Thursday, July 15, 2021

Frank Agnew's back on guitar and walking down The Lonely Streets with Greg Antista


Frank Agnew. (Photo by Rob Wallace)



By Andy

Surely at that juncture in their lives, the Adolescents weren't scout material.

Yet, there they were, strolling -- or ramming? -- through the doors of the scout house in Yorba Linda, CA, on March 1, 1980. When the evening was complete and the noise had disintegrated, there was no scoutmaster present to dole out any honors to the lads. What was noteworthy about the night was that the brats from Fullerton had cemented their first gig in the annals of Orange County punk-rock history.

They probably would have scoffed at the comment at the time, but the band had just thrown down the first brick in a soon-to-be successful and legendary path along the punk terrain. 

The "Blue" album was about a year away from entering the punk-rock fray. You know what happened after that. It had "classic" scrawled all over it then, and still does to this day. It's been more than 40 years of plunking that album on the turntable and ripping it up. 

That initial gig featured Frank Agnew and John O'Donovan on the dual-guitar attack, Steve Soto on bass, Tony Cadena on vocals and "Peter Pan" on drums. (Rikk Agnew and Casey Royer would replace O'Donovan and "Pan" about six months later to get the "Blue" ball of fury rolling.)

"We were supposed to open a gig at UC Irvine, the college, and it was supposed to be the Flyboys, Agent Orange and us, and that was to be our first show. But it got canceled that morning," Frank recalled during a phone call from Fullerton to Seattle on June 19. "So we all start calling each other and stuff. And then we ended up having a friend whose dad was a scoutmaster in Yorba Linda and there was a little scout house out there."

Their buddy snagged his old man's keys, and the gig was on with the Detours, Agent Orange and the Adolescents. Everyone piled into the scout house for the show, which saw the Adolescents burn through a set that featured the first three tunes off the "Blue" album, "I Hate Children," "Who is Who" and "Wrecking Crew." 

Winding down after a rehearsal with the unit he now plays for, Greg Antista and The Lonely Streets, Agnew, 56, discussed his past and present career before settling in for the remainder of his day to watch some Westerns.

On July 16, the band's "Under the Neon Heat" -- an album packed with heaps of OC power-pop-punk crunch that also treads on raw country and rock soil -- will enter the world on Primal Beat Records.

"I know we're doing some festival in Utah in August. The idea is to just get out there and play. I'm really proud of it and really happy with it," Agnew said of the album.

As we get rolling with the interview, we'll step back into Agnew's past at the outset, rumble into the present and then mix things up a bit from there.

====================================


** Today is the 40th anniversary of the big Santa Monica Civic show with Black Flag, Adolescents, DOA and the Minutemen back in the day. 

Agnew: I'll be damned. It is, isn't it?


** Someone put up a flier today on Facebook or Instagram, and we've got the same flier framed in our bathroom because we had gone to that show as well. And I was like, 'Well, how perfect just to ask you about that?' Because that was the first time that I saw you guys play. And that was with Pat Smear on guitar.

Agnew: Yes, it was. That's right.


** What do you remember about that show? That was a big one. 

Agnew: I just remember it being a ton of fun. First of all, at that point, it was the biggest place we played. And that I felt was like the peak, when we played there. I do remember that me and Soto picked up Pat at his house on the way there because he lived near the area.

It was one of those gigs where everything went well. We played well, all the other bands played well. And it was also one of those gigs where there was these backstage rooms, but everyone kind of hung out in one. It was just like a big party backstage with all of us.

And one memory I do have was I had a baseball hat that said DG something because it stood for some company, like some refrigeration company or something like that. I remember Dave Gregg from DOA goes, 'Hey, can I have that hat?' I'm all, 'Why?' He goes, 'It's got my initials on it.' I took it off and I looked, I'm all, 'Sure does, here, it's yours.' So that's really one fond memory I have with that because I heard he passed not too long ago (2014).

And then, of course, just all of us back there drinking beer (laughs) and just having a good time. There was a ton of people there and everyone was into it. I remember thinking after the show, 'I could do this forever.'


** That was a memorable one. Like I said, that was the first time I saw you guys. So I was fired up. And what's funny about that show is that during DOA, my brother came up to me and he was like, 'Hey, I can get us backstage' because he knew someone that was gonna kind of walk us over there. And so we walked over there and all of a sudden I got grabbed and pulled backstage and it was Mike Ness.

Agnew: Oh, you know what else I remember? Speaking of Mike Ness -- his younger brother, Troy, I think it was before we went on, did a little ventriloquist act (it was Soto's idea). No punk show has ever had that.


** Yeah, you got to mix it up a little bit, you know, entertain the people.

Agnew: And I remember everyone was throwing change at him because he said something like, 'I ain't getting paid for doing this.' Or the little dummy was saying that. And then just like a ton of change was getting thrown on stage, and I think he made about 50 bucks in change.




Greg Antista and The Lonely Streets. (Photo by Harmon Gerber) 



** Let's fast forward into today. You're playing with Greg's band now, The Lonely Streets. What's it like being a part of this band now? Another band for you over these years. Still having a good time, still challenging yourself and making it all worth the while?

Agnew: Absolutely. It's funny because it had been a while since I played with a band. We'll see, because the last band I played with at that point was 45 Grave. I think I was with them till '13 or something like that and then I just kind of got burnt out. So, I wasn't doing much musically. I was doing some studio work and that's about it.

And then, well a year ago, January, just before the pandemic hit, I was thinking about the old days, because so many people have passed. And so I thought, 'Well, Greg's still around, I haven't talked to him in a few years, wonder what the hell he's up to.' I still had his number. So I called him and I said, 'Hey, what's up?' Well, we just kind of shot the shit for a while. And then we hung up and then he called me the next night and says, 'What are you doing musically?' I'm all, 'Nothing right now.' He goes, 'Do you wanna join my band?' (laughs) 

When I went in the studio, it was pretty much open season, and so I was able to just learn the songs and come up with my parts. I've always liked it that way because I don't have too much time to think too much about the songs.

I remember the last day of recording, and that's when the pandemic really hit. Everything was getting shut down and I was just like, 'Wow, OK, well, good timing. We finished this thing.'


** So how do you feel about these songs? I listened to this thing a couple of times in the car last week, and these are solid. Are these right up your alley? Do you feel just as good (with these) as you have about, maybe songs you played in the past?

Agnew: I do. There's two things I liked about them immediately: they were simple (and) these are really catchy, good songs. They're sing-along songs. I thought the lyrics were really strong. The overall feel of the songs is upbeat, which I thought, 'Wow, we could all really use this right now.' Because everything had been kind of dark and stuff. And then, of course, the pandemic hit. I also liked it because it allowed me to kind of do a lot of different guitar stuff on it that I normally wouldn't be able to do, but those songs kind of left it wide open for that.


** That's what I like about Greg's stuff, because I heard the previous album, too. And obviously, you're gonna have your song structures, but then you also got like you said, you've got these wide open spaces where you can just kind of go into different territories and stuff like that and really open the songs up even more and try some stuff out, which is cool.

Agnew: Yeah. That's a great thing about working with Greg because he's one of those guys -- I said, 'Greg, I have this idea,' and he goes, 'OK, cool, try it. If it works, great. If not, we won't use it.' He had that kind of attitude about a lot of stuff, because when I went in there, I laid down a lot of different guitar stuff.

So it was just like, 'OK, pick and choose what you like.' And another thing that it really left wide open was a lot of vocal harmony stuff, which is what I'm really big on. I like that. To me, it's always impressive when you have a band that could do a lot of good harmonies.


** That goes right back to the beginning, huh?

Agnew: Yep, sure does.


** It sticks with you over the years. It's good to be able to do that because that just lifts songs up even even further.

Agnew: It does. There's nothing like a song that you could sing along with, hum along with. When you think back, even a band like the Ramones, they were simple, but you could sing along with their songs. You felt a part of it. And they really didn't have any vocal harmonies or anything, but it's just the fact that they had that sing-along quality to it.


** I totally agree. I like so many different styles of music, but I'm a sucker for those harmony vocals, especially when they're alongside some heavy chugging music. 

Agnew: Something aggressive about it. Like what we did with the Adolescents -- there wasn't a whole lot of punk bands doing that. But Rikk and I had an older half sister who was one of those '60s Beatle fanatics, and so she would play her Beatles records around all the time we were growing up. And, of course, they always had great harmonies and stuff. So I guess that was just something that was ingrained on us, even young. And even when we got into the punk thing -- 'Well, harmonies are still cool.'




Frank Agnew in the '80s. (Photo by Alicia Hardy)



** So growing up in the Agnew household, lots of music around, huh?

Agnew: Yes. My folks weren't musical per say. They didn't really play music or anything like that, but they were always listening to music. My dad, I remember as a kid growing up, he used to listen to a lot of Irish folk stuff. He was Irish. And I remember Clancy Brothers, Irish Rovers or Dennis Day, a lot of that varied kind of Irish stuff.

And then my mom was Mexican, so she used to listen to a lot of Latin music and then with some Harry Belafonte thrown in. A lot of that because my aunt, my mom's sister, lived a couple of blocks away (and) at times she'd come over, bring her Harry Belafonte records. It was either during the weekend, there was always a record on the record player, and when any other family came over and everyone just kind of sitting around drinking beer and talking. There was always music going on. And then my aunt Sylvia, which is my mom's youngest sister, she was a big fan of that whole Burt Bacharach thing and Tom Jones, and stuff like that. (Plus his older half sister with her Beatles, British Invasion and Four Seasons records.) We absorbed it all.


** How did you get from there until, I guess gradually you probably picked up on, you know, maybe some rock music and then gravitated toward hearing some punk bands as well. 

Agnew: I think it all started with the Beatles, of course, because my older half sister had left. She hooked up with someone and left, but she left a lot of her records behind.

And so me and my brothers would play those records a lot. We kind of got into it that way as kids, and talking 8, 9, 10 years old. And then, with our allowance money, we'd go get like a Rolling Stone record, and so we started getting into that whole thing.

And then they used to be in Creem magazine and stuff. So we buy the magazine and read about these different bands like, 'Whoa, look at this band, Black Sabbath. They look rad. Let's go buy one of their records.' I was really into the original Alice Cooper band -- I'd buy some of their records, 'cause you'd hear about these guys or see 'em on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert or Midnight Special.

And then in the mid '70s, we all kind of got into the whole prog-rock thing with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Yes, all that stuff. 

I think it was early '77, Rikk went to -- there was this record store in Long Beach called Zed Record. Which back then was the only place you can get any kind of British imports and alternative stuff. And he came back and he had the first Damned single. 

A little earlier in '76 was when that first Ramones album came out, and I bought that one, I bought it from mowing lawn money. Rikk's all, 'You should buy that album. Look at these guys. They look different. They look trippy. Let's listen to it.' First, I'm all, 'What the hell is this?' It was so different. So I set it aside thinking I'll probably never listen to it again, but then I kept hearing the songs in my head. So I came home from school one day and I put it on again and I heard the whole thing -- the whole thing goes by in like 25 minutes, 20 minutes. I was looking at the pictures of 'em and then I put it on again. After the third listen, I was a total convert. I'm all, 'These guys are bitchin'.' And then, of course, that's when we start hearing about the new stuff coming out of New York.

The British punk is what really made us converts, the Sex Pistols, especially the early Damned stuff, Buzzcocks. It seemed like every week, Rikk would come home from Zed with two or three new records of bands we'd never seen or heard of. And we just really got into it.

But even before that, Rikk was in high school with some friends. He had a friend who played guitar. And so, Rikk thought, 'You know what? Hey, I'll pick up a cheap bass and learn how to play bass.' And he picked up a bass and taught himself how to play it. And they were like a rock cover band. But then when the punk thing hit, it was like, 'Wait a minute, we could all be in a band like now,' you know what I mean?

I think the first instrument I got was a bass. Rikk was playing guitar by then. 


** When did you first start playing that bass? 

Agnew: 10 years old.

That's when I first got it, and I learned like 'Smoke on the Water' and stuff like that. So I taught myself bass with all the old rock music. But then the punk thing hit, that's when I got a guitar. You know, chords, couple of riffs here, a couple of leads here. Cool. And then, of course, Alfie followed suit when his hands got big enough.

And so the three of us would just sit there with our instruments and just jam around and play around. We're all self-taught. We just pick up stuff here and there. When we watched Midnight Special or Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, I'd watch the guitar players' hands and try to figure out what they were doing. That's when we started to really play music, when the punk thing happened, because before that we were just kind of plunking around on instruments.

When the punk thing happened, it's like we could actually be a band and play gigs.




Back cover of the "Blue" album. (Photos by Glen E. Friedman)



** Speaking of the 'Blue' album, that's 40 years as well this year.

Agnew: Yep. 40 years in late April, early May it trickled out.


** I pulled mine out. I grabbed that when it first came out and it's pretty beat up. It probably skips all over the place. Looking at the photos on the back here, a couple of you guys are looking really, really young, but writing some amazing songs. What are your thoughts when you look back on that?

Agnew: I was 16 years old on that record, and I think I still had zits (laughs). I think I weighed 115 pounds back then. We recorded that in four days. That was it. I remember we went in there on a Monday and did all the basic tracks, drums, bass, and then Rikk and I doubled the rhythm guitars. And then on the second day, we did all the overdubs, Rikk and I, we did all the guitar layering and solos and octaves and all that stuff.

And then on the third day was lead and backing vocals. And the fourth day was mix and edit -- it was done. It went quick because we'd been playing a lot and we were rehearsing a lot. Essentially with the 'Blue' album, it was our live set back then.


** There's not a bad one on there. It's pretty solid.

Agnew: Very proud of that record.


** For that to come together so fast like that, sometimes, it's like lightning in a bottle. It all comes together. It's not always going to happen. With any other albums, you could probably say it was completely different. But sometimes the magic is just there, and you just gotta go with it.

Agnew: The stars were lined up, because it seemed so incredibly easy. At the time, we just kind of went in there and knocked it out and that was it. Of course, at the time, I don't think any of us had any idea it would do what it did. You remember back then, the punk scene wasn't big, it was very underground still.

At the time, I kept thinking, 'Well, gee, I can't imagine punk like this ever going mainstream.' Boy, was I wrong.


** So looking at your photo on the back here of this album. What is that young Frank thinking at the moment?

Agnew: It was some place we played (off of Sunset Boulevard) and those pictures were taken in back of that place, knowing that they were going to be used for the 'Blue' album, which I think we just finished recording. 

I remember at the time thinking, you know, how exciting it was and how fun it was, how fun it was doing these shows, the whole scene and everything. I really remember just sitting there thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be in an album and we might even sell like 200 copies.'


** You look pretty mellow. You look like you might just be kind of rolling with it and having a good time.

Agnew: Pretty much. I never took the politics seriously or anything like that. I never got into that whole thing, like, 'Oh, you know, we're gonna tear down society.' I was just enjoying playing in a band, playing the music, getting the occasional girl here and there and just having a good time hanging out with friends. Back then, our friends (were) the guys in the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Bad Religion.


** And obviously to your right there, you've got Soto, who unfortunately passed away (2018). How important was he in your life then? And now... he's probably still with you nowadays in thoughts.

Agnew: It was huge because him and I for pretty much the entire decade of the '80s, were very tight.

In the Adolescents, Rikk and Casey were older and so we really didn't hang out with them. They were old enough to buy beer and go into bars -- me and Soto weren't. He's a year older than me. And then Tony was just Tony -- he just kind of did his thing. So me and Soto hung around, we paired off and we were just really tight all through that time. Even when the Adolescents broke up, we did Legal Weapon together, and then we did some other projects together well through the '80s. By the late '80s, I was married and had a couple of kids. But we always got together, we always stayed tight, we would get some other projects together. 

So really, to answer your question, he was my best friend for years. And you know what it was? We were best friends during the coming-of-age years. Going from from teenage kids to adults and how the world changes when that happens. Even though in later years, weeks and sometimes months would go by when we didn't see or talk to each other on the phone. But we were always just a phone call away. As a matter of fact, I think it was just a few days before he passed, he had texted me and asked me how my younger son was doing because he was going through a bone-marrow transplant at the time.

And I texted him back and said, 'You know, he's doing all right.' Doctors seemed pretty hopeful. He goes, 'You know, we need to get together.' I said, 'You know, that sounds great.' And then it was like two or three days later he passed. Losing him was the first big blow. I lost both my parents this last year and that was huge, too.

But before that, losing Steve because we were so tight. We're so very close that when he passed, and even to this day, I felt like not only a big part of my youth, but a big part of me as a person is vacant. It's empty.


** What do you remember about him the most? 

Agnew: His enthusiasm and his endless energy. For a big guy, he had an endless amount of energy. He had a great sense of humor, probably one of the best singers I've ever known. He had an amazing voice, which is funny, you didn't know that in the Adolescents because he didn't sing, he just played bass. But in later years with other bands he did and solo stuff, when you hear him sing, he had a fantastic voice. He was talented and just a really all-around great guy. When he left, it left a big void.




Steve Soto with the Adolescents in 2015. (Photo by Cat Rose)



** Speaking of your kids, I know one of your sons played in the Adolescents as well. Right?

Agnew: My oldest, yeah (Frank Jr.).

When we did The 'O.C. Confidential' album (2005) because, when we went to do that Rikk was still with us and rehearsed with us, but by the time we went in to record it, he left. He was having a lot of personal problems. So I'm the only guitar player on that record. I did a lot of guitar parts on it. It's like, 'Well, now that we're gonna play shows and do gigs and stuff, we're gonna need another guitar player.'

And I thought, 'Well, who better than Frank Jr?' He knows all the shit already.


** What was that like playing side by side with your son and having another Agnew join the crew?

Agnew: That was a great time. That year or two that we did that -- because we played in Germany, we got flown out to Florida and played a big gig out there -- it was bigger shows. And it was just a lot of fun. It was just great father-and-son time. That has great memories for me as well, being in the Adolescents with him.


** Because he's not in a position to tour extensively, Agnew is not involved with the current lineups of the Adolescents or the Radolescents, which contain members from throughout the band's history, including Rikk Agnew, Frank Agnew Jr., Royer and O'Donovan (Rad --) and Cadena/Reflex (Ad --).



Sunday, June 27, 2021

The rock returns with Toe Tag and Brain Cell Genocide


Toe Tag. (All Cat Rose photos)





By Andy

In the immortal words of Bon Scott, "Let There Be Rock!"

It's been about 16 months since we at TSHIT Central have set foot in a club to attend a gig, and like every other music aficionado out there, we were chomping at the bit to return to action.

That night was June 25 at Tony V's Garage in Everett, WA.

Manic vocalist Blaine Cook's blistering Toe Tag led the way and were joined by the rip-roaring Brain Cell Genocide, which features our good friend Ron Banner manhandling the six-stringer. The music exploded in our faces like a long dormant bomb that had its wires yanked back into place to properly get the job done. Light that fuse and fucking blast our ears to pieces. 

The always hyper Cook seemed even more unhinged than ever and stomped the shit out of the poor stage for a song and a half before he unfortunately blew out an Achilles. He was a trooper and finished the set while sitting on the drum riser. At times, he tried to stand and return to the fray, but it wasn't to be. Toe Tag delivered the goods nonetheless with their fearless leader's body sidelined while he thrust forth his lyrics with the screeches of what seems like a horde of demons on the loose.

Brain Cell Genocide busted open the door with a raucous set that pounded its way along the crossover territory and had attendees' heads banging once again after a long rest. There were times when it looked like people were perplexed at what was happening before them since shows were not part of our lives for so long. Is that an amp? Will that guitar still work? Will I still enjoy a madman clutching a mic screaming into my face? Yes, yes and yes. BCG's tunes even got a cordial pit going, with smiling people raging but almost softly ramming into each other. Is that possible? Yes again.

Photographer Cat Rose, who couldn't stop smiling all night, was unleashed to capture the moments once again with her trusty weapon.


TOE TAG





























BRAIN CELL GENOCIDE





























Tuesday, May 25, 2021

K.K. Barrett of the Screamers, who finally have a record out / Interview

 


Logo designed by Gary Panter




This interview originally appeared in the Los Angeles Beat on April 20.


By Bob Lee


The Screamers have not stopped being ahead of their time since their formation in 1976. A band that never courted mainstream acceptance, there may simply not be enough time for society to catch up to them. They were so extreme, they never even put out a record. As drummer K.K. Barrett put it, “All groups need growth, and they need to change. And we just changed right out of who we were” before it could be captured properly.

Barrett's arrival in LA from Oklahoma in January of 1977 allowed the band's first full lineup to come together. He didn't replace the Roland TR-66 rhythm machine that the core team of singer/ genius front man Tomata du Plenty and keyboardists Tommy Gear and David Brown had been using; he joined it as a second drummer. In order to integrate the TR-66 with a drum kit, they had to run it through a bass cabinet, put it behind K.K.'s head, and turn it up, way up. The sound they developed that spring and summer was captured on a set of four-track demos that have been released as an EP on Superior Viaduct – the first sanctioned studio recordings by the Screamers ever pressed on vinyl. 

The five songs captured in these sessions still don't sound precisely like anything else you could name. There've been other keyboard-based bands--they don't sound like this. Distorted, interlocking piano lines bounce off the synthetic drum tones, augmented by jittery cymbal accents, creating a feeling of restrained menace as du Plenty intones hard-won wisdom: It's not always pleasant/ to get what you deserve. Elsewhere, on “Anything,” the restraints come off and the band just explodes in your face.

There are lines that could be drawn to other guitarless acts surfacing in that same moment like The Normal and Suicide. Of course, there was Kraftwerk, who were considerably more polite. There's Devo, who Barrett acknowledges as fellow travelers even though they did play guitars, and Throbbing Gristle, who had a guitar but didn't use it like one. The closest thing they have to a real predecessor is 1968's Silver Apples, who made “synth rock” which pre-dates the modern synthesizer, from a homemade contraption of oscillators mixed with propulsive, pattern-based drumming, the effect of which could prove profoundly unsettling.

But the Screamers had one thing none of the others did, and that was Tomata. The footage seen in the Target Video DVD that used to be the only document of the group you could possibly buy, reveals him to be one of the great front men in all of punk... maybe in all of entertainment. A former member of the Cockettes, he had that fearlessness that seems to burn brightly in those people that perform transgressive art.




Importantly enough, they also had K.K. Barrett, whose driving, relentless beats provided the steam that powered them. He worked on the essential early punk label Dangerhouse with his fellow Okie transplant Pat Garrett. K.K. also spent time as drummer in Black Randy's Metrosquad, which he described as an on-and-off proposition. “I would do it for a while, then I would get kicked out – once, I was kicked out for being in the Screamers.” When I mention that the group sounded to this outsider like a prickly cast of characters, he says “Randy's thing was always very funny – and David's was too, but, David's humor was delivered with more of a... rusty knife.”

We met at K.K.'s lovely home to discuss the Superior Viaduct release and talk a little bit about the band with perhaps the most lopsided influence-to-record-sales ratio in the history of modern music. Prior to this release, you would have had to multiply the influence by zero sales.

But one thing that occurs to me after our talk is that, in terms of gauging the success or failure of a project, you really have to stick around a while to see how the story ends. Forty-four years after these multi-track demos were made, interest in the band has never been higher; the first pressing of this EP sold out instantly, while a second edition on black vinyl sold out as well. Meanwhile, the uncompromising approach to their art that caused them to forgo recording studios and experiment with filmmaking, led Barrett directly to a career in production design, working on such acclaimed films as "Being John Malkovich" and "Her," the latter of which won him an Oscar nomination and an Art Director's Guild award.

We listened to a bit of a test pressing, which sounds great--raw, a little middle-y as tapes from the '70s often do, but pure. Vinyl is a good medium for this stuff, though K.K. thinks it sounds better in digital. But finally, you can buy a record with that famous Gary Panter drawing of Tomata on the cover, and there's Screamers music on it, and it's real. FINALLY. That drawing is on a record cover, and it feels like something in the world has been set right.


* These are from summer '77?

That's right.


* How would you describe the division of responsibility between the two keyboard players? At this point, we're talking about David and Tommy.

At the very earliest point, it's hard to say. Because David and Tommy had maybe played the song before I joined the band, in a rehearsal type of division of duty.

Tommy wrote the song. So his melody on either keyboard is the original piece. And then I don't know what David contributed to it because I wasn't there at that moment. But I'm sure that there's a lot of interplay that only David knew how to play, Tommy was a more rudimentary piano player. More brilliant at single note leads. So I would say anything that's flourishy, or the interplay, the way he interplays with the drum machine and with the drums, that's definitely all David, rather than just following strictly melody. Because he's playing bass as well, playing bass and melody at the same time.


* Tomata comes from a big history of theater, confrontational and flamboyant performance. Was there a conscious effort to make queerness part of the thing?

Not at all. I think they had gone heavy into that phase, as far as that being the audience. And it was never brought up. It was a more universal audience than that. It's easy to talk about that sociologically in hindsight. But at the time it wasn't a statement that was trying to be made.


* After David leaves the band, and you start working with Paul Roessler, what does he bring into the picture?

Well after David left... there was some friction between David and Tommy, and David left. We had a period where we were still writing songs, but we were looking for a keyboard player. And we found a kid from Beverly Hills High, Jeff McGregor. And he played for three or four months, starting around New Year's Eve of that following year (1977-78).

He knew he was gong to be temporary, and that was his design and our design. And he did contribute to some different parts. He contributed to “She Frightens” and “122 Hours Of Fear,” intros, things like that. Already there was a reliance to embrace other people's contributions to a certain extent. But he was a much more rudimentary player. David was a much more accomplished player than Jeff was. He was a Berkley School of Music jazz guy, you know. Fractured, intentionally fractured. And much more fluid.

Jeff was an outside thinker but much more rudimentary on the piano. The band didn't really lift off during that period. We played some shows, but, also we were kind of getting our feet wet. We hardly ever practiced. I was probably more in shape for these recordings (made in July, 1977) than during the whole Jeff McGregor time. Cause I had freshly come to town (in January of 1977), I had been playing with bands in Oklahoma.

So when Paul came into the fold, all of a sudden, it was much more adventurous. Also extremely facile on the piano, and much more adventurous. And we pushed him, and he liked it. Knocked the three-note chords out of him and got him into two-note chords. But encouraged him to accent things and play with noises and sounds. He brought an organ with him and another synthesizer. And then it became a whole different thing, because Tommy would sometime play synthesizer AND organ, and Paul would be playing synthesizer AND piano. So it became a much lusher sound.


* It's been talked abut a lot that there was a reluctance to go in the studio and make records, hoping instead to make films. The question in my mind, if we think about these recordings at the time they're made, was that already a vision? And what would these films have been like? What would be on a storyboard for “Punish or Be Damned?”

We didn't know. It was less about a scripted story than...we knew we were successful as a live show. But we didn't know how that would transfer to... Well, first of all, there was no place to put something like that, a video clip of a band. This was before MTV. Or even the film we worked on, was before MTV. There was really no end point for that stuff. We just knew that it needed to be audio and visual at the same time. That was kind of our statement, rather than just audio alone.


* Was Rene Daalder your guys' first choice as a visual partner to try and get that happening?

No, that just came along. He had a project, and we were contributing to the project. The three of us - Paul wasn't really involved in that – the three of us were involved in that project in different ways, but it really wasn't a Screamers project. It was Rene's project. And he just came along and had the funds to get it off the ground, and so we did it, and we contributed to it. And a lot of people – Penelope from the Avengers contributed to it, and there was an Italian guy, Leo Nero, who wrote songs. And a bunch of different people. So it wasn't really a Screamers project, It was just the first example you could say, of us doing something visual in tandem with music.


* Did you want to have a hit?

No. We never even thought about that. Even these recordings were made so we could play them for people to get shows. A hit? That was so far out of the realm of interest. You know how it is when you start a band, and you want to play for your 10 friends. And then eventually you want to play for 50, and then maybe you get to play the 200 [capacity] place.

No, we never thought about touring, although we did, or hits, or anything... A hit implies competition into the mainstream, and we were never interested in that. That wasn't a goal.

Really, it was kind of week to week, what can we do to entertain ourselves? And judge that by the audience reaction – sometimes good, sometimes not! But we were happy to repel people as well as draw them in.


* To realize this music the way that you wanted to, what would have been needed from a resource standpoint?

What do you mean? Audio, or visual or...


* Well, I think there's a feeling that the great Screamers masterpiece recording never was able to be made, and never materialized.

(Laughter)

I think all bands need growth, they need to keep changing. And we kind of changed ourselves right out of who we were.

I think that as we grew from this period in early '77 to the shows that we recorded live at the Mabuhay in San Francisco with Paul, in late '78, I think that that version of the band had met its apex at that point. We were a pretty hot live band, finally. There's a lot of shows where we weren't that great, But at that show, we were really together, and had a suite of songs that we really liked. That could have been an album, I would say. That album could also include some of this stuff, but we let certain things drop by the wayside, or re-oriented them to a new sound. A more drawn-out, open sound, that was also more abrasive. More propulsive but also more abrasive.

So, there were other people putting records at the time out, and they weren't doing that well. Richard Hell's album – great album, (sales were) nothing. Blondie had success because they were very mainstream and melodic, and had a strong visual appeal.

Devo had long success. They're a pretty good parallel, they were also making films early on, and their band had a concept, like we did. Different concept, but a strong concept. And they had success by continuing through the hump of the first birth into the next level. They legged it out until MTV. If we had legged it out until MTV, maybe our visual approach and audio approach would have had a place to go.

But it was never planned as a long run. It was planned as, let's entertain ourselves, here we go.


* I'm aware of some additional studio recordings. Is there any plan to do anything with that stuff?

Not at the moment. We do have some recordings, but this is the only stuff we ever recorded on quarter-inch tape. Everything else is cassette sourced. And there are some missing things that we don't know where they are. I'm always loosely trying to run them down. But not a fervent pursuit. I've got other things going on.

I've got a pretty good archive, but this was the best tape and I thought, the best statement of who we were at a moment in time, to put out as a single statement. That's why it's brief, this is all that we recorded at the time. There were other songs that we had at the time, but this is all that we chose to record. And it was a recording method that we perfected back in Oklahoma, on four-track, and used throughout the early days of Dangerhouse, with Pat Garrett. He engineered both of those situations.

It was funny being in a band where we never argued. We were just always happy to be doing what we were doing, and to move forward. And every time we got a chance to do something different, like tour the east coast, tour the west coast, go back to the east coast again, work on Rene's project--they were all something to take a chance at. I think the bigger notions we got, like when we got to Rene's thing and it involved so many more people, there was less of us. That's why I don't consider it the same statement.

But I ended up getting a career out of it. Everything I knew kind of coalesced into “Oh, working on film! I never thought about that before!” That was a good thing for me.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Full speed ahead: Dischord Records to reissue first six EPs as box set


Photo from the Dischord Records website.




By Andy

Has it really been 40 years since our trusty mailman wearing a pith helmet delivered several Dischord Records EPs to our Redondo Beach, CA, home? I bought the first Minor Threat EP at Zed Records in Long Beach, and the others (The Teen Idles, SOA, Government Issue, Minor Threat's second offering and Youth Brigade) all arrived in the mailbox weeks after our mom wrote checks for $2.50 each to the Dischord crew in Washington DC. My brother Ed and I couldn't have been more stoked with the roaring tuneage swirling around our bedroom.

The six gems will be reissued in their original 7” vinyl format and sold together as the Dischord 200 box set at $50 a pop through pre-order only at http://boxset.dischord.com/ from now until June 11. They've been remastered with sleeves and lyric sheets reproduced from the original art, and a 12-page booklet will accompany the set. It is estimated to be released at the end of 2021.

Inside, you'll get: Dischord # 1 - The Teen Idles “Minor Disturbance” 8-song EP; Dischord # 2 - SOA “No Policy” 10-song EP; Dischord # 3 - Minor Threat “Minor Threat” 8-song EP; Dischord # 4 - Government Issue “Legless Bull” 10-song EP; Dischord # 5 - Minor Threat “In My Eyes” 4-song EP; and Dischord # 6 - Youth Brigade “Possible” 7-song EP.

I know these records like the back of my hand, but they're a bit tattered from tons of runs around the old turntable. So, bring on a new batch, I say, and let's get reacquainted with these raging documents of DC hardcore history.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Skids blast through covers album, 'Songs from a Haunted Ballroom'

 


Richard Jobson during the Skids' recent streaming gig. TSHIT screenshot





By Andy

The Skids absolutely blast through the Ultravox raucous classic "Young Savage" to kickstart the Scottish band's upcoming covers album "Songs from a Haunted Ballroom." In fact, our ears are still bleeding over here at TSHIT central.

It's no secret that we've held the Dunfermline band on a lofty pedestal after hearing the lads crank out copious stellar tunes from our home speakers over the years. Their dynamic punk-, new wave- and rock-styled tunes take you on a journey across the rolling hills of your mind and body and are always welcome additions to any gathering.

We've never seen them in a live setting, but I interviewed father-and-son guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson when they rolled through Seattle with Big Country. Good guys, those two.

Currently, they're joined in the Skids by vocalist Richard Jobson, bassist William Simpson (both original members) and drummer Mike Baillie, although Big Country's Mark Brzezicki manned the drum kit during the band's superb streaming gig on April 24.

Songs from The Clash ("Complete Control"), The Adverts ("Gary Gilmore's Eyes"), Sex Pistols ("Submission"), Magazine ("The Light Pours Out of Me") and others get the Skids treatment on the 14-song new record, plus you get fresh versions of the band's own "Into the Valley" and "The Saints Are Coming." On the latter Skids tune, they'll surely show Green Day and U2 how it's done, right?

The album's moniker gives a nod to the Skids' hometown venue, the historic Kinema Ballroom. 

Jobson noted in a press release: “John Foxx of Ultravox was cool, handsome and wrote poetry rather than lyrics. He made it OK for the rest of us to be a bit arty. ‘Young Savage’ was a massive hit in the Kinema.”

He's loved putting the album together with his mates, and reminisced about the embryonic days of the band, which formed in 1977 and was powered on guitar by the late Stuart Adamson.

“It reminded me of those early cathartic days, and of course where I came from. The place that made me what I am. I would like to dedicate the album to all of the Punks and Ghosts from the day of the Kinema who like me had their life transformed through a love of music," he said.

Oh yeah, the Skids also released the killer album "Burning Cities" in 2018, so that's something to check into as well. 

Stream "Young Savage": https://orcd.co/skids_young_savage

Pre-order the CD & vinyl: https://cleorecs.com/store/product-category/_pre-order/

Pre-order/pre-save the digital: https://orcd.co/skids_songs_from_a_haunted_ballroom




Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Descendents go old school in present day with '9th & Walnut' album

                                                Cover Art: Chris Shary; Graphic Design: Jason Link



By Andy

Whenever I think of the Descendents, my mind immediately whizzes back to when I watched them plow through their set during an outside daytime party in 1982 in Manhattan Beach, CA. Hyperactive bandmembers Milo Aukerman, Frank Navetta, Tony Lombardo and Bill Stevenson went off in the front yard of one of their friends' home on The Strand. Facing the beach and a tiny crowd, the guys cemented themselves into my punk rock world.

Many years later, early Descendents songs -- pre-dating that beach gig -- are being unveiled on their "9th & Walnut" album, which will be released on July 23 on Epitaph Records.  

Lombardo, Navetta (RIP) and Stevenson ripped through and recorded this batch of songs in 2002 at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, CO. Aukerman recently finished the vocals at The Holler Box in Newark, DEL.

The album's moniker comes from the intersection where their rehearsal space was located in Long Beach, CA during their early days. Within the grooves, you'll find 18 tunes, including a cover of the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over." "It's a Hectic World" and "Ride the Wild" from the band's first single are given the Aukerman vocal treatment this time out.

The Descendents are slated to headline the first night of Punk Rock Bowling on Sept. 24 in Las Vegas, NEV.

To pre-order the album, visit https://descendents.store/





Friday, April 9, 2021

Pezzati chats about new Naked Raygun album, band's history / Feature story

Jeff Pezzati lets loose during a Naked Raygun gig. Courtesy of MXV Photography. www.punkvinyl.com. 


By Andy

Jeff Pezzati probably wouldn't be surprised if a raccoon poked its head into the room while he was working on some new Naked Raygun tunes. 

Perhaps the scratching of claws could inspire a riff or two.

Yes, a far-fetched scenario, but in all seriousness, Pezzati's fiancee rehabilitates raccoons in their home nestled in the small farming community of Amboy, Illinois. The approximately 3,000-resident town sits two hours west of Chicago. 

"We bought a really old house. It's kind of statuesque. It's built before the Civil War and needs a lot of love and we're just fixing it up," he said over the phone at high noon on a recent Sunday. "We have a lot of animals always around," he reiterated.

At age 61, Pezzati has a couple of new songs knocking around in his head as he's in the process of moving his portable home studio into another room in their house. Set it up, crank it out, he added.

"I think as long as we have good new songs, it gets me excited again," said vocalist/songwriter Pezzati, whose longtime band will release a pair of 12-inch EPs before unleashing a fresh, full album, "Over the Overlords," on the revitalized Wax Trax! Records in June.

The songs within the grooves are culled from recordings from last year and reach as far back as 2016. The tunes are strong and well-thought out, said Pezzati, adding that the album was engineered and mixed by Steve Gillis and mastered by Ted Jensen, who worked on the Eagles' "Hotel California" album.

"The record actually sounds better than we can play. It's pretty frightening," Pezzati said.

One song penned by guitarist Bill Stephens, "Treat Me Unkind," is a stunner: "It's got harmonies on it that are just perfect -- we can't do them that well. It's just stinking perfect. It sounds like a machine or something," the singer added.

Pezzati said his poignant song "Suicide Bomb" features Aramaic singing: "That was the language of Jesus Christ. Kind of like hanging these notes and then hum and then we break off into some sort of like little chant thing. It's very different, very chant-ish, and in the background, it's kind of funny 'cause there's this girl singing 'Baby a-oooh' at the right times," he said with a laugh.

Former Naked Raygun bassist Pierre Kezdy, who passed away from cancer last year, wrote some songs and played on the album. One song that's included they used to call "Robert Mitchum Song," and now it features the title of "Soul Hole Baby."

Pezzati said that the band is pleased that Kezdy is represented on this album and it's crucial that they release it for him.

"He told us before he passed it was important that we get it out and we're doing our best to get it out. And the fact that he wrote a couple of songs for it is really great because he was such a great songwriter. He wrote 'Vanilla Blue' and he wrote 'Treason' by himself and he wrote 'Home' and some really great songs along the way," Pezzati said.

Naked Raygun, which hopes to play an album release show in June or July, performed an array of new and old songs recently for a livestream-only event at the House of Vans in Chicago. Pezzati said the band and his voice sounded rough during the eight-song set because their practice time/travel was hindered by ice storms, but they pulled it off. Dan Wleklinski from 88 Fingers Louie joined the band on second guitar on a few songs to put some extra roar in Raygun.

During COVID times, Pezzati, who was born in Chicago, released a five-song solo EP titled "Pezzati," which is available digitally on most formats. He's proud of the tunes he had kicking around for a long time and noted that "Make Me Whole" is one of his faves.

The current Raygun lineup features longtime drummer Eric Spicer and bassist Fritz Doreza. In recent years, Kezdy sometimes joined the band on stage while playing a "ba-tar," a bass/guitar mixture that Stephens constructed. It was difficult for Kezdy to move, but he played well, Pezzati said.

Kezdy was soft spoken, full of life, creative and easy to work with, Pezzati noted.

While playing a gig at Northern Illinois University, Pezzati said with a laugh that the usually mild-mannered Kezdy displayed a wild side. When the stage made of strapped-together folding tables started falling apart, someone ran into Kezdy while stage diving. The now-fumed bassist launched into the crowd after the guy and Pezzati thought the diver was toast. There was no brawl, and Pezzati thought the whole ordeal was kind of funny.

Pezzati's entrance into the rough-and-tumble punk world began with a gig featuring Chicago crazies Meaty Buys. He witnessed the Ramones early on, and Raygun ended up sharing a bill with them at the Aragon Ballroom in 1987. Along with those shows, bands like Cheap Trick, Rockpile, the Romantics and new-wave bands were on his concert list. 

Naked Raygun was hatched in 1980, when Pezzati's brother Marko formed the band with Santiago Durango. At that time, punk music was inspiring, exciting and dangerous, said Pezzati, noting that on more than one occasion, normal types would scream at him in the street and want to pick fights.

"So we knew we were doing something right, you know?" he said.

Pezzati got in on the Raygun action when he was invited to attend some practices and give his vocal cords a workout. He doesn't remember them having a drummer at the time of his entrance into their world, but the truncated band played on. Pezzati got the job, and they would soon find a new drummer as well.  

Durango was a songwriting machine, Pezzati recalls.

"Santiago was just so inspiring, he was so pumped about writing songs. He would write so many songs. He would change every song every time we came to practice. Something completely different -- he would call it the same name, though," Pezzati said. "He had a million songs up his sleeve and each one was better than the next one."

In 1983, the band released the "Basement Screams" EP and they were off and running.

By the time the "Throb Throb" album hit the scene in 1985, only Jeff Pezzati and bassist Camilo Gonzalez remained from the original lineup. John Haggerty, who honked some sax on "Swingo" on "Basement Screams," was now manning the guitar for the band with a crisp and crunchy Buzzcocks-like tone.

"'Throb Throb' was a great record, it's got some great songs on there, it's got 'Rat Patrol' and 'I Don't Know,'" Pezzati said. "I was told by a soundman that works at Cobra Lounge, not one week goes by where some band doesn't cover ('Rat Patrol') -- no matter what kind of music they play, even if they play like death metal or ska or whatever -- everybody plays 'Rat Patrol.' It's funny."

Durango was still present on the recording through songwriting credits on "Stupid" and "Only in America" (co-written with drummer Jim Colao).

When Raygun hit the road at that point, Pezzati recalls them often having to win over crowds that didn't have a clue who they were when the set kicked off. People especially went bonkers during a gig with Squirrel Bait in Kentucky, the singer said.  

Kezdy and Spicer came on board the Raygun express for "All Rise" in 1986. Pezzati penned eight of the 11 tunes -- including standouts "Peacemaker" and "Home of the Brave" -- as the band hit a solid groove and began garnering more attention. 

For "Jettison" in 1988, Raygun switched from Homestead Records for its first of three outings with Caroline Records. 

Sterling gigs during that timeframe were a New York rager with Primus, Bad Religion and others; and killer hometown shows at the Metro and the Cubby Bear. Later on, Raygun would pack in 3,000 people at the Riviera in Chicago. 

"We were just wanting to try and get our music out to as many people as possible that could hear it, that's what our drive was. If that meant bigger shows, that meant bigger shows. Some shows, we'd go out of town and play little shows," Pezzati said.

Now standing in front of larger crowds, Pezzati said he wasn't fazed at all while belting out song after song to the masses. 

"It was really natural. I'm not really affected by crowds like that. Doesn't matter. I can go out and play in front of anybody, million people or one person. And because I'm singing, you know, I've been there so many times it's just by rote, you know, it's just no problem -- I have this down," said Pezzati, noting that in high school he developed near-sightedness. 

"So everything's a little blurry out there. So past the first couple of people in the row, I can't see. I can see the person but I can't see their face necessarily. So it's kind of a nice blur. So it doesn't matter to me how many people are blurred," he added with a laugh.

When "Understand?" came around a year later, Pezzati felt the band was grasping for straws a bit while bringing those songs to life.

"I thought that were kind of niche writing at that point, kind of reaching for something we had written in the past and kind of trying to recreate that a little bit. And I think the album suffers a little bit because of that," he said.

However, with powerhouse songs like "Treason," "Hips Swingin'" and "Entrapment," that album is the band's top seller and Pezzati has royalty checks to prove it. "Hips Swingin'" makes an appearance in the 2018 movie "Tag," which is weird, but cool, he said.

With Stephens now on guitar after Haggerty left to form Pegboy in 1990, "Raygun...Naked Raygun" kicks open the door with Kezdy's "Home" and flows from there. Although Pezzati doesn't feel the engineer got a grasp of Stephens' big guitar sound on the album, the 11-song collection has grown on him over time. 

"Some people really like that album, they relate to that album more than the earlier ones," Pezzati said.

With "Over the Overlords" on deck along with those EPs, Naked Raygun will surely have fans stoked to sing along -- at home and in the crowd when it's safe to do so. 

Pezzati can't wait to once again deliver songs new and old to the Raygun faithful.



Naked Raygun songlist from when TSHIT saw them live at El Corazon in Seattle on Nov. 30, 2007.