By Austin Kaus
When Green Jellÿ exploded in 1993 in the world with their deranged nursery rhyme “Three Little Pigs,” they had already been “gonged” on The Gong Show and described by the Ramones as the worst opening act ever. The notoriety led to legal problems with Jell-O, so they became Green Jellÿ. (The umlaut is supposed to make it sound like an “o.” This fact makes my friend’s head hurt.)
Now, who cares? Call them what you want. Bandleader Bill Manspeaker tours the nation with whatever musicians he can find and has as much fun as possible. I called him at 4:20 p.m. – his request – in his native hometown of Buffalo to talk about the band, their upcoming gig in Sioux Falls and exactly what a “skajaquada” really is.
How’s it going?
BM: I’m very, very, very, very awesome. (laughs)
I had a sneaking suspicion. (laughs) My first question, I gotta know, is it “Green Jellö” or “Green Jellÿ”?
BM: It’s whatever you’d like it to be seeing that I really don’t have to listen to anybody at a record company or a corporate lawyer. I could do anything I wanted now, so whatever you’re comfortable with.
So the Jell-O people have stopped bothering you?
BM: Oh, yeah. (laughs) That was in the 90s. They only cared when I was selling millions of records. (laughs)
I understand. So how many shows are you doing a year now?
BM: 125 shows a year.
That’s killer. Do you take your family on the road for all that, then?
BM: Yep, they’re right here with me right now. When you called, I was pickin’ up the eggs that my one-year-old son threw all over the floor. (laughs) Yep, it’s my wife, my newborn baby, and my 20-year-old son.
That’s gotta help you keep sane on the road.
BM: Yeah. It’s really easy because I only do the three-day thing, you know? So, I fly out Thursday and I play Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and I fly home Sunday. My son always goes with me, and my wife, you know, picks and chooses.
How is it becoming a father again? Has that changed you at all? Changed anything?
BM: It just made things way better, you know? Things that you forget about life, you know, waking up, you know? (laughs) Just to see him with that smile when he wakes up in the morning, you know, to start a new day. It’s nice to see that again and to remember it and smile yourself when you wake up. You know? It’s a new day, a new adventure. And pretty much every day is a new adventure. You know, in the last two weeks, me and my son have been through 13 states and played 11 shows. I think we probably traveled about 5,000 miles in the last two weeks, just me and my son.
Is that a touring schedule you’ve always kept up?
BM: Well, this time instead of coming in Thursday and leaving Sunday, me and my son stayed for two weeks, and we just did a big round of shows in the South. When we landed in Atlanta, you know, we had no idea how we were gonna get to all the shows. And, you know, we landed with our backpacks and our pile of costumes and we figured it out. Somehow, we went from Atlanta to North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
How do you get by with kind of that fly-by-the-seat planning?
BM: Well, I kind of figured this new thing out in life: If you’d make no plans and you just do it, things get done. So I just don’t worry. And I just let it unfold in front of me. And somehow it seems to work. For the last seven years, I’ve really had no plan. I really had no steady band. You know, I just– picked up a drummer and a guitar player in South Carolina that I just met last week.
How do you set up who’s gonna play with you?
BM: Facebook. I do 100 percent of my business on Facebook and Facebook– that’s it. Basically, what I do is on January 8th, I put up one post on Facebook that I started booking the shows for this year. And in four hours, I’d booked every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, until the end of November. (laughs)
Were you expecting that kind of response?
BM: No. It’s kinda like when you’re watchin’ TV and there will be a commercial on and they tell you, ‘Oh, they’ve only got 25 more left!’ (laughs) And yet they have a whole full warehouse full of ’em– and they got, you know, years to sell this shit. But they tell ’em that they got 25 of ’em and there are only five more minutes that– to order ’em. People go crazy and they order the widget or the vacuum cleaner or the slicer-dicer. You know, that’s me. (laughs) I am the slicer-dicer. I also provide the show. You know what I mean? We’re walkin’ in the club and it’ll be completely dead and the people will be mullin’ around and politely clappin’ for whatever band. And then, boom, as soon as we hit that stage, it’s like a switch and every person in the room is now in the show. Every person in the room is active and everything’s moving, you know? So, I hype to get the sell but I also provide when I’m there. Everybody has a good time. I tried to reverse it so that [instead of] a bunch of people lookin’ at four dudes on the stage, I reverse it so it’s four dudes lookin’ at a buncha people in the crowd (laughs) if that makes any sense. I try to get the crowd to be the show. I dress them up. I point them out. I try to get them to do interactive things with the band. I don’t leave one dude unturned, you know?
Has that always been the way you’ve done Green Jellö or has that changed over the years?
BM: Yeah. When I was a little tiny kid, when I was 17 years old in high school, when I was makin’ little doodles on my health folder in class [and] getting in trouble, I had this concept of this band that’s always terrible. Yet, through so much distraction, nobody really noticed. It’s almost got like ‘The Emperor’s’ New Clothes.’ Nobody was really paying attention to how the songs are played. They’re too busy looking out for Elmo stage-diving and the Cowgod and Shit-Man comin’ through the crowd. There are so many other things going on that the last thing people pay attention to is, you know, the music of it. That’s where I was, like, a little kid in high school, and then I just applied that. Now, 30 years later, that distraction thing still works. (laughs) I randomly put together bands. Right now, I got 629 people in my band? (LAUGH) There have been many times where I’ve literally put together the band the day of the show and rehearsed in front of the club before we played. (laughs)
Do you have a band set up for South Dakota, then?
BM: Yeah, I do. I’ve only met one of ‘em. That’s basically how I find the band. I [sometimes] meet them at the show and they come up to me [and say], ‘I was searching, and my mom bought me this CD…’ and then I say, ‘What are you doin’ next time? You wanna be in a band?‘ (laughs) Suddenly, they’re in the band.
Do things usually go pretty well in South Dakota?
BM: Oh, yeah. It’ll be great, you know? It never fails. You show up, you make a commotion, you start a distraction. You know, the band can be terrible, and nobody’s gonna know the difference. All they’re going to remember is that Elmo stage-dived and landed on top of me and I got to dress up as Shit-Man and I was up on the stage and I was singing. You know, nobody really remembers if a song was played wrong or I missed a lyric. You know, that why you go to a Green Jellÿ show. You don’t go to be amazed musically. You just go to have a fun time.
Talking about fan memories. I can tell you that I was definitely listening to Green Jellÿ when I got in my first car accident two hours after I got my license.
BM: See? There you go. What a wonderful memory. (laughs)
One final question for you. What in the hell is a “skajaquada?”
BM: Oh, well, it’s funny that you asked that because I am in the town of where I grew up in which is Buffalo, New York, and a skajaquada is a futuristic freeway that they built way back in the ’70s. [It was] futuristic in a way that they were kind of dramatic angles and multi-level sorta pretzel-shaped-looking freeway system that they built to be a modern-lookin’ city. Well, every time that the winter comes, which is 12 months out of the year, (laughs) and it snows, the whole thing turns to ice. And cars would be driving on it, and they would literally slide off the side of it. So a skajaquada is really a freeway in Buffalo, New York that cars fly off of. Thus the name, ‘The Flight of the Skajaquada.’ (laughs) Then, I sort of twisted the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when the kid went to the dentist and they pulled the tooth of the Abominable Snowman. I sorta took that story and then made lyrics around it and then turned it into a twisted version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Speaking of twisted versions, you’re working on a nursery-rhyme album right now?
BM: Yeah, actually, that’s why we’re in Buffalo for so long, is my friend, who is also from Buffalo– he’s the bass player in this band called the ‘Goo Goo Dolls.’ He took a bunch of his money that he made by selling a gazillion records, and bought a recording studio. So, Robby [Takac] is producing our new Green Jellÿ record at his recording studio in Buffalo. It’s gonna be a collection of warped and twisted nursery rhymes. We got a song called ‘Jacked-off Jill.’ So, it’s going to be spoken and musical fairy tales almost like… remember when you were little and you used to get those little records at the record store and they would tell little stories? You know, like, ‘Spiderman’s Adventure,’ or, you know–
I had a Gremlins one.
BM: Yeah. You would play the little record with the little booklet and it would have music and spoken-word. That’s what I’m gonna do. An adult twisted version of children’s records.
I guess if it wasn’t twisted, it wouldn’t really be Green Jellÿ.
BM: Exactly. So we got a whole bunch of the songs already written. About eight of ’em, man. We just started recording ’em. We did three songs already. We just did one at…Jack White’s recording studio, called Third Man Records in Nashville. He had this vocal recording booth. It’s like an old-time thing from the ’50s. You put money inside of it and you go in there and you record your song. And it goes– directly to the record. So we went in there. We recorded a song for the Green Jellÿ record inside the little booth. (laughs)
Do you have any idea when you’re gonna release that?
BM: On October 31st, on Halloween.
That makes complete sense.
Green Jellÿ will play at The Nickel Spot on Saturday, June 27, at 8 p.m. with Circle of Psychos, A Bird in a Hand and Infaux. For more information, click here.