It's been nearly 30 years since Paul Caporino founded Masters of the Obvious in New Orleans with Jeff and Mike Tomeny. He churned out a series of cassette tapes over the next two decades, beginning with 1985's Turn Your Head and Cough.
"I was about 20 or 21. We really just wanted to play, and we were influenced by various records in our collections," Caporino recalls. "I'd bought a four-track cassette recorder, which was a good way to put your ideas down. I'd heard about [punk zine] Maximum Rocknroll and sent them a tape, and we got a good response from that."
Now, MOTO (whose name riffs on Hawkwind's Masters of the Universe) is the godfather of a garage-punk scene that once again emphasizes lo-fi recordings. And at the age of 49, after long stints in Chicago and Boston and a litany of band rosters, Caporino is back in the Big Easy, reunited with the Tomeny brothers. "They're officially back in the band like they were never out of the picture. Somehow I have a rapport with them that I never had with other musicians."
In 1991, I was the drummer for Pittsburgh's legendary indie goof-rocker, Weird Paul Petroskey, and we met MOTO's Chicago-based lineup on a bill at the now-defunct venue Lounge Ax. Much like Petroskey, Caporino was a prolific cassette artist with a quirky sense of humor. "I thought that [humor] would be a good way to grab people's ears," say Caporino. "It carries the music along and I think it works well."
Many of his releases have self-referential titles, including QUASIMOTO, MOTOERECTUS, Kill MOTO! and M.O.T.O. Machine Music. Caporino eventually drifted to the 7-inch format, and then LPs and CDs. "I've always loved vinyl," he says, "so if I could find a label that was willing to put out vinyl I'd go for it. I wanted someone who could do what I couldn't on my own, like pressing and distribution."
A trans-Atlantic presence led to airplay from the BBC's John Peel, but during the '90s that didn't translate into much touring except around the Midwest and New England. However, with the advent of the Internet, Caporino saw a renewed interest in the genre MOTO pioneered. By 2003, he was associated with the Chicago-based Criminal IQ Records, which has done much to popularize the latest wave of underground garage/punk acts such as The Functional Blackouts, The Pedestrians and Bear Proof Suit. Criminal IQ did three MOTO albums, including 2005's Raw Power, an obvious Stooges nod.
"I remember driving down the highway to Wisconsin with my bass player, mentioning that I was trying to think of an album title. We flipped through some CDs and found Raw Power. He laughed loudly and said, 'Wouldn't that be cheeky?' People got the joke, but one guy said, 'You have no business calling it that -- who do you think you are?' But the Replacements called one of their albums Let It Be!"
In recent years, MOTO has toured Australia with a Down Under version of the band and gone to Europe with the Tomeny brothers ("they used up all their vacation time"). Caporino's current jaunts across Japan and the U.S., including a West Coast leg with Providence's spooky garage-punks Midnight Creeps, are backed by members of Pittsburgh band The Test Patterns. Caporino says he's honored so many people have been willing to learn his songs ("I like them to be simple so that they can be digested properly") and share his road adventures.
But he's not as prolific as he used to be. "I've overlooked many good songs that I'd written, because I've been so productive for so long. I've got a big back catalog of unreleased songs to choose from [for new releases], so I'm not writing as voraciously as I had been."
Nonetheless, he's happy to be back in New Orleans. "In the '80s, the city was so jazz- and R&B-oriented that we couldn't crack it. But New Orleans is more open to us now, and we can get shows easier."
As for his status as an elder statesman of lo-fi, Caporino adds, "I'm not sure where I fit in, but I've been around a while and I have gray hair. I guess that's what happens when you stick around and you don't die or break up. I just try to stay active -- as long as we can get some attention here and there, that's all I really want."
MOTO with Condominium, Kim Phuc and Slices. 9:30 p.m. Sat., June 5. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $6. 412-681-1658