M.O.T.O. is about to celebrate thirty years as a band and founder Paul Caporino is showing no signs of slowing down. Caporino has lived all over the U.S., playing with endless lineups of M.O.T.O. and releasing everything from homemade recordings dubbed to tape to full studio albums. He recently relocated to his birthplace of New Orleans to play with original members of the band. A new album (No Way Street) was released in late 2010 and much of M.O.T.O.’s back catalog is being reissued. I first heard M.O.T.O. on a mix CD a friend made and have been hooked since. Their sound is simple: catchy Ramones-y rock’n’roll with searing solos. I was surprised I hadn’t heard them sooner, since Caporino spent a majority of his life in Chicago and I’ve always been a big fan of Chicago bands. I haven’t met anyone who’s heard or seen M.O.T.O. and didn’t become an instant fan. Despite lyrics that range from lovelorn to down right out there, Caporino is a private, unassuming, and shy man. This interview was conducted over email in late 2010.
Interview by Sal Lucci
Sal: Why’d you move back to New Orleans? You’re from there originally, right?
Paul: Yes. I was born and raised in Uptown, New Orleans. I moved back because I got tired of living up north and I wanted to play with the original band again.
Sal: How was Providence, Rhode Island?
Paul: Providence was okay, but after having lived in Chicago for twenty years, Providence just seemed too small and quiet. I was only there for five months.
Sal: What made you choose Providence? Friends?
Paul: I wanted to leave Chicago and I thought I’d move to my friends in the Midnight Creeps in Providence. I liked my friends and some of the people I met, but I didn’t take to Providence. I was just tired of living up north.
Sal: Where else have you lived? How long in each place?
Paul: I lived in New Orleans from 1960, my birth, to November 1987, when I moved to Boston and re-formed M.O.T.O. with Beck Dudley on drums. M.O.T.O. started making records and touring then. In June, 1989 we moved to Chicago. Beck quit to get her Master’s degree in architecture, so I continued playing with other band members. I kept making records, CDs, cassettes and toured a lot. Then I broke up with my wife of seventeen years in 2009, and I didn’t want to live in Chicago anymore. So I moved to Providence and lived downstairs from Jenny and Jami of the Midnight Creeps. Jami and Corey from the Creeps played with me in M.O.T.O. But I had to move back to New Orleans.
Sal: I never saw the Midnight Creeps, but I’ve seen the Sleazies. Didn’t they share members?
Paul: Jami from Midnight Creeps is also in the Sleazies. For a guy in punk bands, he’s very well organized and efficient. Also a very good musician.
Sal: What made you leave New Orleans for Boston?
Paul: At the time, New Orleans wasn’t happening for me and I’d always wanted to live somewhere else. So when the opportunity arose, I took it.
Sal: Tell me about Beck Dudley and how you met her.
Paul: Beck Dudley heard a M.O.T.O. tape played by Ken Kurson, the bass player of the band Green from Chicago, and she wrote me a letter, pre-internet, wanting to buy a cassette. From then we became pen pals, and in September 1987 she visited me in New Orleans and convinced me to move to Boston. We became boyfriend/girlfriend for a while, and she let me know that she played drums. So we reformed M.O.T.O. as a duo. This was way before the White Stripes.
Sal: When did you actually start M.O.T.O.? Why?
Paul: We started M.O.T.O. in 1981 in New Orleans. I had been in cover bands before but I wanted to have a band that played its own songs.
Sal: When did Masters Of The Obvious become M.O.T.O.? Was there an official transition?
Paul: Not really. I noticed while watching the Live Aid concerts on TV in 1985 there was a guy in the crowd swinging a U2 flag around and I thought, “Masters Of The Obvious wouldn’t read well from a distance.” So we shortened it to M.O.T.O. We had been calling ourselves M.O.T.O. anyway. I added the dots later so that people wouldn’t write it as “Moto.” All capital letters. It looks better.
Sal: So how active was M.O.T.O. between 1981 and 1987?
Paul: We didn’t play that many shows. We did some home recordings, but there were big gaps in between. But we tried. And we’re still trying.
Sal: Why wasn’t M.O.T.O. a bigger part of the 1990s Chicago scene? It seemed like Chicago was the place to be for a few years. Some of the bands I remember are Screeching Weasel, Vindictives, Mushuganas, but I don’t remember M.O.T.O. ever being mentioned with these bands. Somehow, I knew of the Chicago scene even as a young teen in suburban New Jersey!
Paul: We didn’t get bigger in the 1990s because we didn’t try hard enough and we didn’t play our cards right. Plus, all those bands you mentioned I didn’t pay attention to. We were closer to the indie scene—Drag City Records, etcetera—and the power pop scene—Material Issue—than the punk scene. We didn’t really get with the punks until about 2000 or so. I’ve heard of Screeching Weasel but I don’t know any of their music. The other two bands don’t ring a bell at all. We were just part of a different thing during the 1990s. I’ll be honest; I don’t really listen to punk bands much anymore. We might have songs that sound punk, but we’ve never been a punk band. Maybe garage rock, but we don’t have much in common with them either. We like the Beatles.
Sal: What are some of your favorite Chicago bands?
Paul: My favorite Chicago band is Green. The singer/guitarist Jeff Lescher has written some great songs. I haven’t heard their recent stuff, but the first three albums were great. I’d call Jeff Lescher the Alex Chilton of Chicago. I’m not sure if that’s entirely complementary, but there you go.
Sal: When did you first get into music? When did you start actually playing music?
Paul: I’ve always loved music. One of my earliest memories was of seeing the Beatles on TheEd Sullivan Show. I was three years old. My big sister Diane and her friend Patsy McGuire were trying not to scream at the TV because it was annoying my dad. I started plunking around on a Yamaha nylon string guitar that Diane used to play folk songs not long after. I didn’t actually learn chords until I was about twelve or so. I’ve never had formal lessons.
Sal: What were you like as a kid and teen? Favorite bands?
Paul: As a kid and teen I was very shy. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I did play sports, though, basketball in particular. During the ‘70s, I liked Ted Nugent, ZZ Top, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Aerosmith. But I still liked a lot of the 1960s stuff during the ‘70s. I used to listen to a lot of the LPs left over from my three older sisters.
Sal: What did you think of the original punk movement? Were you into it?
Paul: I liked the original punk bands because they reminded me of ‘60s bands like the Kinks and the Troggs. I never was really a part of any movement, but at the time those punk shows were the only places where people would listen to original rock, so I was interested. I’ve never considered myself a punk. M.O.T.O. has always been “punk by association.” We sure don’t look like punk rockers now! Four big ex-jocks in their mid-late forties. You can certainly pick us out at any punk shows.
Sal: Gotta say, I love your flaming solos. Seems like you can throw one over any song. Anyone ever call you the J Mascis of punk rock?
Paul: Thanks! That probably comes from learning to play guitar during the ‘70s. We all wanted to play leads like Jimmy Page or Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.
Sal: Where did you go when M.O.T.O. started touring? How is M.O.T.O. treated overseas versus in the U.S.?
Paul: We first started really touring in the 2000s. Thanks to the internet, it was easier to book out-of-town shows. We’re treated much better overseas than in the U.S. Much better.
Sal: Where is your favorite place to tour?
Paul: I like Europe quite a lot, but I also liked Australia and Japan quite a lot, too. Outside of the U.S. is better than the U.S.
Sal: Do you book all the tours yourself? What was it like pre-internet?
Paul: I usually do tours with someone who knows where to book and can hopefully get us good guarantees. I do book some out-of-town stuff when I can. And it was much more difficult before the internet.
Sal: What were some of your day jobs?
Paul: I’ve done all kinds of work, from grunt jobs—I hate physical labor—to grey collar mail clerk/copy clerk jobs. Whatever paid the bills. Sometimes I wish that I’d learned an actual trade, but then I wanted to play music and do something beautiful. So I did.
Sal: Can you describe the transition of the homemade albums to studio recordings? Was it a matter of economy? Kill M.O.T.O. has a few songs with the homemade feel and sound but Raw Power is a full, “serious” album.
Paul: I tried to record with whatever I could afford. Luckily, I have a friend, Garret Hammond, who can make good recordings at an affordable rate.
Sal: How many guitars do you have? Its seems like every time I’ve seen M.O.T.O., you’ve played a different guitar. Have I seen you playing a BC Rich Warlock?
Paul: Right now, only two electrics—an Ampeg Stud and an Epiphone Crestwood, and the Yamaha nylon strings that I learned to play on.
Sal: Have you played with anyone or any band that’s become famous?
Paul: M.O.T.O. has played on bills with many bands that are more famous than we are. Right now, I remember Flaming Lips, Buzzcocks, The Pixies, Redd Kross, The Posies, Misfits, and a whole lotta, lotta others. I can’t remember them all right now.
Sal: Did you play with the Danzig version of the Misfits or any of the newer line-ups, what I like to call “The Jerry Only Sideshow”?
Paul: It was at Riot Fest in Chicago at the Congress Theater. I think it was Jerry Only with Dez and Robo from Black Flag.
Sal: Have any really outrageous tour stories? Does your life at all resemble the drunken debauchery one might think the road brings?
Paul: Not really. Except for a few instances, I’ve lived a fairly sedate life.
Sal: Care to elaborate on these few instances where you lived the debauched rock and roll lifestyle?
Paul: Actually, I’d rather not! Suffice to say that alcohol was consumed and shenanigans ensued. But not anymore. I prefer to live simply and quietly.
Sal: Have you gotten any grief over the subject matter of your songs? I mean, you don’t just write dick songs, you’ve written some pretty sensitive songs, like “Month of Sundays,” “Underneath an Awning in the Rain,” and “Young and in Love”.
Paul: I write all kinds of songs. I try not to limit myself. Sometimes people complain about lyrics, but that’s the way it goes.
Sal: How big does something have to get before it becomes fluorescent?
Paul: I have no idea. It’s just some stuff I made up.
Sal: What’s your most requested song live? I’m thinking “I Hate My Fucking Job.”
Paul: “I Hate My Fucking Job” is the correct answer! ”Dick About It” and “Crystallize My Penis” as well.
Sal: What’s a day in the life of Paul Caporino like? What do you do outside of the band and work?
Paul: Pretty much right now the band is my work! Right now I’m unemployed, but I’ve got tours coming up so I can only take temp jobs.