Stuck In A Lift With… Jon Wurster

The “funniest drummer in indie rock” talks Lady Gaga, The Exorcist III and the wonders of a good snare

He’s drummed for Superchunk, The Mountain Goats and Bob Mould. He’s played with everyone from Katy Perry to REM. And he’s even done a voice on The Simpsons. Jon Wurster is indie’s great renaissance man – now the first guest on Discover’s brand new podcast, Stage Times, launching on Friday 11 November.

Listen to the episode in full to hear Wurster chat through the highlights and lowlights of his career – from starting out in his best friend’s back garden and getting beaten up in Copenhagen to bumping into Madonna at the MTV Awards and nicking Bob Dylan’s Kleenex. Before that though, we got stuck in a lift with Jon Wurster to ask him the all-important questions no one else wants to.  

the Mountain Goats - Training Montage

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? 

I did once get in a lift with Lady Gaga when she was wearing her famous meat dress. She just seemed like an alien. Of course she had three giant guys flanking her, so it was very low key… but I also have another good elevator story that happened about a year ago. I was at LAX in the elevator with a friend, and I look over just as the door shuts and I’m thinking, ‘that’s Elvis Costello’. I’m not sure if it’s him, because we’re all masked and, you know, he looks a little different now. But I scan down and see these amazing sparkly shoes and I know it’s him. So I introduced myself, we talked a little bit, and he was great. And then about a month later I’m looking at Mojo magazine and there’s this interview with him. The pull quote is something like “one of the things I really don’t like is when people I don’t know call me by my given name, Declan”. And then I remembered that’s exactly what my friend did in the lift. He didn’t react at the time, but now I know. 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? 

As I get older, I have a lower threshold for people who talk a lot. And I realise I’m saying this now after I’ve been rambling at you for the last hour…! But other people doing it is not okay. So I’d say Frank Zappa. Especially if he’s smoking. I think Steve Earle is a talker too. 

What music would you want playing if you were stuck?

Whatever it was, Steve Earle would just be telling me what I was listening to… If it was a whole album, probably London Calling. If it was just one song, ‘Talk Of The Town’ by The Pretenders. 

What scares you the most?

I’m gonna vote after we finish this up today, and if things don’t go my way during the midterms, the Republicans will take hold of everything. That’s going to be pretty scary. COVID wasn’t so bad. My dad died about a month ago and that was a big deal. But it’s interesting, I’m kind of surprised how not scary life is now, I think because his demise was so brutal. It’s more relief, than being fearful of life without him now… So I’ll go with the Republicans. 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever put on your rider?

I have to say, I have never been in a band that did stuff like that. But I remember booking a Dead Milkman show in the late 80s where they played a show with Laibach. Remember them? They were a Slovenian industrial band that played this very, like, emphatic kind of stomping music. But they had a little window of success here in America. They had on their rider “an antique chair”. One of them came into the room and he was so excited when he saw it. “Hey, someone brought the chair! Fine”. It wasn’t punk rock, it was just really weird.

Have you ever stolen anything from a hotel room? 

I’m sure I’ve stolen towels. But that’s probably just because the dumb promoter won’t have provided any. So I think that’s fair. And I’ll leave like a $5 bill. 

What’s the most expensive thing you regret buying? 

It’s funny, I was just thinking about this. I never really buy super expensive things, but I did it twice on this last Mountain Goats tour. My friend Darren has the greatest vintage shop in the world, and it’s in Providence, Rhode Island. He also reps famous rock photographers and he had this really cool framed numbered photo of The Clash playing in ’78, I think, at an outdoor gig in Berkeley. That was 250 bucks, which was a lot for me. But then like then a week later we were playing in Austin, and I went to this really cool music photo gallery and I bought another one. It was a signed Johnny Ramone photo from The Rainbow in London in ’80. It’s this amazing photo of him jumping, and he looks like a god. So that was another 300 bucks. Those are two big ones, but I don’t regret them at all.

Who would play you in a film about your life? 

That one is super easy. My favourite actor, Jackie Earle Haley. He’s my age, maybe a couple of years older, so he wouldn’t be able play me as a kid, but I’ve always I’ve always really vibed with him. He played a great character in a trilogy of films that were big for kids of my age called The Bad News Bears. He was sort of the rocker dude in this thing, and he went on to a great career. He’s become a pretty successful director in his own right now, but I would love for him to play me. Even though he is bald. 

Which film would you most like to watch again for the first time? 

I don’t love horror movies at all, but one of my favourite movies of all time is The Exorcist III, the third one in the series. Oh my God, I love it. George C Scott is in it and he’s really funny and he’s really good. It’s not a traditional horror film. You don’t see any violence or gore, but there’re some moments in this thing that are so frightening. I remember exactly where I was when I saw it too. I was in a hotel room in California, and it was on cable, and I was just haunted by it. I still watch it once every couple of years. 

Where and when would you go if you had a time machine? 

This is really weird, and really inside drums… but I’d want to see the snare drum being invented. It’s got these wires on the bottom that are called snares, and that’s what makes the snare sound. But it’s such an odd concept and I would love to have been present for when that first presented itself as a sound. It’s such a weird idea to me that I can’t even imagine thinking of it. That it’s a really weird thing to want to see, but there it is!

Find tickets for The Mountain Goats here to catch Jon Wurster playing live from the 16 November, and listen to him on the first episode of the Stage Times podcast, launching Friday 11 November.