Aspic Tines is the Second Coming of Klaus Nomi
Marc Ruvolo has been a staple in the Chicago music scene for decades. He has his own record label, Johann’s Face and fronted ’90s drunk punks The Traitors. He is currently heading up three different music projects: Das Kapital, the Atari Star, and Aspic Tines — a thorough homage to the late, great Klaus Nomi. Aspic Tines has recorded one album of original songs done in the style of the German pop/opera/alien singer. It is quite charming how deeply into character Ruvolo goes when paying tribute to one of his early ’80s heroes — especially since he’s a bearish guy with a beard and not a skinny German like Nomi.
Erik: So Marc, tell me about Aspic Tines, when did it start?
Marc: Aspic Tines started about two or three years ago. I had been toying with the idea for quite a while about doing some sort of homage to Klaus Nomi. I’m a huge Klaus Nomi fan, I was introduced to him in the early 80’s because my mother was born in Germany, my father was born in Sicily. So we went to Europe a lot on family vacations and I used to buy records over there. I bought a Klaus Nomi record while I was over there in ’83, and I loved it and always loved him after that. So a couple of years back, I got the audio editing program Garage Band and just started laying out demos of songs. Eventually, I had friends of mine, Ken Zawacki and Mike Perkins, translate the songs using analog synths and drum machines, then I recorded them. I wrote a little bit of them on the guitar, but once we translated them from the Garage Band loops it changed entirely. They were the same songs but with completely different sounds, original sounds.
Why did you choose to do something like that instead of just covering Klaus Nomi songs?
Well, I also wanted to perform, and I didn’t want it to be just a homage performance, because I can’t sing as well as he can and I’m just not a tribute perfomer. I would rather do something that’s creative in the same vein as Klaus Nomi rather than just doing his songs. I flirted with doing maybe a couple of covers but I decided to create a persona that’s an homage because you know, Klaus Nomi had the idea that people who were his fans were all aliens, they were all ‘Nomi’s.’ So as this character I was one of the Nomi clan essentially, just doing my own thing.
Can you tell me about the name, Aspic Tines?
Aspic was one of Klaus’s favorite foods. His grandmother use to make him aspic for him, and then ‘tines’ was just a random word I chose that seemed to fit, like the tines of a fork.
You don’t sing like you do in your other bands, can you tell me about that
It’s definitely a character. And for a long time we would have a joke where I wouldn’t acknowledge that is was me. For the performances, I don’t let anyone see me before and I leave right after it’s done because Klaus did the same type of thing. He never broke that persona. It doesn’t work as well when people can get up close and see the flaws in your make up and costume. Really, you need to keep that distance from the crowd so it’s more otherworldly. They are only seeing you on stage, so then later people will say ‘Marc! You did such a good job!’ and I’d be like ‘What are you talking about? I just got here.’
What other ways is the character similar to Klaus Nomi?
Since I grew up with a German mother, I know how to do the German accent really well. That’s the way I was taught to speak, by my mother basically, you know, putting the verbs and the nouns in the wrong place, and I always sang along to his records. I also try to use the same kind of imagery that he used in his songs. Kind of camp/vaudeville and science-fictiony type stuff, but also with a sexual edge to it as well. The song ‘Rocket Lover,’ is about having an actual spaceship as your paramour. ‘Der Punkt Gezacht’ is like my rap song, and it reminds of Nina Hagen and her songs about punks. My music is not punk at all in the sense of what punk is nowadays, but it’s still in my mind totally involved in the punk subculture. It’s like having a boyfriend who is a punk rocker.
Can you tell me about getting changed and ready to perform?
The costume and make up take an hour and a half. That’s hard because when I perform, I need a dressing room. I’ve had to dress in kitchens and closets. Most smaller rock clubs or galleries don’t have dressing rooms. It’s hard. So the day of, I go and get my haircut.
Do you ask for the Klaus Nomi, or…
(Usually it’s a triple mohawk, and I just style it. Then we do the make up which takes the longest. Then once the make up is done, I get into the costume, and I’m wearing six inch platform boots and it gets difficult to walk around (laughs). This one time at the Chicago bar Liar’s Club, I dressed on the second floor and they said ‘Yeah if you want to enter the stage, you can go down the back fire escape’ so I had to get down the fire escape in six-inch platform boots and it was dangerous but worth it.
Have you ever heard from people who used to see Nomi perform?
When my record came out, the greatest thing that happened to me was Christian Hoffman wrote to me and told me that I completely awesome and that I had it dead on. He wrote most of Klaus’s songs and that made it all worthwhile, for someone who was actually there and was close to Klaus tell me that what I was doing was special.
In terms of his legacy as an artist, besides just loving Klaus Nomi, is there any other intention with the project?
Overall it’s a love of that new wave period in the 80’s, because within the record there’s hints of Nina Hagen, hints of Depeche Mode, Lene Lovitch, and all the different types of music that I am into from that period. I was in highschool at the time, and traveling in Europe and New York, and it’s a time that really has a special place in my heart. And Klaus, he’s the epitome, the king of that whole scene. Like with the punk rock thing, he’s connected to it like I am, he was part the punk scene in NY and you can’t deny the tragedy of it too. He was incredibly talented and it’s so tragic that he couldn’t live on to make more music and continue doing what he was doing forever. People would have been all over him. When I first stared listening to him, I had a hold for any records that came in to Reckless Records. Anything Klaus. I was trying to collect all of his singles and stuff, and they would make fun of me at the store, like what do you want all the Klaus Nomi records for? And now, my friend that still works there just told me, ‘You know how many holds we have for Klaus Nomi records now?’ I’m like, ‘See? I told ya.’