❉ It’s the return of our occasional series Cult Q&A. This week: musician Fred Abong (Throwing Muses, Belly).
Although probably best known to We Are Cult readers as the former bass player for the influential art-punksters Throwing Muses and Grammy-nominated alt-rock band Belly, Fred Abong also has many other strings to his bow. He holds a PhD in Humanities, with an interdisciplinary concentration in philosophy, esoteric thought, and science; he is a Vedic and Western astrologer; and, if push came to shove, he could also make you a decent bed out of wood.
His new EP, Pulsing, is available at https://fredabong.bandcamp.com/ and he can be seen on tour supporting Kristin Hersh until 1 April 2019.
How did you come to play with Throwing Muses?
I knew them, because we all went to the same high school, and I knew they were cool. The origin story is I ran into Dave (Narcizo), the drummer, in the local video shop, back when they had those. He said, “Our bass player’s leaving, you should come by and…” He didn’t use the word ‘try-out’ because he didn’t want to let on that they’d already decided I was the guy.
Who is your favourite bass guitarist?
I had a very intense Jaco Pastorius period in my life. I discovered him through Joni Mitchell. In some ways I was attracted to his playing on those records, more than Joni. The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines is one of the songs. If you haven’t heard it you should listen. He was a composer, I think, more than a bass player.
What was it like co-writing songs with Tanya Donelly in Belly?
I was a riff-writer. I had riffs falling out of my ass. Tanya heard one and said, basically, “Can I have it?” which became a song, White Belly. She asked me to play on it because it had a certain rhythmic quality that she couldn’t duplicate. If you want to call that co-writing, sure. But it wouldn’t have been a song without her.
If you could write a song for anyone, who would you choose?
I don’t know what my songs would sound like coming out of somebody else’s mouth. Musically, I think that’s a little bit easier to contemplate but lyrically, it seems like that would be too personal. I’m always open to hear, though.
What did you do between leaving Belly in 1993 and now?
I did a lot of things but primarily I worked in a woodworking shop. I was raising children, being a family man, basically for the past 25 years. I had to go back and finish my bachelor’s level which I’d quit to join Throwing Muses, then get my PhD.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever made with your hands?
I like building stuff that’s utilitarian. So I’ve built all my furniture. Every time I need something, I build it. It’s not always top-notch rare wood. But that to me is the most beautiful stuff because it’s so purpose-driven. It’s problem-solving, and it’s part of life. I built a bed-frame recently and I still like it. It feels good.
Who did you want to be when you grew up?
Bruce Lee. I was a major martial arts kid. I took taekwondo and then I branched off and started making up my own form, which led into skateboarding.
What was your first job?
I briefly stocked frozen foods. I somehow got attached to somebody who had the gig to stock foods at the commissary on a military base. I was probably 19 or 20. That was a shitty job.
What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?
Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Although that’s kind of a cheat because it’s like saying ‘all other shows’. I was never a TV buff.
Monty Python: is it funny?
I’d say it’s witty. Chappelle’s funny, Monty Python is witty. But I’ve laughed out loud to Monty Python.
What was the last film that you watched?
Some Oscar-nominated animation shorts at a film festival.
Have you ever stayed in a haunted house?
There’s this old horse stable in our hometown that everyone used to go to in their teenage years, to get stoned and party. I was out there late one evening and things were moving. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up on end. That freaked me out a little bit.
What is Vedic astrology?
Vedic culture is kind of what turned into Hindu culture. Unlike what has happened in the West where, with the Enlightenment, we had the rise of science and a taboo against anything occult, there was a strong tradition of astrology. It was part of academia back then but it got squashed. The Vedic never got that break.
What prompted you to return to touring?
My youngest turned 14, which seemed like the right age for me to re-enter the world of music. Kristin and I had been in contact, and she said, “I’ve got two weeks in June, do you want to open for me?” I took that as a challenge to write new material and I’ve been on a tear since then. I was also teaching at a university. So trying to fit it all in is not easy.
What instrument do you write songs on?
Generally guitar. Sometimes I’ll just hear a melody and play it on whatever’s handy. Although I play them all, I don’t really consider myself a bass player, or a drummer, or a guitarist. I never feel comfortable saying I’m any of these, because I don’t commit to the instrument. It’s more: what is needed right now? It’s functional, but it’s just how I like it.
❉ Fred Abong’s ‘Pulsing’ EP was released digitally via Bandcamp on 8 March 2019 with CDs to be available exclusively at shows during the “LIVE AND LOUD” TOUR 2019 supporting KRISTIN HERSH:
8th Mar: Engine Rooms, Southhampton, UK
9th Mar: West End Centre, Aldershot, UK
10th Mar: Bush Hall, London, UK
12th Mar: Bush Hall, London UK
13th Mar: Sub89, Reading, UK
15th Mar: Holywell Music Room, Oxford UK
16th Mar: Philharmonic, Liverpool, UK
17th Mar: Cluny, Newcastle, UK
18th Mar: Perth Theatre, Perth, UK
19th Mar: Mono, Glasgow, UK
20th Mar: Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, UK
21st Mar: Left Bank, Leeds, UK
22nd Mar: St Phillips Church, Salford, UK
23rd Mar: Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, UK
24th Mar: Glee Club, Nottingham, UK
26th Mar: Tramshed, Cardiff, UK
27th Mar: Phoenix, Exeter, UK
28th Mar: The Fleece, Bristol, UK
29th Mar: Arts Centre, Colchester, UK
30th Mar: St Paul’s, Worthing, UK
31st Mar: Quarterhouse, Folkestone, UK
1st April: Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich, UK
❉ Show and ticket info for all shows can be found at www.kristinhersh.com/
❉ Portrait photos by Peter Mellekas. Studio photos by Fred Abong.
❉ Steve Berry is a writer and broadcaster for TV, radio, magazines, newspapers and the internet. You may have seen him talking about his specialist retro subjects (advertising, television, toys, sweets and crisps) on Channel Five’s Greatest Moments series, UK Gold’s Porridge and Doctor Who weekends, BBC Two’s Inside The Factory or Channel 4’s Top Ten TV and 100 Greatest Toys. He lives in Hertfordshire with a wife (his own), two children (also his own) and some cats (their own).