From the fanzine Ink Disease
Issue #13, Winter 1988
The meat of the Ink Disease staff (Steve, Thomas, Brian, and Flint) were on hand to interview To Damascus on a sultry Thursday night at Ben Franks on the Sunset Strip. After being kept waiting for a near eternity while suffering the stares of grotesque, post ovulating waitresses, To Damascus arrived. Spent from their glamour photo session with a pornographically-subsidized glossy fanzine (Spin Magazine), Sylvia, Tyran and David ordered dishes that nobody had ordered in many years or eaten in many decades. In between chews, To Damascus answered while Ink Disease asked.
ID: Does your band have any relation to Mission of Burma?
SYLVIA (guitar and vocals): Mission of Burma. No one has ever mentioned that, but now I realize they're going somewhere too ... Bur, ours is much more happening. I wouldn't want to go to Burma ...
SYLVIA: We were talking about that earlier today. Why do we waste all our time trying to appeal to the white ...
TYRAN: Middle class
SYLVIA: ...rock'n roll people, who are like already not even a large number as far as world population, but also extremely factionalized. And if we got more appealing to other types of people, who weren't necessarily into the underground scene, much less the rock scene, they'd be into us. And, if they were, then just think of all the audience that we'd have.
ID: There's a billion Chinese.
ID: When do you most like to see a band?
SYLVIA: Bands are best on their first gig. A band's first gig is like when they are totally honest, and all their flaws show. What they're really trying to do shows, because they haven't gotten burned out on trying to make it for so long, and all their ideals are still right up there in front.
ID: Kind of like Bryan Adams.
TYRAN: Bryan Adams, yeah? (David laughs)
ID: The man who was voted the most good-looking man in Canada.
SYLVIA: Are you serious? Because we were going to go there. I'm not going now.
ID: So, I was looking through all my To Damascus interviews today, in order to do my homework on the band, and I only found one interview. The one in Option, which is not much of an interview.
TYRAN: That's the only one we didn't write.
SYLVIA: It's more like an article.
ID: And I'd say three-quarters was devoted to SWA.
SYLVIA: People are that way though. They sit and ask about SWA forever.
TYRAN: I'm curious, what do you guys think of SWA?
ID: A couple of us always thought SWA would be a great band if it were an instrumental group. End of story.
DAVID: Okay. Yep.
SYLVIA: I can relate. I mean, nothing against ...
ID: And what is it about SST?
SYLVIA: Severe Sexist Tyranny.
ID: I was talking to someone else who was affiliated with SST who was going on about the same thing.
ID: About the sexist element, and there's no female bands on SST.
DAVID: You got it.
TYRAN: Right, that's exactly what it is.
ID: So the next logical question is why did you leave SWA?
SYLVIA: Aw gee, I was going to lead into talking about world peace and partnerships between men and women, but that's OK ... Why did I leave SWA. I worked a full-time job and I do all the booking for To Damascus plus being in SWA takes more time than I have. Basically I felt like I was tripping over my own feet. I was continuously busy every day and yet I felt like I was not getting done what I wanted to . We just came out with this record, on Restless Records called "Come to Your Senses" and it seemed like the time when I should be going for it all the way with my band.
ID: Where there any idealogical reasons?
SYLVIA: There were people saying, "Yeah, but isn't Chuck a Fascist?" and stuff like that. It was like I was feeling like I wanted to say, "no, no no, but look at this and this" and there were things I couldn't defend. And I felt like, gee am I standing up for stuff I'm not so into? When I first joined SWA they were so into me and I was so into them because everyone was coming up with their own parts and it was like freedom, go for it type of thing. That's the side of it I saw and thought was so neat. Then other people would see these other things ...
TYRAN: Dave's on the Devo album.
DAVE: No, the Devotees album.
SYLVIA: But at least you were wearing a fake beard.
DAVID: Did you ever see the thing when it came out. It was on Rhino Records called the Devotees? I was wearing a $1.49 beard.
ID: Then you were famous before To Damascus.
TYRAN: Weren't you in "Planet of the Apes" ? (laughter) A photographer said he looked like Roddy McDowell.
ID: From a certain angle.
TYRAN: People ask him for his autograph, and it's "who is this?" "Who is this David Winogrond?"
ID: So how long has To Damascus been a musical force?
SYLVIA: Since '85. I think. There were different members earlier. Since '82 or something.
DAVID: October '85.
ID:(to Sylvia) Were you in To Damascus while you were still in Leaving Trains?
SYLVIA: That was why I quit. I said, "I'm going to go for my own band," but it never really got into anything that could really play live. We put out a single the year before with people listed on the single who weren't in the band by the time it came out. In fact one of them was listed as playing bass when actually I played bass.
DAVID: You play bass on that?
SYLVIA: We just wanted to make it look like it was a real band 'cuz I really had trouble getting members together. Even on the first album. The one that came out in spring of '86. We recorded part of that borrowing two old Leaving Trains, Tom and Jason. But I wouldn't really call it To Damascus until we were a band like this. It never really had that feeling.
ID: So does To Damascus get equal billing on song writing or are you (Sylvia) still doing the song writing?
SYLVIA: I'm still doing the song writing ... When we play live we improvise and stuff. And when we rehearse we improvise even more.
DAVID: Rock and roll.
SYLVIA: I do all the words and pretty much all the music.
ID: But you'd be open if they came up with a song.
SYLVIA: Oh yeah. Or something could come from a jam. Like, we had a neat jam the other day and I'll take it and turn it into a song, and then claim credit for the whole thing. (laughter)
ID: So are there now any To Damascus splinter groups?
SYLVIA: I don't know.
TYRAN: We ought to take a look in the Recycler to see if there's people saying, "Guitar player wanted. Plays like bitchin' guitar goddess."
TYRAN: She blocks the practice room door. She's got her amp and her body in front of the door. The windows are all barred.
SYLVIA : I lock them in.
ID: Sort of like being in school.
ID: But a lot of discipline.
SYLVIA: And homework, there's homework too.
DAVID: Hall passes ...
ID: Are To Damascus planning a tour right now.
SYLVIA: Two tours. A mini tour, and a maxi tour. (laughs)
ID: What is the maxi tour going to be?
TYRAN: That's going to be Canada. We're big in Winnipeg for some obscure reason.
SYLVIA: That's our thing. Nobody cares about bands in L.A. Bands could be really good and play forever in L.A. and wait forever to get into L.A.Dee Da. Then you go out of town and people listen when you play. People get into it.
ID: Do you think people are basically jaded?
SYLVIA: They are totally jaded, not basically. Jaded and bitter. Nobody in a band will come out and see your band, unless their other friends from bands are there and they're going to make a connection to set up a gig somewhere else. Every once and a while there will be some trendoid bill, but other than that people aren't even into seeing bands, because they are so burnt from going to clubs and playing their own gigs.
ID: I don't know if it's jaded. It's just incredibly spoiled. There's just so much here.
SYLVIA: That's true. There are a lot of good bands here.
ID: I was reading the new issue of Forced Exposure and the Divine Horsemen were on the cover and there was some letter in there saying that people were waiting four years to see Chris D. come to Chicago. People in L.A. don't wait four years to see any band.
DAVID: Let alone four gigs.
ID: So, do you frequent the club scene and see bands?
SYLVIA: I try ... it's too expensive though. I go when I can get in for free, and if I can get a ride from somebody.
ID: That's like when we interviewed the Dickies ...
TYRAN: Did you. My brother was in the Dickies [Chuck Wagon]
ID: Leonard works in a video store in the Valley, but I can't say that.
TYRAN: Are you serious. Leonard's working. That's fantastic. The guy's thirty years old and has never held a job in his life. Carlos the ex-Dickies drummer was working at Fedco. He just quit.
ID: So, who taught you to play your instruments? You or your brother?
TYRAN: I was always the artist and he was a really great musician. He wanted to go into sound tracks for movies. Touring with Leonard and Carlos. The stories are really wild. Carlos would have chicks up every night. Different chicks. Like fifteen chicks a night, and my brother was trying to get some sleep.
TYRAN: He was crazy. He's probably with a chick right now. I never knew Stan very well. I knew Leonard. He's really witty and real sweet.
ID: Yeah, but he admitted that personally he has not gone out and seen a band since 1979. I'm still amazed that they are around. As far as like Stan and Leonard are concerned it seems like it's the only thing they can do, but you're not in the that position, because you all have great jobs.
TYRAN: We do. I work for ITT, David works for Northrop, and Sylvia's president of ...
ID: The world.
SYLVIA: I'm the controller of a major corporation.
SYLVIA: I want to be an outcall dominatrix. That's my real calling.
ID: Your name implies change, and I was wondering what you think your band does to change the world.
TYRAN: UH OH.
SYLVIA: It's inner change. It's sort of like finding yourself, and following your heart, not what some dirt bag tells you to live your life as. You have to find what you're truly into, and what's really inspiring you and motivating you. Our album kind of does that too, the "Come to Your Senses" album. It might sound like some girl complaining about a bunch of stuff, who knows what, but during the course of the album I learn and grow, and work out all sorts of inner stuff. I figure one person can't go and change the world. There's lots of things wrong with it. Think about one element in the world and change it. So, I figure being a guitar Goddess is breaking out of all sorts of stereotype bullshit roles. That's something that can serve to further humanity. People can see a higher sphere of women. And I'm not trying to make a big deal that men are so horrible. Peace among different societies can't happen if within that society there is oppression of people. Whether it be of religion, race, or whatever ...
ID: So, there is a To Damascus manifesto.
TYRAN: Yeah, we're just like Chuck. (laughter)
SYLVIA: But it's not like, "There is either To Damascus or non-To Damascus. Those that are non-To Damascus will destroy themselves."
ID: From Damascus.
SYLVIA: Music is the most healthy thing for releasing this inner core.
TYRAN: Everyone should be in a band.
SYLVIA: I was up a five in the morning. I'm always up at five in the morning, I'm a total insomniac. I heard, on KXLU, a song from our first album ... Then the DJ said "To Damascus. That was by request." I was like, "Way cool!" It made me feel so neat, because somebody was up at five in the morning and wanted to hear a song, to have a friend, and it really touched me.
TYRAN: Whatever you do, don't clap. She hates it when you people clap. Believe it or not, when we go through our set there is no time in between our songs, because Sylvia cannot stand the sound of clapping.
ID: I guess you don't answer the roar of the crowd. So you're probably happier in L.A., because nobody claps.
TYRAN: Yeah, right.
SYLVIA: Yeah, I figure it's par for the course. I'm like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. I'm furious and playing real loud aggressive guitar solos, yelling and screaming. Then the song stops and I'm quiet and shy. "Oh, let's start another song." What do we do. So, what else can I do, but be in a band? I would hate to have all this stuff still be inside. I'd be a psycho, a murderer ... All those things. I'd plant bombs.
DAVID: Think (what) if Charles Manson got a record contract.
ID: He tried to. He was rejected by SST.
SYLVIA: Well, I don't mean to be so harsh on them. They are like pot smoking Greatful Dead heads, and they are supposed to be liberal.
ID: But action speaks louder than words. Have they always been Dead Heads?
SYLVIA: Yeah. Oh yeah, but they won't admit it in the mohawk days. They were always into Sabbath and Grateful Dead.
DAVID: Just think, in 1968 if he'd (Manson) gotten a record contract maybe he wouldn't have killed everybody.
ID: Then again maybe he would have gotten more. He was that close to being in Captain and Tennille. I think of all the damage they've done.
DAVID: Actually, he sounded a whole lot like Donovan.
ID: Yeah, he had a good voice. (more Manson talk) So, has Charles Manson been an influence on you?
DAVID: No, I just think it's a funny record. "Garbage Man" was a good song.
TYRAN: We used to go through his house.
SYLVIA: Oh and your dad once told him to cut his bushes.
TYRAN: Yeah, my dad was at the Spahn Ranch. he was working on this patrol. He had to tell people to cut their weeds away from their house. He tells Charles Manson. He goes, "Hey, you guys have these weeds." Charles Manson comes out and just does that stare.
ID: So, what was the most embarassing moment on stage?
TYRAN: Oh, that's a good one.
SYLVIA: We had a gnarly one the other day when that guy unplugged us, during the most tender moment of the song.
DAVID: That was pretty amusing. When you fell down at Be-Bop, that was good. That's it, right in the middle of a solo.
SYLVIA: I was really involved with this solo. I was leaping and thrashing and throwing my head. The next thing I knew I just fell over backwards, on my butt, and I got back up again. I mean, what else could I do. It was pretty bad.
ID: Did you miss a note?
SYLVIA: I was beyond notes. I fell over during that other band I used to be in. It was all because I'd gotten this new tattoo on my arm ... on my arm was this giant dragon, crawling, and all these things are creeping off of my arm, and this scab was still peeling from my fresh tattoo. And every time I looked down at my guitar I'd see this dragon that was inspiring me to leap in the air and be crazy. Anyway, I broke a string, of course. So I was putting on my string. So, they're playing the beginning of this kind of slower song which consisted of vocals, drums and bass as I restring my guitar. From my knees I'm rising from the ground, and I'm rising from my knees in some wild rock star pose. The floor was covered with water ... I slipped and fell on my ass ...
ID: Have you ever made the "L.A. Dee Da" (the hip gossip section of the L.A. Weekly)?
SYLVIA: I once got in there alongside Madonna and Rod Stewart, because I got a back stage pass to see U2. I rubbed elbows with the major stars. They listed all the major stars that were at U2 and "even Sylvia Juncosa!" I'm sorry. So I didn't play a show naked with a sock on the part I don't have, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in order to make it into L.A. Dee Da.
ID: Do the other members of To Damascus have side projects?
SYLVIA: It's not forbidden in principle, but it would be impossible to carry it out. They were glad when I was in SWA, because I'm such a terror.
DAVE: When she said she was quitting SWA we go "oh my god, what is this, rehearsals 24 hours a day now?"
SYLVIA: They were wondering where all that crazy Amazon energy is going to go now.
ID : So how often do you practice?
SYLVIA: Three or four times a week. I lose one or two pounds per rehearsal and five during a show. That's ok, I need it, or don't need it, whatever the word is. Where we rehearse is like a steam bath.
ID: What do you eat to put those pounds back on?
TYRAN: Oh no, the famous food question.
SYLVIA: I eat broccoli and potatoes and rice. And I put onions on everything because I can't cook worth shit.
TYRAN: Sylvia's kitchen is another place that time forgot.
SYLVIA: Sylvia's kitchen is like a biological experiment. Last year I went from May till July and I didn't do my dishes. I have a lot of dishes so they were piled up to the top ...
DAVE: Sometimes they move all by themselves.
SYLVIA: Yeah, in the middle of the night I'd hear my dishes moving of their own accord. I have two rooms in my apartment and the kitchen is like ten degrees hotter.
TYRAN: From the methane gas forming.
SYLVIA: Yeah. The worst came when i would put on the water and it would hit the dishes and bugs would fly up. That was when I drew the line and did them.
ID: You did art? Are you still doing it?
ID: What kind of art?
TYRAN: I've worked as a commercial artist.
SYLVIA: What kind of commercial art?
TYRAN: I used to be a porno artist a long time ago.
SYLVIA: Remember in San Francisco? I was getting tattooed ...
TYRAN: So, we go into a book store I'm looking at a magazine. I'm thinking these look really familiar. "I drew that!" (laughter) 'Naked Sis', it was a series on dogs and women (more laughter). Biological masterpieces.
ID: Does it get a thumbs up on the Sylvia scale?
SYLVIA: Well, it was okay. You know what I found that was really good. The time we played in Clairmont, and we were on our way back and we found this porno place. Probably the only porno place in the area, and they had this book called "Sylvia's Enslavement" (laughter). There's a Jewish girl named Sylvia and she's captured by Nazis and they subject her to brutal torture. I had to buy it for my files.
ID: Have your parents seen your band play?
TYRAN: This is a nightmare question. Hiding from her mom. Do you want to blackmail Sylvia?
ID: Are you touring with any bands or is this pretty much a solo tour?
SYLVIA : Yeah, it's pretty much ourselves. I'm trying to get us to meet bands on the road.
ID: Who would you not want to tour with?
ALL: The Pandoras (laughter)
TYRAN: I could tell you stories about them that are not urban folk tales.
SYLVIA: Of course we would want to tour with somebody big, but we don't like anybody big, so that creates a problem.
ID: What about ABBA?
TYRAN: That was my brother, Chuck Wagon's favorite band.
ID: What about Stryper ?
SYLVIA: We were trying to get U2's label to sign us. The guy from the label said "It's quite good, but it doesn't have that spark of brilliance I'm looking for." I said, "You mean like polished?"
ID: What drug do you associate with Van Halen?
DAVID: I'd say glue.
ID: Is To Damascus a straight-edge band?
TYRAN: What does that mean?
ID: Don't drink alcohol, take drugs, or smoke cigarettes.
SYLVIA: She doesn't even eat.
DAVE: She refrains from breathing.
ID: Sylvia offsets the rest of the group.
SYLVIA: I wouldn't say that I regularly do drugs anymore, but that has been about a week.
ID: We're not going to see you in the near future on MTV oding an anti-drug commercial with Jeff McDonald and Steve Jones talking about your habits?
SYLVIA: My comment to that is, take a listen to the record Steve Jones put out when he's Straight Edge and the album he put out when he's a junkie. That doesn't speak well against drugs (laughter)... I have the wrong type of personality to enter into that field ... The last song on our record is the only one where we start coming close to being worldly. It's the one song where I stop complaining about myself ... There seems to be full-on apathy. When I was going to UCLA, before they kicked me out, I got into this horrible argument with this guy who had been working on Reagan's 1980 campaign and quit two weeks before the election, because he thought Reagan diverted from his true right-wing ideals. This same guy was afraid of roving gangs of dogs in Venice, that's why he needed a gun. He also said to me, "why even bother being in a band. Why don't you just marry one of the guys in Foreigner, then you'll have all the money you need."
ID: Seeing that we're almost out of time and tape, is there anything you wish you hadn't said? Not that we'll cut it out.
SYLVIA: I don't know if I meant to be so harsh on SST.
TYRAN: I did. I'm not afraid of Chuck, even if he did shave his head. Maybe me and Chuck will have a mud wrestling match.
ID: Just like Andy Kauffman.
SYLVIA: I just want to comment about when SWA played the "Street Scene" and there was a riot for no reason. No one knew why they were rioting, they just were. There is just a lot of anger and frustration in the world and there is no reasonable outlet for it. It is like "we don't know who we're mad at, we're just fucking pissed." My message is, look to the reasons of it and change that.
TYRAN: Shoot your boss!