Site-Specific Documentary
Apollonia MorrillJohn Lightfoot


Site-Specific Documentary

film & video

I'm Peter Detmold. I'm rhythm guitarist, sometime lead guitarist, sometime vocalist, sometime song writer with The Reducers, who have been playing together for twenty-plus years now. Growing up when we did, rock'n'roll was a major part of a young person's life, maybe more than it is now. I don't know what kids dream about being now. Maybe they still want to be in a rock'n'roll band but I don't think it has quite the same appeal as it did when we were growing up in the '60s.  
Back then everybody listened to the Beatles and the Stones. But as far as personal favorites, I was a big Who fan, a big Kinks fan – the whole English invasion had a big effect on my listening hours. The other guitarist and singer in the band Hugh (Birdsall) and I kind of got to know each other at a very early age. And back then you tended to gravitate towards other people who carried around guitar cases or listened to whatever--Bob Dylan or the Beatles. You just tried to seek out other people who were as excited about this as you were. Hugh has a couple of years on me as far as playing guitar so he was able to teach me a lot, and after a couple years we were actually able to play together, and have been doing it ever since.  
I've been a life long anglophile, in things other than music, but maybe music is how it started. Back in the '60s it just seemed like such a happening place, England... which is how I got drawn to bands like the Who and the Kinks, because they were so much more "English" than the Beach Boys or, I don't know... The Four Seasons. So as soon as we could swing it, our dream was to go over there and check it out first hand. Hugh and I went over in the early '70s, when I was still in high school. And then Hugh and I went back in the late '70s when the whole punk thing was happening and checked that out first hand...  
Well it was just a remarkable coincidence that we were getting into this punk rock thing that we had been hearing about and buying the import singles, which were hard to find in those days. You'd have to travel to New York, maybe to Bleeker Street, or mail order them from somewhere and you'd get "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols, or "In the City" by The Jam or the early Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe Stiff singles. And we were very excited about this. This seemed like a very new, happening thing. I mean we were fascinated by it.  
And just by really good fortune we went over right before Christmas 1977. And by complete chance we were able to see within the space of a week the Sex Pistols, The Jam, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Chris Spedding – who was a person we really got turned on to – all within the space of a week, which was really a mind blowing experience. We just picked up and soaked up all that enthusiasm and excitement that was going on over there and brought it home. And we were just babbling idiots about how great this scene was that we'd seen, you know? And we'd actually been in the middle of this gymnasium full of pogoing English kids checking out the Sex Pistols first hand... it was mind blowing. But just to see how exciting it was first hand really just reinforced our enthusiasm. I mean maybe the primary lesson that punk taught people was that you can do it yourself. You don't need to be a virtuoso musician. All you need is some like-minded people and some minimal equipment and you just go out and bash away and hopefully somebody's going to listen. And that was sort of our idea.  

We started off learning Jam songs, Sex Pistols songs and Ramones songs. The Ramones were a big early influence on The Reducers – I think the first song we ever learned together as a foursome was "Rockaway Beach". They had the simplicity that was necessary 'cause we weren't that accomplished, and they had that enthusiasm we were looking for.

Well after a few months we started to play out regularly and we actually started to develop a small hard-core following. Though we realized it was cool to be doing this but it wasn't that cool to be playing other people's songs. And to be a true punk band we should be writing some punk songs. And the whole idea was that they were easy, that part of the plan. So we put our minds to it and we come up with a few pretty obvious – maybe cliché – songs. Some of them stuck, some of which we have played recently twenty years later.

Well one of the first songs we wrote which didn't last was called "Big Time in a Small Town." And that was about trying to be a band in New London and what we perceived as narrow-minded people who didn't want to hear it and didn't want any change from the norm. And Hugh wrote "No Ambition." So you know it's a pretty cliché punk rock song, but we keep playing it. We still like it. It still rings true to us, you know? Railing against parental authority I guess was the original idea.

I mean it's a cliché but three chords and like two verses and a chorus and that's a song. So that was the only trick, coming up with a chorus. So Hugh thought of "No Ambition" and I thought of "Out of Step." Like I can write a song about being out of step, you know? That's an alienated, pissed off kind of thing and I can write two or three verses about it and we just have to come up with three chords, you know? And A, D and E... what do you know? That's a song.


LINKS The one essential site

The Trouser Press guide: The Reducers

Photographs The Reducers' 25th year Anniversary Show

The Reducers: America's Best Unsigned Band
A documentary on the band that I'd still like to see.

The Dutch Tavern

It's dated now, but it meant a whole lot to us back then. And it meant a lot to a lot of people, I mean on a musical term, which is the way that we generally thought of it. It was about not going along with what was perceived as the way to do things. Although in the end it did develop its own system of conformity or whatever. But it was not caring necessarily what you looked like – because we were in an age when a lot of bands were wearing jump suits and having blow dried permed hair – not caring what your equipment looked like, as long as you knew you could plug it in and make a racket. What matters is putting across a statement and screw them. I mean maybe that's the simplest way to define the punk attitude is "screw 'em", you know? And we do what we want, and it's pretty exciting.  
Well that was received with real derision from a lot of people. But on the other hand it appealed to a small group of people who just banded together and... I don't know, I imagine it was like our older brothers and sisters when the hippie thing happened. If you saw somebody who looked like you, who had long hair or whatever, you'd go, that's someone I have something in common with. And the same thing happened with punk rock.  
I mean musically I've always thought there were punks, you know? I've always thought Pete Townsend of The Who was a punk because he jumped around on stage, didn't give a crap about what he was wearing. And before that I kind of think people like Eddie Cochran and Jerry Lee Lewis were punks because they didn't care what the rules were, if they even thought about the rules. They just thought about breaking them.  
Fifteen Years Ago  
In the mid-'80s we were playing 100 shows a year, so that's two or three a week. A lot of times it would be a night in Boston, a night in New Haven, a night in New York. We played a lot in Boston and a lot in New York, and obviously a lot in this area. So maybe on Thursday we'd get in the van and play in Providence, then drive to Boston, then come back and play in New London. And I mean this was every week. And after a month we'd take a few weeks off, go and rehearse and try to write a few new songs.  

Once or twice a year we'd go out on an extended road trip. I think I can safely say we all loved it. I know I loved it... I love sleeping in hotels. I love eating in diners. I love being in bars... it's part of the whole appeal of being on the road. And I love driving, I love being on the highway. So it was really thrilling, it's a great way to travel. It's way better than getting a job as a salesman or something. But that fact that you're sharing it with three like-minded people, the fact that you have some united feeling that you're trying to put across... a heck of a lot of fun.

Other bands  
I remember when I first started hearing about REM and the Replacements and I thought they're kind of doing something similar to what we're doing. And then REM and The Replacements got pretty huge, particularly REM. And then all of a sudden there were a lot of bands doing that, and maybe there always were a lot of bands doing that it's just that now you started hearing about them. And then inevitably record companies started signing them and then inevitably it just got to be almost too big a thing. The exception became the rule I guess.  
The Network  

The network wasn't there when we started and I don't think it's there anymore, but there was a very strong network and feeling of camaraderie among bands. So when we'd go play in a town other bands would show up to see us. Maybe half the young guys you'd see you'd realize they're in bands in this town. And by the same token we were big fans of going to check out bands and we developed lots of really strong friendships with bands from other towns, particularly Boston. We got to be very friendly with the Neighborhoods and the Dogmatics and the Del Fuegos. And we got to know The Rattlers from New York very well.

The Dogmatics I always felt like they were our little brothers or something because they were like 5 or 6 years younger and they just had this youthful exuberance, which is something I recognized from when we just started out. They were just rabid to get out on the road and play to people. Great guys, and a great band too.

Most of the other ones are broken up. I mean the Fleshtones are a band we've crossed paths with for years and are still are out playing. We played a gig with them in New Haven last year and they're not exactly the same guys but basically it's the same band as it was 20 years ago when we first crossed paths with them. I can't think of too many others

There was a lot of talk and we were "courted" by several labels... which really meant they sent us letters saying that we're interested in your material, can we hear some of your new stuff. And we had a lot of interest, but nothing solid came of it. And I'm not sure that's a bad thing because we were able to survive on our own.... We've never really let anyone force their ideas on us. We've always said, no, we know what we're doing. And I think if we had gotten any kind of label deal, it would have been them telling us what to do, and we would have had no choice but to say, well okay. And I've seen that happen to friends of ours and it broke the band up. So it might have been a blessing in disguise that we didn't get the big payoff ten, fifteen years ago.  
New London  
I can only speak for myself, I always wanted to be identified with a place. We were from New London, a lot of other bands in our position might have moved to Boston or moved to New York because their opportunities were better there. And I like being situated in a you know... this is kind of a dirty little half-way stop between Boston and New York... and personally I like New London. That's why I never left.  
Twenty Years Later  

Who's our audience? It's tricky now, it's one of our real dilemmas. I mean obviously our audience has gotten older with us but they don't go out as much anymore. When I was 19 years old all I wanted to do was go out and see a band and drink a few beers and jump around. And because we were playing to people our age, we had a built in audience. Now twenty years on it's like I don't think I'll go out and jump around, I think I'll stay home and work on the Internet or watch cable TV or change the kid's diapers. And our audience isn't anywhere near a large as it was 10 or 15 years ago because it's the aging process, you know?

Because I'm 20 years older than when we started, it's hard to identify with that youthful alienation and aggression. So maybe it's a case of slowing down, quieting down and thinking a little bit more about what you're singing as opposed to just ranting about the first thing that pisses you off.