That guy up on the stage covered in silver paint, shouting indecipherable words into a reverb-drenched mic, with handmade eyeballs hanging off his open vest? His name is Timmy Vulgar. He's been in bands around here for over 18 years now, excellent and genre-redefining kind of bands — Clone Defects, Epileptix, and Human Eye. He's also recorded as Timmy's Organism, which is more of a stripped-down band, and then occasionally as Timmy Vulgar, which is just him, alone. Vulgar's given last name is Lampinen. He is also the proprietor of Timmy's Tacos, he is a respected visual artist, and he is a Kresge fellow. So, you could say that he contains multitudes. But mostly, he's a complete showman, who rarely seems "off." One hundred years ago, he'd have run his own medicine show. In the late 1960s, he might have had a commune filled with acolytes.
Vulgar has so much life force inside of him, it's hard to describe without sounding like you're part of his cult. I met him five years ago, while working on a documentary about new garage-inspired bands that was funded by Scion. We had shot a lot of footage in Detroit, solid stuff from Danny Kroha and all the Dirtbombs, with many nods from all around to the Stooges, MC5, Alice Cooper, etc. But there just wasn't enough Vulgar, and it felt like he had to be a focal point in the piece. On our own dime and barely with a few days to spare, my editor/shooter Prichard Smith and I decided to jump in his Bronco in the winter and drive from Brooklyn, New York, to Detroit, just to shoot more Vulgar. We were so glad we did. He threw a party for us, played us records, and booked a Human Eye show at the last minute just for our visit, arrival at the Painted Lady.
Metro Times met up with Vulgar after hearing that a fancy, gatefold double LP of Timmy's Organism, simply called Singles & Unreleased Tracks, had been released a few weeks ago by HoZac, the respected Chicago-based label. Half of this collection is culled from 7-inches originally released by a bunch of labels (Goner, Cass, Sacred Bones, Douchemaster, Bat Shit, Goodbye Boozy, and HoZac), while the second disc consists of unreleased stuff.
Metro Times: This compilation feels career-defining. How did it come together?
Timmy Vulgar: Career-defining! I like that, [Laughs.] thanks! I had all these older unreleased songs and a half a dozen 45's already released, so it made sense to me to put the release together. I got hold of Todd at HoZac Records and he made it happen, as a double full color gatefold album, at that! I've always wanted to do one of those.
Todd and I have been friends since Clone Defects' first show in Chicago, at a place called Pops, back in '99. That was a pretty crazy show, with plenty of broken glass by the crowd, clogged toilets from the band, and little bit of air duster-inhaling by me.
MT: Did you ever think you'd even have a record like this, of your own material?
Vulgar: Over the last five years I have, yeah. My bands have released a lot of material over the years, 12 LPs and over a dozen singles since the first Clone Defects album in 2000. I look back and say to myself, "How did I do all that stuff?" It's kind of a blur to me. Also, my memory is horrible. I don't know what my point is? I guess if I focus on writing an album, that's all I think about, creatively.
MT: What's your favorite track on here, and why?
Vulgar: "Sadness Walks," because some of my favorite songs are sad songs, especially when Johnny Thunders or Bowie do them. I felt like I might have caught that kind of vibe with this one.
MT: Your least favorite?
Vulgar: I like all of them. Otherwise it wouldn't be on this record. [Laughs.]
MT: Who plays on this record?
Vulgar: Twenty of the 23 tracks were recorded by me. And within those 20, eight of them have other musicians/band members playing. I play everything on all the rest of the 20. Confused?
MT: Why, and how, have you recorded for so many labels?
Vulgar: All those labels are run by my friends, and I like working with my friends.When I had so much material to release, it made sense to have a handful of labels release them. One indie label can't pay for all those releases, it just wouldn't work.
MT: You were one of the first contemporary Detroiters to win a Kresge grant, right? What was that like?
Vulgar: I was in the first of a group of musicians to win the award. It was really neat when I got the phone call, although I thought it was a joke at first. I've never had that much money. It opened some doors for sure. I bought a van to tour in, some recording gear, etc.
MT: Is that story true about you eating and then crapping out a Christmas tree on a friend's lawn?
Vulgar: Sure! Why not!?
MT: Did you start calling yourself Timmy Vulgar first, or was this name given to you?
Vulgar: Before I played in any bands, when I was in about ninth grade, I was reading about the Germs and I thought since Darby Crash didn't call himself Bobby Pyn (his given name), that I could use that! So I told my oldest brother, "Hey Paul, I'm gonna have a punk name!" He said, "What's it gonna be?" I said, "Bobby Pyn!" He said, "No way, that was Darby Crash's old name!" "You should call yourself Tim Vulgar!" And I said, "Yeah cool!," and it's stuck since then, unfortunately.
MT: What's the craziest thing you've ever done on stage?
Vulgar: The Epileptix shows got pretty insane, with our fans/friends spitting at us like it was England in 1977. I cut myself pretty bad once, and am still surprised I didn't pass out! Ian, the guitar player, gave me a hug to soak the blood up onto his shirt between the songs.
Human Eye shows are little more alien-themed, now, as far as theatrics go. In Memphis, we had to follow the Reatards. I duct-taped a fish-gutting knife to the end of my guitar head stock, like a bayonet, and stuck a huge fish head on the end of it, played our last song, then flung it off into the crowd. That was fun. I've had octopus on my head. I eat green paint.