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.


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.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Talking Toxic Reasons with Stuckey / Feature story


Bruce Stuckey hammers it out at TT the Bear's in Cambridge, MA on Dec. 27, 1985.
Photo by Rocco Cipollone for the cover of Al Quint's Suburban Voice #18.

By Andy 

All Bruce Stuckey could do was keep an eye on the guy who was bashing the shit out of the seat in front of him. 

"Aahhhhhh! Aahhhhh!" was what the Toxic Reasons guitarist/vocalist remembered the guy screaming, while the girl occupying that pummeled seat three rows from the front was probably wondering what the hell was happening.

All this went down during song No. 3 of the Toxics' opening set during an unlikely pairing with Echo and the Bunnymen in 1985 at a movie theater gig in Milwaukee, WI. The opening band canceled, the Toxics needed the dough, and they snagged the gig. 

Playing it safe at first, the Toxics rolled into the first two songs of their mellower "Within These Walls" album -- "Then Came the Rain" and "It's So Silly" -- before bursting into the raucous "No Pity" from the non-mellow "Kill By Remote Control" album. 

"And it was just like, 'You gotta be kidding me!' and everybody was just like staring aghast at us," Stuckey said of the gig packed with kids in the 15-17-year-old age range. But that one crazed kid who was murdering that seat was on board to the hilt.  

The Toxics' floodgate had cracked open with a vengeance and they unleashed a tidal wave of blistering tunes on the shocked crowd -- except that one guy, of course -- like "Mercenary," "Drunk and Disorderly," "Powercrazed" and more, but slowing it down a bit with the reggae-punk number, "Ghost Town." That was probably still too hot to handle for the teenyboppers.

Stuckey recalls now -- 36 years later from the confines of his home in Indianapolis, IN -- that a magazine review ragged on the Toxics and said it was insulting to have them open for Echo.

"Hooray, punk rock wins again!" said a proud Stuckey, now 61, who added that the band collected their $500 fee, ate Echo's food, drank their beer and more in the process. 

Just another wild night in the life of a band that kicked things off in 1979, telling Vancouver, BC's roughhousers DOA that they'd be ready to open for them the next time Joey Shithead and crew trekked to the Dayton, OH area -- home base for the soon-to-form Toxics.

After watching a compilation of funniest game-show moments on YouTube while relaxing on the couch with his two dogs on a recent Sunday afternoon, Stuckey grabbed his phone to talk Toxics. 

YouTube has been his friend as of late, and who knows, it may provide some lyrical ideas for the man who last strapped on his guitar alongside his fellow Toxics bandmates Tufty Clough (bass), JJ Pearson (drums) and Vess Ruhtenberg (guitar) about a year ago. They're itching to set up on stage and crank out some tunes, just like every other band in the universe who's had their instruments sidelined during the pandemic.

"I'll find a conspiracy theory and I'll just trace it down to its most absurd moment," Stuckey said of his YouTube-watching spree with his Shih Tzu Milhous and Chiweenie Gitmo. During the interview, one of the dogs leaps on top of Stuckey: "What is it buddy, what's the matter with you?" he playfully asks the canine.

Stuckey on a recent day with his guitars and albums. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Stuckey)

Guitars are also Stuckey's playmates, and he's got a load of them at his home in Indy, a city where he's rested his head since 1984, the year the Colts footballers moved there as well, he noted. Looking around the room, Stuckey counts six Gibson Les Pauls, an Ibanez, a Fender and more. His go-to guitar is a Chibson -- a Chinese forgery of a 1957 Les Paul -- that Clough bought for him.

Randomly, Stuckey peeks out the window and says that they accumulated about 10 inches of snow in three days, and his gutters have 6-foot-high icicles hanging off them.

Back to the matter at hand: Toxic frigging Reasons, right?

They were supposed to play the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, UK, again in October after touring Europe, but the pandemic put a squash on that trip. Stuckey notes that he recently wrote a song for Clough to sing and sent the music and lyrics to the bassist and Pearson.  

"I've got at least two albums of material I've written over the last seven years. At least," said Stuckey, who notes that the Toxic Reasons records hanging on his wall each represent a different period of his life. There's eight studio albums and a batch of singles and EPs that fired out of the band's cannon.

"Honestly, I am happy with what I've done in the past. I would actually, honestly, like to make one more fucking record. I don't care if anybody gives a fuck, if they like it or not. As long as I like it and put it out, and actually tour it again. Maybe not the way we used to. I honestly don't think I could take that," he said with a laugh.

Bringing his Toxics journey full circle, Stuckey chuckles again when recalling a time two years ago when DOA crashed at his house and he gave up the bed and futons and slept on the hardwood floor. It reminded him of the old days when they would sleep anywhere they could find on their seemingly endless tours throughout America, the United Kingdom and other European countries. 

Stuckey's 59-year-old body was racked with pain when he woke up the next morning, but figured he owed it to Shithead, whose place they stayed at for many days back in 1980.

While DOA was one of the first bands Toxic Reasons played with, it was the Sex Pistols who kicked open the punk doors for Stuckey.

The guitarist cut his teeth in his first band, the hard- and soft-rockin' Exodus at the age of 15. Stuckey began playing guitar a year earlier, first on a Silvertone acoustic and then he entered electric land with a Crestwood green-and-black sunburst model. His initial goal was to play Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," and then he upped the ante by playing eight hours a day on that Crestwood and Kingston amp, which his mom purchased for her son for painting the garage. He just wanted to make a racket at first, but then the Noise Boy improved his skills along the way.

Toxic Reasons came into play about five years later in 1979 when Stuckey and fellow guitarist Joel Agne -- who both became enthused by punk rock two years prior -- were ripping through their version of the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" when future vocalist Ed Pittman banged on the front door. Stuckey managed to make his way to the door with his guitar still strapped on and cord stretched to its limit.   

Stuckey cracked the door open and there was Pittman: "And he goes, 'God Save the Queen!' I said, 'Come on in!' He had a 12-pack of Stroh's under his arm."

Toxic Reasons began playing Clash covers and later started penning their own tunes, including "War Hero" and "Somebody Help Me," which were featured on the band's first single. Stuckey played bass on that 45 while Agne handled guitar duties. The single was birthed in 1980 because a Dayton radio station employee told the band they needed a record to snag some airplay. They spent $500 to make 500 copies, but that damn station still wouldn't give it a spin.

"I would be stunned, like 20 years later, being in Germany or something and somebody goes, 'Can you autograph this for me?' and I look at them and go, 'Where the fuck did you get this record?'" Stuckey said of the "War Hero" single, which has fetched its highest bidding price of $675 over the years, according to popsike.com, while the following year's "Ghost Town" EP (backed by "Killer" and "Noise Boys") has reached a top bid of $191.

Stuckey receives a beer blessing from Jello Biafra. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Stuckey)

After a ton of touring and experiencing tortuous times -- Stuckey was homeless, the band slept on whatever floors they could find and they were jailed for a bit for working illegally in Calgary, Canada -- the Toxics released the "Independence" album in 1982 with Zero Boys vocalist Paul Mahern and John Helms handling engineering duties and Terry Hammer and the Toxics producing. 

Mahern would lend his studio expertise in the engineering and producing realms to four more Toxics albums. Speaking of the ZBs, their bassist Clough eventually joined the Toxics' ranks, as did guitarist Terry Howe and drummer Mark Cutsinger for a spell. In fact, the ultimate ZBs/Toxics conglomeration was when Clough, Howe and Custinger played on one song, "It's a Lie," on the "Bullets for You" album.

When "Independence" hit record-store shelves -- I bought my copy at Zed Records in Long Beach, CA, when it was released -- Stuckey liked what they unleashed to the punk scene. The songs still hold up in today's world.

"Oh, I like them. I mean writing songs is what I always like doing... Honestly, I've never been a very good guitar player. I like to work really hard and do really simple things. All the songs on that record are really good," said Stuckey, noting that the songs are a half step out of tune because they didn't have a guitar tuner.

Following Pittman's departure from the now-San Francisco-located band in 1984 to join his girlfriend back in Dayton, Stuckey stepped up to the microphone for the "Kill By Remote Control" album and every platter since then. During this time, bassist Clough joined, which also featured Pearson and Rob Lucjak on guitar (he was part of the band for the "Independence," "Kill By Remote Control" and "Within These Walls" years).

Stuckey had evolved as a songwriter and the songs were more demanding this time out (Clough and Lucjak were writing as well). Becoming the singer was tough for Stuckey at first and he referenced the band's performance on Target Video: "That is a terrified young man who's only sang maybe once or twice in his life in front of people -- and this place is packed and they're going fucking apeshit."

Clough -- who also sang on some tunes -- became a crucial cog to the Toxics' wheel when he stepped into the fold.

"When he started playing, I was like going, 'Oh, this is how you're supposed to play bass, Oh, I get it,'" said Stuckey, noting that he felt the Zero Boys with Clough smoked the Toxics when they played on the same bills. 

If "Kill By Remote Control" was an evolution in the band's sound, "Within These Walls" turned the screw in full melodic mode for one album. Stuckey felt he penned some of this best lyrics on that album and pieced chord textures together well. However, the punks didn't dig it, and Stuckey recalls having only "Within These Walls" merchandise left at the end of one massive gig. Kids swooped on the "Independence" and "Kill By Remote Control" merch and left album No. 3 lonely at the table.

The Toxics toured the hell out of that album and every one that has come forth from their sturdy hands. They experienced good times, tough times and non-eating times. But they've survived while raising the punk flag all the while. They're fucking warriors. And the band was truly an international unit, with members from the US, Canada, UK and Italy over the years.

The back-cover photo of "Within These Walls" shows four guys looking a bit ragged, but Stuckey remembers them feeling fine at that point in 1985, probably a few months away from that intriguing Echo gig.

"After a while, you get used to sleeping sitting up, sleeping on floors, sleeping on a stage, sleeping on a concrete floor. I couldn't do it now because I'm fucking 61 years old," Stuckey said.

One more album, though, that's all he wants. And some touring ... but give the man a bed this time.

Toxics on  tour in the 1980s. From left to right, Pearson, Clough, Stuckey and Lucjak. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Stuckey)

Monday, February 15, 2021

Photo flashback: Eyehategod and friends / Cat Rose

Eyehategod. (All Cat Rose photos)

Since gigs have been a bust for nearly a year, we're digging into the TSHIT archives for mostly unseen Cat Rose photos of this blockbuster bill from 2019 in Seattle. #wemissshows

How many screamers can you take ramming their lyrics into your face in one night?

Correct answer: Six.

That was the scene at El Corazon in Seattle on Oct. 23 when Eyehategod, Negative Approach, Sheer Terror, Final Conflict, Accused A.D. and Heiress invaded the stage and absolutely pummeled the Wednesday night crowd. The ears were not happy while toiling away at the job the following day, and the voice was hoarse as shit from yelling along. BUT it was fucking worth it! You CANNOT pass up on a powerhouse bill like that, even on a work night.

Cat Rose owned the front row while taking photos and here's her offerings from the evening: