Wayne Kramer of MC5: 'There's a life cycle to bands like there is to everything in nature'
- Henry Northmore
- 7 November 2018
Founder of Detroit proto-punks MC5, talks ahead of band's tour to celebrate 50 years since the release of their explosive debut album
Wayne Kramer never thought he'd be celebrating MC5's music 50 years after the release of their incendiary debut album Kick Out the Jams. 'I had no concept of 50 years in the future,' he chuckles down a crackly phone line from his studio in LA. 'I wasn't sure the planet would survive another 10 years in 1968. I thought the chances of us ending up a nuclear cinder in space were much better than lasting 50 years.'
To commemorate this milestone, guitarist Kramer will be leading a new band – dubbed the MC50 featuring Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) on guitar, bassist Billy Gould (Faith No More), Marcus Durant (Zen Guerrilla) on lead vocals and drummer Brendan Canty (Fugazi) – playing the album from start to finish (plus a few other MC5 classics and a couple of covers).
'My first criteria is that everyone are good people, good solid brothers that know how to work hard and enjoy each other's company. Time is finite and my time is the most valuable thing I have, so I'm not available for ego trippers and prima donnas, drunks and junkies … any more,' explains Kramer. 'The band is a real unit, everyone embraces MC5's message of self-determination and self-advocacy and that all things are possible if you put in the work.'
Their high-octane, politically charged garage rock embraced free jazz and freedom of speech. The only way to capture their energy and raw power was in the live arena. And their debut was recorded over two sweaty nights at the Grande Ballroom in their native Detroit. Now considered a classic, at the time critics were confounded by its intensity (Rolling Stone called it 'ridiculous, overbearing, pretentious'). 'The criticism hit me hard,' admits Kramer. 'I expected criticism from parents, police, prosecutors and the establishment but I didn't expect it from our own community in the counter culture. So it just inspired me to work harder and be a better band.'
MC5 refused to compromise and stood up for their beliefs, affiliating themselves with the Black Panthers and performing at Vietnam protests (most famously playing for eight hours outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago that was broken up by riot police). 'Our stance was militantly anti-establishment. I thought it was my patriotic duty to protest a government that was going in the wrong direction. Democracy is participatory, if you don't like something its incumbent on you to do something about it, and there were issues in America in 1968 that I disagreed with: civil rights, the war in Vietnam, polluting the planet, police violence, marijuana laws, outdated sexual mores. I objected to all of these things and we made it part of the art.'