An Interview with Mark Cline & Mike Richmond of Love Tractor

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Love Tractor - Wikipedia

For Alternative and Indie Rock fans, the 80s are sort of sacred. There was an entire movement of incredible bands that washed over the scene, ones which would change the shape of music forever.

Athens, Georgia may not have been the epicenter of the movement, but it was pretty damn close just the same. With a scene boasting bands such as R.EM., the B-52’s, Pylon and more, the scene was pretty bright and downright watershed level influential. There was another band which came out of this scene, whose self-titled debut record was and still is as influential as any other from that era. That band is Love Tractor.

Love Tractor’s debut album is entirely instrumental, but that doesn’t take away from it’s legacy one bit. It’s been often mined and perpetually borrowed from over the years, and it’s sound and styling were truly harbingers of what was to come bursting out of the Athens Indie Rock scene.

Today, I’ve Mark Cline and Mike Richmond of Love Tractor with us. These two are true veterans of the scene, and it was a pleasure to catch up with them and talk about the new reissue of their debut record Love Tractor, which also includes all new artwork and a fresh remix as well. If you would like to learn more about Love Tractor, you can head over to their Bandcamp here, or their Facebook page here. This is a great talk. Dig it.

Andrew:
Mark & Mike, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever-raging dumpster fire?

Mark:
At least the dumpster fire in the White House is gone. Honestly, I have tuned out the news as best I can, otherwise it is a disturbing distraction— the news and political industries function via social media which has become a disinformation disaster— I for one believe in well-schooled editors. I work in advertising, so I know how it all rolls. Turn down the volume.

Mike:
I’ve always tuned out the world as much as possible anyway, so I think I was well prepared for this nightmare pandemic situation. Thank God for the artists, the musicians and the authors of books. I’ve been reading, listening and playing a lot of music. As my friend Tom Smith says, “Fuck the World.” Also, keeping fit, walking a lot, working out and hanging out with my girlfriend have made this whole thing relatively easy so far. 

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstories. What were your musical gateways so to speak?

Mike:
Yes, music was a huge part of my upbringing. Always playing in the home and car radio. My parents had an interesting collection of music.  Among other things, my Dad had the soundtrack to Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The bad and The Ugly. They had lots of Gospel music by Elvis Presley and Mahalia Jackson. Johnny Cash and Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio and Miles Davis were also in their collections. At about 8 or 9, I discovered the Beatles and my parents have a photo of me holding up a copy of the Beatles VI album which was an early American release of their stuff and I wore that record out. In a few short years though it would all be about Prog Rock and Heavy Metal, which were the popular genres in the early 70’s. 

Mark:
My father was a fan of Classical, Burt Bacharach and film scores. I really took to the film scores (Nino Rota/Fellini, Morricone) and Bacharach’s work with Dionne Warwick. Growing up in the south, Soul and R&B were also a big childhood influence.

When I was in 1st grade some girls in the 8th grade serenaded my class with Bob Dylan songs — I was immediately hooked, my dad bought me a guitar and sent me for lessons. High school was all about English Art and Prog Rock, as well as Kraut Rock. Bowie, Roxy, Eno, Kraftwerk, Led Zeppelin, Fred Frith…

Andrew:
As a band, who are some of your earliest and most important influences?

Mark:
When we started, we were all listening to a lot of English Art Rock— The Durriti Column, early Ultravox with John Fox, we always had a sideways glance at Disco, especially Chic and KC. And quite frankly, we were all influenced by each other’s playing. We never tried to emulate other bands rather we would take a sharp look at their originality — something I think our generation of Athens bands (Love Tractor, B-52’s, Pylon, R.E.M.) had in common. It was a race to be the most singular in terms of sound.

Mike:
Although we grew up in the Classic Rock, Prog Rock era, Punk and New Wave were happening when we began. I think we combined elements of Prog Rock and Classic Rock/Psychedelia with the energy and experimentation of Punk/New Wave. Everybody was listening to the current things, PIL, Wire, Joy Division, Eno, Bowie etc. along with some Disco music, Reggae and Dub. 

Love Tractor | Love Tractor
Love Tractor’s self titled debut record, with reimagined artwork.

Andrew:
Let’s jump right in and talk about the reissue of your release of you classic 1982 release, Love Tractor. This was a really great album, which was ahead of its time. All these years later, what are your thoughts on your debut?

Mike:
I think it’s still fresh sounding. I’ve always viewed this album of 11 songs as one piece of music broken up into different sections. I hate it when critics call it “Surf Rock.”  Even if there are a few things that remind you of Surf Rock, overall, that’s not what it is. 

Mark:
It certainly was ahead of its time and many bands borrowed from it. I agree with Mike, the album is one piece of music. It still sounds singular, timeless and very original.

Andrew:
You guys were initially part of the great early 80s Athens music scene. Which included the likes of Pylon, R.E.M., B-52s and more. What was it like coming up in that scene?

Mike:
All of those bands at that time, except for the B-52’s, were really just starting out. None were famous and everyone was trying to be original and trying to create their own sound. It was an interesting time of course. We all hung out a lot and partied together. Didn’t realize at the time that we were all creating this scene that would become known worldwide.

Mark:
Fun. All the bands mentioned above — we are thick as thieves to this day— best friends for life. We shared equipment, practice spaces, discoveries, even members. We all toured together and critiqued each other. BUT, to augment the above, there really wouldn’t have been any bands, much less a scene if there hadn’t been a demand for music from our friends — we entertained each other.

For the most part the Athens scene grew out of The Art School at UGA and we were all very much misfit toys. So the bands and the audience were all classmates and housemates. I lived in a house dubbed “Pylon Park;” Michael and Curtis from Pylon lived upstairs, I lived downstairs along with Kit, who drummed on our first two albums. Bill and Mike from R.E.M. lived next door. It was all very tight knit. Who knew?

Andrew:
In regards to your new reissue of Love Tractor. This will be a remixed and expanded edition, right? It includes a new mix as we as new artwork. The album is pretty well loved and truly a classic. What led to you finally reissue the album in this way now?

Mike:
We had to remix it because the original master no longer existed. I’m glad we did because we were really able to give it a face-lift, bring out the clarity of the different instruments. 

Mark:
We have been planning reissues for a while and it has been a process. We wanted to get our catalog reassembled and available in all mediums. When it came to the first album, the ¼” masters were unusable— basically gone. We followed the original mixes as closely as possible, but via the miracle of modern mixing technology the album sounds far superior to the original mix. Bill Berry says “It’s like cotton has been removed from my ears.” To me it sounds live and fresh.

We are all visual artists, so when it came time to present the album art, we wanted to take advantage of the graphic technologies for the sleeve— which is the fully realized idea of the original cover.

We knew we wanted to kick off the rerelease with something for Record Store Day, so we picked 3 songs and created expanded mixes of the songs, adding in concepts that had developed after years of playing the songs live.

PLOWING FORWARD IN 2020: Love Tractor - Blurt Magazine
Image Credit: John Boydston

Andrew:
The reissue has been remixed by David Barbe and Billy Berry. What types of touches and changes can fans look for with this release? Were you as a band unhappy with the initial mix?

Mike:
We were not unhappy with the original mix, it just no longer existed. With the help of recent technology and the talents of Bill Berry and David Barbe, we were really able to improve the overall sound of the record. 

Mark:
People can expect a brighter mix, a more live sounding mix. We worked very hard to stay true to the original mix which we loved. Bill and Dave know our music, Bill was in Love Tractor when we were writing the first album, so between the two of them they kept it on track. Where you can hear their touches is in the expanded mixes for Record Store Day.

Andrew:
How about the liner-notes by Mike Mills, Kate Pierson and Anthony DeCurtis? That’s a really nice touch and in a way it brings it full circled back to the Athens days.

Mark:
Three wonderful friends who we really respect, who know the band and the music intimately. It was great to have their notes, and very generous of them.

Mike:
Old friends saying really nice things about us and our music. All the original Athens bands are very friendly to each other, always say nice things in the press and that is probably somewhat unique to the early Athens scene. 

Andrew:
All the members of Love Tractor are visual artists. My understanding is you all reconceptualized the album artwork. What did that process look like?

Mike:
Mark did an excellent job on the new album cover. It’s like the music itself really pops out and is totally fresh.

Mark:
We all speak the same visual and musical language, so it was really how far did we want to go in realizing our vision of how the cover could be translated to today.

The album art had originally been based on Josef Albers, and making his work appear dynamic rather than static. In 1980, we were fairly limited in what we could do, in fact for the first pressing, the sleeve had to be printed in the UK, as US printers wouldn’t print using the process we wanted. For this go around, we really wanted to move deeper into Alber’s Homage to the Square— but on acid. The colors are from a MarcelDuchamp graphic. We simply passed things back and forth until we got it to the place we wanted it. We know how to listen to each other, and luckily, we went to art school together.

PLOWING FORWARD IN 2020: Love Tractor - Blurt Magazine

Andrew:
Touring is usually a huge part of a working musician’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about touring?

Mike:
Given the right circumstances touring can be great. But unless you can tour like the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd, the circumstances are never right and what you have to go through just to get on stage for a couple of hours is brutal and near impossible to do unless you are either very young or very popular. 

Mark:
We don’t miss touring; it is something we stopped doing in the early 90’s. We spent perhaps 15 years on the road with barely a break— for us it is really destructive. I’m not opposed to fly-dates, perhaps 10 shows a year in various locations. Since 2015, we have only played locally in Athens and Atlanta and fans have flown in for the shows. I do think we owe our fans a few shows in their regions. Fans fly in from all parts: the UK, Seattle, Chicago…

Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that Spotify doesn’t pay artists well, if at all. Meanwhile, Bandcamp seemingly goes out of its way to take care of its artist.  What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we as fans do our part to help?

Mike:
It’s criminal, that’s all I care to say about it. 

Mark:
The streaming services are criminal and they take advantage of publishing loop-holes that the government refuses to close. If the streaming services would disappear, bands would make money off their physical product. The entire music industry is stacked against bands — it always has been— new day same old song! Personally, I can’t waste mental energy on the criminal industry. We have always made music because we are driven to do it, each and every album is an art project, we do it out of love rather than financial ambition.

Andrew:
In a world dominated by late-stage capitalism and social media, can artists really, truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Mike:
It’s almost impossible, but people who need to be creative will find a way to get it done even if it is in total obscurity. 

Mark:
I think the change needs to come from the fans and how they desire to consume music. Consumer demand changes industries.  Sadly consumers seem to like the current model.

PLOWING FORWARD IN 2020: Love Tractor - Blurt Magazine
Image Credit: John Boydston

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Mike:
I love Records and CDs. In Athens, my favorite record stores are Low Yo Yo Stuff and Wuxtry.  My most favorite records are Yes’ Tales of Topographic Oceans, Jethro Tull’s Passion Play and Heavy Horses, King Crimson’s Lizard, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Camel Moonmadness, and ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery. The proggiest of the prog. I’m a lifelong fan of over-the-top Progressive Rock and I never seem to be finished with it like I eventually become with most other forms of music.

Mark:
I don’t subscribe to any streaming services, and I pay to see shows, I don’t believe in “the guest list.” I live in NYC and basically all the record stores are gone, so I purchase CDs on eBay.

I will listen to absolutely anything at least once. I don’t really romanticize the past. Too me, music is a world without time. Right now, my playlist consists of Perfume Genius, Sufjan Stevens, Die Antwoord, Billie Eilish, George Harrison — that’s this week. Next week it could be vintage Aerosmith, ABBA, Prince, Dolly Parton…

Andrew:
We know you all are visual artists, but what other passions do you have? How do those passions inform you music, if at all?

Mike:
I’m a bookworm, I work in a library. I love Poetry and Literature. When I was younger, I listened to music obsessively and read a little bit. Now it is almost reversed, I read a lot but still love to listen to music. I’m a big Poetry reader, so my lyrics are styled in that way to some extent. I studied Art History at University and some of our song lyrics “Balthus (The Old Clothesline),” “US Desert” and “Christ Among the Children” are loosely based on paintings. 

Mark:
For me it’s culture, I like all the arts, that’s why I live in NYC— it’s all here. I’m a glutton for all things cultural. Where else can I see The Venice Baroque Orchestra perform late 17th century Neapolitan music that hasn’t been performed in 250 years? Or see Patti Lupone perform Kurt Weil’s Die Sieben Todsünden — a masterpiece of gesamtkunstwerk? Or see the most obscure Rock bands. It all happens here. This city informs my music. My business partner was Warhol’s creative director from the mid 70’s until Andy’s death in ‘87 — it is crazy to see all those Factory characters—it’s real.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for other indie artists just starting out? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Mike:
If you can’t be somewhat original or add to the great musical legacy of the past, don’t bother. The world doesn’t need another New Country artist, The Next Beatles, Another Photogenic Mediocre talent with six-pack abs. 

Mark:
Well coming from a band whose first album was 100% instrumental and somehow successful—I’ve said this for years and it hasn’t changed: To thine own self be true. Don’t emulate bands, copy, or join a “scene.” Be original, so original it scares the shit out of  you— and you just may have a chance. If you’re in it for the money then talk to Maroon Five. As my father always said, “The ripest fruit is way out on a limb!”

Love Tractor 3

Interested in diving deeper into the work of Love Tractor? Check out the link below:

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Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. After losing his life-long vinyl collection in 2014, Andrew began his vinyl collection from scratch again when he met his future wife Angela in 2015. Andrew’s love of music only further blossomed as his collection spanned all genres possible. After amassing 5,000 albums, Andrew knew it was time to finally follow his dream, and thus, Vinyl Writer Music was born. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict, for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island with his wife Angela and their four cats, Oliver, Patrick, Charlie, and Kevin. Andrew works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night. Andrew is also the admin of several Facebook groups dedicated to music.

One thought on “An Interview with Mark Cline & Mike Richmond of Love Tractor

  1. Great interview. Love Love Tractor, and was a friend of, and served with Mike Richmond in the U.S. Navy. He was about music back then. Remember well him playing the guitar in the barracks when I would stop by his room for a visit. We would hit the discos and bars on the weekend. You all are super awesome! And oh, hi Mike…whazzup?

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