoughts on the state of education today?

I don't think I can talk about education without spouting a bunch of cliches that don't really mean shit to anybody. I just try to make kids feel like their lives are worth something. And I want them to be good writers. A good writer is a good thinker. We don't have too many good thinkers in America anymore.

Last thoughts?

Just that when we're on as a band...when we're really clicking live...I don't think many bands can hang with us. So if you're reading this and you'd like to see a great live show and have a lot of fun, help us set up a gig near you! We guarantee we'll tear the place down!

The "backing members" of Book of Kills are Dustin Bugg, who plays drums, George Finch, who plays guitar, and Brian Temples who play the bass guitar and sings some. I interviewed all three simultaneously in the small hours of 20 January. What appears below is a highly edited and slightly paraphrased interview.

Tell me a little bit about your previous project, Time Being.

Dusty: Too compare it to what I'm doing now, the direction was more pop oriented serious rock. I wanted to stray away from the pop element, take the experimental element and add a heavier edge. I wanted to move towards the technical art-rock side, but what we started to progress to was a more pop side, which turned me off. But there were things beyond my control, so it seems, and I got left behind - which is okay because BOK is where it's at right now.

Can you confirm or deny the rumor that you were involved with a project called Jizm Crane?

Brian: No, I can't deny it. I was in it.

George: Wait a minute! I thought you told me before that you weren't in Jizm Crane!

Brian: No...no...no...I was never in Jizm Crane!

Who would you list as your top five influences as far as guitar soloing goes?

George: Jimmy Page. Eddie Van Halen is a guitarist I used to listen to a lot, though I was never able to copy his style. David Gilmour is a really big influence. The cat from Rush...Alan Lifeson, I really like his style. Lately, I really like Duane Dennison of Jesus Lizard. On a tie with him would be the guy from the Pixies...Joey Santiago. He does some really neat stuff...I've never heard a guitarist do what he does.

With Jim being older, do you see him as a father figure, older brother, just one of the guys or what?

Brian: I think he's just a crazy old man.

Dusty: I'd have to say he's a frustrated crazy old man!

Brian: I would have to say that he's a fairly brilliant man. I'm hip on his style of...everything.

Dusty: Oh, he's way brilliant. He started the ball rolling. If it wasn't for Jim, we wouldn't be in half the mess we're in. Jim is the man that takes care of the business. I've always looked up to him as someone who has the situation under control.

Brian: He actually sees a light towards getting things accomplished. He sees a way to do it, which is hard to do yourself sometimes, to really make yourself believe that you might possibly do something with your life.

George: I've often thought and pondered about relations between yourself and persons older than you. It's interesting because I don't consider Jim older than I am.

Dusty: It's like the older you get...you learn shit. That's one thing, but you get wiser and your mindset changes. We realize that and respect people who haven't strayed into middle America.

George: Knowing Jim makes me think that I could strike up similar relations with other people his age.

Are there any communication problems?

Unanimously: None at all.

Dusty: Everyone is open about the emotional side. It's unusual. Jim will let you know if he's depressed, if he's down, so we have no reason to not be open. There's no other way around it.


George: Yeah, you know...they're kind of a problem.

Brian: They're pretty neat.

Dusty: So far, I have not been hit on by any girls with this band.

What about Vicky?

Brian: That was an accident, dude.

Finally, if Book of Kills were by some twist of fate asked to perform at the Bob Dole inauguration gala in 1997 and could only play one song, what would it be?

Brian: I would make it "Killing Time Again."

George:Make it "Killing Time Again"...we'd write one.

Brian: Or make it "Fucking Dole Again."

Dusty: Maybe "Fat Woman Lying in the Street." I don't know...

Anything else? (Pause) 5...4...3...2...


The Bunnies Interview

The Bunnies Interview with Jim Shelley of Book of Kills (January 1995)
by Brad Rose

Brad: When did you first start making music?
My parents bought me a Sears electric guitar and this little amp that had a weird tremolo effect on it...wish I still had the amp...I learned a few chords and started writing these bad love songs about girls I didn't even know. Fortunately, I forgot all of those songs.

Brad: Where'd you get the name Book of Kills? I love the name!
I was reading a book by Marshall McLuhan and he used the name as a play on words for the Anglo-Saxon Book of Kells...I thought the name sounded decent and stole it. McLuhan's dead so I don't guess he minds.

Brad: How did Book of Kills first start?
Ummm...well I recorded my first Book of Kills song in 1988 after I got a Yamaha four track...it was "The Night John Lennon Died." I was really into Live Skull at the time so it's kind of my pop take on the Live Skull sound. Later I just decided I would use the BOK name for whatever I put out on cassette. Occasionally I'd start a band and use the name...but Book of Kills is me.

Brad: What was the first song you ever recorded?
I don't recall to be honest. It might have been the Kinks' "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion".  I'm sure whatever it was it was bad. I don't like to remember beyond my Book of Kills days.

Brad: What is your favorite song you've ever recorded?
That's really tough...my favorites of my songs change day to day...I'd have to say "Abandoned" from DON'T STOP THE SCREAM just because it was hard to put together but at the same time really fun. And I like the lyrics. They're simple but say a lot. It's also my favorite song to play live.

Brad: What is the current situation of Book of Kills?
Right now I'm playing with two guys I've played with on and off before...Brian Temples on bass and vocals and Dusty Bugg on drums and vocals. Our  guitarist is a new guy named George Finch. Anyway, we've played a couple of shows at a place in Harrisonburg (VA) called the Little Grill. It's tiny! But it's so cool to play in. Our first show over a 100 people showed up! We played really sloppy but people were jumping off tables and etc but it was great. The second show we played much more tight and there were a lot of people again. It was a really great experience. I love playing live now! I can't wait to do it again.  We're trying to set up some gigs around the area...also looking into a couple of shows in NYC, believe it or not.

Brad: Who has influenced/inspired you to make the music you are making?
So many bands have inspired me. I'd say the most important ones are the Beatles, Sex Pistols, Husker Du, and the Pixies.

Brad: Did the death of Kurt Cobain have any effect on you?
Yeh. The new album I'm doing is sort of centered in one way or another on Kurt Cobain. I loved Nirvana. In fact, soon after Kurt died, I called up Dusty and Brian and started the new band. I can't really describe how bad his death made me feel. I remember I got really drunk the night I heard he'd died and wrote a bunch of suicidal letters to all my friends. I never sent any of them out  fortunately.

Brad: Do you ever think Book of Kills could become a full time job?
I dream about it all the time. It takes a lot of people pulling for you to make it as a band. I want to try. I'm not sure Dusty and Brian and George are as into it as I am. I would love to have my music be my full time job.

Brad: What other things do you do besides the band?
I like to paint. But I only seem to be able to get one painting out of me a year. I paint really big paintings. It takes a lot out of me to just do one.  I make my living as a teacher. I teach high school English. It's very weird. I'd rather be a full time musician. For some reason it seems to intimidate people when you tell them you're a teacher.

Brad: Is AIN'T RECORDS just BOK stuff or do you have other band's tapes?
It's mainly BOK, but I've also released a great tape by a band called 'The Hits' which is actually a guy named Bill Bird. Also one by a band called Ballihoux, and one by a male/female duo called the 'Cynics.'

Brad: Any BOK vinyl?
No. But we're scraping the money together to put out a split single with a band called ZooBoy. It should be hot if we ever actually get it together and put the fucking thing out.

Brad: If you could tour with any band which one would it be?
Well...it would've been Nirvana until recently. Probably Sugar right now. I love Bob Mould. He's a master. So Bob...you know...if you need a good warm-up band.

Brad: Have you ever been set on fire?
Yes. Twice.

Brad: Have you ever played anywhere outside the VA/DC area?
Jim: No. But I sure would like to. We have some friends in NYC so that might be the logical place to play in the near future. Also Richmond. We know a few people there.

Brad: Want to play in OK?
I'd love to play in Oklahoma! I was in OK once. There were a lot of cowboys. It was also fucking hot! Like in the 100s everyday, day after day. We went to the Cowboy Hall of Fame. I liked it. I think I remember that Trigger is in there...stuffed, of course. I wonder if they'll put Roy Rogers in there too after he dies? They could have him sitting on Trigger and eating a roast beef sandwich.

The Scream Interview

Making Noise For An Audience Of One
By Jordan Williams

(Part One Of Three Parts)

JW: The first thing I would like to discuss is your last band. I know what happened, but WHAT HAPPENED?

JS: I'm still not sure. I know that I didn't break the band up. Maybe no one did. I don't know. Maybe it just naturally imploded. There were tensions there for one reason or other. To be honest, I'm not a great communicator and that was probably part of it. But there were other things, disagreements on how often we'd practice, what sort of places we'd play. I didn't feel like we were working very hard there in the last couple months. And I wanted to play out much more than we were doing. I'm not proud. I'll play anywhere. But I don't want to put so much of myself into a band if everyone isn't on the same page in terms of what your goals for the band are and so on. But if it was up to me, we would've probably taken a couple weeks off to simmer down and then come back together. It would have been great with me if we were all still together. Everyone has sort of gone their separate ways now. The sad thing is I don't think any of them are really doing anything much musically. I think Brock plays on occasion. I'm not sure what Brian and Dave are doing musically. I had a couple gigs lined up that would've been a gas to play, though. The Little Grill (a local music hangout in Harrisonburg - JW) called twice during the summer and practically pleaded for us to play. And another local place wanted us to play too but then they went out of business. And then some guy from up in New Haven, Connecticut called a month or so ago and wanted us to play up there in December. But, you know.

JW: What is it with you and bands?

JS: Ha ha! I don't know. I can't find people who are really focused on making something happen. You know, I have been in a lotta bands but not one of them lasted more than a year. It's sort of like the Muddy Waters syndrome. Do you know what I mean? Muddy Waters (the late great blues legend --JW) always played with these young guys who were like decades younger than he was and his band was constantly changing as the young guys would move in and out. Short attention span or something. I don't know! The older I get, the harder it is to meet new musicians. And my music is odd. Sort of stuck in other eras. But not a product of any particular time, you know? I mean, I'm influenced by stuff from the late '60s through the early 90s. But I'd love to play again live. I'm ready. But I just don't want to go beg someone to play. I mean, hell, I'm not that desperate.

JW: Would you call yourself a micro-star?

JS: What in the hell is a micro-star?

JW: It's a new concept. I came across it on the internet. It's the idea that every locality is a kind of micro-world with its own constellation of larger than life people. In other words, micro-stars.

JS: That's very interesting, but I ain't no micro-star. I'm just one more dumb white boy with a Fender guitar.

JW: What's the best band you ever played with?

JS: Oh that's hard. I can't answer that. The times I've played with Brian Temples have always been special because he's such a brilliant bassist and a really good singer too. I always felt like he and I produced a special kind of spark together. But our musical interests are probably too different in the end. I really liked the last band because at first it was very creative and willing to do all kinds of stuff. But I had to do most of the lead guitar work and I am a terrible lead guitarist. But the most fun I ever had was playing with some kids who were fresh out of the high school where I teach. I think they were all like 18 or 19 at the time. It was just a one night thing and we'd thrown together four or five songs together that afternoon because one of them had asked me to play at his band's last ever show or something. I don't remember the occasion exactly. But I'd been close to all three of them and they seemed to be so into the music. There was only maybe 40-50 people at the show but everyone of them was just really there for the band. You know what I mean? But it was special in a way I can't explain and this probably makes no sense to you or anybody who's reading this. If that group had asked me to join them I'd have said 'yes' in a heartbeat! They were called the Necromantics. Great name, I thought.

JW: Yeh it is. Funny. Say something about your last tape, SO FAR IN EVERY DIRECTION.

JS: Well, that was supposed to be BIG BUSINESS MONKEY, VOL. 4 originally. But it turned out to be more than just a loose collection. I thought it kind of held together as an album. So I gave it a name and put it out. There are a few songs on there that I think are as good as I've ever done. Probably some clunkers too, but I like it. It's sold something like 10 copies. Another huge money maker for Ain't Records.

JW: You know, you are always telling me how frustrated you are that so few people hear your music. Why do you keep on doing it? Make music, I mean.

JS: I don't know. I don't want to do it, anymore, to be honest. But I can't stop. Isn't that the craziest thing? I think to myself how inane it is to keep making music and that it's time to grow up and forget about music but I just can't get the lyrics and music for the next song out of my head. Music's always clanging around inside my skull and it won't go away. Maybe one day the frustration will just get to be too much and I really will stop, but I wonder. Maybe it's because I'm a relatively isolated person in many ways and music's the only way I have to keep a connection open with people. That's probably it. I have thought about it a lot. But I don't know the reason I keep writing new stuff.

JW: So are you going to eventually start another band?

JS: I don't know that either. I'd like to. I really enjoy playing live though in some ways it's nerve wracking and a hassle. I hate hauling equipment around. And before a show I'm a nervous wreck. But actually playing live and watching people get into your music is a gas. If someone were to come up to me tomorrow and say they wanted to start a new Book of Kills, I'd probably say yes.

JW: Where do you see your music heading next?

JS: Well, I have some new songs about done. A couple of them are a little more complicated than most of my stuff. More changes involved. The lyrics are real sort of stream of consciousness. I don't mean I'm turnng into Yes or Genesis or something but it's a little more...um...involved. But then I've also done some real simple folky stuff. Very basic.

JW: Where do you see yourself in music? What importance do you attach to what you do?

JS: What? Importance? Oh Jesus. I am a pimple on music's ass. I have no importance as a musician...

JW: Calm yourself.

JS: I am a middle-aged teacher who puts out cassettes of his own music once or twice a year and who has a tiny tiny base of people who listen to that music. I get an occasional nice review from the magazines that cater to home tapers. What importance can you attach to that? I am making noise for an audience of one. You know what? Since April of this year I have sent a demo package to 21 different shitty little record companies.

JW: And?

JS: Not only did not one of them send me a rejection letter, not one of them even made the effort to reply to me. That ought to shed some light on my importance.

JW: So you define your success by whether or not a "shitty" record company accepts you?

JS: What other definition is there? Hey, even most of the people around Harrisonburg who count themselves as fans of Book of Kills don't bother to buy my tapes. If I was important musically on any level I think that people would at least locally...oh hell. I don't know. It's frustrating. Ha ha! I suppose I need to realize that my stuff just doesn't connect with most people. Maybe it sucks, I don't know. I hope not!

JW: What are your own favorite albums of yours?

JS: Oh there are 3-4 that I know are better than the others in terms of lyrics, performance and so on. THE HAUNTED LIFE, SPLENDID TRIGGER, ST. JUDAS. I like SONGS FOR A GONE WORLD just 'cause it's so strange. I think THE BEST OF tape comes off pretty good. See, I like almost all my tapes a lot. I mean, I'd be an idiot not to, wouldn't I? All those tapes are me. If you want to know who I am, the best chance you'll ever have is through my music. Even the songs that seem to be about other people are more or less about me. I look back on the last 9 or 10 years and sometimes I can't believe that I spent all that time and effort writing and recording all those songs. Gotta be around 200 songs now. But I loved every minute. It's a wonderful thing to write a song and then put it together instrument by instrument on a piece of magnetic tape. I've never been a real expert at recording and mixing and all that but I love the whole process. Home multi-track tape recorders probably saved my life.

JW: Why don't you use other musicians on a more regular basis to record?

JS: Well, it's just really hard for me to get people together in one place and coordinate the process of recording a bunch of songs. It's much much easier for me to do it myself. There are trade offs. I'm not a very good musician and have to settle for clunky musicianship but the process of recording is almost inextricable from the process of writing and building a song.

JW: How so?

JS: I tend to write while I record. And a lot of re-writing goes on at the same time. Sort of like how you hear about bands writing albums in the studio. I do that more or less.

JW: If you had to narrow it down to a handful of bands, who would you say were your greatest influences?

JS: John Lennon because of his love of sound manipulation. I don't think I show much of a Beatles influence but Lennon is by far the most important single influence. Then there'd be Bob Dylan. That period in his career from 1965 to '68 or so when he was writing these fabulous surreal lyrics influenced by the Beats, the French Imagists, Walt Whitman. No one before or since has done anything like it. Probably the third most significant influence would be Husker Du. That sort of strummed ultra-distorted guitar sound. A lot of the stuff I did up through ST. JUDAS was based in part on the Du. I'm sort of the Beatles trying to do Dylan as interpreted by Husker Du. Badly! Ha ha!

JW: Do you feel like you're still in touch with what's going on now in music?

JS: Hell no! I mean I am, but I don't care to try to imitate say Prodigy or Nine Inch Nails or the Chemical Brothers or whatever. I do what I want and don't care too much anymore what others think. You have to do what the voices in your head tell you to do. When you start trying to be current you start making dishonest music. That's no doubt one reason why few people listen to BOK. I don't really have a sound that would appeal to your typical teenager or even those in their 20s. I'm stuck in another time frame. I realize that. Very few people can bridge the musical gap between the generations. But I always felt like if you just did what you felt, if it was honest, then in a way your music could stay outside of time.

JW: How does your job as a teacher affect your music? Or does it?

JS: My music and my job don't really intersect too much. About the only thing I can say about the two is that I wish I could stop teaching and just do music. But that's a pipe dream. I know now that it will never happen.

JW: Why not?

JS: It just won't. I just wasn't meant for a life in music. I don't know why. I was chosen to do something else. Maybe I'm paying for some heavy crap I commited in another lifetime. Sometimes I feel like music is a terrible curse, because I love it so much, it's what I am to a large extent, and I would give anything to be able to make my living through it. To be able to devote full time to it would be so wonderful. As it is, I have to sneak in an hour here and an hour there.

 Making Noise For An Audience Of One
(Part Two)

JW: I'd be interested in the process you go through to produce a recorded song.

JS: Well, I usually start with lyrics. That's the hardest thing for me to do. Especially after writing something like 250 songs. It's kinda difficult to keep coming up with fresh language. But, you know, I suppose there's an infinite set of combinations of words. So I tend to lean these days more towards stream of consciousness lyrics. Surreal stuff. Even pure nonsense. That's the kind of stuff I've always liked best anyway. Late Beatles Lennon, peak Dylan, Robert Pollard, Pavement, Will Oldham. Their lyrics are so left field. When I was a kid, I always liked reading the really cryptic poetry that came out in the 30s and 40s. The modernist type thing that's pretty out of fashion these days. And that mad, over the top stuff of the French Imagists. And of course the Beats will always be a huge influence on anything I write. That sort of language resonates in your brain a lot longer than most of the drivel you hear these days.

JW: After you write the lyrics, then what?

JS: Then I usually work out the chords and the melody on my acoustic guitar. Although a lot of times the melody will just be there in my head and I just have to find out what the chords are.

JW: What's the recording process?

JS: If there's going to be a drum track, that's what I do next. Figure out what sort of drum sound I want and then program it on the beat box. Then I usually put down a rhythm guitar so that I can have something to sing along with. I do vocals next. When you only have eight tracks to work with, you often have to record several vocal tracks and then dump them all onto one track so that you have enough space left to overdub instruments. Then I add solos, keyboards, and so on. Usually do the bass last for some reason. That's it. I mix everything onto a DAT through an old Yamaha 12 track mixer. I never mix listening through headphones. I have some little cheap speakers that sort of mimic the sound of a crap transistor radio. They're what I listen through when I mix. I just bought a mini-disc recorder and I've been transferring the original DAT masters to mini-disc. I'm afraid the digital tapes are going to wear out and if they do I might not be able to put together the albums in their original form again. It also gives me an opportunity to remix some albums, add a track here or there. I love the convenience of mini-disc. They beat the hell out of cassettes!

JW: Since you started making music you've gone from punk to folk to polka to industrial to rap to psychedelia and god knows what else. Why do you insist on trying out so many styles? And usually on the same album!

JS: Well, I just get bored doing the same thing over and over. I like to listen to artists who stretch out on an album. Groups like Prodigy or Green Day or Tool or whoever, they're great at what they do but they just do the same thing like 12 times an album with just minor sonic variations from track to track. Although I will say the new Green Day album is real nice. They're definitely trying not to repeat themselves. Jim Santo wrote not too long ago that the only musicians who are free to do what they please are home tapers. They have no one to answer to but themselves and I think that's a very perceptive observation on Jim's part. I'd rather listen to a good home tapers work any day over most major label groups. If you're on a label, the bottom line is you have to make the company money or they're going to drop you. So you have to play it safe. Find an audience that digs what you're doing and work the formula to death. You can't chance alienating your fan base or you might not sell enough cds. So though I don't like the anonymity of being a home taper, I do really appreciate the freedom it gives you.

JW: You've been a prolific writer. How do you keep coming up with material?

JS: I steal! Ha ha! No really. I do take a lot from other musicians. I'll hear a song I really like and just sort of re-work it into something of my own. I do that a lot really. Like I said before, lyrics are the hardest part for me. Sometimes I'll find a sentence or phrase in a magazine or poem or whatever and that'll give me the spark to write a whole song. I listen to people talk. If I hear something I know I can use in a song, I'll file it away in my memory and let it ferment for a while and eventually a song comes out. But you know it's funny. The very best songs I've ever done were always the ones where I was just hit by a bolt of inspiration and then the words just come tumbling out as easy as pie.

JW: How many albums have you released since you started?

JS: I think at last count there were 24-25. But since I bought the mini-disc recorder I've been pruning that down. Combining tapes to make one longer work, stuff like that. When I am finally done re-doing everything I'll have it down to 15 or 16 albums.

JW: When do you see the next release coming out?

JS: It's hard to predict. I think I'm going to have something done by late winter. I don't usually record much in the fall though, so I can't say for sure.

JW: Why don't you record in the fall and winter?

JS: I don't know actually. I seem to be in a sort of cycle. Put a tape or two out in the spring and summer and then let things go fallow for a while, then start up the whole process all over again. I kind of go into a shell in the winter. It's generally a depressing time for me. I'd probably record a lot more if I lived in Florida or somewhere where it was warm all year long. I guess I'm one of those people you hear about that has a hard time dealing with winter. But I mean, I do record some in the fall and winter. It's not a total washout time for me. I've written some good tunes then. I think part of it is just pretty mundane. I record in a garage with no heat and it's just no fun to record when you can't even feel your fingers! Ha ha! And I can't really move everything inside the house because there's nowhere to put everything where I'd be isolated enough to loosen up and do my best work. I can't record vocals when I know just outside the door is my family looking at each other and going, What the hell?

JW: Has having a family been a deterrent to producing music?

JS: Yeh, sort of. I usually record when no one's around just so there won't be any distractions. So I pretty much have to schedule the music around those times when my family's out or they're all asleep. I've often wondered if I'd never had a family would I have produced twice as much music? Somehow I don't think so. They're sort of a buffer for me against the outside world. I would have definitely gone totally nuts without a family. So things are probably the way they should be. I certainly don't bear any ill will towards my wife and kids 'cause they're somehow keeping me from making more music. I need that human contact they provide. Keeps me grounded.

JW: I know that you've gone through some hard times psychologically in the last ten years. Has that had any effect on your music?

JS: Well, it's not like I'm mentally ill or something you know! Ha ha! But yeh, I've had some black periods where it was difficult to...you know...difficult to get out of bed and do anything productive. There've been some real battles. Tough times when I felt like I might not make it. But I've always fought my way out of those periods. The toughest time was probably back in '92. Almost the whole year. Things were just real messed up and I don't know how I made it through those days when I lokk back. Music saved me. No doubt. I put out DON'T STOP THE SCREAM and THE HAUNTED LIFE during that time so you can see where I was coming from. I mean, the titles of those two albums say it all, don't they? I wasn't a happy camper.

JW: Why was that such a difficult time for you? Or do you want to talk about it?

JS: Just a bunch of personal things. Lots of bad thoughts that kept building up in my mind. It was everything I could do to cope. I didn't really find much joy in anything. But I was determined to beat it and I did. No, I don't really want to talk about it. It's not a state of mind I would wish even on my worst enemies. You just have to realize that these periods come and go and if you can just wait it out you're going to be okay. That's the big thing. To keep telling yourself just to hang on because relief's on the way.

JW: We've talked about this some already, but where do you see your music going in the future?

JS: You can never tell. My mind is always latching onto something new. I mean, one minute I'll want to do a punk song and the next a folk song. I do know that I would absolutely love to do another FOR THE GOOD OF THE CAUSE. You know, take a bunch of old folk songs and totally deconstruct them. I don't think I ever had more fun that I did during that summer when I made the second side of CAUSE. So that's definitely in the future. What else? I don't know. It's like I said before, this is n't going to go on forever. I can see bailing out of music maybe sooner than people think. I'll miss it if and when I do, but I don't know if I could do this when I'm fifty years old. It would be very hard to justify. Maybe 2 or 3 more albums and I might call it quits. Who knows.

JW: Two or three more albums? You're not serious.

JS: Maybe. I guess we'll see when we get to the end, won't we?

Making Noise For An Audience of One
(Part Three)

JW: Without dwelling on this too much, do you find that you are able to use these difficult periods in your songwriting?

JS: Yes. I think I go through these black times because I am a very angry person and yet I'm not able to articulate that anger very well to others. I just can't seem to let it out. I don't know why, but when I try to communicate feelings to other people usually I'm unable to do it. Neither my mother or father could either. I suppose that's where it comes from. I can't even think of a single time when my mother yelled at my dad or vice versa. Isn't that odd? I mean, it wasn't bad in a way because actually I lived in a very loving and stable house, but feelings were always sort of hidden away for the most part.

JW: You speak of being a very angry person and yet I would never think to describe you like that. But it is something that is very clear in your music. Even the poppiest songs you write always have these almost morbid lyrics. Why are you so angry?

JS: God, I don't think I ever write morbid lyrics, do I? Ha ha! Oh hell--if I knew why I was angry, I could maybe root out the problem and not be angry anymore. But I don't know why. I think a lot of it is from the stupid things that people do to one another. Over and over. Day after day. We all pull such idiotic crap on each other. And after centuries and centuries of living together we don't seem to learn from our mistakes. That's very disheartening to me and it makes me mad. I guess part of my anger goes back to not being able to communicate my feelings very well. It all stays trapped inside and when that happens your emotions can get kind of grotesquely misshapen. Ha ha!

JW: If suddenly you weren't angry anymore, could you still create music?

JS: No. I don't think I could. Maybe. I'm not sure. But all those internalised emotions sort of give me my sound. Bryan Baker of GAJOOB once described some of my music as very claustrophobic and he was right. It all is for the most part. I find it very difficult to make anything I do sound loose and free. It's all kind of jammed together and sweaty and furtive. Ha ha! I think if I weren't angry anymore I would probably at least subconsciously make bad things happen just so I could have something to write about.

JW: You have written many songs about a girl named Susan.

JS: Yes. Susan was a girl I knew who was, I think, probably schizophrenic. I don't know. I'm no psychiatrist. She was very very sad. The saddest girl I ever knew. But that melancholy really drew me to her. I mean, her sadness was incredibly alluring. She was extremely pretty, but to look in her eyes was to look into a bottomless abyss. I was very in love with her.

JW: What happened?

JS: It got to the point where I knew if I stayed with her she was eventually going to go over the edge and she would drag me over with her. I know what she felt. How you wake up in the morning and go to work and you're almost like a zombie. It's like you can feel your mind hovering just above your head. It's very strange. A feeling of total isolation. Dislocation. But I could fight those sort of feelings and beat them into submission. She couldn't. So I left her. I had to to save myself. It was like Odysseus and the sirens. It wasn't too long after that she drove her van into the back of a car. If I'd stayed with her maybe I'd have been in that van. Who knows? Sometimes I think everything I write is somehow connected to her.

JW: How is that?

JS: Well, so much of what I write about is death. It's an endlessly fascinating subject for me. Not morbid at all to me. I suppose some of that fascination comes from my experiences with Susan. I couldn't help but feel guilty over her death. Maybe I'm trying to exorcise those feelings through music. It's not really something that I've ever tried to analyse too deeply. I'm afraid if I figure out what's going on in my head the songs will stop! Ha ha!

JW: You also write about relationships between men and women quite a lot.

JS: Yes. Another fascinating subject. I don't think songwriters will ever run out of things to say about that topic! You can spout off about politics or whatever but most of the songs that endure deal pretty simply with men and women trying to get along. Why they can't is beyond me, but at least it gives me something to write about!

JW: Let's talk about some of your individual songs.

JS: Okay.

JW: How about "Dark Side of Tomorrow"?

JS: That's one of the very first songs I ever wrote. And I recall very vividly the circumstances. I used to give these huge parties at my house. You know, like a hundred people. Big blowouts. Anyway, it was during one of these parties and the girl I was going with at the time had a few too many...ha ha! And anyway she started flirting around with some jerk off and I just got pissed. I went to the bedroom to cool off. Ha ha! Anyway, I figured I could kill her or write a song about her. Fortunately for both of us I decided to write a song. That was recorded with the old Roland bass and drum machines...the BD 606 and BA 303 or whatever they were called. I sold both of them later for like $100. Now you can't find one for less than $600-700! That droning organ sound was done with my son's Mickey Mouse toy organ filtered through a fuzz box and chorus.

JW: "The Night John Lennon Died."

JS: Umm...originally that was a poem I wrote a long time ago. I was totally entranced with Live Skull and early Sonic Youth at the time. So that was sort of based on their sound though it doesn't sound like either. The little tinkly sample at the end of the song was something from one of Sonic Youth's albums played backwards. I always thought that would be a good song to play live. I think I tuned the guitar to an open Am to play it.

JW: Okay, what about "Abandoned"?

JS: Well, as you know that's one of my favourites. I love to play it live. I was listening to Ministry's LAND OF RAPE AND HONEY a lot at the time. Did the vocals through a fuzz box. The samples were from a documentary on Da Da-ism and from the Richard Burton version of the film 1984. The last verse was about my grandfather who at the time was wasting away in a retirement home. He died shortly after I finished the song.

JW: A couple or three more..."Waiting on a Friend"?

JS: To be honest, I don't remember much about this song. On the chorus part where I sing "I'm just waiting on a friend," I wanted it to sound like John Lennon. The rest of the song, the words were just nonsense really. I made them up on the spot in a couple minutes. I wanted to do something with a bunch of changes in it but I didn't want it to sound pretentious. I really like that song a lot. But Brock Beatty (former BOK drummer--JW) is the only person who's ever told me he liked it.

JW: "Lost."

JS: Oh that was a big Nirvana rip-off. I loved their song "School" and just sort of did a little different version of their riff. Every band I'm in has a different take on song. I really look forward to doing that one live because everyone goes nuts when we play it. It just has this elemental chord progression to it that explodes on you when it's played live. And it's pretty easy to remember the words! Ha ha! That's probably the reason I like it so much. What! It's got like fifteen words to it or something. I think that's why I always get so nervous before a gig. You play like 20 or so songs and sometimes it's hard to remember the lyrics to all of them! Ha ha! I'm pretty good at faking it when i forget lyrics though. Sometimes I pretend like the mic has gone out. Then everybody starts looking all worried. Ha ha! Hey...I just forgot the words again!

JW: What about "Stanley the Steamer"? That's an odd song.

JS: Well, I wanted to write a kind of classic rock song but twist it around enough to make it interesting. The lyrics are about Syd Barrett who was the founder of Pink Floyd. Now I don't care much for Pink Floyd but I do like Barrett's solo albums and the first Pink Floyd album which was pretty much a Barrett solo album itself. There's a lot of madness on those records and I'm all for mixing madness with music. Ha ha! The solo on that song was supposed to be a parody of David Gilmour's style. I didn't quite pull it off I suppose.

JS: Interesting. "Because Because." I don't mind telling you I think that song seriously kicks.

JW: Oh yes. It does kick ass. That's got kind of a strange chord structure. I mean it's all common chords but they're put together all wrong. Ha ha! At first you listen to it and you go, What? But after you get used to it it really packs a punch. The song itself is partly about a guy who gets off on setting fires. He sees burning things down as the only way he can stand apart from the crowd. Kind of a twisted song.

JW: One more. "If I Went Mad." You weren't actually worried about going mad when you wrote that, were you?

JS: Ummm...I don't know. Maybe! No...I wasn't worried about going crazy. But at the time I could certainly feel where...I was feeling pretty down at the time and I think I just decided to write a song about what I was feeling but try to poke some fun at myself. I kind get a little too self-absorbed, you know, so I wrote the lyrics to that one very tongue in cheek and then set it to a polka beat!

JW: Where do you see pop music heading in the future?

JS: I think people who try to predict future trends usually reveal themselves to be short-sighted or just plain foolish, but I'll play the game. But I--I don't know. I think as people become more and more isolated you'll find that music will begin to reflect many of the attributes of the schizophrenic. Very very basic. Quiet. Gentler. Almost dream-like. Very repetitive. Rather distant. I think you'll hear jazz being more and more incorporated into pop music. I think women will continue to play a bigger role in future pop. It seems to me that men are relinquishing their hold on the reins. Not just in music. It's an imperceptible thing but I think it's happening. Of course, there'll always be the balls out rockers. God bless 'em! Ha ha! Don't be surprised to see a resurgence soon in metal. I don't mean the little mini-thing we had not too long ago with Metallica and Megadeth and so on. But it'll be different somehow. Personally I look forward to the Next Big Thing. Time is speeding up. Saviors and martyrs will dart across our television screens faster and faster.

JW: What will the next big thing be?

JS: Oh, no one can know that. If I did I'd be the next big thing.

JW: What are you listening to these days?

JS: I listen to Guided by Voices an awful lot. I didn't think much of their last album, MAG EARWHIG, but most of their stuff I find really appealing. Very melodic with great nonsense throwaway lyrics. And Bob Pollard who pretty much is Guided by Voices is about my age, so that appeals to me. I love Tobin Sprout's two solo albums. Beck some. His folk album is a gas. Can't remember the title. Will Oldham. He can't sing worth a damn but I just find his music appealing. I'm in awe of John Coltrane. I never get tired of LOVE SUPREME. I listen to the local classical station some. But I like the really twisted classical stuff like Stockhausen and they don't play those sort of things. I like this home taper guy named Greg Mathieson. He makes beautiful synthetic music that's real fresh. Very hard to describe. I still listen to Bob Dylan after all these years. His new one is very strong, but so melancholy. I can't imagine anyone under 30 understanding what he's saying on that album.

JW: Do you think anyone under 30 understands what you're saying on your albums?

JS: No. Maybe one or two people. But some of them try. I appreciate that.

JW: What would be the perfect band for you to be in?

JS: It would be a group of people who could play the hardest goddamned rock and roll one song and then the next pull off the prettiest little acoustic thing you could ever want to hear. I'd like to have a keyboardist. A good keyboardist adds so much texture to your sound. It seems like every band I get into all we end up playing is my hard rock stuff. I like to pace a set more. It's too easy to just bludgeon an audience with a lot of distortion and fast playing. I'd like to make them have to pay more attention.

JW: Do you consider yourself a good musician?

JS: No, I'm not a good musician. I'm basically a competent rhythm guitarist and that's it. I can play a decent bass. And I think I can really help drive a band, but I'm really more of a good recordist than I am a good musician. I think I'm a much better lyricist. I've always been proud that I could write lyrics that usually rose above the level of mediocrity. that's why I so admire people like Lennon, Dylan, Pollard, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith. People who could say the same old thing in a fresh way. There's nothing new to say, but there are always fresh ways to say it.

JW: What regrets do you have about music?

JS: Jeez, Jordy. You're grasping now, aren't you? I suppose I regret not trying harder to communicate my feelings about where I wanted a band to go. Maybe not being more positive with what people were trying to do. I should have been more appreciative of what Dave accomplished in such a short time on guitar. I mean, Jesus, the guy had barely ever picked up a guitar before I asked him to be in the band and in six months he came so far. I have regrets about that. I regret that I didn't just pick up a long time ago and go to New York, but I didn't so there's no use in lamenting lost opportunities. I regret having to dump my old friend Mike Johnson from an early version of Book of Kills and then losing his friendship. We were pretty close and let a goddamned band come between us. That's almost tragic. There are people who wanted to form bands with me and for one egotistical reason or another I didn't take them up on their offers. I regret that. I mourn the things that I should have done and didn't. But I don't dwell on them. You can't go back so you just keep moving forward. It's all you can do.

JW: What good things have you gotten out of music?

JS: You know, I complain so much about what I haven't gotten out of music that sometimes I forget just how much it has given me. I think, without trying to sound to sappy about it, that music has enriched my life immeasurably. It has allowed me to make friends and acquaintances with many many great people I'd never have met normally. People like Jim Santo, Bryan Baker, Brian Temples, Dusty and Gary Bugg, Andrew Neckowitz, Bruce Benedict, Mike Johnson, Kevin Bachman, Travis Hunter, Melissa Livaudais, you, and the list goes on and on. And music has given me so many moments that are simply priceless. The shows I've played have almost all been ecstatic and just positive in every way. I wouldn't trade away one of them. And just the satisfaction of knowing that I really have worked hard to make good songs and that people actually listened to them and liked them is so important. People make music, in part at least, as an act of reaching out, as a way of touching others in a positive way. And when you do that, you change things for the better. I really believe that. Music works on a spiritual, communal level that I don't think anyone can fully comprehend. I thank God that I was given a gift to do what I've done, in my own clumsy way.

JW: And one last question. Do you have the secret to the universe?

JS: Yes.

Jim Santo's DemoUniverse

I'm Glad I'm Not A Rockstar

Jim Santo, one-time critic/feature writer for Alternative Press, used to do profiles of "lo-fi" artists around the world on his now defunct, and much lamented, web site DemoUniverse.  This was the second of the many profiles he wrote for DemoUniverse.  I've forgotten when this particular article was published.  If you know, give me a hollar at bookofkils@aol.com.  Thanks.


"I'm glad I'm not a rock star/laughing and acting stoned/I'm glad I'm not a rock star/But I wish I was anyway." -- "(I'm Glad I'm Not A) Rock Star" (Book Of Kills)
    Small-town football player-turned-schoolteacher, pushing 40, makes lo-fi rock recordings of extraordinary beauty and power, but can't keep a band together and struggles endlessly for recognition. No, I'm not talking about Robert Pollard! This is the tale of Jim Shelley, a/k/a Book Of Kills. 
    "I was on the Guided By Voices mailing list once," relates Shelley, on the phone from Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he's taught English and coached the high school football team for more than 12 years. "I think half the people on there are jealous teachers!" 
    Anyone with a brain and a heart who heard Book Of Kills would be jealous, too. 
    In a career spanning 10 years and some 20 cassette releases, the man has assembled an impressive body of work. Inspired by The Beatles, Sex Pistols, Husker Du, and the Pixies (to name a few), and playing with the freedom only obscurity offers, Shelley recombines his roots into classic punk-rock, folk-rock, industrial-rock and whatever-else-rock strikes his fancy. 
    Book Of Kills (the name was appropriated from Marshall McLuhan) has been a live band only sporadically over the years, in part because of Jim's free-form aesthetics. "I've never been able to get people interested in playing 80 percent of the stuff I've written," he laments. "They only want to do a certain kind of song, whereas I'll put a folk song on with an industrial song. That just blows people's minds. They can't accept that." 
    The limits of small-town life also come into play. "Harrisonburg's only got about 35,000 people living here," says Shelley. "I've probably played with every musician in this damn town." 
    Of course, new players keep getting born, but the generation gap is hard to leap, even for a die-hard punker. In the most recent version of BOK, "two of the guys were really young, like 18 years old. It was too big of a gap; it just got really strange." 
    Like most home-tapers, Shelley is no stranger to self-doubt and despair, yet for all the setbacks and frustration, he can't see ever quitting. "It's something you have to do," he says. "It's who you are. It's what you are!" And the lure of the spotlight forever tugs at this Little League coach and father. 

    "One of the best gigs I ever played was over at the high school," Shelley recalls. "Something like 500 or 600 kids came and the place just went nuts. There was some really hard-core moshing going on; two kids came out with broken legs. I'll never forget being on stage, staring into the distance and seeing the principal at the back of the auditorium -- utterly helpless!" 
"There's a place I can go/Where no one else can go/It's so good to feel so free/Nobody can get to me/I am always so happy/I can be what I want to be/In my room." -- "In My Room" (Book Of Kills)


The DISTORT E-ZINE Interview

Who's in the band, when did you form, etc.?

Jim Shelley-guitar, vocals; Casey Firkin-drums, vocals; Jane Firkin-guitar, vocals; Bill Bird-bass, vocals; Randy Simpson-guitar, vocals. I've (I'm Jim) been releasing cassettes and cds since the late 80s as Book of Kills. I first formed a 'live' band in '94 and BOK has been through numerous mutations since then. I met Casey and Jane through a friend back in the spring of 2000, I think. We added Bill about a year later and Randy during the summer of '01. That line-up has been stable (knock on wood) since.

2. How would you describe your music?

At a gig last night (10/5) a girl walked up to me and said she thought we sounded like "...the Pixies crashed into the Cure with a smattering of Echo and the Bunnymen. Jim Santo of Alternative Press and Demouniverse said "...Whazzit sound like? Not the Who, that's fer sure. How 'bout: Lou Reed, Bob Mould, Neil Young, GBV, John Lennon, Bob Dylan...and fookin' Book of Kills. Comparisons are an insult."

3. What's your best tune, or the one which is best representative of your sound?

It's really really hard for me to pick out a tune that best represents us because we aren't easily pigeonholed into one sound. We are known for doing mellow stuff, hard stuff, and in-between stuff. I don't mean to sound flip about it, but I do think we have a much more varied sound than most bands these days. We kind of harken back to that old Beatles' philosophy that it's fun to try everything at least once.

4. What have you released?

The band released its last cd several months ago. It's called HOGGETT HEADS. I just released a solo cd called ALL ABOUT YOU. On my own and with other bands, I think I've released around 30 albums in the past 13 years.

5. Would you ever release a cover version as a single, and risk being known as "that band who did that hilarious cheesy pop cover version?" for ever and a day (ie, Alien Ant Farm...)?

We'd release a cover version of a song if it was a really good song and we all liked it, but would we do what Alien Ant Farm did? Nah...

6. What's the scene like where you're from?

It's not that great to be honest. Harrisonburg, Virginia is our hometown. It's mainly a college town, both James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University being there and Bridgewater College being nearby. But the music scene's pretty lame really. Not many places to play other than this one cool place that's pretty well known called The Little Grill. Most of the clubs around want tribute bands that'll fill the place up with beer drinkers.

7. Are there any other bands we should be checking out (obscure or not)?

Well there's this one very cool very noisy band called the Proles from Charlottesville (which is about 55 miles south of Harrisonburg and home to the University of Virginia), but I don't know if they're together or not anymore. But we play shows together on rare occasions and it's always fun. Seems like most of the bands around here are emo or Grateful Dead-ish jam bands. For a long time every band around here wanted to be Dave Matthews' bastard spawn but I think that's dying out since he moved out of Charlottesville.

8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Dead or alive? I would have liked to collaborate with Kurt Cobain and John Lennon most of all I suppose. Nowadays I'd most like to collaborate with Jane. We need to write more songs together.

9. Nu-metal is....:

What's Nu- metal?

10. Have you got any weird fans, or had any experiences with oddballs at gigs?

Just about all of our fans are weird. Really! Everybody in the band is an oddball, believe me and we seem to attract odd, disenfranchised sorts. Which is cool with me. They're always more interesting than your average human.

11. Best and worst gigs you ever played?

Worst gig we ever played was at Harrisonburg High School. We couldn't hear each other and really didn't wanna be there anyway. We played so bad. I would've been embarassed if we'd been charging money for the show but it was a benefit. It wasn't that we don't like doing benefits...it was just a bad night. I don't know what our best show was. We've had so many. I remember once we played Ferrum College and it was a horrible show with horrible sound and hardly anyone showed up. Later that day we decided we were gonna find a sound system and play for this huge party that was going on. Somebody came up with a pa and we played on a wagon or something. The whole stage was wobbling like it was gonna cave in and hardly anybody there had ever heard of us but we just nailed the show and people went crazy and we had a great great time.

12. What are your day-jobs?

I'm an English teacher. Yeah. Well...whatever. Pays the bills! Or some of them. Casey, Bill, and Jane all work at graphics art businesses. They're all pretty artistic. Randy is in college.

13. Are there any unusual/crap trivia facts about anyone in the band?

Uhhh...a lot probably but I can't think of any right now. Maybe the fact that even though we hardly ever get paid and deal with the usual unknown band bullshit we still love our music and love each other.

14. Most Spinal Tap moment?

We play the ST song "Give Me Some Money" fairly regularly. Can't get much more Tap than that!

15. Most Motley Crue moment?

Oh my god don't ask. Let's just say everyone in the band definitely knows how to drink!

16. Sex Pistols or The Ramones (and why)?

Well I really wouldn't want to have to choose because I love them both, but probably Ramones because they were obviously more influential and definitely more sincere, whatever that means.

17. Motorhead or Black Sabbath (and why)?

Motorhead 'cause Lemmy's in the band and what's his face isn't. You know the guy with the tv show who used to play with his own shit.

18. Who were the best obscure band that for some reason never made it big and split up before their time? Which album should we check out?

You know I'm not very good at coming up with obscure bands. If there was any justice in the world I do know that the Velvet Underground would've been the kings (and queen) of rock and roll.

19. Are you going to be playing any gigs soon, or about to release anything new?

We play pretty erratically. We do have a fairly local show a few miles out of town 10/26 and then another gig with a local band called Speakeasy at the Little Grill on 11/2.

20. How do we find out more about your band?

Go to www.bookofkills.com. Sometimes people can't seem to access the page. If you can't make that address work, check out http://www.geocities.com/jnipe/ The site is stuffed with stuff about the band. It's pretty complete. Especially considering it's about a relatively unknown band.

21. Anything you'd like to add?

Not much. Thanks for asking for an interview. If you know a manager who'd like to take a chance on a rock and roll band that's pretty much not like anything else out there (bet you haven't heard THAT ONE before!) tell him to contact me! It's tough getting gigs when you're unknown, you know! Other than that, make sure to check out the web page and order every single cd on the merchandise page. In fact, why not shower your friends and loved ones with a bunch of BOK albums as well?

The autoREVERSE Interview (#2)

I surely did. Did you miss me? Wait! Don’t answer that!

As far as Bona Fide, the E.P. I recently recorded with my band, Fear + Whiskey goes, all but one of the basic tracks were first takes. We did the songs very quickly. That was a good thing for the most part. Actually I suppose that’s not something no one else knows.

We recorded about 75% of it in our bass player’s father’s practice room, which also happens to be where we practice. It’s a fantastic place to record. Very warm sound and it’s just plain beautiful. We’re very lucky to have a place like that to jam in. The rest of the stuff, such as acoustic guitars, I recorded at home in my tiny basement. We recorded most of the songs (there were just six) the morning of May 20 and finished everything up during a couple afternoons in early June. The “how” was pretty simple really: Four microphones on the drum kit using the Glyn Johns method, a microphone in front of the bass and one on the guitar. We added the vocals afterwards.

Oh, I don’t know. Some folks have told me it has a punk-ish, Book Of Kills edge to it, but I guess that’s not so surprising considering I was Book Of Kills as a solo artist or as the leader of a band called Book Of Kills for much of the last twenty years. There’s definitely a folk/country feel to most of the tracks and I attribute that in large part to Amy’s influence. (Amy being the bass player.) Amy’s dad said something to the effect that the band is a mix of Patsy Cline and Husker Du. That’s probably a decent description.

Is there anything you’re feeling particularly MOUTHY about at the moment?
Live music is best, eh? So support your local bands’ shows. Where I live, people don’t do that so much. I’m not sure what it is they do do, but it’s definitely not supporting their local bands.

Jim Shelley, June 2011

Jim Shelley, June 2011

Let’s talk about your musical influences. Who are your biggest influences and why? Who were your early musical influences?
I can recall listening to pop music on an old Bakelite radio my parents had by their bed when I was very young…girl groups, popular country, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, and so forth. But The Beatles were far and away my greatest influence. Yawn, right? But, as so many older musicians can say, The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show transformed me from a shy, incompetent, non-musical, unassertive geek into a slightly less shy, slightly less incompetent, slightly musical and definitely more assertive geek. I was ten when John, Paul, George and Ringo hit big in the U.S., but I really fell for them hard. I loved just about all the British Invasion bands. A little later on, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Love, and the Byrds grew to be quite an influence. As I got older, Patti Smith and the early punks became very important to me. I was also, from an early age, a gigantic fan of American garage punk from the mid to late ’60s. Loved that stuff. Still do.

Where do you see your music heading?
I never know where my music’s heading. It just sort of happens, depending upon who I’m in a band with at the moment.

What music software do you use?
For the past six or seven years, I’ve been mainly using either an iMac or a MacBook Pro and the Cubase LE programs that come with the Firepod interfaces I employ. I’ve always been kind of cheap about buying software and equipment. I use what’s most readily available or what I can most easily afford. I did put out a solo album in 2007 called Different which was recorded entirely on an eight track Portastudio. That was fun.

Is there any other music software you plan on getting?
Probably not unless someone gives it to me or it comes free with a new interface I end up buying somewhere down the road. I do need to buy some new microphones, though.

What’s in your home studio setup?
I don’t really have a studio. If I’m recording at home by myself, I just set up the computer and the interface somewhere in the house where it’s not too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. I haven’t recorded much in the way of solo stuff for the last two or three years. I prefer recording with a band, and usually we just use our practice space.


Do you write songs on keyboards or guitar?
99% of the time I use guitar.

Can you describe your songwriting methods?
I almost always get a phrase in mind first. I’m very word-oriented. Then usually once I’ve gotten a few lines written, a melody just sort of appears in my head and I work out the chords and the rest of the lyrics, as well as the overall structure of the song, from there. Somehow songs just seem to appear in my head. I can’t explain it very well.

What made you decide to start making music of your own?
The Beatles looked like they were having such a great time. I wanted to be like them. Not long after I saw them on Ed Sullivan I started pestering my mom and dad to get me an acoustic guitar. They bought me a Silvertone acoustic guitar from Sears for Christmas. It was almost unplayable. I didn’t have a clue how to use it either, so I just picked out simple melodies on single strings. It took several years before I went out and bought a chord book and started teaching myself. Then in the late ’70s or very early ’80s when Tascam released their first Portastudio, I bought one and a couple of decent guitars and started making music in earnest.

Are you active in your local music scene?

Well, I’m in a local band. I’m not so much involved in a scene any more. I mean, I’m so much older than most of the active musicians in the area…at least the ones writing and performing original music, that it’s hard to be very involved beyond watching them play. And I don’t do that nearly as much as I used to, unfortunately. So when I say it’s important to support local bands, I guess I really mean I think it’s important that people support me and my band. I’m a real pro at hypocrisy. On rare occasions, I’ll record another band just for a lark. I’ve recorded a great local duo called Buck Gooter three or four times.

Who would you like to collaborate with on new music?
I’d like to write more regularly with Jeff and Amy, my band mates. I’d like to work again with Casey and Jane Firkin, with whom I was in an excellent version of Book Of Kills back in the early 2000s, some day before I get too old to hold up a guitar but I don’t know how likely that is.

What other bands are you excited by?

I think the last band that really excited me was Nirvana. Is that pathetic or what? I know there are some monstrously good young bands working right now…I’m just not as passionate about searching them out as I was at one time.

What’s next for you, musically speaking?

Making more music with Fear + Whiskey, I hope. Also, I’m practicing on and off with George and Mike from the last incarnation of Book Of Kills with the intention of playing one final BOK gig in November before they both move out of the area…maybe forever. It has been difficult for me to work in practices for both bands, however.

What did I forget to ask you?

You’ve asked me more than I could ever hope you would.

They can go to bookofkills.com and take it from there.

Three of my albums are on CDBaby. I think they’re a great company. I used to have some stuff up on Bandcamp but not anymore. I have a few more albums available on bookofkills.com. I eventually intend to put them all up on my site. Also, six albums I was involved with are available free on the internet archive…archive.org, I think? At one time, I had over 400 of my songs available on my web page for free download. But it got too expensive to pay for the bandwidth. Now I just do a free “Song of the Week” thing. I would, by the way, think CDBaby would be a fine choice as an online store to sell your music. Bandcamp.com I just didn’t care for.


There’s very little that still excites me more than writing, recording and performing music. Although I suffer from almost debilitating stage fright, I seem to be compelled to play live with other people. I don’t know where the energy comes from. For years, I used anger and frustration as the catalyst, but I’m not so angry or frustrated anymore. You get older; you mellow out. I just couldn’t do the screaming thing anymore. And I’ve always been one who loves to dabble in a lot of different genres so the rush of experimentation keeps me interested. Credit The Beatles for that.


Fear + Whiskey has a couple shows coming up. I’m always trying to wrangle another gig, though I’m not very good at it. I’d love it if someone arranged shows for me, but I haven’t had that luxury in many years since a friend of mine temporarily became my “manager”. I would imagine Amy, Jeff and I will think about recording again in the near future. I like doing E.P.s. Albums are too long. And people don’t have time to listen to albums anyway. I’m always formulating new songs in my head.

Do you prefer the Wicked Lester song “Too Many Mondays” with Gene singing or Paul?
I think I like the much rarer version with Ringo singing lead the best.

Where might one find a full discography?

Gosh…I’ve released over forty albums. I would just encourage folks to go to bookofkills.com where they can check out a discography and a whole lot more! But thanks very much for asking. What you’re doing right now is pretty dang cool.

Thank you, Jim!
Thank you!

In The Underground

The Way It Should Be:  Book of Kills Live At The Little Grill
By Jordan Williams (In the Underground)

The smoky blue air itself fairly seems on the verge of igniting with the excitement of the moment.  A hundred rowdy souls have crowded into the tiny confines of Harrisonburg, Virginia’s infamous Little Grill.  There’s barely room to move, though when the first ragged chords of “Don’t Stop the Scream” ring from Jim Shelley’s Telecaster everyone is instantly in motion, jumping up and down, pumping fists in the air, yelling words of encouragement. 

Book of Kills is back! 

There’ve been various ephemeral incarnations of the band over the last eleven years who’ve played a handful of gigs here and there, mostly in and around the Shenandoah Valley, but somehow this line-up is different.  This is a band in the very best sense of the word.  There’s a fire that we’ve never seen before.  A magic that just seems to emanate in waves from each member of the group, washing over the faithful.  We’ve waited three years to hear Jim live again.  Almost unforgivably too long.

 I look around at the faces surrounding me.  Smiles everywhere.  As BOK launches into “I Hang Heavy” and the crowd sings every word along with Jim, I think to myself:  This is good.  This is the way music should be. 

It’s not about musical virtuosity.  God knows that’s true:  The band constantly seems on the verge of falling apart song after song, though the power of the music is simply indisputable.  Jim, forced into the role of lead guitarist, constantly fights his instrument, pounding the strings with his pick and fist, literally willing strange, clunky, free jazz-like solos from his amplifier.   Jane Firkin, the band’s lithe, pretty rhythm guitarist/vocalist has only been playing guitar a year.  But if she doubts her abilities, it certainly doesn’t show; I can read it on her face:  This is so cool!  I’m in a band!  Jason Hevener, the diminutive, quiet bassist is better known for his forays into avant-garde sound collages; this is his first band.  Only Casey Firkin, Jane’s older brother and the band’s drummer, seems very sure of his musical abilities.  His powerful time keeping and sweeping fills are the only things that keep the other three from flying off into space.  And still even he is better known for his guitar playing abilities.

It’s not about style.  That’s for damn sure, too:  Jim’s pushing forty now.  His hair is thinning; a few wrinkles creep across his face, and his voice after years of too much abuse from smoke and whiskey is starting to venture into Lou Reed territory.  Jane’s the only member of the group with any sense of how to project a “rock and roll” image.  I notice that more than one male member of the audience finds his eyes locked on her as much as on Jim for a good deal of the show.

Jim launches into “Fade”, his searing ode to the late Kurt Cobain.  “Nothing you can say can hurt me now!” he screams over and over during the song’s jackhammer chorus.  Everyone sings along.  Again.  It’s about love and  joy, I say aloud to no one in particular.  Pure, unbridled love and  joy.  And maybe integrity.  There’s no irony in this band.  No cynicism.  The band clearly love playing with one another.  And they are, to use a cliché, just happy to be here.  Grateful that anyone would even want to listen to them. 

“Fade” careens to a volcanic end.  The crowd cries out for more. 

“We don’t know anymore,” Jim laments, but these people aren’t having any of THAT.  “More!  MORE!”  The band huddles.  Jim is apparently trying to teach them the chords to a song(?)  Then:  Budda ba da!  Thwack!  Budda ba da!  Good God, they’re doing the old 60s chestnut, “Little Bit o’ Soul”!  Screams.  Claps.  Everyone joining in on the chorus.  What a perfect choice to end the show:  “And when you raise the roof with your rock and roll/You’ll get a lot more kicks with a little bit of soul!”

Yeah.  Good for you, Jim.  You finally found your band.  I’m glad for you.  But even more I’m happy for myself. 

I need all the love and joy I can get these days.

autoMAG Magazine

Is there anything you're feeling particularly mouthy about at the moment?
Yeah I always feel mouthy about something or other.  I suppose as far as music goes, I'm kinda down on our local music scene, which I'm learning more and more as I travel about and talk to other musicians is pretty much a reflection of the national scene, and not just in the smaller cities and towns.  And that's that it seems harder and harder to find places for an original material rock band to play.  And it's even harder to get people to come out to shows once you do get a booking.   Of course, if you're a cover band or a tribute band, no problem.  I live near a small city called Harrisonburg with three colleges in the area, including one with 18,000 students and it's very hard to get folks to go to shows.  And not just Book of Kills shows--actually we get a pretty good crowd locally, I suppose--it's just original music in general.  If you're not big-time, people just don't wanna know.  Also, I don't like how the cereal companies have been putting less cereal in their boxes and charging more for them.
Who are your biggest musical influences and why? Who were your early musical influences?
I have so many.  It started (yawn) with the Beatles when I was a little kid.  I loved the original British Invasion bands.  Other influences would include the 60s punks and to a slightly lesser degree the 70s punks.  I'd have to say the Pixies were a pretty big influence but mainly 'cause I have a very serious crush on Kim Deal.  I actually thought the better rock music of the 80s was awfully good music that easily stands up to any other era.

Where do you see your music heading?
Well...music in general is headed to the bank.  My music...I just don't know that I progress so much as continually try out different styles and sounds.  I'm not imaginative enough to reinvent the wheel.  I simply try to become a better songwriter.  In that regard, Robert Pollard has been an influence, even though we're around the same age, because of the strange chords he often likes to jam together.  He has some pretty weird sounding progressions where the first time you hear them you go, What the hell?  Then you begin to understand he hasn't locked himself into the way chords are 'supposed' to work off one another.

What music software do you use?
I use SoundForge 6.0 and T-Racks 2.0 mainly.  I don't have a whole lot of software.  I did use the Acid program last summer when I was recording an album called All About You.  It was fun but at the same time a bit tedious to sample stuff and then chop it up and process it and so on.
Is there any other music software you plan on getting?
I don't have any plans right now.  I just bought a Blue Max and a Blue Tube (a relatively cheap outboard compressor/pre-amp combo), a Rode NT1-A (which I love!), a Boss DR-770, and a Pod 2.0.  It's mainly stuff that I'll use when I record 'solo' material.

What's your home PC setup?
I have a Sony PCV-RX860 Digital Studio PC.   But I wish I'd bought a new Mac instead.  I started out Mac and then got frustrated back when they were putting out shitty products without Steve Jobs around.  Now their computers just kick ass, but I had so much PC-oriented stuff, I was hesitant about going back.
Do you write songs on keyboards or guitar?
I'm a VERY limited keyboard player, so I write most of my songs on my guitar.  Actually they come to me in my head first and then I try to find chords for them on the guitar.

Can you describe your songwriting methods?
Songs usually come to me in my head first and then I try to find chords for them on the guitar.  I can often hear an entire band playing in my head when a new song comes to me.  Even the sound of the vocals.  It's pretty much a daily event.  The really stupid thing is that I should carry around a little pocket recorder so I could take audio notes when the inspiration strikes but I don't.  So I usually lose about 75% of the ideas I have, like when I'm riding around in a car.  You wouldn't believe how many songs have come to me when I am driving.  I heard there's actually a reason songs come to you when you're driving.  Something about the right side of the brain sort of opens up because you're left side is kind of in a weird trance state or something.  I know other musicians who say they come up with a lot of ideas when they're driving too.
What made you decide to start making music of your own?
Well I guess the glamour of the whole rock scene when I was  a kid.  I suppose I'm pretty shy in a lot of ways and it seemed like it would be really cool to be a rock and roll musician and more or less force youself not to be so shy.  People find it hard to believe when I tell them I'm shy.  They laugh.

Are you active in your local music scene?
Not nearly as active as I should be.  I talk the scene up a lot.  Try to get bands together for the occasional show.  I'm so busy with family and job, in addition to my band, that I don't have as much time to do stuff like that as I wish I had.

Are there any music people you'd like to collaborate with?
Robert Pollard probably.  I just like his work ethic and of course the music he produces.  He's brilliant.  Kim Deal.  For other reasons.

How has the internet affected you as an artist?
It has provided me and the band with a good, cheap way for people to keep up with us.  Where we're playing, when we're releasing a cd.  But other than that it has had very little effect.  I used to sell and trade many more cassettes in the 'glory days' of homemade music when everyone kept track of what was going on in real paper 'zines than I do now with cd-r's and the internet supposedly being a godsend to home musicians.

Are there any other bands you're excited by?
It pains me to say this, but I think I'm getting to the point in my life where I'm looking backwards and listening to older stuff more than new stuff.  And I've realized how little I music I actually heard coming out of the 60s, 70s and 80s.  So I've tried to go back and pick up on bands I missed or didn't listen to as closely as I should have.  As far as groups who're putting albums out right now, I like GBV, of course; Radiohead is always interesting if a bit passionless at times; White Stripes are fun but a little samey-sounding; I liked the Strokes a lot, but I was envious of the fact that they sort of had an easy road into the business, at least compared to most bands, but they do have lots of talent.  Oh...I love the Flaming Lips!

What's next for you, musically speaking?
I'm working on recording an ep of 7-8 songs with Book of Kills, then we're thinking about doing an acoustic ep.  I'm also writing and recording a new album on my own.  I'm trying to do 20 songs by the end of the summer.  It's sort of a parody and sort of not.  Too hard to explain.  It's nothing earth-shatteringly new.  I'm also still trying to learn how to sing.  But I know I have a pretty limited voice.  I'd kill to have Pollard's voice.  Trying to learn new chords but most of them sound weird.

What did I forget to ask you?
Favorite color?  I could never actually figure out what my favorite color was.  I just like 'em all.
What's the URL for your website?

And give me a full discography
Oh my gosh...

Daily News-Record

When Class Is Dismissed, Harrisonburg High Teacher, Jim Nipe, Becomes Rock Star Jim Shelley
By Jennifer Holl, News-Record Correspondent

Smoky air wafts through the blue and yellow lights at Main Street Bar and Grill as crowds of teenagers leave their booth seats to sway closer to the stage. Book of Kills, one of Harrisonburg's longest standing rock and roll bands, has just broken into their first number, "Abandoned." The audience draws closer.

Casey Firkin, bare-chested and eyes closed, pounds a rhythm befitting the mohawk he dons on his head. His younger sister, Jane, strums a melodic rhythm and sings sweetly into the microphone. Bill Bird steps back, plucks his bass and smiles at the audience while Randy Simpson screeches out his screaming leads, jumping into the air and pounding his feet.

Front and center, shaggy-coiffed and bearded, peering out through wire-framed specs, Book of Kills frontman and originator, Jim Shelley, aka Jim Nipe, alternates spoken verse with wailing cries, melodic strumming with blistering solos.

Nipe plays under the name Jim Shelley as homage to British Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Following the example 60s folkster Bob Dylan set when he changed his surname from Zimmerman to reference poet Dylan Thomas, Nipe said, "He named himself after a poet so I did too."

Nipe's nom de plume is only one of his band's many literary ties. As a Harrisonburg High School English teacher for the past 21 years, Nipe has interwoven his love of literature into his passion for music in several ways, from his poet-inspired alias to his poetic lyrics to the band's name, which refers to a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan, in itself a play on the ancient Anglo-Saxon "Book of Kells."

Nipe has played and recorded under the name Shelley since he began Book of Kills in 1988. Originally Nipe's solo project, Book of Kills has seen several permutations in its 13-year history and has featured some 22 different musicians consisting at various times of Nipe's friends, former students, and local musicians found through advertisements.

Shelley, though, remains the constant. Thirty albums and as many as 100 (actually over 300 - JS) recordings later, the band is a regular favorite at Harrisonburg's Little Grill and plays regularly at Main Street Bar and Grill and Charlottesville's Tokyo Rose.


Nipe began playing music at 12 when his parents bought him his first electric guitar from Sears. He has played in and out of bands since he was 15 until forming Book of Kills. "I just can't imagine not doing it," Nipe says. "It makes life seem a good deal more interesting."

Praised by critics for their "variety and depth" and known locally for their punk-inspired, hard-edged tunes as well as their melodic ballads, Book of Kills's latest incarnation features brother-sister team Casey and Jane Firkin on drums and rhythm guitar respectively, Bird on bass guitar, and newest member Simpson on lead guitar.

Jane Firkin wrote her first song, "Lunar Lullaby", in the bathtub when she was 12-years old, and she credits her musical parents for her and her brother's abilities.

Bird has played guitar since he was a teenager. He joined a heavy metal band at age 15 before he even knew how to play.

Simpson, who played his first gig with Book of Kills in July, attributes his talent and inspiration to his father, Mike Simpson, a local singer, songwriter, and guitarist.


Not only does each member of the band claim a different musical background, but the all share different ties to Nipe as well. The Firkins met Nipe and joined the project last year. Bird and Simpson are both former HHS students, and Andrew Neckowitz, the band's manager, is a long-time Book of Kills fan and one of Nipe's former students.

Neckowitz met Nipe in 1991 as a freshman in Nipe's creative writing club. A friend introduced him to one of Nipe's recordings.

"Every formation of (Book of Kills) was unique and interesting," Neckowitz said. "But these four people are the best the band has ever seen."

Nipe said maintaining a band with so many different members and balancing the project with his teaching career has been worth the effort.

"We all have fun together and love playing music beyond words," Nipe said. "I think people realize that when they come to see us. In fact, one girl who has come to see us several times told me that she liked to watch us play because it made her feel happy because she could see we were happy to be playing."

And Nipe happily juggles his duties as teacher and his passion for music, noting the support he has received from the high school. "(The faculty at HHS) are really positive, and the students are really interested in it," Nipe said. "I get questions every week (from students who ask) 'are you in a band?'"

The GAJOOB Interview


Jim Shelley Interview
posted: 07/18/05 22:51:07

How did you get started home recording?

It's kind of cloudy now when I think back on how I got started in home recording. I know that I loved music since I was a little teeny kid. My parents bought me a cheesy Sears acoustic guitar and I've been trying to learn how to play it ever since. Anyway...I've always loved listening to HOW
people put records together, especially earlier bands like the Beatles who did so much with so little in the way of equipment.

When I discovered that there were four track cassette decks on the market, I drove up to Washington Music in Maryland and bought a Tascam Portastudio. My credit card was overcharged but I had enough money in my checking account to just cover it. I think I lived on a half loaf of bread and water for a month until my next check. But when I got home! Oh MAN! I wrote 15-20 songs in a very short time (many of which appeared on "12 Songs") and basically learned how to use the portastudio while writing and recording the new songs. I was very strictly into a sort of classic pop song verse chorus verse chorus bridge etc. etc. thing but I still like most of the songs I wrote then.

Give us a brief rundown of your releases.
I've put out way too many albums to talk about in any detail, but I'll give a brief rundown and you can edit as you see fit...

12/74 - NOIZ: A collection I did at a very tender age. Crazed guitar noise, screaming and pots and pans banging along with weird backward sounds which I got by turning the tape inside out or something. (This was when i had a reel to reel.) Why was I doing this sort of thing as a child? No idea.

12/79 - 12 Songs. See above. A boy in love with pop music.

07/87 - What I Did On My Summer Vacation. A three hour collection of various crap I'd done over the last 13 years.

Okay...then in 1988, I fell in love with Sonic Youth and Live Skull and early Pixies and was already listening to Husker Du and various other earlier CA bands like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc. and I wrote a song called "The Night John Lennon Died." This is the single most important thing I've ever done because it defined my musical direction. The next summer I put together BLOOM OR DIE, my first REAL album, and sent it to Jim Santo at ALTERNATIVE PRESS and HE REVIEWED IT! AND HE LIKED IT! If that had not happened, I doubt that I would've put out another tape. There are over 600 copies of BLOOM in circulation.

That’s amazing for a DiY release! Did you get 600 responses from the Jim Santo review alone?
I didn't get 600 responses from Santo's review...actually at best I got a dozen inquiries specifically related to that particular column. In fact, I got many many more responses from an extremely negative review (which I never saw, by the way) in MAXIMUM ROCK AND ROLL! And ironically, the inquiries I got were almost uniformly sympathetic. I've maintained correspondence with a couple of those people to this very day.

Anyway there are over 600 copies of the tape in circulation because about 400 people have bought it over the years and I've given away tons of them. Additionally, there are a lot of dubs made of my stuff, which I encourage, of course.

How do you feel about AP dropping Jim Santo’s Demorandum column?
I think that was inevitable. AP has gotten awfully big; perhaps they felt that Jim's column just didn't appeal to that many readers. And, really, it seemed kind of out of place in AP anymore anyway, didn't it? I don't know the real reasons, actually, and never really asked Jim about it. I thought it was the liveliest column by far in the magazine. I know he's putting together something for AP's net zine but I don't know when that's going to come together. Anyway, the loss of "Demorandum," I thought, was a major blow. It pretty much leaves GAJOOB all alone in the spotlight.

What comes after Bloom or Die?
In 1991, I put out FOR THE GOOD OF THE CAUSE, a collection of stuff I'd done in 1990 plus some radical deconstructions of some ancient folk songs from '91. I sent this one to AP also, and Santo gave it a really great review. I got several inquiries from AP readers after that and some of them became 'long-time' listeners.

I put out three albums in '92...DON'T STOP THE SCREAM, 8 FROM THE ATTIC and THE HAUNTED LIFE. SCREAM got really nice reviews from AP and a couple of smaller 'zines. HAUNTED LIFE is one of my lowest sellers but I think it is by far one of my best...it is basically the sound of a man having a nervous breakdown. But I generally do some of my best work when I'm hovering on the edge of insanity.

‘93...depression yielded one of my better selling tapes, WEE JIM'S BLACKEYE. I still do a lot of songs from that one live...not that I play live much. Also in '93 I came up with the idea of putting out occasional compilations of old unreleased stuff under the catch-all title BIG BUSINESS MONKEY. This one is still the most popular of the three.

In '94, as I was assembling a group of musicians for what became a really nice but short-lived (one year) band, I decided to put out a best-of and slammed together 90 minutes of new and old stuff and called it IN MY ROOM - THE BEST OF BOOK OF KILLS. It has become a very popular tape (in relative terms, of course) and Jim Santo wrote "Along with FM Cornog, Jim Shelley belongs in the lo-fi pantheon" about it and me...and I got a lot of inquiries but not many orders. Also '94: SONGS FOR A GONE WORLD. Really weird stuff kinda influenced by Chrome. DETRITUS...band versions of new and old material...sold for $2...sold like hot cakes locally until the master tape fucked up...now it's a pseudo collector's item. I don't even have one!

BIG BUSINESS MONKEY #2 in '95 along with SAINT JUDAS. By this time I'd decided to send tapes to you and IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION and God bless you both, you both gave me very nice reviews. AP said it was my best album ever, but I don't know... Shortly after that I put out my first ever 7" which sold 26 copies. Ouch. But the local college radio station played the hell out of it for about a month.

BBM #3 came out in June of this year. I just released a 90 minute tape of new material SPLENDID TRIGGER which is a sort of story in musical form (NOT a rock opera)...a long time listener said it makes him feel "cold and empty." I don't know...it's weird. I worked with others on the tape...it's something I'm proud of but very unsure of too.

Gosh...I have gone on, haven't I?

Tell us a little more about Spendid Trigger. How is this a departure from your pervious material?
SPLENDID TRIGGER is a tape I finished in August right before I had to go back to teaching school. It's a bit of a departure, I suppose, for one because it's like a 90 minute 29 song musical story. NOT a rock opera, God forbid. More along the lines of Husker Du's ZEN ARCADE, but a little more focused. Too, it's a little more subdued than a lot of my stuff. My last live band was so loud and raucous that I guess this tape's a bit of a shock to some listeners. It hasn't sold very well. Eleven copies so far. You don't get rich doing this you know. I guess it's also different in that I play a lot more keyboard on this one. Bought a relatively cheap Casio (is that redundant?) and used it a lot. I'm very proud of the lyrics on this album. I did have help this time from various people.

You covered several songs by hometaper Scott Johnson. How did this come about?
I used the Scott Johnson songs because I really like Scott's music and don't feel (at least according to what he used to write me) that he gets any recognition at all. Not that I get any either (what hometaper does?), but I like his music--it's so full of fragile emotions.

How has the response been?
Unfortunately, as I told you before, this latest tape has turned out to be the biggest dud I've ever put out...I've only sold 12 copies! That compares with several hundred copies of some of my other
tapes. Nobody seems to like it. That really sucks considering how much time I put into it, but...really...who does this to sell tapes? Then again, it just came out, so who knows.

I think people have come to expect a certain sound from me and I just refuse to pigeon hole myself. I had similar dismal results when I put out "Song for a Gone World" which was sort of a semi-noise collage thing. That came out in '92 or '93 and I've sold fewer than 20 copies of that one since.

I've always wondered what other hometapers feelings were about sales. What sort of sales figures do others report? Really, when I add up the cost of buying a recorder, instruments, mics, tapes, paper, etc. I have lost several thousand dollars making music...a fact I've scrupulously hidden from my wife. You have to ask yourself how pathetic your desire to create really is, you know? I don't mean to sound so cynical but it's a tough thing to swallow. It seems invariably to come back to the fact that hometapers are perceived to be "amateurs" or somehow "deficient" and therefore their music isn't worth actually purchasing. I know we're not "supposed" to worry about that but who doesn't really?

It’s ironic that at a time where interest in hometaping and lo-fi recording (as opposed to lo-fi recordingS, perhaps) is at an alltime high and seemingly growing all the time, longtime hometapers still can’t make any inroads in getting their music heard. Do you think it’s the destiny of hometapers to labor in obscurity? I think most hometapers will labor in obscurity for several reasons. One, and I hope no one's offended by this because I'm including myself, I think there's probably something wrong with people who sit around in their basement or bedroom or garage and record albums on cassette tape. Who the hell is really gonna care other than a small band of listeners, if that? So I don't think most hometapers could cope with the demands of a musical career.

Secondly, most hometapers' music just isn't ever gonna appeal to very many people. Whatever else you might say about them, you must grant that a number of hometapers are extraordinarily strange and adventuresome and interesting. Of course, many more of them are just plain lame, but so are most professional musicians. But the average music consumer doesn't want strange music that they can't latch onto right away. Good hometapers demand an awful lot from the listener. 'Course, I guess most truly worthwhile musicians do.

Thirdly, I know some hometapers are happy right where they are. They don't wanna be rich and famous. I admire the hell out of that attitude. But to be truthful, I'd like to be able to make a living from my music. And finally, I don't think most hometapers understand what they need to do to achieve recognition. Or perhaps they do and just aren't willing to expend energy in that direction. If you want people to hear your music, you have to take it to them. You have to be willing to starve for a while. You have to be willing to sleep on cold hard floors in dirty apartments as you travel up and down and back and forth across the nation. You have to be willing to get ripped off by the unscrupulous owners of the various dives you're gonna play. You have to be able to take an occasional stoney silent audience somewhere along the line. You must be able to listen to record executives tell you your music sucks and believe they're wrong. And when it all seems as though you're never gonna be a success and you hear the stability of a 9 to 5 calling, you have to believe that you WILL make it and the 9 to 5 can suck eggs. You can never give up!

Is being “unsure” of a release a common feeling immediately after putting something out for consumption? As far as being unsure of one's self, sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not. It was excruciating to send BLOOM OR DIE off to AP and MRR. I mean, some local people really liked the tape, but I didn't know if that was because it was sort of a novelty for their friend to have put out a tape or what. Fortunately I didn't see the MRR review. I might've stopped recording! But usually after I record an album, I'm so excited over the act of creation that I can't wait for people to hear it.
It's very hard for me to be objective about my own music especially new stuff.

One thing I find interesting about your networking activities is your newsletter. How did you come about doing this? How many people on your mailing list? Have there been any interesting results from publishing it? As far as the newsletter goes, I realized when some people from out of state started writing me that if I wanted to maintain contact with them (i.e. sell them more tapes) I'd have to come up with a newsletter thing. Which is what I did. I now send one out about 3 times a year. I don't know if it's worth doing. I send out about 130 newsletters at a time and that's over $40 in costs. Does it pay for itself? It's hard to say...it keeps me in the listener's mind I guess, but if you sell tapes for $3-4 a piece it'll take a long time to recoup the costs just of the newsletters because hometapers don't sell a lot of tapes no matter what they try.

That's why I want to be on a record label...it's so frustrating to have written so many songs (over 200) and put out so many tapes (over 17...I didn't list them all, believe it or not) but I can't seem to make myself send off a tape. The one time I did, Trent Reznor's old label TVT sent an inquiry. I sent him three tapes and never heard anything back. Then about a year later, they sent another inquiry and I told them to fuck themselves. Afterwards, I sent tapes to some real small labels and none of them wrote back.

It's very strange because I've had such nice reviews from the 'zines I've sent tapes too and when I play live the shows border on rabid response, but it's like somehow I suck...I don't know...I can't stop. Sorry to ramble so much...

Have you tried using any resources on the internet to let people know about your stuff? I would love to use internet resources but I don't know how. I love computers and the 'net, but I'm a bozo when it comes to using this stuff. A guy I knew who goes to James Madison University tried to set up a Book of Kills web page but he just didn't have the time to do it. I was really
flattered to hear he'd tried, though. I thought it was a real honor.

I think you've mentioned this before somewhere, but are any of your students familiar with your hometaping? What do they think of your stuff? I teach English and Creative Writing. It's often fun and usually rewarding, but there's an awful lot of ignorance and pettiness and small-mindedness involved. And while i suspect that goes double for the music world, I wish I could make a living in music. But like I wrote in a song a long time ago, "Wishing never made a single dream come true..."

My students are very aware that I play in a band and put out tapes. There've been some great shows in the last 5-6 years in which students and former students have composed a large part of pretty out of control audience. I'm not really sure exactly who buys my tapes locally but they sell fairly consistently. I've noticed though that sales slow down noticeably if I haven't played live in a few months. Promoting your music with a band remains the single best means of self-promotion...no getting around it. As far as what they think of my stuff...I guess they're pretty into it for the most part. Hell...I don't know...maybe they're just humoring me.

Do you have any ideas on your next release?
I'm at a real crisis point in terms of my next release. I've started another band and we're oriented towards the old Book of Kills sound...I don't know what that is...sort of folk and punk and Beatles all tossed together but I'm weary of putting out tapes of fairly straightforward rock tunes. I mean I love great pop music...it's the best, but I just want to do something else. I really love the experimental stuff going on in electronic music...I can't get enough of the various permutations of that sort of music...it's heading into a really interesting mix of metal, jazz, techno, punk...you name it and I'd like to try my hand at it. So I've been mulling over buying a decent synthesizer and seeing what I can do. The one thing about most electronic music is very very few people seem to be able to put any emotion into it and that's what I'd like to try to do.

Do you come upon ideas for tapes sort of by sudden inspiration, or do they perhaps gel into a framework as you are working on songs or working with other people?

Songs come two ways for me...all of a sudden or I labor over them for hours at a time. Particularly the words. The more songs you write the harder it is to come up with a new way to say something. I guess that's why a good portion of my songs feature lyrics that are basically just a jumble of
vaguely related images. I know some people say the songs that come to you out of the blue are the best ones, but I don't necessarily find that to be true. I have a feeling many of the very greatest pop songs probably were the result of a lot of sweat and tears. Sometimes when I have to have a song to feel out an album, I'll just pick a song by some other artist and sort of work a variation on it and occasionally I get some pretty cool songs that way.

Some differences, pros and cons on recording your last project with other musicians as opposed to doing it solo? I like to record with other people but they rarely seem to understand where I'm coming from...that is what I want them to play. But I give people a lot of leeway to do what they want. I always try to play with people who are much better musicians than I am...they push you to try new things and
they really do open your eyes to different possibilities. Still...it can be a pain.

How do your music activities affect your home life and vice versa? Somebody once said that the great enemy of art is the family and that's true. So you have to have an understanding family. Still, if I didn't have a family I'd probably long ago headed off to New York or D.C. or somewhere. You make your choices and then you live with the responsibilities. I've put out 17 tapes in the last 7 years but if I'd lived alone I would've probably doubled that number. But I love my family. Hell...I don't know. Maybe without them I'd have blown my head off a long time ago.

Briefly describe your recording setup and how it's evolved over the years. I've never been able to put much money into my recording gear. I still use a $100 acoustic guitar I bought years and years ago. And I have a cheap Japanese Telecaster that's falling apart. For keyboards I use a crappy little Casio and I mix through an old Yamaha powered mixer that constantly malfunctions. What a load of junk it all is. I made my first tapes on a Tascam Portastudio, then later picked up a TOA 8 track for really cheap. I finally saved up enough this summer to buy a Tascam 8 track. It's really nice. But I'm still getting used to it. I did SPLENDID TRIGGER on it but, as you know, I'm not at all pleased with the mix. Most of my songs are guitar based. I just record direct into the tape player. I know the experts say not to but it works for me...gives your music a real claustrophobic feel which I like.

Are looking at any new equipment with lust in your heart?
I'm lusting after a new amp, but it's gonna have to be a choice between the amp or the synth. I'd also like to get a cd-r. It's all up in the air right now.

Do you have any favorite hometapers?
My favorite hometapers are local people. I think you have to throw your support first and foremost to those artists who live in your city or town or where ever. Around here, I really like Robert St. Ours, who I believe is an undiscovered near-genius; Bruce Benedict, a nice folk singer; the now-defunct Necromantics; Blistre (now known as Blisstrigger) which is a really cool Christian noise band; and nationally F.M. Cornog. But F.M.'s put out a cd or two and has gotten some national press, so I don't know if he "counts" anymore. Jim Santo's band, Jennifer Convertible, is pretty cool too, but they're on the verge of getting signed I think, so maybe they don't count either. Oh...I really like Heather Perkins and Bat Lenny. And then there's Daniel Johnston. He may have been signed by a record company but he'll always be one of the gods of hometaping...he's so brilliant.

See, I Finally Have Something To Say...

"See, I finally have something to say. After several years, my mind has come full circle. I'd flirted with a few BOK tapes over the past few years, but my heart hasn't been fully into them. What can I say? I guess I just lost touch with the music. With Jim.

"I've spent my years since high school searching daily for heaven (paradise, whatever) and finding nothing but real life. And every time I come back to Harrisonburg, I ask Tom at Town and Campus Records if James Shelley has put anything new out. And generally the answer is a solemn, 'No'. I understand. I guess I know Jim personally. Whether he realizes it or not, he helped me. Enormously. When I was feeling alone and just plain fucked up, I could talk to him. And when I didn't have time to see him,
his music helped to remind me that we're all fucked up ('We're all mad here; I'm mad, you're mad...'). And so I left for school, Jim moved, and I haven't spoken to him much since. I think about him whenever I'm home. I drive by The Little Grill, and remember moshing to his band's heavy songs. And getting affected deeply by the rough (but so beautiful, not to sound trite) version of 'Heaven.And the disturbing 'Little Boy Lost.'
"I bought a live Hendrix CD today. 'Little Wing' is the first song. It's a song that has always moved me. Hendrix sings the verses, then he plays for a while and shuts up, captures you with the guitar. Then Jimi (may I call him Jimi?) sums up my dreams and desires in one simple line: 'Fly high, Little Wing.' I hope Jim Shelley can hear those words still. I hope he knows that there are those of us out here who will never forget him. He has affected us all.
'Like I was saying, though, I went away to school. Harrisonburg became my second home, Blacksburg my first. I'm not sure if I even kept Jim's number. I hope so. I saw him last summer. We talked in Wal-Mart about him taking his children fishing. I realized then that as two people, we are miles apart. I guess that bothered me at first. Someone I admired so much as my teacher in high school was so different and seemed so hard for me to talk to. Because what was there to talk about? Gerunds? Dangling modifiers?
"His bands had all fallen flat. No one else had his dedication. Nor his love, his inherent and unbelievable love for the music.

"I wonder what his current students think of him. I wonder if he still sends out 'Notes From Underground'. I didn't know Jim that well outside of school. I thought I did. I thought of him as my friend. But in truth, he was my teacher. Not just in the sense that he taught me English and Creative Writing. Standing there in the Walmart, I felt as though I had lost a friend, because I had nothing to say to him once I was away at Virginia Tech. But tonight I have something to say.
"Jim is everyone's friend whom he can be a friend to. In that sense, he will always be my friend. I may not know every day what's happening in his life, but I will always have something that he has given me: Knowledge.

"I saw how much it hurt him when a new formation of BOK didn't work out. I read his letters again recently and noted the sarcasm and defensiveness he used to control his excitement when a new version of the band became a possibility. He even thanked me once on the inside cover of one of his tapes. I think it was me, anyway. (It was. -- ed.) Among the usual names was one extra: 'Andy'. I wonder if he realizes what that meant to me. Still means to me.

"Hey, I have something to say. This man, who has led twice the life I have both in years and otherwise, showed me that life is about being real. It's not about what 'they' think (since 'everybody's got a fuckin' opinion') or what we read in books. It's about living. Jim, so far, does not have a big record contract. He is a home taper. That bothers him, I know. But I think he sometimes overlooks one very important point: The music business is about entertainment. And while Jim wants to (and does) entertain, his music is mostly about being real. And the couple hundred copies he sells of each album mean more to those who buy them than any over-produced, corporate garbage that we all ingest and dispose of daily.

"Jim seems distraught when I talk to him now. He seems depressed that things aren't going the way he might have dared dream. But he taught me that living and doing what you desire are the most important things in life. Maybe, if nothing else, he can learn from me that his philosophy is damn right. Who needs assholes trying to sell music to the masses when Rockingham County has its own fucking-a musical genius to appreciate?

"Hey, I've got something to say. It took me three years to realize that Jim is a real person. And while I guess I don't know him very well, he taught me a lot. And I hope he realizes that. I hope he keeps making music, and I hope he is happy. I hope he never fades away like so many a 'rock star'. And I hope I can find his damn phone number, because it's been entirely too long since he and I have spoken."


The Cassette Culture Interview

Cassette Culture in the Digital Age

 Interview with Jim Shelley By Sean Pearsall

A study by Bohlman & McMurray (2017) expresses the notion that formats such as the LP or the MP3 have been subject to major studies, but tape recording and tape culture have often been left aside. Do you agree and what’s your opinion? I would agree that the study of tape culture has taken a backseat in comparison to the scads of research done on MP3s and records. I’m not sure why cassette culture in particular never seemed to get the same attention as other recording formats. After all, to this day cassettes are still popular in many areas of the world. But in America, the United Kingdom, Europe, and other so-called “first world countries”, tapes have always been looked at as sonically inferior to records and digital formats and rather unwieldy and prone to breaking. Perhaps the real reason cassette recording has seldom been given much attention is simply that in comparison to the total population a very small number of people has ever participated in multitrack recording in the first place, and those who did far more often than not created music that wasn’t commercially palatable. 

What’s your assumptions on past and present cassette culture and their differences? In the past, recording on multitrack cassette was relatively cheap and pretty easy and, for a very long time, recording on a computer wasn’t a viable option. Therefore, in a sense, it was the only game in town and if you wanted to multitrack the only choice for most people was cassette. Reel-to-reel was too expensive. And recording on tape usually meant people had to be able to play an instrument well enough to make it through a whole song without messing up too badly. Now, of course, just about everyone has access to a digital recording format and, in truth, one doesn’t even really need to know how to play well, or at all, in order to create music. And you could make the argument that recording digitally is ultimately far easier than recording on cassette. So it strikes me that recording on cassette is more of an esoteric (and, on occasion hipster) choice nowadays. The more profound difference, however, is that the supportive, enthusiastic, very interactive community that revolved around cassettes in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including even big-time magazines such as Alternative Press and Maximum Rock n Roll, largely no longer exists. I made several life-long friends within the cassette recording revolution of the ‘80s and ‘90s and for a long time kept regular contact with people from Brazil to Australia to England to Germany to you name it.

What’s the appeal of cassette tapes? The sound is different certainly. There’s a kind of warmth and cohesiveness to the sound of cassettes that can’t be replicated with software. I think using multitrack cassettes forces one to be a little bit more creative in solving sonic and aesthetic problems. We all know the old cliche that constraints boost creativity…well, it might be a cliche, but it’s a cliche ‘cause it’s true. Designing cassette inserts was a very big part of creating an album back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I know that I spent A LOT of time making my inserts “just right”. Having a material object to hold makes a difference too, doesn’t it? It’s nice to have something that actually exists in the analog sense of the word. We’re tactile people, after all.

How many cassette units do you normally distribute and how are sales compared to other formats? I no longer sell cassettes. Almost all of my sales over the past nine or ten years have been through CDs and streaming and downloads, though in the last three or four years, streaming has drastically increased while downloading has drastically decreased. Few people seem to want a CD these days, though some older listeners still seem to like them. I have a friend who is in a fairly popular noise band who still sells the occasional cassette, however.

Do you have a collection of cassette tapes? I have a few cassette albums from the old days left. Not many though. Most of them either wore out or broke or were misplaced.

What’s the future for old formats such as cassettes? I don’t think one can ever reliably predict the future of anything, let alone cassettes, but my guess would be that there will continue to be a small batch of folks who prefer to use multitrack cassettes for one reason or another…probably for the “coolness” factor more than anything else. As much as I loved recording with cassettes (and quite a bit of my best work was done with tape), it’s easier for me nowadays to use a computer to record. And I suppose one could argue that it’s cheaper now. That’s too bad, because the cassette culture community was quite vibrant and creative and inviting. I truly truly miss those days.


Daily News-Record


Teacher/Musician Loves Walking Around Bridgewater
By Jen Bonds

(Feature article in the Daily News-Record – February 12, 2003)

Imagine walking a mile in Jim Nipe’s shoes. The Bridgewater resident describes walking aorund his town as a favorite pastime, possibly serving as a dose of tranquility for a full and hectic life.

I love going for walks around Bridgewater,” the easy-going Nipe says. “It’s a place where the people who run this town – and I say this absolutely seriously – actually care about making its citizen’s lives good.”

And with the walks around town – along with random-but-feels-right conversations – Nipe could possibly find peace in his seemingly double life of high school English teacher by day and rock musician by night. Or maybe the two aren’t that far apart.

The Bridgewater College alumnus has been a very prominent fixture in the lives of many, mainly Harrisonburg High School students and aspiring musicians, encouraging the utmost creativity with whatever activity consumes him.

Citing two especially influential teachers as the reason for his career decision 25 years ago, Nipe says teaching at the high school level “has always appealed to me because you can have such a profound effect on the kids.”

And Harrisonburg’s senior English, creative writing, and film studies teacher has always had a main objective for the students who come through his doors.

I want them to be good writers, but I also want them to be good thinkers,” he says thoughtfully. “I have a lot of kids throughout the day who’ll come up to me and be like, “Wow, I never thought about it like that before.”

Remembering what it was like to be in the same place as his students, Nipe says he tries to make learning a little less painful with humor and discussion and also by encouraging students to use their individual creative capabilities.

You sort of try to get them to do things without their realizing that they’re doing them,” he laughs. “I try to go back and remember what it was like to be 17 or 18.”

The information revolution of the past few decades has led to an evolution in teaching methods, and those changes are not lost on Nipe. When he was in school, technology meant watching a filmstrip or listening to a record a few times a semester.

Technology is so amazing,” he says, pointing to his high tech film studies class that mixes computers with film ediing software. Nipe says he’s also go a principal and librarian to thank or being supportive of the arts “...and realizing the importance of the imagination.”

When the final bell rings at HHS, though, Nipe’s artistry valve doesn’ts shut off. In his school shirt and tie, it’s hard to picture him at the forefront of a local band and sweaty rock and roll fiasco – his own brainchild, Book of Kills.

Named as a play on words after the old Irish Book of Kells, the troupe doesn't exude the heavy metal connotation the name suggests. Things also aren't what they seem as Nipe takes on the personification of Jim Shelley, named after a favorite poet, Percy Shelley.

"It's sort of a cover-up...I thought, well, if Bob Dylan can do it, I can do it too," he chuckles. "He took his name from (poet) Dylan Thomas."

Playing since 1994, Nipe has written over 300 songs, recorded over 50 releases, and played countless performances with various people making up different incarnations of the band. He seemed to remain the only constant member until two years ago when he got together with the members of the current group. That band has covered a lot of ground and cultivated its own cult of fans.

"They just understand what I'm getting at," Nipe says with a conceding smirk. "In a way, BOK is a band of misfits, and we attract a lot of misfits."

Attributing a wide range of musical influences in the shaping of the band's sound, Nipe says their style is sometimes hard to pin down. Ultimately it's a "punk jam band," he says, noting how a range of genres seem to emerge whenever people try to interpret them.

"I heard the best description once...a woman came up to me and said, "You sound like the Sex Pistols crossed with the Grateful Dead, interpreted by Bob Dylan, backed by Echo and the Bunnymen," he laughs. "But it's perfect when you think about it."

Having been immersed in music for the majority of his life, Nipe recalls the day the first spark was set for him as an 11-year-old.

It was the first night the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, a performance that would be the catalyst for American's rock'n'roll revolution.

"I still remember vividly sitting there in front of the TV with my mom and dad," he says smiling. "Dad was complaining about how long their hair was."

Nipe recalls being "dumbstruck" and as a result of the performance he asked his parents for his first guitar, beginning the process of self-instruction.

"I tried to start teaching myself to play, and I don't know many more chords than I did when I was twelve," he laughs.

Though the band plays a majority of their shows in Harrisonburg, Nipe says most of his students aren't aware that he plays in a group--except for the ones who are in groups themselves.

"I had a lot of kids back in the mid-90s--when rock was big, Nirvana and all that--come up and say, 'Hey man, you're in a band?' But half the school seemed to be in a band," he says, recalling the grunge explosion that quickly replaced hair bands and heavy metal. Nipe says he still gets students who seek counsel in areas like performing and recording.

If Nipe can have it his way, he will continue to play as long as he can. He confesses that the dynamic of the people he comes into contact with gives him the drive to keep moving.

"I love hanging around musicians and people who hang around them," he says. "I just find them so interesting and I can talk to people like that."


Is Jim Shelley Dead?


Back in the late '90s when bookofkills.com was still in its infancy, several people regularly contributed articles to this website. Too, there was a second BOK web page for a year or two, though I don't recall who ran it or when it was active. This particular tongue-in-cheek article appeared some time in the early '90s I'm assuming. I'd long forgotten about it until I re-discovered it in a recent search for old photographs:

Is Jim Shelley Dead?

by Mr. X

First off, I want to thank the people who run this web site for giving me this opportunity to explain my theories in detail. The shocking truth, however terrible for fans around the world, must be revealed. I believe that Jim Shelley died in a suspicious fiery single car accident sometime during the spring of 1992. Unbeknownst to his legions of fans, he was replaced by a surgically altered double (whose identity I will eventually reveal on this very web page) who has continued to release his own material in the guise of the deceased Shelley to this very day, thus preserving the lucrative money machine we all know as Book of Kills.

I want to begin by drawing everyone's attention to the vast difference between the music Jim Shelley made before August 1992 and the music "Jim Shelley" made after August 1992. Just listen to "Don't Stop the Scream" which was released in April 1992 and "The Haunted Life" which was released barely six months later in October of the same year. "Don't Stop the Scream" is filled with precise mechanical beats, searing buzz saw guitars, and tortured distorted vocals, while the songs of "The Haunted Life" are filled with acoustic guitars, lazy loping drums, and nasally, almost Dylanesque singing. The themes covered in both albums couldn't be more different either. Could the same artist have made these two incredibly different albums, and only a half year apart from one another? While it's certainly possible, it seems doubtful to me.

But things get even dicier when we start to examine "The Haunted Life" (both the music and the album cover) and many startling clues begin to emerge. Consider the song titles. The very first is "Heaven"! A not so subtle clue as to Jim's "new address"? And the very next song is entitled "In My Room" which in 19th Century England was a euphemism for being "in one's casket," in other words, having passed on to the next life. Also consider that there are not just one but two song titles on the album with the word "Haunted" in them. "Haunted" as in by a ghost? Are perhaps Jim's double and Ain't Records mogul Jordan Williams haunted by Jim's memory? We know they're sad because the two songs after "In My Room" are "Blue Man" and "Haunted Road Blues"! In a round about way are we being told that Jordan and Jim's imposter are feeling grief for obvious reasons?

The very next song is titled (get this!) "Notes from Underground"! The only conclusion we can draw from this is that the imposter has released an album perhaps using as blueprints some of Jim's previously unreleased lyrics! In other words, we are getting words from the dead! Notes from the buried! But the most startling song title of all on this album is the one that starts off the second side of the original cassette version: "New James Shelley Blues"! Could the plot be more blatant? We are literally being told that there is a new Jim Shelley! And all of us have been too blind to see the truth!

There are some visual clues on the album as well. Aaron Farrington's cover artwork shows a green (corpse) faced being seemingly buried with a new orange faced being sprouting out of the ground and yet connected to the old face. And the new face is sticking its tongue out at us! Are we being mocked? Also, the picture of Jim used on the inside of the insert is at least 2-3 years old. Should we believe there were no newer photographs of Jim available, no current photos? Not if Jim had already passed away! And look at the photograph taken of Studio One at the Fabulous Attic Studios in Dayton ("A nice place to record.") The beloved old chair Jim had always sat in to record is EMPTY! And a Mexican funeral drum used during Day of the Dead ceremonies sits on it instead. And on the recording console is an open Bible! Equally startling are the words printed just above the picture: OVER! As in "out"! As in "done"! As in "finis"? As in "this bird has flown the coop and ain't coming back"!

As in DEAD!

And just one more thing. In the little seen promotional flyer for "The Haunted Life" we find three photographs. The first, a baby photograph, has the word "Memories" above it. The second is a picture of an unknown man in a tuxedo sitting down to some sort of banquet (perhaps a feast of the dead or perhaps symbolic of the "eating" of Jim's musical legacy by Ain't Records?) and above this picture is the word "Facts." Maybe we are being told we need to accept the facts of this terrible tragedy. In the third and final photograph we see a picture of a man who looks not unlike Jim with his face completely blotted out! And beneath this photograph is the word "Lies"! Obviously we are being told that we have been and are being duped! And the text to the poster takes things even one step further. It reads: "An all new album! All new songs! An all new Jim Shelley! 'The Haunted Life'."

And here are some more things for you to consider: Why are there no photographs of Jim on his albums after "The Haunted Life"? When I get access to a scanner (as I am hoping to do very soon), I will show you photos of "Jim" from before 1992 and after. There is, to my eyes, a difference in appearances. Why did "Jim" grow a beard (that he has kept since 1992) during this time? Is he hiding an imperfect plastic surgery job? "Jim" has on several occasions, in both interviews and album notes, alluded to something very serious happening during the spring or summer of 1992. In a 1992 interview with Jordan Williams, Jim noted that he had been lately been extremely depressed. What was this bothersome "something" that had never been adequately specified? Very strangely, in my research into this matter I came across an insurance claim filed by "Jim" and his wife in the spring sometime after "Don't Stop the Scream" was finished for the loss of one of their cars--TOTALED BY FIRE apparently somewhere in Bridgewater, Virginia, the town where "Jim" moved to in 1996.

Everyone who knows "Jim" well is aware that he likes to toy around with anagrams. With this knowledge in mind, I focused on the title of "The Haunted Life" for possible revealing combinations. I was puzzled by the fact that the original cassette version of this album had a single (') quotation mark around the title. Then I worked out this incredible combination: He flaunted th'lie. Was this some sort of message the "new" Jim was sending his fans? What does it mean, if indeed it is a message of some sort? Was the real Jim in trouble? Living some unknown lie? I must ponder the implications further before I can make a final conclusion.