The Poison Control Center’s Patrick Tape Fleming: The Informer Interview

Courtesy of Patrick Tape Fleming

Patrick Tape Fleming is a longtime central Iowa musician best known as the frontman for indie rock band The Poison Control Center, which released its first EP, The Go-Go Music Show, on Bi-Fi Records in 2001 and toured extensively over the course of the next decade, opening for Pavement in Kansas City during the indie rock legends’ 2010 reunion tour.

Since it all began, Fleming has moved on to other projects, including Gloom Balloon, a two-man collaboration with singer-songwriter Christopher Ford; and started raising a family.

Bryon Dudley, an Informer contributing writer and co-founder of the Ames record label Nova Labs, recently caught up with Fleming to to chat about his music career, how he balances it with his new life as a family man, and what projects he’s currently got in the works — potentially including a new release from PCC, whose previous album, Stranger Ballet, came out in 2011 on Afternoon Records.

BD: You’ve written a lot of music at this point, and toured the country, and made many other great contributions to the music conversation in Iowa and beynod. But you’re also a really gifted performer who brings audiences into the show in a really powerful way. What were your initial impulses that led to you wanting to write music, and also to be a performer?

PTF: Well, I think songwriting is a true gift to the world, one that comes straight from the human spirit. If the stratosphere is calling you with a song to take and make your own, you better answer the call and take it, work it, scramble it up, and put it back together and give it back to the world in the form of music and melody! Like my buddy Devin Frank of PCC says, “You can’t kill a song once it’s been released.”

And that’s a good and bad thing. It could lead to years of embarrassment or years of magic after your physical body has left the Earth! It’s something I have wanted to be a part of since I saw Ferris Bueller up on a float singing the Beatles’ version of “Twist & Shout”! I thought to myself, that looks fun. I was hooked, I wanted to do that! So it happened at a very early age. Music helps me stay seven years old in my mind.

You just put out an album last year for your Gloom Balloon project. What are you working on right now?

Musically, I have been working on a few producing projects this year — Christopher the Conquered, Foxholes, Pink Neighbor — and I have started writing songs for a new Gloom Balloon album. I have the concept and a couple songs, but that’s it. So, who knows, maybe it will turn into nothing. I really like the concept. But it’s hard for me to have a concept first and hope the songs come. On the last album, the songs all came fairly quickly with a burst of inspiration. Forcing myself to do something is odd, but I like where I’m at so far. If anything, I could just record the two songs I have and make a fun 7-inch.

Also, the Poison Control Center has started sharing demos for a a possible album project down the road since we had so much fun playing a couple shows this spring and summer. But who knows, nothing is set in stone on both accounts.

Oh! I guess PURE GUT, a punk band I’m in, just finished recording a little four-song EP. We had not played a show in over a year, got together for one practice, drank some beers, and hit a studio a week later and puked out four songs. It turned out really well! I got to play lots of loud guitars on it, so that was fun for me.

It sounds like you’re keeping plenty busy! Between all these projects and maintaining a family life, how do you balance it? Do you have any tips or strategies you can share for budding musicians and creative types out there?

I think now that I have a child and a full-time job that takes up a lot of time, I find creative time more precious. So, if I find myself with an idea for a tune and I got 10 minutes to work on it, I don’t mess around, I get right to it. I sing the first thing that comes to my mind or get out my phone and try to record a demo immediately — just ‘cause I know I might not get to work on something for another week or month! The first tune on the latest Gloom Balloon album was exactly that! I had an idea, my son was babbling in the background, and I just got out my phone and made a demo! I liked the way it sounded so much I put it on the record. That’s why you hear my son first on the album before anything else!

That makes a lot of sense, maximizing the time you get. What do you feel is sort of your creative peak? Do you feel like there’s a song, album, or whatever else you’ve worked on that you feel the most proud of?

I suppose with most artists, you hope your creative peak is whatever you worked on most recently. I look at someone like Randy Newman and think, wow, that guy has been making music for over 50 years and he’s never really had a slump of bad records, or things that didn’t work. He has always been equally as great as he ever was!

I think with me, I’m probably the best songwriter I have ever been now, but maybe I’m just more picky. I know I don’t put out as much music as I once did. But what I do put out know seems better! As far as a creative peak, I really love some of the records I have produced. That’s what I’m most proud of. Christopher the Conquered’s Giving Up on Rock and Roll, Minorcan’s Keep at Hand, Dolfish’s I’d Rather Disappear Than Stay the Same, Twins’ Square America, Wolves in the Attic’s Electronic Hearts, and Quick Piss’ Rock ‘n Roll Impotence.

If people remember me for anything musically, I hope it’s for my work on other people’s records. I hope it showed that I could get really unique recordings and performances out of other people. Capture them at their peaks and show that I could do it with many different styles of music. That would be my hope!

I’m more proud of that than anything I have written or any performance I have done. It’s also probably the thing that I get the least amount of fanfare for, which I like. I like being the man behind the scenes, the fly on the wall who gets to be involved.

As far as songs I have written, of course the most recent one I have written is my peak. It’s unreleased, of course, but deals with race. Through shiny Christmas lights. I know that sounds strange but for some reason I’m really into it!

As someone who sees and participates in the Iowa music community, what do you think Iowa kicks the most ass at? And, on the flipside, if there’s one thing you had the power to change to make it better, what would it be?

I really think Iowa kicks ass at being proud of itself! We are the underdogs. The ones who are not doing it for popularity, or fame, or money! We do it ‘cause we love it. I remember Poison Control Center being on tour and meeting up with Mumford’s and Utopia Park in some town somewhere, maybe in Texas, and people from Texas were just mind-blown by how much pride, energy, and sweat we all poured into our live shows. The passion was like nothing they had ever seen before! The stars and stripes might be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but the pride was coming from the kids from Iowa that week!

So fun, when somebody comes up to you and goes, “Where you from?” and you can say with pride, “Iowa!” And the next question is, “What’s that like, is that why you are so crazy?” “Haha, no, it’s just that we are having so much fun putting everything into something we love!”

That said, there are fewer and fewer Iowa bands getting out there right now and touring. Karen Meat and Dana T are really doing it right now. Hitting that 100 shows a year mark! That’s what I wish could change more! We are in the middle of everything and it’s very easy to get out of Dodge and go play some shows. I know it’s a scary thing and might also be hard on the wallet but if you do it smart you can make some dough and show off how we Iowans roll!

Bryon Dudley
Bryon Dudley is a writer and musician from Ames. He has written about music and other topics for a number of local publications and blogs. When not playing music and putting out albums with groups such as Strong Like Bear, Liana, and Rockets of Desire, he is helping other Iowa artists record their music at his studio, The Spacement, and releasing it on the Iowa label he co-founded, Nova Labs. He has a tattoo of an aardvark and is adjusting to bifocals.