Interviewed by Scott Ritcher in 1996. Published in K Composite #6.
Jason Bingham Noble lives the kind of life you read about. In fact, you’re reading about it right now. He’s the kind of person whose accomplishments are so vast and varied that their description is as ornery a literary task as could be mustered.
In 1992, he took a job washing dishes to earn enough money to buy a guitar. A few short years later, he is widely recognized for his role as a founding member of the Rachel’s Band, an alumnus of the legendary rock group Rodan and the mega-production rap project King G and the J Krew.
In the world of film, he played a starring role in 1993’s Half-Cocked, and is a blossoming filmmaker himself via Super 8 with his longtime collaborator Greg King.
Jason and Greg are responsible for designing and packaging the Rachel’s records, a tedious labor which has generated a high level of recognition and awards for the band. And the two lads displayed their talent with paint in the form of murals inside Syd’s Hot Bagels restaurants.
For all the charm, wit, uniqueness, and amazement he brings into the world (along with his veritable built-in-thesauraus vocabulary), he also lives with the added distinction of being your interviewer’s roommate. To that end, our interview begins in the kitchen of the tree-surrounded house we share on Broadway, with a discussion of our stove…
WHAT MAKES THE MAGIC CHEF A PIECE OF ART?
Well, not only its stylish construction, but its infinite controllability in regards to the amount of heat that you would care to generate under the given article that you are cooking, in a pan or skillet. Not to mention the fact that it has a “broaster” that you can fit an entire turkey breast in- or Megan Hoskins’ shoes. And it also features an oven that cooks better than any oven I’ve ever used. And the only problem with the oven is the potential for incinerating one’s self while lighting it is somewhat there. But it adds to the drama of…
NOW, WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU MENTION THE DANGER OF SOMEONE INCINERATING THEMSELVES?
Well, a young man that I will leave unnamed [Pat McClimans, K Composite 4] turned on the gas and the temperature control to a … you know, 450 or something high…and didn”’t know you had to light it. So when he approached it, and opened it with the burners on top of the stove on, they ignited the escaping gas fumes and thus burned off a portion of his facial hair, and created a – as they say – pyrotechnic flash that startled everyone in the kitchen, but did not disrupt the edibles on the stove.
HAVE YOU EVER JUMPED A TRAIN?
No I haven’t. But I have taken pictures and recorded many trains. One stopped while going through University of Louisville’s campus. I got out and touched it, but I did not
“jump” it. But I plan to do so before I leave this earth…
OR WHILE YOU LEAVE THIS EARTH….
….during the leaving of the earth I will be falling from a Cat diesel-powered train.
HAVE YOU EVER GONE FISHING? AND IF SO, DETAIL THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
Detail the circumstances, yes, several times. Enjoy it quite a bit . Haven’t done so in the last several years. Has no bearing on vegetarian status.
DID YOU THROW ‘EM BACK?
Yes, of course. And favorite memories include baiting the hook, as well as a very memorable incident regarding gars, of which I caught several. This is when I was about eleven…ten years old, actually. The person I was with hooked something large. This is in a place in Florida- not that I am advocating anyone visiting Florida, which, of course, I’m not. [laughter] But, caught something large, this is at the bottom of a slope on a large train track, in fact, it had gars all over it- skeletons of gars- because people would catch them and realize, “This is a hideous- looking monster,” and put it down.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A GAR?
A gar is a cylindrical – usually sixteen inches long – fish, that has a long row of teeth that resembles something like a crocodile. In fact, I’ll show you in the dictionary. It’s pretty fearsome looking, and they’ll rip your line right off.
The person I was with actually had something that was much more sizable on the end of his hook, and discovered as he was reeling it in that it was, in fact, an alligator. So he let the alligator go ahead and take his fishing pole, and we left. [laughter]
WHAT IS YOUR FONDEST MEMORY OF THE MUPPETS?
I thought it was pretty excellent that they had Mark Hamill on there, not as Mark Hamill but as Luke Skywalker… which I’ve always preferred him as. And I was chagrinned that they didn’t have Harrison Ford. But I would settle.
There’s so many fond memories of The Muppet Show. One of my fondest memories, in fact, was the Pigs In Space Thermos that Greg King let me borrow, which I still have. And it has kept my coffee warm many a night while working in all-night-type office situations.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SCENE IN PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE?
Oh, my God. How impossible to pick? I don’t know if that’s possible, Scott. I would just have to say that it’s about an hour and twenty-nine minutes of my favorite scenes.
But definitely the Animated Eyes, the “Let’s talk about your big but” and so many things. I’m almost overwhelmed by that question.
ARE YOU TRENDY OR A TRENDSETTER.
WELL, YOU HAVE TO PICK ONE.
Okay, well, my… wait. Why do I have to do anything.
BECAUSE IT’S A QUESTION!
I’m standing in my own kitchen. [laughter] Well, I guess by default then, if I’m not trendy. then I’m a trendsetter. But that is an inadvertent and unfortunate aberration of the fact that I will give no credence to the concept of trends [laughter] nor will they ever govern the pattern that I would live my life by [more laughter because it’s funny]. That is “aberration” as in “an aberrance.”
[After a brief discussion about the pros and cons of the death penalty…]
WE CAN GO ON TO AN EASIER QUESTION.
HOW’S IT GOIN’?
It’s going alright. [laughs] Actually, I don’t like that answer. It’s going better. It’s a good day. Today is the day our record comes out. [The Rachel’s third album on Quarterstick Records, The Sea and the Bells, 18 months in the making]
After about a year and a half of thinking about that and doing it, that makes me pretty excited and happy, if not a tiny bit anxious. It’s part of the job…
WELL, SPEAKING OF THAT, I CAN… WERE YOU FINISHED? I’M SORRY…
And “How’s it going?” because presently it’s going pretty good.
I’m made to laugh and to enjoy life when I hang out with you. If I was sulking around in my room right now, maybe the question “How’s it going?” would be more like, “A little bit too much on my mind.” But I like talking about Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and stuff. It gives a lucidity that I don’t normally have.
YOU MENTIONED THE BAND. LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT FOR A MINUTE…
Yes. Yes, Mister Interviewer. [laughter]
THERE ARE TWO BAND-RELATED QUESTIONS ON THE LIST HERE. THE FIRST BEING: WOULD YOU LEAVE YOUR MUSICAL PURSUITS BEHIND TO BECOME ONE OF 27 ASTRONAUTS ON AN EXPEDITION TO MARS?
No. [laughter at his “elaborate” answer] I feel like the people I presently play with and work with… the band, I feel, revolves around peopl’s collaboration – especially in visual arts as well, movie making, things like that – and I think that we’ve worked many years to be able to get to do what we want, or to be able to produce things that we have thought about for years.
So, I would feel kind of like I was letting those people down, and letting myself down in a way, because it seems like we’re just now starting to do things as full-on as we had dreamed of. And if I left for Mars – which I wouldn’t [laughs] – I would constantly be thinking about all the things we could’ve done together.
NOW, SUPPOSE THE WHOLE BAND COULD GO, AND TAKE THE INSTRUMENTS AND RECORD THE FIRST ALBUM IN OUTER SPACE? …ON THIS EXPEDITION TO MARS.
I still don’t think I would do it because however intriguing that is as a concept or “What is there?” and the whole thing…
Right. Well, I have a couple feelings about… I used to be really caught up when I was younger, when I was a kid, really, to make a point in history. To make a definite mark that was my space in history. Not necessarily in a cynical way, but I can’t really think that way anymore. Not because history’s gonna be over soon enough; which occasionally I think. But more like I just want to contend with what my daily life is offering, and my yearly life, and projects coming to their fulfillment.
I just think there’s enough things to contend with here, things I don’t understand enough about – the world that I live in presently … well, I have the opportunity to keep working on that.
understand enough about— the World that I live in presently well, I have the opportunity to keep working on that. Trying to understand it. Work with it. Do things that I feel are maybe contributing to make a decent place out of the world. And I would sort of feel like I was ditching the sinking ship. However amazing a “fresh start” somewhere else is, I don’t think that’s for me.
WELL, ALL THOUGHTS OF A MARTIAN EXPEDITION BEHIND… IS “MAKING A MARK IN HISTORY” OR BEING REMEMBERED HISTORICALLY; IS THAT AN ASPIRATION OF YOURS?
I think more of my aspiration is to make a mark on people that I deal with face-to-face or have some contact with through what I do. Because so many writers and artists and teachers and people that don’t have anything to do with art-related things, as have contributed to my life so much. And I don’t really wrestle with the idea of the kind of time I generally take to do these kind of projects. I’m just very driven to do them.
I feel that if that’s what I’m propelled to do, and it takes up all my mental time and everything, and if I do them and I work on them until they reach a level of completion –and the people I work with, we all feel like we’ve done as much as we can with – that that in a way is sort of a positive thing, regardless of content. You know?
And I have seen its direct affect and had letters from people and done other non-band-related, non-big-scheme things – but personal interactions and doing some stuff with schools – where I feel very good about the fact that I can still offer something.
It may be just rationalization because there’s a certain level of being self-absorbed that I maintain. And it’s not supposed to be in a conceited or selfish way, it’s just to flesh-out the ideas.
I think, in a way, people could be more self-absorbed. I think it’d be like they’d be offering themselves as sort of a more complete person. And I know some people that did take the time to “be educated” and what they could offer me after that – instead of never having taken that time for themselves – was was immense.
When I was a teenager or something, some of these people seemed like, “How did they get all of this information? How did they ever have all this perspective?” I thought that they were doing so much for me and I aspired to that.
Now, I don’t think while doing artwork and a lot of things that it’s “Change not the world,” I’m not thinking like, “Change history.” I think people would be probably more productive if they considered themselves just a part of history already.
It’s like people look at society, for example, and they say, “There’s society and society tells me what to do.” And they exclude themselves from the equation. Just like scientists for hundreds of years considered themselves observers, instead of realizing that just by the act of observation they’re becoming a part of whatever they’re looking at.
But it seems that I was worried about it, too. Like, “I’ll never… what’re you gonna do? Compare yourself to Beethoven?” Right? I would do that. I would compare myself to Picasso, or these people that I thought, “Well, why even try?” You know? Their accomplishments will always be greater.
And, you know, you look at people that have given themselves so utterly, so selflessly to causes involving social issues and political issues, and I would just say, “God, how do you even start to make your life something as amazing as theirs?” Then, at a certain point, I think it was in high school, during this series of art contests where I was put in competition with my friends, I was sort of like, “Fuck this. Why am I competing with my friends? If anything I want to work on their pieces, not even put my name there, help them do it, help them frame it or whatever.”
Because the point is – it sounds ridiculous, maybe – but the point is to make something beautiful instead of whether you slap your name in the lower righthand corner, right?
So, I do like when people recognize hard work or discipline. But if you compare yourself to history all the time, sometimes you’ll never start to do our own thing. You’ll be so frustrated. I used to see certain bands andy say, “They’re so great.” And, “Oh, I’m just gonna stop playing, because l’ll never be that good.”
But if you go the opposite route, you may even find yourself playing in a band one day where people come up to you and say that kind of thing. And you have the opportunity to say, “No. Start your own band. Get a guitar or do whatever Buy a 4-track and just fuck around.”
Making grand statements and being so concerned about who’s the most original can really limit what you really have to offer.
But also, keeping in mind the history, it’s not hard to be humble. When I look at the accomplishments of so many people, then any time when somethings going good for me, personally, it’s pretty easy to look around and be completely amazed or humbled by other people’s work.
I’ve always hoped not to get an idea that I had any definite answers or I was going to be some loudmouth that just kind of spouted off his ideas and wasn’t listening to people anymore. I feel like that would be when I would stop making anything of worth.
So, if I thought, “Oh, my place in history is assured,” or ,”I’m doing fabulous work,” all the time, I probably wouldn’t do any work. If anything, self-criticism and general feeling of always-could-do-better is my main work ethic. You know, I could get done and be like, “Wow, this is really an exciting thing,” or, “This was hard but we actually did it.” Then, as soon as it’s over, I don’t look at it like some feather-in-the-cap-type thing. It’s just part of the long line of work. That’s why I think you improve and you can still enjoy what you’ve done.
I still get caught up about it, though… obviously by the 35-minute explanation, I’ve thought a lot about this. The place in history is a pretty hard subject for anyone, I think, just as much as finding a place in the world, or “Do I matter?” or “Am contributing anything significant or am I just a leech?”
If someone just writes in a diary every day or just draws pictures of one tree every day, that may really be a significant contribution at one point. And you can’t necessarily – when you’re in the middle of it – look at what you’re doing and say it’s really fabulous or good. Sometimes it feels nice if someone around you says, “Wow, that’s fabulous and good.”
“THAT’S A REALLY COOL PICTURE OF A TREE.”
You’re never fully convinced, I think, if your attitude is one of trying to be a better educated or a more realized person.
SO, MITTENS OR GLOVES?
Of course, gloves. Two pairs. Jersey. One Super America brand, first layer. Second is a nicer quality glove, red interior. Same jersey. It works because the top gloves have a couple holes in them. That’s sort of the “buffer.”
OKAY. [wanting to pursue it, but not really wanting to get into to it] IS THE INTERNET USEFUL YET?
The Internet is useful in allowing people access to information at a rapid pace. Now, the amount of crap that’s on the Internet makes digging through it not unlike looking for a good record in Sam Goody or another music chain. [laughter]
It’s like, you know that there’s probably some good records there, but you’re overwhelmed b the blowout sales and the giant cardboard cutouts.
The Internet, for me, is useful for certain things. Sending and posting information. But I’m not quite… People use the word “revolution” so freely now, it’s almost becoming a cliché. And when people say it’s gonna change the way people communicate forever, I hope that the way people change to communicate is not just sitting alone in front of a computer, talking to anonymous faces.
Now, I think there’s something amazing about a global way of talking. But at the same time I think it can distance people really heavily from what it’s like to interact. And I think also, just like anything that’s unbalanced in life, if you ate 75 Snickers bars everyday, it seems like… what’s the point? Do you even enjoy it?
I know some people who are so crazy about technology; everything’s the newest and the fastest. I think that it will be a fantastic tool. But like anything else, just the way that cars, just the way that tv, just the way that radio even; they’re all things that could be used so much better, more efficiently, more interestingly. And instead you get 75%
Mentos commercials. It’s sort of hard to get its fullest without working a lot on it.
DO YOU IGNORE PEOPLE YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK TO?
[short pause] I was gonna make a joke like I was ignoring the question. [laughter] I don’t know. Sometimes. Just as well, I would probably tell them that I just don’t feel like talking to them. I think (ignoring people is) kind of a cowardly way to avoid it. But I have resorted to that when all other communication has failed.
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE SIMPSONS CHARACTER?
Oh, God. Once again, difficult. I have a pretty fierce adoration for Apu. Not only because he derailed George and the Clone-asaurus before it became a terrible lawsuit, but also because he seems to be ever-changing and his personal history is seemingly incredibly vast. And his allegiances to all forms of secret organizations [much laughter from the interviewer] as well as knowing many rock stars is unparalleled on The Simpsons. The fact that he basically has a little Zen patio upstairs, that Paul and Linda McCartney hang out with, is pretty impressive.
HOW ARE YOU AND APU SIMILAR?
Hairstyle. [laughter] It’s true! Have you noticed?
Yeah, Apu’s pretty fantastic. I didn’t like it when he left those hot dogs on the floor and Homer got sick. I thought that was pretty unusual for his character. He also takes a lot of pride in his work.
WHAT LAWS DO YOU BREAK ON A REGULAR BASIS?
You know that law about “Do not remove this mattress tag under penalty of law?” Well, I got a real bad temper… [laughter – he’s quoting Pee Wee’s Big Adventure]
I was gonna joke that I broke the Kentucky sodomy law all the time, but that would imply that I have a social life [laughter] which I do not.
And also, sometimes I drive on the right side of the car. Pretty hard. I jaywalk, and the “J” stands for “motherfuckin’ jammin’ groove.” [laughter] You’ll notice I’m throwing in a lot of swear words here, because you thought I was mellow in another article!
WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO PLANET OF THE APES MOVIES?
The question is, “What doesn’t attract me to Planet of the Apes movies?” [chuckles]
Well, similar interests, similar world view, the fact that generally people associate me as being more ape-like than human. And I think it’s cool how they buried the Statue of Liberty under the sand. Although, I’m glad that’s not the way it really is.
IF YOU COULD WEAR ONLY BLACK OR WHITE CLOTHES, WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Black… [said as if it’s a silly question] because it’s perfect for every occasion! [laughter] And white gets so dirty. I live a dirty lifestyle. It would compromise the appearance of my cleanliness. [laughter]
From K Composite #6 (1996) / Interview and color photo by Scott Ritcher / Piano photo by Greg King / Snow shoveling photo by Layla Smith / Illustrations and dishwashing photo by Jason Noble