When I heard Petrified Max, I was hooked immediately, but didn't realize Vitus and John, who are interviewed here, were in The Last and Trotsky Icepick, two bands that I'd heard and liked. But it had been awhile since I heard either. The Last's album Look Away, recorded in 1980, but not released until last year, is great. If you are a fan of these two bands, check out Petrified Max.
Andrea Weiss: Please give us a short history of the band.
John Rosewall: Vitus and I have been in bands together for almost forty years, beginning with The Last and moving on to Trotsky Icepick in the eighties and early nineties. We reconnected musically about three years ago and without much forethought decided to start recording tunes that we each had lying around. Drummer Danny Frankel is also an old friend; he recorded at Vitus’ studio in the eighties with Carmaig de Forest and has always kept in touch. After a few months of intermittent recording, we realized we had a coherent batch of material, and just about the time we were completing our first album, Charlie Drove North, the pandemic hit. With no live shows to distract us, we kept writing and recording and were able to put together our new album, Year Gone By, in a few months. And that’s where we are now.
Vitus Mataré: There’s a series of locally active L.A. garage bands in our past. The Last began playing incessant live shows in 1976, but did not tour nationally until a decade later, at which time John and I had moved on to Trotsky Icepick.
AW: Who are your influences?
John: They’re all over the map. Sixties garage rock, the British invasion, and psychedelia are always there and are foundational for me. I spent my adolescence listening to what we now call “Classic Rock” before slowly working my way into pub and punk rock. Later, at the same time that post-punk was happening, I was also listening to country music and acoustic blues. It all finds a way into the music at different times, sometimes quite intentionally. “Quentin’s Stroll” on the new album is a very conscious take on surf music, for instance.
Vitus: I find inspiration in unique chord structures, and just about any style of music can be of interest.
AW: Your music reminds me of Dream Syndicate. Are they an influence?
John: I’d say instead that we obviously share influences with them, and other bands of that scene, which might account for any similarities that you’re hearing. Dream Syndicate were one of the bands that came up in Los Angeles while Vitus and I were both in The Last, and we shared bills with them and other Paisley Underground bands.
Vitus: Always loved Steve Wynn’s music. We met when he was still with The Suspects and tried out as guitarist for The Last. A few years later I produced a handful of Dream Syndicate recordings that are still popping up here and there.
AW: I also hear a bit of Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth in your guitar playing. Am I on track there?
John: I love Sonic Youth and Ranaldo’s playing, but I wouldn’t call him an influence. In terms of my guitar work, the influences range from the usual Sixties guitar heroes to the original blues guitarists that those British players were ripping off. But I’ll lean on anyone depending on what’s right for a particular song, whether it’s Buddy Guy or Pete Townshend.
Vitus: Love Sonic Youth. I believe I hear bits of Danny Kirwan and Peter Green in our newer recordings.
AW: Your lyrics are very psychedelic, which I like. Where do you get your ideas for them?
John: Vitus writes most of the lyrics, but when I do write words, the lyrics are mostly free-associative and start with a random line or two, something that pops into my head, seems to have some interesting associations, and sits comfortably into the tune. An exception would be “The Days,” which was a conscious attempt to write about the pandemic.
Vitus: My lyrics are based on common, real life experiences that in my mind became cinematic.
AW: There seems to be a lot of jamming in your music, and that's cool. Does your music lend itself to that?
John: The songs are actually very tightly composed, but on the new album, I did add a lot of improvised guitar. That was just a function of the songs and what they seemed to need. The kind of jamming that a “jam band” does isn’t an interest of ours, but I think we both like the coloration that a lead guitar can bring when it weaves in and out of a song and interacts with the other elements, particularly, of course, the vocal.
Vitus: The jamming occurs when the initial chords collide and countermelodies spring forth. There are little improvised flourishes when we play live and record, but the presentation was usually tightly constructed in advance.
AW: “Year Gone By” seems to be about LA. Is that the case?
Vitus: That song has more to do with our local experience during the pandemic with the unfortunate politics of 2020, and it sets the tone for the album, as do “Sipping The Moon” and “The Days."
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AW: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music?
Vitus: The banjo is an underrated addition to any song.