Vol. 3, Issue #8 April 18th - March 1st, 2008

Interview with Norman Legend Trent Bell
By: Graham Lee Brewer

If you were fortunate enough to be a teenager in the early 90’s there is undoubtedly a part of you that feels like that era was indeed the greatest period for rock n roll. The Seattle grunge scene was in full swing, bands like Nirvana, Pearl jam and Soundgarden had struck the final blow that effectively killed the Glam Rock era, and MTV played things you might remember called music videos. This was before Brittany and Internet downloads.

Mainstream music felt strangely pure and justified. Lyrics weren’t candy-coated diatribes about the emo girl that got away, and not every band on the radio sounded exactly the fucking same. Looking back on it now I realize how much that era in music shaped what I listen to today, which is absolutely nothing that makes its way to the radio.

Growing up in Oklahoma, however, made me feel disconnected from everything that was going on. I almost shit my pants when I got a ticket to the Smashing Pumpkins show in the city. But for those of us that resided in Norman there was at least one little claim to fame, the Chainsaw Kittens. It was great to have something local to cling to that was a part of something bigger. And when Empire Records came out, holy shit, now it’s official. ‘I know that band! And they’re being represented in a major motion picture, forever solidifying their place in the pop culture of the 90s!’ Well, I probably didn’t say it like that. It was probably more like, ‘Dude! A kittens t-shirt! That’s fuckin’ sweet! Hey Aaron, quit playing Doom and come check this out!’
If you were either too young, too un-hip, or simply weren’t around to catch a Kittens show fret not. They will be reuniting to play the first annual Norman Music Festival, April 26 on Main Street in Norman. Guitarist Trent Bell has made a name for himself running the area’s most reputable recording studio, Bell Labs. He has worked with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Steve Burns, and the Flaming Lips, as well as several local artists including Student Film, The Neighborhood, The Evangelicals, Taddy Porter, Starlight Mints, Watermelon Slim, and Star Death and White Dwarfs.

I spoke with Trent about the golden era of the Kittens and the part he plays here in Norman’s current music scene.
So, the first thing that came to mind when I heard about the reunion show was that you guys are probably going to have to relearn all of those songs.

Yeah, we’ve been getting together once a week for the past four weeks. The first night was pretty hilarious. I’d look at Eric or Matt and say, ‘How did that part go?’ And they would look at me like, you wrote it. But actually Eric, seems to remember everything pretty well. I’m having a hard time with some of the songs, but we’ve got it together. We got like19 songs that are worked up.

Are you going to play that many?

We don’t know, maybe. We won’t that night. We’re going to play that Friday night too, in the city. Kind of like a warm up. It started out as a secret, but we’re telling everybody. It’s at a place called the Speak Easy. We decided we’re here, we’re practiced, we probably don’t want to play this thing as our first show in years. And we though why not? It will be kind of cool to play. We haven’t played a show in eight years. I don’t know if it’s going to be for 500 or 5000 people. If it ends up being for a ton of people you don’t want to get up there and be rusty. We’re thinking the night before play a show.

Any other shows planned?

I think we might do DFest. It’s not set in stone, but it’s amazing how many people are asking us if we’re getting back together or if we’re going to tour. I’m like, no. No way.

Didn’t you do a reunion show once before?

We never really did a reunion show. We got the Gazette Legacy Award, or something like that, and we were like, well we’re all here, and we played a couple songs on another bands equipment. The thing about it is that we never broke up. We never officially broke up. I mean we did in the sense that we quit being active, but we never said, okay, this is our last show. We just figured if something comes up that we want to do we’ll do it. There’s no rules in being a band. We always said we were going to wait for a cool thing to come up to do a show.

Who asked you to play NMF?

The people putting it together asked us if we would be interested. We were at first, we were thinking otherwise, but Tyson seemed pretty excited about coming back from China. So, we were like, cool, let’s do it.

What’s the response been like? I’m sure people are approaching you a lot about the show.
It seems like people are pretty excited. It’s actually been a pretty overwhelming experience. Even people we didn’t think would care are excited. From what I know there are people coming in from Florida, New York, Illinois, Texas, Maine. It’s pretty weird. We’re trying to practice a lot and not suck. Nothing would be worse than getting up there after eight years and people thinking we should wait another eight years.

So with only a few practices you must have remembered a lot of the material.
You have to think we toured forever. We played these songs a lot. There are certain songs that there is no way I could forget how to play them because I’ve played them so many times.
In between the band being active and now did you ever pick up your guitar and play those old Chainsaw Kittens sons?
No, I haven’t played guitar besides being in the studio and maybe helping come up with parts for bands for songs. Playing on a record for them. A lot of times I work 10 to 14 hour days. A lot of the time the last thing I’m going to do is go home and play guitar. But it’s been cool to play again and be serious about it.
Speaking of the studio, you have had a really great opportunity to be an integral part of the local music scene. Tell me what you think about the music community here in the metro.
I obviously think there are tons of great bands. For Norman and OKC it’s pretty amazing how many good bands there are. What I realized from touring all the time, I used to think that I couldn’t stay here for the rest of my life, but then once you go other places you realize everywhere is similar. I think that it’s pretty amazing how many good bands there are here.

I was speaking with Josh Jones {Evangelicals} recently and we were talking about how we thought right now was the best time to be a musician from Oklahoma.

I think so, but I think it’s always been good really. I don’t think there has ever really been a bad time. I don’t know that now is any better than it was 15 years ago. It may be, but why do you say that?
Because there are so many good bands and a lot of them are starting to get attention. With the Internet allowing bands to network and get exposure it’s easier to get your name out there, too. And I think that with the success that you guys had, and Allan Vest, and of course Wayne people are starting to pay attention. But it also has a down side, because you can’t read an Evangelicals review without a Flaming Lips reference. But at least people are paying attention.
Absolutely. What I think is interesting is that when we were touring all the time and we were really full on it was kind of, there weren’t cell phones and laptops with wi-fi, and no iPods. We were thinking ‘Man, touring could have been so much cooler.’

So, I have to ask, are you guys going to record anything while you are all here?

Maybe this summer. We own the rights to the last two records. The self titled one on the Smashing Pumpkins label, which they basically gave us the rights to. Ultimately they were our friends. And then the record after that, The All American, we own the rights to. Our first few records, it’s weird because the label we were on, Mammoth, which we did our first two records with, and then our third was for Mammoth and Atlantic. So, we’ve been trying to figure out who owns the rights to those first two records. Because Mammoth eventually got bought by Disney. At this point our first few records, my best guess is that Disney owns them. And where do you start there? Who owns them and how do we get them back. I think it would be great to be able to have all those and maybe make a record of all our favorite songs and make a couple of new ones.
You obviously have a great studio in Bell Labs.
Yeah, haha, we definitely have the means to record. But I don’t know where to begin to find out who owns our first two records. I mean last year we had two songs in that movie Bug. Even that we never signed off on once. One of our songs was even on the soundtrack.

They never contacted you and you never saw any money from that?

We didn’t sign a piece of paper saying it was cool to use our songs. Isn’t that weird? Just fighting that stuff, it’s like, who has the time and resources? So you just kind of end up being like, well that’s cool that it’s there.

Didn’t the movie take place in Oklahoma?

I didn’t even see it to tell you the truth.

You didn’t even rent it to see your songs in it?

Nope. Matter of fact I never even got a copy of the record. Isn’t that weird? It’s cool though. It boils down to the fact that it’s cooler that the songs are on there than not, but you know it would be nice to some how be able to have more control over those kind of things.

What about the movie Empire Records? Did they contact the label or you for that?

They contacted the label. I remember whenever the label told us a movie was being made and they had ordered 40 Chainsaw Kitten T-shirts. I didn’t think much about it at all. It’s weird because for a certain generation, people loved that film. I get so many people mentioning that. What’s funny is that I’ve never even seen the movie, haha. I’ve seen little bits and pieces, but I’ve never sat down and watched the whole thing. There are movies to me and my generation, Like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, that I was like, ‘Oh man if Jeff Spicoli was wearing my bands shirt in this movie it would be the coolest thing ever.’

I’m surprised you’ve never seen either one of those movies.

I know. You know we also had a song on Hell Raiser 3. It was mid-90s. I think Motorhead was on there, haha.

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