After more than 40 years, Cleveland’s Pere Ubu is still on its musical journey | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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After more than 40 years, Cleveland’s Pere Ubu is still on its musical journey

“Nothing in Pere Ubu is ever done, is ever finished.”

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Pere Ubu might have paved the way for all that followed it: punk rock, noise, weird pop and anything else you’d like to add to the list. It’s also well known that the Cleveland band began as a one-time recording project that wasn’t supposed to last beyond one 1975 single. Pere Ubu is often credited for creating a unique sound that broke through the boundaries separating specific genres; that got the band labeled as musical rule-breakers. 

“Everybody thinks we break the rules. No, we just know the rules really well,” says vocalist David Thomas, Ubu’s one mainstay since that first record. “It just seemed like, in 1970-whatever-it-was, this is what you should be doing. We could trace a straight line from Ike Turner in 1951 thru Elvis and Brian Wilson and Velvet Underground and on and on directly to what we were putting together. We were just standing there at the bus stop, and the bus came along and we got on it.”

Pere Ubu’s “avant-garage” sound continues with its newest album, 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo. Several elements remain in place: chugging power chords; non-melodic synthesizer squalls (that once evoked thoughts of nuclear reactors gone awry); and Thomas himself, who can shift from a frantic high-pitched warble to a low, grouchy bark. Like nearly all Ubu albums, some songs sound downright beautiful, too. 

When asked if he has a proudest moment from the band’s history, Thomas laughs casually. “No. To me, it’s a continuous process,” he says. “Nothing in Pere Ubu is ever done, is ever finished, is ever a destination. Albums are not destinations. They’re just simply moments along the way.”

He has a similarly even-keeled thought about the use of Ubu’s songs in season four of American Horror Story. “It’s appreciation. It’s a respect,” he says. “It’s like finding a dollar in the street. It’s not like finding a million dollars in the street, which would be exciting. It’s like a dollar and you go, ‘Hmm, that’s nice.’”


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