luckyPRICK Interview w/Nelson Yandura
luckyPRICK
By Todd Millenacker
Transcribed by Robert Ferent
49 Cover Image
This month, we bring you an “Interview” with Nelson Yandura. Nelson was the lead singer of the Monitors, who were produced by Kevin McMahon. Todd has been writing with Nelson (yes, actual letters) and we’ve pieced together the interview from those letters. Big thanks to Nelson for taking the time to write back to us!

Q: Can you tell us a little about the Monitors. Who were you, how long were you around, what records did you release?

NELSON YANDURA: Once upon a time… January 1980, to be more exact, I ran into Chris Andrews at a John Cale show – the “Sabotage Tour”, which was great!

Anyhow, Chris knew me from his used record store, “Looney Tunes”. I was always in there looking for a vinyl fix. As we finished our beeros, he asked if I knew of a singer, as he was starting a band. “Oh yeah, sure do!” was my reply.

Next night at his store’s closing, I arrived and three gents were inside. Chris was one of the three, and he asked “Where’s the singer?”

“Well it’s… me!”

From his countenance I could tell his surprise. Chris introduced the other two gents, Ed Lash and Rik Keihl. After some banter, I sang Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” – acappela in the middle of the store. I finished and aced the position! Some more banter as beeros and “other things” were passed around. “Nice chaps,” I thought, “gonna have a real good time together.”

We descended to the basement where they had their instruments. Chris suddenly blurted out “Hey, we don’t have any songs.” But I did. I’d recently come back from living in Boston, while keeping an apartment in Middlefield, Ohio (a very, very Amish area) at the same time. In Middlefield I had a lover who was a geologist and we lived together off and on. Then… boo hoo… he ended it. I grabbed what I could that fit in my Pinto and made the drive to Clevo – “Yeah, that’s OK. He can keep the whicker.” Ahhh, L’amour, L’amour, L’amour.

As I drove, “Rip Your Tits” and “Go Fuck Yourself” were born. These were the songs I presented. Conveying what was in my head was easy, as the guys picked up on them quickly. After a few hours of getting them down pat, Ed brought out a recorder. Ed said he was going to play the songs for his brother Tom (Lash). The next day we got together and Ed told us that Kevin (McMahon) wanted to produce our first single, he wanted an exclusive – not bad eh?

We agreed to practice 30 to 40 hours a week and no beeros or “other things” during the practice. Chris ran a tight ship and I totally admired his professionalism. Chris and I hit it off songwriting wise. He’d joke we were like Lennon and McCartney.

I now lived near Looney Tunes, getting together with Chris before practice to see if we had ideas. Usually, we’d work on an idea, then presented new songs to Ed and Rik. At times all four of us would spend an evening jamming and doing cover songs, yet we cranked out 3 to 4 new tunes a week. Chris, Ed & Rik were brilliant musicians.

Very strange… Ed & Rik would jam on the roof of “Traxx” in the flats. It was owned by Rik’s brother-in-law, Hank. My friends & I would party, get trashed & pick up boys at Traxx… who would have thunk – small world.

We (the Monitors) were together for 2 years and those were the happiest 2 years ever.

When it came time to enter a studio with Kevin, we recorded a whole bunch of songs very quickly. Since we were constantly rehearsing or gigging, we became very tight. The engineer, Brian Jones of North Coast Recording, was taken aback, as he never really heard the new music on the scene.

Officially, we only released the 45 “Trouble/Rip Your Dress”. On our fatal move to San Francisco, a lass named Jody Quick was releasing a flexi disc with some of our songs for her magazine, name forgotten. So, there may be a Flexi out there! Of course, the fans recorded some shows and passed them around. The 45 is now highly collectible, and an acquaintance from the UK told me our 45 made it over to London, and “Rip Your Dress” was banned from radio play.

Q: What was your role in the band?

NY: I was the frontman, lyricist & I learned to “play” a Korg. I sort of helped structure the songs via the lyrics. Actually, some of the lyrics were written years before. “Rhythm Of Guitar” had different lyrics at it’s birth, but later I rewrote the lyrics and the song became stronger with something to really say to the listener.

What was really cool, after shows people would come up to me and say, “I understood every word you sang!” Really nice to envision people in their cars singing Monitors songs.

My late mom used to tell me “Save it for the stage.” So, I became another person on stage – doing things you wouldn’t normally do – like stripping down to a jock strap and cowboy boots.

Q: What was the Cleveland scene like back in the early 80’s? Who were some of your favorites?

NY: The Clevo scene was hot! I started going to concerts in my early teens – Zappa, T. Rex, Bowie, Cockney Rebel, Roxy Music, Stooges, MC5, Kinks, Genesis w/Peter, Donovan, Doors (I was ever so young), Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed, Maggie Bell, Cleveland Orchestra! …and scores and scores more.

Then one day I was reading gmy “bible”, the Friday Rock Scene section in the Plain Dealer, authored by Jane Scott, and she raved about the local scene. (Even though whilst attending the late years of High School I was going to local teen dances and groovin’ to the Raspberries, Circus and Tommy Jones. Some of these dances were at St. Ignatia’s High.)

Anyway, I bought the “Drano In Your Veins” 45 at a record store downtown in ’75 and it really caught my ear. I started to investigate the local “underground” scene more. Jane raved about a new group, “Rocket From The Tombs”. By that time I was driving and able to discover the club scene. Not only was I going to see national acts & imported bands, but I started to supplement my “show habit” and go to the Viking Saloon, Fat Glenn’s, even at Baldwin Wallace College!

When Pere Ubu released their first 45, I was in heaven. The, I started hanging out a Johnny Dromette’s shop, Hideo’s Discodrome, and he always had cool records. Plus, he would play them in the store, thus turning me on to the Pagans, and so many more. I bought scores of local 45’s from Johnny Dromette.

Suddenly, new bands appeared on the scene – Human Switchboard, Wild Giraffes, Lucky Pierre, et al, ushering in the 80’s. With the success of DEVO, Akron bands were also playing in Clevo – Chi-Pig, Waitresses, Hammer Damage…

It should be noted, when bands like Ubu, Mirrors, etc. played you saw the same people in the audience. I thought, “How cool to be in a local band and have a loyal following!”

Then came my first Lucky Pierre gig in late ’79, maybe? Sorry, I was a bit stoned back then. (I heard “Fans & Cameras” on a college station and fell in love with the song. Within the 3rd spin, I was trying to imitate the singer, Kevin.) “What a good lookin’ band,” I thought to myself after the first song. After the second song, I was hooked, and without a tape recorder! At the end of the show I became a Lucky Pierre fan and fell in love with Kevin’s writing talent – and songs!

Ahhh, to be young back then; getting by on a few hours of sleep, going to work, spinning vinyl w/friends. The nightlife was indeed rich back then and all those local bands were pioneers. The Clevo scene was on the same level as the NY, San Francisco & LA local scenes. I am very thankful to have been born in 1956! (and aging surprisingly well, thank you!)

I remember sitting with human switchboard at the Old Jim Swingos Downtown, waiting for Iggy. Myrna traded Human Switchboard 45’s for Marianne Faithfull LPs! Schlepped over to see Ubu rehearse someplace on Euclid Ave. Remembering telling David Thomas I saw him years earlier when he was wearing foil on his overalls while driving, much to the puzzlement of my mother.

Q: What was Kevin’s reputation back in the early 80’s? Was he as much of a “cult hero” as he appears to have been?

NY: I believe Jane Scott of the Cleveland Plain Dealer put Kevin in that “cult hero” status. Jane (now retired & living down the block from moi) is the eternal teenager and practically the “adopted aunt” of Lou Reed. She wrote many glowing articles on Lucky Pierre and Kevin.

Lucky Pierre got popular also through word of mouth, thanx to their loyal core fans. Like a big family. On stage, that is when Kevin really let go. Off stage, he is very reserved… and maybe a bit aloof. But myself as an audience member soaked it all in – watching his moves, gestures and grooving to the lyrics. He’s very masterful with words.

When Jane got word that Kevin was producing a band outside of Lucky Pierre, she wrote a full page article! Of course, that band was the Monitors.

Q: As a producer, was Kevin very “hands on”, or did he leave you to your own devices? What’s the best piece of advice (musical or otherwise) you received from him?

NY: I first was in the studio with Kevin in 1980. He wanted to play some solo stuff and get my opinion. When he played the forst one, maybe called “Half Moon” or “Full Moon” – but it had “Moon” in it somewhere, I was floored. He did all the instruments and mixing. That’s when the word genius really first popped in my head.

When Monitors entered the studio with Kevin, he quickly found out that we could only play when we were all together. IE, he wanted Rik to first lay down the drum tracks and he couldn’t. So, we actually recorded basic drums, bass, guitar & vocals and then built on that.

Kevin wanted “Trouble” and “Rip Your Dress” as the first 45. He had demo tapes, and had envisioned handclaps, backing vocals, and guitar overdubs while he listened to the tape. He came up with the “helicopter drumming” on “Trouble”. Listen to the break, now close your eyes – hear the drums sound like a helicopter?

When we started to record “Mean Machine”, Kevin dubbed me the American Marc Bolan – so after that he was a god! He suggested I look in a mirror while singing, but when I sing I close my eyes.

We bought Kevin’s producer skills real cheap, $100 and beer, and the ride to his flat afterwards. I wonder what he charges now?

Unfortunately, I was not at the mixdown a few days after. Kevin, Chris & Ed attended… maybe Rik. Chris told me Kevin added some subtle instrumentation on the 45 himself. So, in reality, Kevin plays on the 45.

The other studio songs that were all slated for an album were all fiddled with my Kevin; harmonizers and all sorts of knob doodlings. In fact, after I heard some of the vocal treatments he did, I duplicated them live. He actually helped me bring out my full vocal talent – listen to my Acidchoir stuff. It was Kevin who rounded me out vocally and Nico who tapped that music that was in my head that steered far right from the Monitors sound. To sum it up, Kevin mentored me and I was very lucky… a Lucky Pierre.

Q: Did you follow much of Kevin’s musical progress post Lucky Pierre? Can you tell us anything about his other projects (Broken Man, Pyramid Club, Master Cherry, The Struggles, Fear Of Blue)? Sound, set-up, etc.?

NY: Chris, Rik & I left to live in San Francisco in Feb/March ’82 in a white van. By then, Ed left as bassist and Kevin Reis took up the bass. Kevin R. did not come to SF because he was facing a jail term. After two weeks, Chris & Rik decided to move back to Clevo – I could not, so I became the newest bohemian resident of SF. Kevin R. was tossed in jail, and I lost contact with all that was Clevo.

A few years later I found “Muchacha Latina” at a record shop on Polk Street and saw “Recorded in San Francisco”! Geez, I wish I had kept in contact. Would have been nice to reunite!

I ran into David Thomas (Pere Ubu) during his soundcheck at a 1984 solo show and he told me Kevin was becoming involved in several projects. We had agreed to have lunch the next day and he would tell me what I missed in Clevo, but when I called for him the next morning, he had gone back to Clevo. Seems Diamanda Galas, who opened for him, bummed him out or scared him, or so I was told by someone at Rough Trade. Hopefully, I’ll learn of all the projects of Kevin on your website.

Q: What was your reaction to the Prick disc? Did the electronic sound seem like a natural evolution to Kevin’s style or did it seem “out of the blue”? Can you share any insight on how Kevin went from a more Glammy/60’s rock influence to harder electronics?

NY: I saw the Bowie Outside Tour at the Shoreline Amphitheatre outside of SF and got there early enough to catch Prick & NIN, but I had no idea who Prick was. The singer kinda looked familiar, but long hair & spastic moves? I didn’t associate Prick & Kevin at all.

When I moved back to Clevo (big mistake?) in 2000, Chris, Ed, Rik and their gals took me to see Prick at the Odeon. Prick? “Kevin McMahon’s new band”, said Chris. Ohhhh – it all fell together now. The Odeon was an excellent venue to see a band. So, as I’m listening, I tell myself “Boy, a far cry from the almost mellow sounds of Lucky Pierre!” After the show, I went to the after party and told Kevin how impressed I was.

Q: How did you feel about “The Wreckard” and “ThinKing”? What’s your favorite Kevin recording?

NY: “The Wreckard” was very welcomed by me, and I’m sure others as well, as I thirsted for more Prick. That sounds kinda funny, huh? Well hell the bands name is Prick, and lemme tells ya, when I hear the word Prick, a clown doesn’t come to mind first!

“ThinKing” gets played at least once a month in this flat. Let me tell you, I have thousands of LPs, CDs & Tapes, so that’s something!

I orgasm to “Fans & Cameras” ‘cos I can sound like Kevin and it brings back fond memories of an era gone – sadly at that.

“Animal” is my favorite Prick song. Like “Fans & Cameras”, I get completely caught up… gets me dancin’.

Q: Have you crossed paths with Kevin recently? Any idea what he’s up to?

NY: Since spending nearly 20 years in SF, I became accustomed to walking or busing it, so I always made sure my dates had wheels – hahaha vroom! Being in Clevo, you need a car. It’s like Los Angeles – no car, you’re screwed. So, I reintroduced myself to the Cleveland Public Transport. For nearly a year, I always ran into Kevin on the bus, library or used record shops… and of course, the rare gig. Remember, he’s reserved, so I respected that. I did hit him up for an autograph for a friends son. He was tickled that a 16 year old was diggin’ his CDs.

I just ran into someone named Bob. He came up to me and said I looked very familiar. Turns out he was involved with The Impalers way back then… 25 years and he recognized me… yes, I am aging very well, yes siree! So, I ask Bob “What’s McMahon up to? Haven’t seen him in ages.” Bob replied “He’s working on some new stuff with a band.” Hmmm… maybe we’ll hear something real soon, eh?

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

NY: I have many stories about Kevin, but they are more tabloid fodder. IE: the strip poker game after the 1980 super band with members of Lucky Pierre, Monitors and their molls. But, alas, those sort of things should only be told posthumously. I mean, I have some class!

I would like to add… “Hey groovy boys & girls, shemales and hemales, and all those in between – listen to the Acidchoir. Get your mind blown!