Interview for Holy Grail Points: Bill Peters on Music and his Novel, Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality

High Falls: Rochester, NY (Photo - A. Schmitt)

Rochester, NY: City of Quality, High Falls. (Photo – A. Schmitt)

“An opening band plays a song with boogery garage-rock chords and a drum part that sounds like a man falling down stairs.” -Bill Peters, Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality
Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality

Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality

Bill Peter’s (@wpeters) debut novel, Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality, is one of the more colorful, funny, and honest books I’ve read in awhile. Full disclosure, Bill was a good friend growing-up, and we’re still fairly close, but that said, if Bill was a complete stranger I’d still stand behind Maverick Jetpants as being one of the most innovative books written in years. It’s incredible.

Bill’s use of language through the secret code of friends turns inside jokes into cornerstones of conversation which carry the book in poignent and oftentimes hilarious ways. Maverick Jetpants is set in Rochester, NY in 1999, and while Rochester is the third largest City in  New York, it’s rarely been written about, and never in such a creative  manner. Bill embraces the Rust Belt City of our youth making Rochester an intricate character.

Music is also present in Maverick Jetpants, and is a vehicle that carries Nate, Necro, Lip Cheese, Toby, and Crew past the days of the “Classic Rochester Drive Around” and towards something greater. I recently interviewed Bill about Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality and its musical influences.

Music is a theme that’s woven throughout “Maverick Jetpants”. When you’re writing, is there a certain style or genre you find yourself listening to?

Since I worked on this book over many years, the soundtrack to “Bill Peters, Writing This Book” would likely be a 25-CD set, for $540.00, that would contain some of the following artists: Broken Social Scene, Scud Mountain Boys, Marah, the Paybacks, the Darkness, Underworld, Autechre, Sparta, At the Drive-In, Nicolai Dunger, Dungen, Kent, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Imogen Heap, Janelle Monae, Cocteau Twins, Mastodon, Muler, Memory Tapes, His Clancyness, Fennesz, Junior Boys, The Field.

I find more and more, though, that I like the Eno-y stuff – songs that are 10 minutes long, that aren’t distracting me with their lyrics and drum fills and that have slow, auroral shifts. It’s all about the auroral shifts.

A few of your characters seem to have an affinity with rock T-Shirts (Rush, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, etc.). What’s your go-to rock T-Shirt that you gravitate toward most often?

The rock T-shirt that continues to survive my pit-sweat is of Inugami, a terrific band from Rochester. But as I’ve gotten older, I don’t wear rock T-shirts as much, and buying one is an act of real deliberation. As in, I have actually said to myself: “Huh. I really need to order an Iron Maiden T-shirt.” Then I went online.

WCMF, Rochester’s classic rock station, seems to be a favorite of the main character Nate. When you’re back in Rochester, what are the Top 3 stations you find yourself listening to?

CMF, still, probably. And WBER, which will still play stuff people haven’t heard of. But like many people, I listen to terrestrial radio much less, so I probably couldn’t even give you a third station.

Speaking of radio, you briefly mention how there’s a progression in the stations Nate listens to. He listens to WPXY (Rochester’s Top 40 Station) when younger, but progresses towards the Rock of WCMF as he gets older. If your novel took place in 2009 instead of 1999? Would radio still be an influence on the story, or would blogs/podcasts have crept into the book?

I see Nate and Necro as working-class radio and hard-copy loyalists, and their tastes defined by whatever tests well in listener research. They’d probably be fans of post-Limp-Bizkit metal or spewy modern rock, with maybe some Foster The People or MGMT thrown in to cut all that grease. But I don’t see them as having the curiosity that would lead them any deeper. Although, I imagine some of the book’s main drama – that is, Nate’s suspicions that Necro might be a domestic terrorist after a series of arsons coincide with Necro’s perceived slights – might play out more online through Likes, Unlikes, or obsessive refreshing of a friend’s profile.

As a society we’re becoming much more compartmentalized. Instead of listening to radio, with influencers such as John Peel or even Wease, we’re queuing up Spotify or Pandora to ensure we won’t hear anything we don’t disagree with. How different do you see the characters of “Maverick Jetpants” if they lived in the post cellphone era. Would things like the “Classic Rochester Drive Around”even exist?

Right. I actually read an article in the New York Times last year about how smartphones have reshaped the way young adults define independence. An official from Ford interviewed for that story said the automobile “was the signal into being a grown-up. Now, the signal into adulthood for teenagers is the smartphone.” In other words, an analyst quoted in the article said, smartphones “offer a degree of freedom and social reach that previously only the automobile offered.” The article also cited Transportation Department statistics indicating that fewer young adults are getting drivers licenses, as well as a survey by Gartner that the article said “found that 46 percent of people 18 to 24 would choose access to the Internet over access to their own car.”

Anyway, the characters in Maverick Jetpants in The City of Quality share a Byzantine language of in-jokes, which is, I guess, their own form of compartmentalizing, or reducing the possibility of dissent from the outside. But for all the talk of the Internet being a vehicle for people to connect, it can be very lonely. You’re confronted, in a more direct, quantitative way, with the vastness of people’s indifference – whether it’s meager page views, an empty comment thread after some well-labored writing, or Twitter users that follow you, fishing for a follow-back, only to un-follow days later. The online life of Nate, Necro, Toby and Lip Cheese, I imagine, would be similarly lonely, and a virtual hall of fame for the least viral memes of all-time.

You mention The Bop Shop and the late great Fantastic Records in Maverick Jetpants. When was the last time you went to a Record Store to buy music, and what did you walk out with?

This is awful, but the only record store trip I can recall specifically right now was in 2010 at the Newbury Comics on Newbury Street in Boston. It was the weekend of your wedding. I bought Baroness’ “Red Album,” Alcest’s “Ecailles de Lune” and “Before Today” by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. But there have been other trips to other record stores where other albums have been bought. I know this for a fact.

In my opinion, one of the strongest moments in the book takes place in The Bug Jara Rochester favorite for live music, with Nate and his father. When writing this scene, was there a particular concert that you referenced, or was it an amalgamation of all your times in that club?

It wasn’t really based on any one concert. Basically, I took all the different personalities that I’d seen at the Bug Jar and poured them into Real Dad, which is what Nate calls him. Then I tried to make it as awkward as possible.

What is the best concert you’ve ever seen in Rochester?

The best concert, probably, was when I saw Muler, a heavily-Superchunk-influenced band from Rochester, at Milestones in 1996 or 1997. Maybe four people were there, but Muler was drunk, telling jokes, amusing one another and jumping around like the place was packed. I think the second-best through fifth-best Rochester shows are also just other Muler shows. There’s a great life lesson in that Milestones show, and I could only hope to keep similar perspective when Maverick Jetpants in The City of Quality eventually settles into forgotten-ness.

What contemporary band would Nate be into in 2012?

I think Nate would love a band like Clutch – big blowout riffs; goofy but clever – if he ever had an opportunity to see them play. But because of who he is and who his friends are, he might never have that opportunity, so I imagine he’d most likely be stuck with Clutch’s modern-rock brethren. I don’t even know the names of those bands; mentally I file all of them under ‘Incubus.’ But I remember that awesome AV Club essay series, “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation,” that talked about – and I’m paraphrasing those essays – how the disenfranchisement that came across as smart and self-reflective in early-90s alternative bands became roid-rage by the end of the decade. I think that’s what Nate’s got for his life, band-wise and, as a partial result, feeling-wise.

If “Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality” was a band it’d be…

Actually, now that I think about it, Clutch. Their sound has the same swagger (a word also used in a back-cover blurb) as Nate’s voice. Some of Nate and Necro’s catchphrases – like Colonel Hellstache, Roasted Face of Satan, or Washcloth King – fit nicely with Clutch song titles like “Gnomes Enthusiast,” “Day of the Jackalope,” “Mr. Shiny Cadillackness,” “Army Of Bono,” and dozens of others. The lyrics, as well, I think, have the same feel as Nate and Necro’s conversation – one-off jokes, maybe, that sometimes balloon into stories, entire joke mythology, or entire joke conspiracy theories. Which, in fact, is what drives the book’s entire plot. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice this earlier.