A Conversation with Ian Svenonius
of The Nation Of Ulysses

The New Puritan ReView
Minneapolis, MN

Exploring the creative process that connects performing artists with writers and readers alike.

[This is pretty much just the pre-edited, raw interview / conversation; most (if not all) of which ended up in the published article.]

[The finished, edited layout for the completed article as it appeared in 1991, was either lost or destroyed over time. I wish that were not the case, as there were more photos, and some other cool design details in the published piece, but at least you can share what inspired it in the first place. A floppy disc with the original interview was the source for what appears here, before that too, gave way to the ravages of time. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – keeping tabs on the past is a lot of work.]

Q What was the original basis for the Ulysses party, and how has it changed since its inception?

A We’re not only a political party, but also a terrorist group. The imperative started with the recognition of the colonialization of youth culture by youth imperialists and the establishment. It was initially formed as a response to that, but now we’ve broadened our breadth to encompass a complete destruction of the American legacy. We understand the workings of oppressions big and small.

Joe Strummer saw Mick Jones walking down the street, and he quit his band [The 101’ers] as soon as he saw him, because he said that’s how a rock and roll band should look. We saw each other, and we said that’s how a terrorist group and a political party should look. ‘Cause, we want to free politics from the realm of dirty old men, and bring it to the kids; and all that boys and girls have are clothes – we recognize that it’s the most important thing. So, as soon as we saw the way each other were dressed, we recognized it as a potent political thing and we formed our union.

Q How long ago was that?

A It was a couple of years ago, but we didn’t start using the medium of music until more recently, when we understood that it was the only thing that kids really cared about.

Q At the time was Ulysses Speaks your primary medium?

A Yeah, we were mostly just proliferating literature and bombing buildings, and then we realized the medium of noise not only creates a perfect cover for our organization but it also creates a camouflage for maniacal riotous behavior and provides a context for acting like an idiot and going beyond the structures of everyday behavioral codes. When you see a show, everybody is jumping up and down screaming – if it’s good – and that’s because they’ve been allowed to step outside the boundaries of regular behavior. We want to go one step further. It’s absurd behavior – dancing is incredibly absurd – and we want to take that one step beyond, and that’s why we have so much violence on stage; we’re trying to bring it to the next level. We’re fighting a war there in the room – the room that we took over.

Q Since you began this mission, have you become more optimistic that you can effectively utilize the facade of populist entertainment to convey the party message?

A Yeah – our message is visual, its’ aural, and its’ olfactory. Our message couldn’t be progenitated properly just with sound. We see the whole idea of music as a sound phenomena as really bogus, and an idea which has only taken root since the proliferation version of recorded medium – like records. Before then, nobody would have ever thought, “this is only attacking my ears”, because there’s always a visual side to that whole phenomenon. We’re into the true experience, and that’s why the whole idea of music has really aligned us. What we’re wearing on stage and the way we move on stage has just as much to do with the idea that we’re getting across as the sound that we’re putting forth.

Q Do you get enough feedback from people to convince you that your literature is an effective tool of the party?

A No, I don’t think so. We haven’t gotten a whole lot of response. Our most insightful response has been from England – not that I’m disowning the children of America, because we are The Sound Of Young America. We’re trying to find a new way to disseminate ideas in a new way, because old venues for ideological discourse are old and tired and totally crusty. Our whole struggle is to seek not a new way but a way in which things can be discussed so that they don’t put us to sleep; not like the modern arena politics. I don’t blame kids for disowning the political or whatever, because it’s fucking stupid and pointless. Nation of Ulysses recognize that every aspect of every day is political. We’re escaping the realm of predetermined economical standards, crossing outside of the realm of the usual discussion between Democrats and Republicans – who are of course, are totally identical. We’re a new nation – we’re completely revolutionary, our agenda and our intent is revolutionary… we’re not in the realm of Socialists or Democrats.

Q Have you been able to stir up as much antagonism as you might have hoped for?

A Yeah, you know – the old order; people who sense the dissolution and the proliferation of new ideas. There’s a Kill Ulysses conspiracy – it’s called the Kill Ulysses National Workers Socialist Party; they’re just trying to destroy us. Rock and Roll is trying to destroy us.

Q Are they linked to the entertainment industry as well?

A Yeah, completely of the Old Order.

Q Are you referring to the mock posturing of rock’n’roll as rebellion?

A They’re bred from the baby boom – it’s been handed down to them; the Red Hot Chili Pepper / Lolapolooza generation.

Q Rebels without a cause.

A Yeah, exactly – fake culture and colonialization. Rolling Stone magazine, or the makers of large t-shirts, all the people who are directly opposed to the ideas that we’re trying to disseminate. We go for small t-shirts, because we believe that what kids wear has everything to do with them politically. The foremost look for kids is this big t-shirt look, the surf-y decadent look. We like french cut t-shirts and tight t-shirts. The makers of sleeping pills I’m sure are part of the conspiracy; Rolling Stone magazine, because our mere presence makes them die. Those people are just the tip of the iceberg; and of course the police – fucking pigs, I hate them.

Q Your literature and your songs refer to sugar and the lack of sleep as being fuel for the Ulysses machine. What other things function as either as enemies to the Ulysses party, or as a source of energy?

A Noise …the commerce of ideas. Sugar, because healthfulness and sleep are things that are used to lull all the kids into complacency. The less sleep you get, the less inhibited you are, and the more likely you are to take violence to the streets and off the pigs. We’re against sleep. We’re into the kick, you know?

Q The complete antithesis of altered states of consciousness, in other words.

A The health food generation; the health food ethic is kind of ridiculous.

That’s bogus; we’re into youth and indestructibility, so we just don’t see health as really an issue. The pursuit of kicks is a revolutionary act, so we’re really into overturning the daytime schedule, the square world. We’re twelve-to-six men.

Q Does that include the advocation of drugs?

A We’re just not into the economy that it presents – in fact, we’re not into the economy at all; we have our own currency.

Alcohol and drugs have totally killed the rock and roll business in general; they’ve totally tried to plug up and own and control any kind of musical outlet – that’s why we don’t really support it.

Yeah, we don’t play bars or anything; we just think that’s bullshit, and if people want to relegate us to some hardcore gulag or some hardcore Siberia then it’s their fuckin’ problem, ’cause we’re tomorrow. If people are going to miss us because they’re too snobby to be around kids – well then, fuck them, you know? We’re not into having our terms dictated by the alcohol industry, like being 21 and over – I mean, who wants to play to exclusively old people? We only do all-age shows. We’re not into playing the rock circuit at all, but if we’re forced to, we’re not gonna play clubs that are 18 and over. The thing about drugs though – we’re just not into the economy. We have no moral platform, like what people should or shouldn’t do; I mean everything’s cool with us. We don’t use money, we don’t use American currency – we have Nation of Ulysses currency, and our drug is sugar cane, and the lack of sleep. We’re into Ulysses delirium.

Q Are you saying that Ulysses is definitely not an affiliate of the straightedge movement?

A That’s all bullshit, you know? The issues of the hardcore generation are not our issues. We’re a political party, and we’re a terrorist group. We’re broad-based; we don’t see ourselves in the context of other musical entities. We’re not gonna go round and round with the kids who want to bring us down to that kind of bullshit – we’re talking about larger issues. We think the drug war is totally deplorable and stupid and racist and disgusting, for example. We think kids can do what the fuck they want, but it’s just that we don’t choose to do that because of the economy that we operate in.

Q Do you find that people hold Ulysses accountable for its influence on the minds of its followers?

A No, because people don’t really understand what our thing is about. I mean, it’s not as codified as like …Ian MacKaye has had nine or eight years to be codified into this thing, you know, where’s he’s like an issue, and that’s why I think that Fugazi interviews are very succinct about what they’re trying to say. They don’t want to have something thrown in their face or whatever; but people are just beginning to learn about us, so we’re not as mired in history.

Q Would you accept the responsibility if your ideas did inspire someone to take direct action?

A You mean like if somebody started some militant Ulysses offshoot? We’d be really into it, actually, because if people were to emulate us, they’d just be destroying the old order, and we’re not into the originality of our ideas, we’re into the proliferation of our ideas. We’re not into some ego thing concerning our ideology – these are ideas are to be proliferated. It’s not like our claim to fame, or a fucking patent office thing.

Q Not so much who, what, or why, but how?

A We want to change everything – we want a sweeping reform. Actually, we’re against reform, but we’re into the overturning of everything – the sound of things falling apart. There’s a bourgeois notion of the individual, the pursuit of the poetic ideal or some kind of realization of yourself. We’re into the idea of army, and we exposit the idea of community, and that’s why we’re a nation, you know? We’re not into the state, we’re not into taxes, or armies or anything. We’re into a new identity, we’re into a community army, so when we call on the kids, we’re gonna be part of the faceless mass.

Q So in a sense your followers become a part of the Nation itself?

A Sure, the fruit of Ulysses – our militant auxiliary.

This isn’t really a power trip for us; this is the way we live our lives, and we’ve decided to try and get it across. We’re not trying to be leaders or anything. If people do decide to live this life and to put forth what we’re talking about, they’ll be in the same boat as us.

When I say the issues of the hardcore generation aren’t our own, we just mean that we refuse to be categorized in the context of some musical movement, because we see ourselves as a political party.

Yeah, we’re our own movement.

Q A movement with a built-in soundtrack.

A We’re jazz …if you want to categorize it.

© J.Free / The New Puritan ReView; 1991; 2022