Interview with Pete Wilkinson of Nazi Sex Zombies
by Jake Silverman
May 23, 2012
Now that Pete Wilkinson is finally back in town after a very long extended absence, and actually seems to be somewhat committed to settling down here, at least for a few more weeks, I finally managed to get him to sit down for a couple of minutes and interview him during a break at a Nazi Sex Zombies (NSZ) show at Uncle Steve's. Pete is the founding member of NSZ, and the only remaining one from the original lineup. He's pretty much the head honcho in NSZ, which doesn't seem to be a problem for the other members, at least for now, knock on wood.
Before we get to the interview, here is some background information on Pete.
He tells me that he is the son of an Air Force pilot, and that he was raised at several military bases across the United States and abroad. His parents are still married, are very elderly and retired, are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans and Presbyterians, and live somewhere in Florida. He hasn't seen them in person for over twenty years, although he calls them on the phone about once a year, usually for their anniversary. He is an only child.
Growing up, he didn't like school, and was expelled from two different private schools, once for setting fire to something, and the other time for smashing a toilet with a large rock. He was forced to attend a military academy and ended up paddled countless times for insubordinate behavior and smoking cigarettes. When he was seventeen he dropped out of school and ran away from home.
He played in numerous different bands in several different cities and towns before founding NSZ around 1994. He's never been married, but by his own account is usually in a relationship, and not infrequently in more than one at the same time.
Pete is proud to state that the last time he held a "regular" job was in 1989, when he worked at a Burger King picking up trash in the parking lot for two days. Since then, he's "been mostly living outside of the usual plastic, check and cash economy," as he puts it, and has relied on the generosity and kindness of the many compassionate and kind-hearted souls whose paths he has crossed over the years.
He did pointedly remark that his dad "hasn't given me one single thin dime since I left home at seventeen," but that his mom has mailed him several small checks over the years, always on his birthday, and always for the standard sum of fifty dollars.
Jake: Okay, now recording. Pete, so glad you can do this interview with me tonight.
Pete: Yeah, alright, man. Hold on a sec -- let me say something to Roscoe. Hey, dude, I'm going to talk to Jake for awhile, okay? It's an interview. I said an interview. Hey, Roscoe, can you come a little closer? It's an interview, man! For the website. Jake's website. Alright. Yeah, alright.
Jake: Maybe I should get someone to turn down the intermission music.
Pete: Nah, keep it going, I like it loud. What is this, Frankie Goes to Hollywood?
Jake: You are correct.
Pete: Yeah, they really bring back memories of the good old days, don't they?
Jake: Sure do.
Pete: Hey, look, I don't mean to seem rude or anything, but --
Jake: I know, I know, you don't have much time before you've got to go back on with the band.
Pete: Yeah, you understand, right? You know how it is.
Jake: No worries, Pete. Anyway, I guess the first question I have for you is, or the first request, is if you can please tell me about the beginnings of Nazi Sex Zombies.
Pete: Well, I put the group together around 1994, I believe. We were living in the Indianapolis area when we got started.
Jake: Okay. What about the name? How did you come up with that?
Pete: I always liked the 1960s group the Zombies. So, I wanted to actually name the group the Zombies, but you can't do that, am I right? So, I figured, I'll call it the Sex Zombies, because I like sex.
Jake: Right, I mean, who doesn't, huh?
Pete: Yeah. It's a mostly universal kind of phenomenon, as far as I can tell.
Jake: What about the Nazi part? Do you sympathize with the Nazis?
Pete: Oh, no way, man. Absolutely not.
Jake: So, why'd you put that in there?
Pete: Well, it's just the shock value, I guess. Shock value is good, that's what punk music is all about, because we were punk in the beginning, although I don't know how punk we really are anymore these days. And you know the word Nazi can mean more than just the literal meaning. Because, you know how people say it, like, wow, so-and-so is a real Nazi about doing something or another. You know, like a total fanatic, like no compromise, take-no-prisoners, that kind of thing. So, that Nazi approach, that's what the group is all about, we're real Nazis about being sexual, and I guess I'm a total Nazi about appreciating the Zombies, what an awesome group, you know.
Jake: Alright, thanks for clearing that one up for me. So, I understand that NSZ -- is it okay if I use the acronym?
Pete: Sure, man.
Jake: Good. Well, I've heard that NSZ has had its ups and downs over the years.
Pete: Most definitely. In the late 1990s, I think we were probably at our most successful, at least as far as attendance at our shows goes. Even today, I still feel a lot of regret that we didn't find a way to capitalize on the awesome fan base we had back then, and that right at the moment we were on the verge of a major breakthrough, the whole thing just fell apart.
Jake: Can you elaborate further?
Pete: Yeah, what happened was, I had issues with our bass player Mack, because he was such a -- well, I don't want to talk trash about anyone here, not cool, you know. But Mack, he couldn't chill, or he wouldn't, always talking about money, and how I owed him, and how he wanted me to pay him back, and I kept saying, dude, come on, look at the big picture, if we keep going the way we're going, I'll be able to pay you back a hundred times over, just keep your perspective and all. But he wouldn't let it go. So, he decided to take things into his own hands, and one day I wake up, and my guitar and amp and cabinet are all gone, and Mack was gone, and he left a note saying that he was taking what was his as payment for what I owed him, and that he was through with the band. So, it was like we'd been hit by a torpedo, and we had a bunch of upcoming shows scheduled, so we had to cancel them all, and we decided to break up the band until we could get another bass player, and I could find some way to replace my guitar equipment. I figured I might need a month or two, but it turned into three years.
Jake: That sounds really rough. What happened during those three years?
Pete: Not a whole lot, really. I didn't have anywhere to go or anything to do, so I just hitchhiked out to California, to San Francisco, and lived on the street. You can get by alright there if you have to. I got someone to give me a dirt-cheap acoustic guitar, and I set myself up by the streetcar stations with the guitar case open, and people threw change and a few bills in there. In a way, it wasn't such a bad time for me. I had a bunch of girlfriends, and they were really great about taking me out to eat. They've got some good sushi out there. I spent a lot of time in Golden Gate Park, and slept many a night there, especially in Sharon Meadow, where I had a favorite park bench. And I could go into the Museum of Modern Art at no charge on certain days at particular times, which was always inspiring for me. I also had a buddy who worked the door at the Fillmore, and he let me in for free whenever I wanted. But anyway, I kept a notebook, and came up with a lot of new tunes during those years, so when I finally headed back east to resurrect the band, I had all of that new material, and that turned out to be really important, because that's really some of my best stuff.
Jake: Were you in a band in San Francisco during that time?
Pete: No I wasn't, believe it or not. I mean, I tried to get something going, but nobody wanted to work with me on my own terms.
Jake: Wow, and in San Francisco, of all places. You'd think that you'd have no trouble getting a band started there.
Pete: Yeah, you'd think, but that's not how it was. In that town, it's all about who you know. And I didn't really know anyone. Not exactly the open-arms hippie haven that it's cracked up to be, if you ask me. And it's expensive as hell. But it's still a pretty cool city in any case.
Jake: Please give me the details about NSZ's reformation.
Pete: Like I said, I was out there in San Francisco, and after awhile I had just given up on ever reforming the band. I had gotten totally used to my new way of life. I'd lost all of my ambitions and was sort of at one with the universe. And then, I'm at the Fillmore one night, and I run into my former drummer Latham, what a coincidence, you know, since he was in town visiting his dad. So, after the Fillmore show, we catch up on what had been going on since I'd been away, and he asks to hear some of the new stuff I'd been working on, and after I'd played him a few songs, he says to me, dude, we've got to get you back home and get the band back together, and he had a complete electric guitar setup that his brother didn't want anymore, so Latham had bought it off him for practically nothing, and he was just going to give it to me with no strings attached. So, I figure, why not, you know? Latham had me stay at his dad's house that night, and a few days later, there we are at the airport, he bought me a ticket, you know. And I was on my way back east again. I didn't get around to saying goodbye to my San Francisco girlfriend, I still feel bad about that. You know, everything happened so sudden.
Jake: In retrospect, do you think that you made the right decision?
Pete: Whoa, I don't know. It's hard to say, really. I don't know if I'll ever have the answer to that particular question. Hey, you know what? Roscoe is signaling to me, we're going to have to wrap this up in a minute or two.
Jake: Okay, will do. So, back to the reformation of the band.
Pete: Right. Well, Latham and I flew in to Cleveland, and he introduced me to my new lead guitarist, keyboard player and bassist. He'd been working with those guys under a different band name, and when I showed up, Latham pretty much said, alright, Pete's in charge now, and we are now the Nazi Sex Zombies, because he knows how I am. So, the bassist seemed alright with that, but after a month or two, the other two guys bailed on us and were pretty ugly and resentful about it, which really shook up Latham in a bad way, but I could have cared less, because I guess by that point I had learned to take all of those things in stride, and as luck would have it, we were able to find replacements pretty quickly. But then, just when I thought things were finally going great, Latham's girlfriend and I had a weak moment together, and Latham found out about it, and the next thing I knew, he had quit, and to this day still refuses to speak to me. I sent him a friend request on Facebook a few months ago, but nothing, no reply, you know.
Jake: Man, what a blow that must have been. So, at that point, you were the only remaining founding member.
Pete: That's right. When Latham left, it was just me. But the surprising thing was, we found another drummer in a few days, and continued on almost as if nothing had happened. But that version of the group really didn't get anywhere because the chemistry just wasn't any good. I hate to criticize, but the new drummer just didn't cut the mustard. But I will say that he's a very nice guy. I'll give him that. But I had to let him go, and when that happened -- hold on, a sec. Roscoe, man, I'm almost done! What's the rush? Just chill out, alright, dude? I'll be right there.
Jake: Maybe we should finish up.
Pete: Yeah, I think you're right. People are starting to leave the club.
Jake: Just briefly, then, could you tell me what happened after you fired the drummer?
Pete: When I fired that guy, the band pretty much broke up, because he was such a good friend to the other dudes in the band, and they said, if he goes, we go, so I said, bye, and that was it. I was once again on my own, and was about to head back out to San Francisco, but right after that, one of my buddies from one of my previous bands in the late 1980s found me, and we teamed up with two of his friends as a punk rock outfit with an accordion. One of those guys knew Uncle Steve, and we started playing at his club. After a few months, we decided to do a tour of North and South Dakota, which totally failed, by the way. When we came back to Uncle Steve's with our tails between our legs, I brought with me my Japanese girlfriend, Hoshi Yamamoto. I'd met her in Fargo during the tour and she just came along with us. You might not know this, but our good friend Beatrice McIntyre met her former husband, Mr. Watanabe, through Hoshi, since he is her uncle. As you know, Hoshi is an awesome traditional wood flute player, so I figured that she should play for the band. But those other guys are total polka-punk purists, and they drew the line with the Japanese flute. I told them that it was my band, and if they didn't like it, too bad, so they quit, and I figured, fine, it'll just be me and Hoshi. But then I started to get on her nerves, I think mostly because she couldn't stand me smoking cigarettes, and one day, she just told me, just out of the blue, she said, Pete, you are a big donkey head, I don't want a dummy boyfriend, and she left. But in a way, I was kind of relieved, I guess, because she had way too many pairs of shoes. It was insane, I'm serious.
Jake: Pete, great to talk with you, I'm sorry to have kept you here so long.
Pete: No problem, dude. Love you, man!
Since Pete ran out of time for the interview, I'll fill you in on the rest of his story, since I personally know it. After NSZ broke up because of Hoshi, Pete ended up destitute and band-less again. For awhile, he filled in for other bands, for example, by playing guitar and singing for Stab Skull and STD on a few odd occasions. During that time, he didn't actually own his own guitar equipment and had to borrow it from other people. I lost track of him for several months, until one day he returned to Uncle Steve's in a severely malnourished state and suffering from some very painful abscessed teeth. We hosed him down and fixed him up. He then borrowed my car for over a year, and I only saw him sporadically during that time. Finally, he returned to Uncle Steve's without my car, which was completely totaled, and I'd rather not go into that again, because you can read about the details in a previous post. Recently, NSZ has been sort of reformed, and I'm glad to say that Pete now seems like a somewhat happier and more stable guy than he had been for some time.
So, please check for further updates about Pete and NSZ. The band's new sound is really awesome, much mellower and more melodic than it used to be. He's got some very talented, capable and mature musicians working with him now. Maybe this is the version of NSZ that will finally bring Pete the success that he so very much deserves. The man is a creative genius. Stay tuned, website viewers, stay tuned.
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