Lawrence "Larry" Hayes, best known by the pseudonym Larry Livermore, is an American musician, record producer, music journalist, and author. He is best known as the co-founder of Lookout Records.
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Hi, I'm Larry Livermore. I grew up in Detroit, worked in steel mills and auto factories, got in a lot of trouble, and wound up in California, where I played in punk bands, started a fanzine, and got in a bunch more trouble. I gave Tre Cool his name and his first drum lesson, watched my little solar-powered record label turn into a multi-million dollar business, then walked away from it all. Now I've written a book about it, which is available from Amazon, signed by me. I'm looking forward to talking with you and answering your questions for the next hour or two, so let's get started!
Ok, I've got to take off in about 5 or 10 minutes, so get your last questions in now!
Sorry, I'd love to stick around for another hour, but I've got someone coming to film me for a documentary about Ann Arbor in the 60s and 70s, so I've got to sign off now! I've really enjoyed this, and hope we can do it again one day! So long now!
What are your current feelings about Ben Weasel?
Few if any. We lead very different and separate existences, and I think it's best that way for all concerned.
What is Tim Armstrong like to work with?
A dream. Most of the time, anyway.
What are your current feelings about Chris Grivet?
Chris Grivet is a true New Yorker and a prince among men.
Hi, Larry! Would you please tell us a funny story about you and either Operation Ivy or Green Day from the 924 Gilman Street days?
Btw, my 1st Lookout Records! cd was 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and shortly became a fan of the label and its acts. Thanks for being awesome!
We (by we I mean OG East Bay types) don't call it 924 Gilman. Just plain Gilman will do. I don't know if it's funny, but Operation Ivy thought I was crazy when I offered to put out their record. Years later Tim told me, "Man, we really wanted to put out a record, but we didn't want our friend Larry to lose all his money!" Also, you should have heard me screaming at Sweet Children that they were insane for wanting to change their name to Green Day.
I purchased the Downfall master cassette from David Hayes and I purchased the actually album artwork from Jesse Michaels. I've had both in my possession for some years now. They question is - do I release the album on my own? mwahahaha!!!!
That's really up to you. I'm not your conscience. But when you say the "master" cassette, do you mean the original recording, or the remastered one, which would have been digital?
Hi Larry, I'm a huge Green Day fan, and was fortunate enough to be at their pre-Rock Hall induction show at the House of Blues in Cleveland. After trying constantly for two weeks, I was finally able to get tickets the day of the show. It was the most special experience a fan could have hoped for, especially because of Sweet Children opening for Green Day. I was pleasantly surprised to look up from my spot on the floor and see you and many others close to the band sitting there watching.
My question is, was that show as special for you as it was for a young fan like myself? What were your thoughts sitting there watching that lineup that hadn't performed together in 25 years play all those old songs again?
Yes, that show was extraordinarily special, not just because the band played so well and because it was such a special occasion, but also because it was such a perfect return to 1989, with everyone (especially including Al, who hadn't picked up a drumstick in 17 years) playing their old roles so perfectly. It honestly felt more like being at Gilman than at some big commercial rock club.
What was it like working with Green Day so early on? Thanks for the AMA!
Green Day were one of the easiest bands I ever worked with, even when they were still teenagers. They basically took care of everything (well, not the album art; we had to do that), but they'd just come around one day, hand me a tape, and say, "Oh yeah, we made a record, here it is." That's how easy.
What's you opinion on bands being "Banned" from Gilman during the 90's?
Few if any bands were "banned." Gilman had a rule that bands affiliated with major labels couldn't play there, but that's not the same as being banned for bad behavior, it was just club policy. The attitude was that there were plenty of clubs and venues for major label bands to play at, but very few for independent bands, so the Gilman members voted to keep it that way.
Have you ever thought about starting a new label? It seems like you're still friends with a lot of smaller pop-punk bands.
Can't wait to read the book!
I've thought about starting a new label several times, but I just lie down until the feeling passes.
Did Tim Armstrong always sound like that?
I think we all evolve as we get older in terms of the way we speak and express ourselves. Also, Tim has many voices, not just the one that people like to talk about. He's a very private man and a very gifted man who constantly surprises and amazes me.
Any idea if a formal Downfall (pre-Rancid Tim and Matt) demo will ever be formally released?
Ha! It wouldn't be a Lookout Q&A without a "When's Downfall coming out?" question! I had to field that one so many times for so many years, but it's no longer in my hands.
Can you explain the difference between "skittles" and "dabbing"?
Nice one, Jonny. You should not try to dance with or smoke your skittles, that's about as much as I know about that.
How did you start your own label, gaining local bands attention, recoding equipment etc and how difficult was it in the beginning?
Well, to be honest, I just sort of bumbled my way into it, and it grew from there.
If you had to pick one, who is the one band you could have signed, didn't and regret the most?
Gosh, that's really hard, because there were a lot. And especially hard, because the one band I most would have wanted to work with didn't start until after I left Lookout, and by that I mean the Weakerthans.
Did you read that other Lookout! book? If so, what were your thoughts?
I did read it, and it contains some valuable information and insights, but it's a very different type of book than mine is.
You never really clarified in your book if you finished school at UC Berkeley. Did you? For me going to school cost a lot of money. Do you think anyone from Green Day would want to adopt me to pay for my student loans? I'm already potty trained, so it would be relatively painless.
I did graduate from Berkeley in 1992, just as Lookout was really taking off, and before the crazy people currently in power decided that only rich people needed an education. Tuition was still low enough in those days that I could pay my own way without having to take out loans, and that's the way it should still be today (and is in most civilized countries).
Hey Larry! HUGE fan, and thanks so much for doing this. You're such an awesome sincere guy and now a legend.
Were you in communication with Billie before and while he was in rehab?
I've stayed in touch with all the members of Green Day over the years, but it wouldn't be appropriate to go into personal matters that involve other people besides myself.
Do you listen to your The lookouts stuff? I'm a green day fan and i've been listening to it for few months.It's different...My favourite song must be "Fuck religion" I love the idea of a child playing song like that.
We played that song at our first show ever, when Tre was 12 and Kain was 14. Most of our audience consisted of parents and relatives. They did not love the idea as much as you did.
Yeah, I was wondering if you had any funny stories about Monsula at all? (A simple yes or no will suffice.)
Monsula were great and funny guys. And "Razors" was their best song. If they'd made a whole album sounding like that, they'd be even more legendary today than they are.
A few years ago you put together "The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore", one of my favorite comps in recent years (I miss comps so much). Would you ever think about doing that again? / What are some of the current bands you would want to include?
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed that record! There were some great bands on there, some of whom have gone on considerably bigger things. I was asked to do another compilation in the same vein, but that time I was fully engaged in writing books, and I didn't feel like I had the time or energy to do it. Someone else will need to take my place in that department!
Hey man - sorry but I've never heard of you but your story sounds interesting.
I have a few questions if you don't mind:
1) It sounds like you just stumbled into the record label deal but I'm sure it's a tad more complicated than that. Can to describe how it came about?
2) Why did you walk away from it all?
3) Do you believe in the law of attraction - that we attract that which is aligned with our vibrational state?
4) How do you feel about the whole Alien visiting Earth topic?
5) Do you have any insights that would blow my mind?
1) I did more or less just stumble into it. I was just putting out some very limited editions of mine and some friends' bands. I thought if I was lucky they might break even; I had no idea it would ever turn into some giant business enterprise.
2) Too much attention, too much pressure, weakness on my part, the desire to do something different. It wasn't that well thought out.
3) Very much so.
4) I believe in one vibration, one universe, and therefore, no aliens.
5) I suppose that depends on the state of your mind.
How was your recent trip around the world? I only saw pictures posted. Can you tell us a little about it?
Well, despite pictures I had seen from outer space, I always wondered if the world was really as round as they said it was. I can now say, with some certainty, that it is. More importantly, I visited some countries, especially Russia and China, that American politicians and media types spout a lot of nonsense about without having the faintest idea what they are talking about. So I learned a lot, and one of the most surprising and humbling things I learned, is that in many ways American is rapidly becoming a rather backward country when compared with many of the countries in Europe and Asia. Something that, when I was growing up, I could have never imagined happening.
Any life advice that you would give to your former self?
Take better notes and put everything up on Youtube.
A king among men, you say?
A prince. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. But may he always rule boldly and forthrightly over the fiefdom of Astoria.
What is your 'Breakfast of Champions"?
I'm not sure I know any champions. For example, the only sports team I support is Fulham FC.
Hello there Larry. Been a big fan of your story and the Lookout history since I've been going to college and been a listening to the Lookout catalog since I was in 6th grade. Met you a couple times at various book signings in Jersey City and Manhattan as well!
I only have two questions that I would like to ask
Being a big fan of your last book, it talked a lot about your personal life while living up in Sky Rock and less about the music which I throughly enjoyed a lot. Will this style of writing be similar in the next book, or will it follow more of your experience with the Lookout artists and the music scene of CA?
When Lookout records was losing their rights to music they owned in the mid 2000s to certain bands, was it because their rights were expired or was it because they pulled their records rights to release them in a better business model? Screeching Weasel and The Queers pulled their rights away while Mr. T Experience seem to stay in print even after the demise and I was always curious to why that was. I don't know if you know the answer but curious to what your thoughts might be.
Thanks again and I hope you do a book reading around the area again soon!
It's Spy Rock, not Sky Rock, Connor (it is Connor, right?). The new book is also very personal, though maybe not quite so much as Spy Rock Memories, because it involves so many other people and bands. But mainly, yeah, it's about my experiences and evolution at the center of the Lookout maelstrom.
The contracts I had with all the bands were that if Lookout ever failed to pay them what was due them, after six months they could take their records and go. Once Lookout started falling behind on royalties (I'm not sure exactly when that happened, probably around 2000), some bands took advantage of that proviso and left quickly, while others stuck around in hopes that the label would get things together again.
An oral history of Lookout Records was published a few years back. What was your involvement, and what was the one major mistake/perception that the book had that you wish you could clear the air about?
I didn't have any involvement with that book except that I answered a few questions from the publisher just before it came out. There are some mistakes and misperceptions in the book, probably because many of the major players at Lookout didn't participate, but I couldn't cite one "major" one. Unless maybe the author's math when he tries to calculate how much money Lookout made and/or lost.
Have you heard anything about the current non-state of Lookout Records? I know you're not involved much (if at all) with that anymore, but it seems fairly safe to say a lot of those records would sell if they were in print.
I'm not only not involved, but there is nothing to be involved with. Lookout Records ceased to exist several years ago (and I myself left 18 years ago), so all the records now belong to the artists who made them, and they're free to do whatever they want with them.
Why did you live with such a primitive existence? How did it shape your outlook on life / people?
How has your business experiences changed the way you view people?
The short answer is that you should read Spy Rock Memories, because I talk about that a lot. The slightly longer answer is that I was sick of civilization and decided I needed to go off into the wilderness and start my own. Yes, I was somewhat muddle-headed at the time.
Oh, and how did my business experience change the way I viewed people? Well, somebody (I think maybe Billy Wilder) once said "I learned a lot about human nature during my years in Hollywood, none of it good." Fortunately, my experience was a lot better than that, while still leaving quite a bit to be desired. 20-20 hindsight and all that, but basically, I still have a pretty high opinion of people in general. Not always in particular, however.
How would you describe the relationship you had with Tim Yo (founder/spirit of influential punk zine Maximum Rock N Roll)? Where did you see eye-to-eye, and what did you disagree most on?
My relationship with Tim Yohannan was pretty complex, and I talk about it quite a bit in the new book. Much of what happened at Gilman and in the East Bay wouldn't have happened without him, and he shaped not just the local but the international punk scene for many years to come, but he also had a few tragic flaws - as of course, do most noteworthy people.
Do you think what you did with Lookout could be accomplished again in this digital age? If not, what do you see the contemporary version of Lookout being?
Of course it could, but it would probably look so different that most people wouldn't recognize the similarities.
Hey Larry, similar question here. Can you tell us a funny story about Isocracy?
Isocracy IS a funny story. From start to finish. But my favorite Isocracy adventure involves me more than them: we were riding around the East Bay while I was interviewing them for MRR and they got all excited when we passed this one house. "That's Metallica's house!" they said, and I was like, "What's Metallica?"
The UC system is definitely one of the better ones in the US, at least when it comes to tuition.
When I started there, tuition was $600 a year. By the time I graduated they were raising it to $2,000, and boy was I griping! I think it's somewhere between 12 and 16 thousand now, and they have the nerve to send me begging letters every couple weeks.
Do you think if you had had a platform like Spotify or Tidal that music distribution would have different during the Lookout era? Or are you more satisfied with the album/cassette/radio/word of mouth format that you had back then? (That's all I got!)
In terms of how record distribution worked back then, complain as we might, it was truly a golden age compared with now. Not that there aren't advantages to being able to put your own music up on the internet and (potentially) reach millions, but it's a very different experience. Put in context, though, the means of transmitting music (or information in general) is constantly changing and evolving, and no doubt will continue to do so.
Did you have any good experiences with bears? Like, hey bear what's up, all good, see you later?
If by "good" you mean a bear destroying part of my house and me going after him with a shotgun, yes, most definitely.
You appear to shed nostalgia in your musical and political perspectives, yet have written (now) 2 books based in/on nostalgia? Why the duality?
I don't think we should regret the past, nor should we wish to shut the door on it. It's both a treasure that we mine for wisdom and a foundation on which we build our future lives. My next book, which I start writing later this month, will bring me up to the present day, and then I plan on taking a whole new direction in my writing.
What's your favorite Lookout! release(s)?
Are there any bands or albums you wish you put out on Lookout! but never did?
I do get asked this quite often, but it's kind of like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite. Even if they do have one, they wouldn't admit it in front of the others. The fact is, though, that i like - and love - different bands for different reasons. Some because they made history and transformed the whole music scene, others that you might have never heard of, but who perfectly crystallized a place or moment in time that might otherwise have been forgotten. As for bands I wish I would have put out on Lookout, there are several, but I guess in a way I'm sorriest that Rancid felt the need to leave for Epitaph (though at the same time I'm happy for all the success they've enjoyed there!).
what was it like recording 39/Smooth? Is it your favorite record by them? What was your reaction when Green Day exploded in 1994?
Oh, and when was the last time you've seen Green Day and what did you think of their show?
I wasn't in the studio when they recorded 39/Smooth, so the first time I heard it was on tape. I felt like it perfectly captured the way the band was at the time, which was awesome. I always assumed that Green Day had the potential to be massive - maybe even bigger than they ultimately became - so the events of 1994 didn't come as so much of a surprise to me as they did to some others. The last time I saw them was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the pre-show a few days earlier. They weren't bad! Especially watching them play with the two surviving Beatles! That was pretty surreal, because the first time I ever saw Green Day, I immediately said to myself "I think this band could be as big as the Beatles." And here they were playing with them!
Did you live like Walter White? Y'know, out in the wilderness?
Way more out in the wilderness, but yes, there were some similarities in our stories. So far, at least, mine has turned out a little happier. I did spend a memorable week or two in 1971 hiding out in the desert near Albuquerque. Thankfully nobody was shooting at me.
Would you rather fight 10 pot grower sized bears or one bear sized pot grower?
Yes. Head up Spy Rock way and you'll find many examples of both.
Hey Larry, I enjoyed the rerelease of Spy Rock Road earlier this year. Are there any plans on rereleasing The Lookouts' first album, One Planet, One People?
Not if I have anything to say about it!
Hi Larry! It's Nicole from the hextalls.
Really looking forward to reading your books! I'm a bit behind on them sorry.
Grant Lawrence's next book is apparently going to be about the smugglers so there may be some overlap with lookout record's history I suppose.
Is there anyone in particular from the punk rock community, perhaps from a different band or label, who you'd love to read a memoir from?
I'm very much looking forward to Grant's book about the Smugglers. His blog accounts of Smugglers shows and tours were always both enlightening and hilarious. Always looking forward to the definitive Hextalls memoir. When is that coming out?
How did you end up getting into Punk Rock and Lookout Records? What fueled your inspiration for these goals and achievements?
Growing up in Detroit when I did, punk rock was probably an inevitability. The first time I got called a punk was in 1957 when I wasn't quite 10 years old but already had a mohawk. The MC5 grew up in the same neighborhood as me. Just being from Detroit gives you the kind of attitude that punk is the perfect outlet for. So my fate was probably already set in motion by the first time I saw the MC5, which I think was in the summer of 1965.
Big thanks for shaping so much of my musical taste. Can you think back to any instances that really set you on the path to success (life events, epiphanies, etc..) or was it really just a blind stumble? Just a man-child trying to find my path and can't wait to read your book.
The answer to the previous question that I just finished typing touches on it: when that kid pushed me off the sidewalk in 1957 and said, "Get out of my way, punk," I realized already that some changes needed to be made.
would you work with Green Day again if they asked you to do so on a major label?? and do you think Green Day would ever go back to an indie label with, and just play small clubs like Webster Hall Irving Plaza Highline Ballroom??
That's a totally abstract question, since the likelihood of it happening is somewhere between zilch and zero, but of course I'd do anything within reason that Green Day asked me to if I thought I could be of use to them. But I don't anticipate their going back to an indie label and only playing small clubs. Though I guess you never know!
If you could see anyone touring right now, who would it be?
Favorite live show?
I wouldn't mind if the Beatles came back to life and played a show in my living room.
I don't have a single favorite show, but a few of my most memorable ones are:
Supremes at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, 1965
MC5 on a tennis court (battle of the bands) in Downriver Detroit, 1965
Rolling Stones and the Standells at Cobo Hall, 1966
Ramones at UC Berkeley Student Union, 1980
Go-Gos at the Old Waldorf, San Francisco, 1980
Operation Ivy at Gilman Street, 1987
Sweet Children/Green Day in a cabin in the mountains, 1988
Are you a fellow Marin resident? Howdy if so (Fairfax hippie here)
I lived in Fairfax (up on Redwood) for four years before I went off into the wilderness. Spent most of that time looking for a drummer and bassist, and found both of them once I arrived on Spy Rock.
What is the story with the crazed pot growers?
Stories of crazed pot growers are all but limitless. One group of them threatened to burn my house down if I didn't stop publishing the Iron Peak Lookout, which was an early version of Lookout magazine.
What inspired you to leave the mountains and start trying to make a different living? Was it hard to adjust?
I thought I was just leaving temporarily so I could finish my college degree and get a teaching credential. Somehow I never made it back.
How did you get in trouble both times?
Both times? You think I only got in trouble twice? It was actually pretty constant, and involved parents, teachers, administrators, neighbors, friends, lovers, and most notably, the law.
Thanks for the AMA Larry. We've met on several occasions over the years and you are always the nicest guy, even to hardcore Green Day fans like myself that probably annoy you from time to time.
My question is: Who is ultimately to blame for the demise of Lookout Records? Do you think Lookout would be alive and well today if you had stuck around longer?
Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan, as the saying goes. As I write in the book, I ultimately have to accept the biggest share of the responsibility myself, especially with regard to the way I left. And while of course I'd like to believe the label would have continued to thrive if I'd stayed around, I'm by no means certain that would have been the case.
Since you went to Berkeley, you probably know that in California there's a famous Dept of Energy research institute called Lawrence Livermore that is affiliated with the UC system. How does it feel to be famous and also share the same name as something famous? Did anyone make the connection while you were at Berkeley?
Do you still use any of your industry work experience, from when you lived in Detroit, in any way?
Once while I was at Berkeley and taking a climatology class, I wrote a letter about climate change that was published in the Wall Street Journal and people made kind of a deal about that. Lawrence Livermore is a pen/punk name that originated back in the 70s when I wrote a science fiction novel about a nuclear accident at the nuclear laboratory of that name.