Gibby Haynes's new Problem leads him back on the road.

Always a Butthole 

Gibby Haynes's new Problem leads him back on the road.

Gibby Haynes (left): Before he was singing naked on acid, he was president of his college frat.
  • Gibby Haynes (left): Before he was singing naked on acid, he was president of his college frat.
Gibson "Gibby" Haynes hasn't needed to update his résumé in decades, but he does have some prestigious distinctions under his belt. Amazingly, he scored a radio hit with his previous band, which had the once-unutterable name of the Butthole Surfers. He survived chemical-fueled years of onstage excess and bad nutrition with his considerable intellect intact. And before all that, he was the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants' Outstanding Accounting Student of the Year at San Antonio's Trinity College. Really.

"Later on, when I was working for my accounting firm. I was the total joke in the firm," recalls Haynes. "I had the suit, I was lookin' sharp, I was gettin' laid, but I was the biggest idiot. I just wrote jokes on the work paper. I'd kind of do a half-assed job, but I just had to collapse into humor. One time, I was in the office of my superior. He had won the award I got, and it was on his desk. I looked at the award, and I was like, 'Oh, dude, like, I've got one of those.' And the look on his face -- his jaw just dropped. It was hilarious."

Haynes ditched the suit and made a career of agitation with the Butthole Surfers instead, though the number-crunching background would come in handy during the band's rise from a dirt-poor, bedraggled tribe to successful major-label artists. More than 20 years after his resignation, Haynes looks like a fiery-eyed art teacher, hair cut short, given to wearing black plastic-rimmed glasses. In conversation, he has a hint of a drawl, with a likable terminal-wiseass's gift for going off on tangents and a wit's knack for returning to the point. The jocular quality is genetic.

Haynes is the son of former Dallas/ Fort Worth kiddie-show host Jerry "Mr. Peppermint" Haynes. Growing up, Haynes developed an unusual duality of the eccentric and athletic, and he went to Trinity College on a basketball scholarship. A leather-clad punk on campus, he was president of his fraternity and captain of the basketball team, but he took the liberal-arts environment seriously, studying physics, poetry, and accounting. He earned a B.S. in business, as best he can recall; the tough courses sharpened his mind, and rock and roll dulled it a bit.

"I don't really have a linear timeline," Haynes says. "I have a timeline, but a lot of in-between, interpolated memories. It's useful for abstract creation. It makes everything you create abstract."

The groundbreaking art-punk Butthole Surfers left paths of destruction across the '80s and '90s, starting as a crew and their dog squeezed into an eviscerated Nova, packed trailer in tow. Their live shows were acid-test spectacles of strobe lights, billowing smoke, and projected footage of surgery. The confrontational music was bizarre, percussion-driven, and, occasionally, oddly melodic. It tended toward the discordant, but not gratuitously so.

"Sometimes things take precedence over traditional harmony," Haynes says. "Sometimes traditional harmony isn't important. Sometimes it's unwanted. We could tune our guitars really good, but we would make radical, weird-ass tuning."

The Surfers debuted on the Dead Kennedys' Alternative Tentacles label and coasted to a long-running relationship with the Chicago indie Touch & Go, home to true-alternative luminaries Big Black and the Jesus Lizard. The relationship ended acrimoniously, and the Surfers grabbed the brass ring, signing with Capitol Records.

"We hired a manager to get in the ear of a big record company," Haynes recalls. "And Nirvana had just blown up. We were bubbling under since they signed Hüsker Dü. We got written up in the L.A. Times, and a lot of people pricked up their ears when we got in the New York Times. That shows how fuckin' cool we were," he says, laughing.

The Surfers' commercial career peaked with 1996's hypnotic smash single "Pepper." The band moved to the Disney-owned Hollywood label for 2001's Weird Revolution, and it's been lying low since. Gibby Haynes and His Problem has all the weirdness of the Surfers, but without the angel-dust aggression of earlier cuts like "Who Was in My Room Last Night?" or the bullhorn vocals he contributed to Ministry's "Jesus Built My Hotrod." The self-titled disc opens with "Kaiser," showing that Haynes's scatological obsessions are still intact -- "I'll be the Kaiser/You'll wear the diapers." The melodic and abstract "Superman," meanwhile, plays like a Bizarro-world R.E.M. track.

Haynes, who has worked with actor Johnny Depp and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, recruited a roundup of obscure all-stars he'd met over the years. Butthole guitarist Paul Leary guests on some songs and mixed half the tracks. Late-era Meat Puppets Kyle Ellison and Nathan Calhoun play guitar and bass, respectively. Shandom Sahm, son of Texas songwriter Doug Sahm, is on drums. Doug Sahm's partner, keyboardist Augie Meyers, makes a guest appearance. Hollywood native Abby Travis has played with Beck, Elastica, and Peter Tork. Haynes says that His Problem's live shows will be, effectively, a chill-out coda to the Surfers' legacy of sensory overload, still centered around projected video.

"It'll be a nice video presentation," says Haynes. "It's more like just pretty stuff. Psychedelia. Well-timed, gentle explosions." He notes that the album's trippy lounge songs won't be quite so mellow. "We rough 'em up a little, play 'em a little faster."

His Problem will continue, but the Butthole Surfers will also reconvene at some point. The Surfers are family, and for all the time they spent naked onstage, heads full of acid, they're not the strangest people Haynes has met. The real weirdos are the people who make a living playing by the record companies' rules.

"Those people are freaks," Haynes says. "I've never hung out with that kind of people. I've hung out with people that were just kind of faking it, and then they just bumped into their musical ability somehow. Like the guys from Ween, those guys can play. Like Mike Watt -- what a great player he is. But initially, it wasn't even about music. It was about expression. There was a purpose to music. Every song had a reason."

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