by J.W. Wargo
“The Slow Poisoner (alias Andrew Goldfarb) is a one-man surrealistic rock and roll band who hails from San Francisco and has been playing the devil’s music to audiences across America since 1996.” –The Slow Poisoner Website
I’ve had a fondness for multi-instrumentalists and one-man bands most of my life. As a child, my favorite scene in Mary Poppins was Bert busking and making up songs about his audience while he simultaneously playing the accordion, trumpet, horn, and drums strapped to his back that was triggered by strings attached to his legs. As I matured, so did my taste in music, but always I found myself drawn to the solo musicians who took it upon themselves to craft every shape in their sound. Even my first Unearthly Sounds article was about a one-man-band.
I’ve seen The Slow Poisoner perform five times, five years in a row, at the five BizarroCons I’ve attended, and he never fails to totally capture and enthrall a room full of drinking and dancing weirdos. A quick look at his website’s tour date history will show you the hard-working man has experience when it comes to entertaining an audience. I decided to probe his mind a bit and find out what lurks beneath the witchcraft and voodoo shenanigans:
J.W. Wargo: Tell us of your origin. Were you born in the swamp, under the swamp, over the swamp, or just near the swamp?
The Slow Poisoner: I was born into a metaphysical swamp, as are we all. The origins of my swamp obsession actually go back to a seedy carnival I passed through in the mid-1970s, when I was around seven years old. It was at the midway of a county fair; after looking at pigs and flowers all day my parents were trying to find their way back to the parking lot as night fell. They dragged my brother and I through what seemed like an endless corridor of creepy amusement park rides, most of them luridly-painted haunted houses, the kind of ride with little two-seater cars that go on a track through a series of black rooms with day-glow mechanical horrors. I was especially struck by one featuring an animatronic old man in front of a spooky bayou scene. He was gibbering about the demons that dwelled in the swamp, and warning people not to come inside, as glowing yellow eyes blinked from the sinister trees that surrounded him. It thrilled and unsettled my childhood mind, especially in conjunction with the carnies that I glimpsed in the shadows behind the dark rides, making out with their girlfriends… I figured that this was what the adult world was really all about.
JWW: Being in a one-man band, does your right foot ever get tired of the drummer jokes?
TSP: All those drummer jokes are true, which is why I became a one-man-band. Collaboration (with other humans) can potentially be a wonderful thing when you get artists that can harmonize together to explore further in creative directions than they would on their own. At other times, however, collaboration will just dumb ideas down to what all parties involved are comfortable with or understand – this is especially true of rock bands, who often have to find their secondary members through posting want ads. Inevitably, it’s the drummer that will suggest doing Stevie Wonder covers. One thing I like about one-man-bands in general (not just my own) is that there’s a singular intensity of vision that goes undiminished by other parties’ ungainly participation. That said, I make a happy exception whenever John Skipp can join me on bongos.
JWW: Describe your process a bit. How do approach your songwriting? What generally comes first, the words or the music?
TSP: I’ll usually get the title first, and then I have to wait around for some suitable notes and chords to come to me by night-wagon. Sometimes it’s a long wait. I had the title “Flaming Arrow” on my to-do list for a year, but none of the music that slithered out of my hands was quite flaming enough. Eventually, if I batter at my guitar endlessly while repeating the title like a mantra, the right melody will come along and I can then introduce it to the title. The rest of the lyrics then assemble themselves from there, like rats coming out of a hole in the wall.
JWW: I heard the last bottle of “The Slow Poisoner Genuine Enervating Elixir Miracle Tonic” was recently sold. Did you ever have to dodge any assassination attempts by the American Medical Association while you were still in the Magick Potion business?
TSP: I advertised it as being a cure for consumption, women’s troubles, gout, neuralgia, wandering limbs, stoutness, onanism, disinterested bladder, elephantiasis, cholera, barnacles, boils, the fits, excessive abscesses, necrosis, lavender fever, and general wasting, but I also received a testimonial from the Midwest that it was effective in getting rid of whooping cough. I always found it to act as a mild stimulant, myself. I did get a warning from a guy that worked at the FDA, but it wasn’t an official thing; he just happened to be at one of my shows. After a few years, I ran out of ingredients and figured it was time to pursue other endeavors.
JWW: Your live performances incorporate your own beautifully drawn art/set pieces and you sprinkle amusing anecdotes between your songs, giving your shows a truly interactive feel. This concept came together seamlessly in your latest album, Lost Hills, an epic, 10 song Swamp Rock Opera complete with narration and illustrations. Musician, Painter, and Storyteller. Would you consider yourself a modern day Artistic Renaissance Man?
TSP: More of a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-some. My only ambition is to share a certain weird mood – a sense of surreality that appeals to me and that I believe will appeal to at least a handful of others. Using different mediums betters my chances of conveying this atmosphere since art and music express ideas from different angles – like opposite walls of one crooked house. I’ve gotten interested in video too, plus a bit of acting and I write an advice column. Also, I think it’s important to stay productive and continually create new work. Having a short attention span, it’s easier for me to be prolific if I vary the format. I get bored of singing songs all day, so I go and paint a picture after a while.
JWW: Has Ogner Stump, the protagonist of your long-running “One Thousand Sorrows” comic strips, ever made an appearance in your music?
TSP: Not by name, but the narrator of Lost Hills was a similar character, in that they’re both semi-autobiographical avatars. The setting for my comics and my songs is the same, though, in that it’s just an exaggerated and stylized (or maybe unfiltered is a better way to put it) version of the “real” world – a place of swamp witches and cosmic horror, where bizarre creatures of every stripe are engaged in sinister pursuits in murky places. This hollow planet that we live on is actually bursting at the seams with trolls and goblins, slinking across a shifting and exotic landscape of weeping foliage and sparkling elixirs. If you give the eye-window a quick wipe, the feathered beast is clear to see in all its speckled, scaly glory.
JWW: Let’s hold a seance: …..MMMMMHMHMHHMMMMMMNNNNMNMMHNMMHHMMM….. Tell us, oh great and salty snack-size spirits! What does the future hold for The Slow Poisoner?
TSP: In the next few months I’ve got a solo art gallery exhibit of my black velvet paintings happening in Hollywood, plus I’ll be putting out a new album, titled “Ever Been Chewed Upon By Teeth As Sharp As Knives?” I plan to do some touring in the summer, and new Ogner Stump strips will appear in the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. In the greater distance, I have two more rock operas in development; I think the first will see the light of day in the 2020s and the second sometime in the 2040s. Both are based on real events, one of which is a secret and the other being a re-telling of the Air Loom Gang of the late 18th century. The Air Loom Gang (the Middleman, Glove Woman, and Sir Archy) were pneumatic practitioners engaged in the nefarious psychic torments of political enemies by means of magnetized lobster-cracking, stomach-skinning, and apoplexy-working with a nutmeg grater, not to mention sordid lengthening of the brain.
Don’t forget to check out The Slow Poisoner’s latest music video Hot Rod Worm!