JPG — My brother and I were both adopted from different parents. When I was about eight years old the family hit the road for about six months, driving around the western states living in hotels and campgrounds while my parents tried to work out their marriage. I remember taking photos at Snake River Canyon and the Bonneville Salt Flats and riding my uncle’s horse in Montana. I also hit the jackpot on a nickel slot machine in a diner in Winnemucca and filled up a tube sock with the coins. When the trip was over my parents split up and my mom came out and started a long-term relationship with a woman who was like a mother to me as well. I drove them crazy. I learned about the female form early at parties they had in the summertime. Our back yard was full of naked women sunbathing and my job was to walk around and mist them down with a spray bottle. I remember their motorcycles parked in front of the house. My father ended up with an amazing woman who also is like a mother to me.
SPW — Where do you say you’re from?
JPG — San Francisco.
SPW — So you were in San Francisco or around there until you were how old?
JPG — Until I was seventeen, then I started going back and forth between there and Los Angeles.
SPW — Did the Bay Area leave something to be desired at that time?
JPG — At that time San Francisco was far from what it is today. I started to leave because of various music projects I was working on that brought me down to LA.
SPW — You were involved with music as long as you can remember?
JPG — Yeah I started playing in garage bands when I was about twelve.
SPW — What defined the San Francisco music scene at the time?
JPG — I remember there being simultaneous scenes of thrash metal, punk, and art rock. I was in a synth-pop band that opened for bands. A couple were on Ralph Records. I also remember opening for The Tubes. There was a band I would go see called Tragic Mulatto who put out their music on Alternative Tentacles.
SPW — I’m curious about the people you remember that never recorded proper albums that you were impressed by. Cecil Taylor, who still comes to KGB Bar, if you talk to him about jazz acts that blew his mind, people that he played with in the fifties and that he saw in the forties that you’ve never heard of, you Google them and there’s no evidence that they ever existed, but they were the guys who even up into the eighties you might see on some flyer—but are completely undocumented.
JPG — There are several bands that I remember that never released anything, but I still remember some of their songs to this day. Maybe they had tapes at the time. It reminds me of the label here in New York called Minimal Wave that put out a lot of music that was only released on cassette in its time. Tapes are why we keep having new Arthur Russell releases I suppose.
SPW — There is a lot of that happening. Maybe one day one of your bands will surface. What about the time you were on Star Search?
JPG — I was seventeen and hooked up with some musicians in Palo Alto. The guitar player had been in a new wave band called Full Moon Tan that was a bit on the Oingo Boingo tip. We played together for about a month and then one day it was announced that we were going to LA to be on Star Search. The band was called Boys Cry Wolf. We were on the show five times and lost in the semi finals to a rockabilly band from San Jose called The Kingpins. The night they won I hung out with them in the hotel hot tub getting drunk. I clearly remember their guitar tech, who squirted the Jacuzzi jet up his ass and then with great precision could squirt water at the person across from him.
SPW — Was Star Search the beginning of your migration to Los Angeles?
JPG — We started working with a manager who was managing the bass player from the Go-Go’s. She was dating Clem Burke from Blondie. After about a year I was ready to move on from Boys Cry Wolf and I started writing with Clem, Nigel and Frank from Blondie. The band never got off the ground but it was amazing to play with them. Clem took me to Bleeker Bob’s and bought me Marquee Moon and the debut Suicide record. After that I started playing music with some kids I met in the local paper.
SPW — So that period was a Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains kind of life, trying to get “the deal?”
JPG — Yeah. Maybe a couple of years, then close to a decade of vagabonding and imprisonment, the time described in the book.
SPW — LA and Hollywood, even now, have this portrait of broken dreams. That’s all you really see. I love it. Also, LA to me has always been more about music than movies. I feel like we could never make the movies that we make if we were in California. We wouldn’t be encouraged or supported in any way. But special music comes out of there, more than here now. In Venice you had a bedroom on the beach?
JPG — I dragged a mattress and nightstand that I had found in the alleyways out to the sand. I had a battery-powered lamp and clock radio and a selection of books. During the day I covered it all with an army tarp and nobody touched it.
SPW — You started in film by working for Roger Corman?
JPG — I had been staying for a short while with a girlfriend, and my friend from NYC came to stay with us. He was working in the art department for a Corman film. He asked me to join him and I ended up working in the art department for many Corman movies at Concorde, his studio in Venice.
SPW — You used to hitchhike and catch trains, any stories about a particularly memorable ride?
JPG — I hitched up to San Francisco once from LA and I caught a ride from an outlaw biker. He had a tiny pad on his fender for passengers. We were hauling ass towards the grapevine and I started sliding off and had to grab him. I thought I was going to die. After he pulled over and stopped, he looked at his back tire, which was getting notched out because my weight had been pushing the fender into it. He looked at it, looked at me, handed me some change and sped off. The sun was starting to go down and I was in the middle of nowhere. I walked a mile and happened upon some migrant farm workers that were eating a picnic by the side of the road. They gave me some food and a ride into Bakersfield where I got a ride with a trucker that took me into Oakland. I made enough change playing harmonica in the BART station to catch a train to SF and then down to Palo Alto. I had bad luck catching trains that left me in the middle of nowhere. One sat for two days in farmland before it ended up in Bakersfield, where I hitched the rest of the way to LA.
SPW — When did you start taking acting serious, joining SAG and things like that?
JPG — I got hit by a car while I was on my bike crossing Delancey and my wrist was broken and in a cast. I passed a sign that said open casting, so I thought ‘Why not?’
SPW — I see how your mind works.
JPG — I took a picture and didn’t hear anything. My wrist healed, and months later when I was in California I got a call asking if I wanted to be on Boardwalk Empire. I ended up joining SAG because I got put into a scene playing a waiter that served Steve Buscemi a lobster. The next season I played a mob enforcer. I was edited out of all my scenes.
SPW — That’s too bad. I’ve never seen the show.
JPG — My first movie was Candy Rides, which you shot. We have worked together on two movies this year, Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits and Michael M. Bilandic’s Jobe’z World—I think that makes six or seven in all.
SPW — When I read the script for your face was the only face that I could see. We don’t have any Warren Oates type of guys around except for Jeff Cashvan maybe, people that can act and do something surprising when you put the camera on them. It’s just really rare to find somebody who is pulling from real life anymore. I don’t know if guys don’t want to become actors when they’re a little bit older because it’s so associated with model type guys being actors, things like that. So many movies that we love have actors who were real men. Today there’s like five of them and you see them over and over, the same guys. I have a real appreciation for what you’re doing and I think others in our gang do too, as they get to know you. What’s going on with Bubbles? It’s the only band I’ve seen you perform with.
JPG — We are quiet right now. We were really active for a few years, and life took some turns, and it is where it is now. It never ended. Other things had to happen, and above all it was about friendship and us just getting together to play and record. It could happen again later. I had another band that was a similar circumstance in the early 2000s called The Grand Hotel. We put out a couple releases on a Finnish noise label and then life changed. I am a close friend with my partner from that project today. He’s living in the Pacific Northwest now.
SPW — Did Bubbles ever put out any records?
JPG — We put out an eight-song release on a format called the Playbutton, which is a band button with a headphone jack that the album is loaded into. Alain and me would always be recording by sending files back and forth to each other. In the end it was primarily a live project. We would play all kinds of shows when people would ask us to play, everything from tiny art galleries to Central Park SummerStage opening for Florence and the Machine. It was always a surprise.
SPW — I was going to ask if you had to choose a medium to work within what it would be, but it seems like that isn’t a decision you have to make. With movies it seems like you’re just getting warmed up.
JPG — For the amount of time that I’ve been doing it, it’s building up. I think I’ve done about thirteen or fourteen movies now. A lot of them have been with you, which is great. I feel like the collaboration with you is really one of the best creative collaborations I’ve ever had. Your sensibility, I respect it so much and feel inspired to work with you.