Pere Ubu (band)

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Pere Ubu are an experimental rock music group formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1975. They have broken up and reformed several times, and despite many long-term band members, singer David Thomas is the only constant. Pere Ubu's official website reports that the group is named "after the protagonist of Ubu Roi, a play by Frenchman Alfred Jarry." [1] (

While Pere Ubu have never been widely popular--usually categorized as "underground rock"--they have a devoted following, have been hugely influential on several generations of forward-thinking musicians and are among the most critically acclaimed American musical groups. Their early singles are sometimes regarded as minor protopunk classics.

Critical opinions of Pere Ubu include "the world's only expressionist Rock `n` Roll band." [2] ( and "Pere Ubu will be looked back on as the most important group to have come out of America in the last decade and a half. Either that or they will be entirely forgotten." [3] (

Pere Ubu have consistently conducted their affairs as they see fit, regardless of convention: They refuse to discuss or explain their sometimes odd music, forgoing the usual banter of newspaper and press interviews. Pere Ubu have compiled a list of protocols for touring, live performances and the like, including such statements as, "Lighting should be theatrical rather than rockist. We are interested in atmosphere, mood, drama, energy, subtlety, imagination-- not rock cliche," and note that the Danish Broadcasting Corporation is one of the few organizations they trust to record live performances, based "solely on the basis of the King of Denmark's defense of the jews in WWII".[4] (

Tired of being asked to define their music, Pere Ubu coined the term Avant Garage to reflect interest in both experimental avant-garde music (especially Musique concrète) and raw, direct blues influenced garage rock. Thomas has stated "Avant Garage" is "a joke invented to have something to give journalists when they yelp for a neat sound bite or pigeonhole." [5] (




Rocket From The Tombs was a Cleveland-based group that eventually fragmented: some members formed The Dead Boys, while David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner joined with guitarist Tom Herman, bass guitarist Tim Wright, drummer Scott Krauss and synthesist Allen Ravenstine to form Pere Ubu in 1975.

Pere Ubu's debut single was "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" (inspired by and named after the 1942 "Doolittle Raid"), backed with "Heart of Darkness"; followed by "Final Solution" in 1976. One review noted 30 Seconds "was clearly the work of a garage band, yet its arty dissonance and weird experimentalism were startlingly unique." [6] (

Of their second single, "Final Solution" (backed with "Cloud 149"), one scribe writes that Ubu's "call for a 'final solution' was the cry of teen angst run down in the decaying rust belt of America, and unlike the British punks who were looking around England the same year, seeing no future, and hating what they saw, Ubu reveled in it." [7] (

From these first recordings, Pere Ubu sounded like little else. Their propulsive rhythmic pulse was similar to some so-called Krautrock, but Thomas's yelping, howling, desperate singing was--and remains--rather peculiar. Pere Ubu imagined 1950s and 1960s garage rock and surf music archetypes as seen in a distorting funhouse mirror, emphasising the music's angst, loneliness and lyrical paranoia. Sometimes sounding like a demented nursery rhyme sing-along, this already bizarre blend was overlaid with Ravenstine's ominous EML synthesizer effects and tape looped sounds of mundane conversation, ringing telephones or steam whistles.

After "Street Waves", their third single, Pere Ubu signed to Blank Records, an imprint of Mercury Records created just for the band.

Laughner left the group after their first two singles, and died soon afterwards after a struggle with drug addiction. Tony Maimone signed on as bassist after Tim Wright left to join DNA.

Their debut album, The Modern Dance (1978), sold poorly, but has proven influential. Musicians of all types, including prog rock, punk rock, post punk and New Wave were influenced by the dark, abstract record.

Special note should be made of Ravenstine's contributions to Pere Ubu. While most synthesizer players tended to play the instrument as they would a piano or organ, Ravenstine opted instead to make all manner of odd, disquieting and unique sounds that defied proper notation, and resemble nothing so much as early electronic music or musique concrète. One critic writes that Ravenstine "may be one of the all-time great synth players" [8] ( and his playing has been called "utterly original" [9] (

Dub Housing and New Picnic Time followed, with much the same reaction. The group briefly disbanded in 1979, but reformed soon afterwards with Herman replaced by Mayo Thompson (of Red Krayola).


The Art of Walking (1980) showed a movement towards a pop audience. For the next original album, Song of the Bailing Man (1982), Krauss was replaced by Anton Fier.

The group disbanded again soon afterwards; Krauss and Maimone formed Home & Garden, while Thomas worked on a solo career, occasionally working with former members of Pere Ubu.

The band was reformed again in 1988, with Jim Jones and Chris Cutler joining for the release of The Tenement Year (1988), a far more pop-oriented album than ever before. The following year, "Waiting for Mary" (off Cloudland) appeared on MTV briefly. Eric Drew Feldman joined in time for Worlds in Collision but left afterwards, joining Frank Black.

1990s and beyond

Story of my Life (1993) was released on Imago Records; Maimone left once again, and Michele Temple and Garo Yellin joined for the 1995 album, Raygun Suitcase. Robert Wheeler has played synthesizer and theremin with Pere Ubu since 1994.

After a 1996 box set, Thomas reunited with Tom Herman – after Jones retired from touring due to health problems – to record Pennsylvania (1998) and St. Arkansas in 2002. Both Herman and Jones contributed guitar tracks to the latter album.


Pere Ubu had an interesting way of combining musicians: from the start the Ubu methodology was almost, just about, nearly, definable:

  • 'Don't ever audition.'
  • 'Don't look for someone.'
  • 'Don't seek success.'
  • 'Choose the first person you hear about.'
  • 'Take the first idea you get.'
  • 'Put unique people together. Unique people will play uniquely whether or not they know how to play.'
  • 'Delay Centrifugal Destruct Factors for as long as possible then push the button.'


  • "Pere Ubu is not now nor has it ever been a viable commercial venture. We won't sleep on floors, we won't tour endlessly and we're embarrassed by self-promotion. Add to that a laissez-faire attitude to the mechanics of career advancement and a demanding artistic agenda and you've got a recipe for real failure. That has been our one significant success to this date: we are the longest-lasting, most disastrous commercial outfit to ever appear in rock 'n' roll. No one can come close to matching our loss to longevity ratio." - David Thomas [10] (
  • "Rock music is mostly about moving big black boxes from one side of town to the other in the back of your car." [11] (


External link

  • Official Site: [12] (

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