by Mat Weir
“Hot Damn and hallelujah! Grab me some snakes ‘cause I’m about to speak in tongues!” Or, at least, that was my first reaction to the new album by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Peyton on Patton. Most of my co-workers reactions were to snicker at Peyton’s nasally voice, but more of that later.
Since the early 2000s, the powerful three-piece Americana-country/Delta blues band has been traversing the dusty roads preaching its blend of teachings with Josh “The Reverend” Peyton finger pickin’ & slidin’ the National Steel and occasional three-string cigar box guitar (no, he’s not a real Reverend though he is a Kentucky Colonel) with his wife, Breezy Peyton, on the washboard. The Rev’s cousin, Aaron “Cuz” Persinger, has played drums and the five gallon bucket (oh yeah, that’s the Big Damn Band getting REAL on your ass) since 2009 when Peyton’s brother, Jayme, left.
However, Peyton on Patton isn’t your typical Peyton album. Just as the name suggests, it delivers 13 tracks of 10 different Charlie Patton covers—“One of These Days” is covered in three separate versions (Josh “The Reverend” loves this song so much he originally wanted to release an entire album of different versions; thankfully he didn’t.). Patton, the legendary Mississippi Delta bluesman who grew up on Dockery Plantation (the same powerful place where the other saint of bluesdom, Robert Johnson, would receive his first guitar and where John Lee Hooker & Howlin’ Wolf would fall in love with Patton’s recordings), was such a huge influence on Peyton that the Reverend took painstaking care in trying to recreate the Father of the Delta Blues’ sound. Not only was the album recorded through one microphone in one day, but Peyton meticulously restrung his guitar with material closer to what Patton would’ve used in order to get the twang just right. While this minute detail might easily be written off as the half-crazed thoughts of an obsessed guitar player, the pay-off is more than worth it.
Peyton on Patton is an album chock-full of rich, finger-pickin’-lickin’ gems. Though most of the recordings are just of Reverend Peyton playing guitar, the Big Damn Band does make appearances on select numbers; Breezy singing duet/back-up vocals and Cuz playing a 100-year old tobacco barrel. But the true meat of this album is Peyton’s reverence to his hero. In the liner notes, the Rev. mentions that the first time he ever heard Patton he was blown away at how Patton made one guitar sound like two. Songs like “Jesus is a Dying-Bed Maker” and “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” are perfect examples of what he means and evidence of the talent both men possess as high-note picking is carried by the rhythmic thumb-plucking for a sound that will have your head swimming. As with most music of the time period, Charlie Patton’s songs were designed with a time signature for people to clap along with. However, he would kick it up a notch with songs like “A Spoonful Blues” that the Big Damn Band plays so fast & heavily that it almost sounds distorted and you can’t help but stomp your feet. Also included is my personal favorite Patton number, “Elder Green Blues;” a slow to mid-tempo ditty about a Churchin’ man going down to sin city New Orleans. With lyrics like, “I love to fuss ‘n fight/Lordy get sloppy drunk off a bottle ‘n ball/and walk the streets all night,” it’s hard not to picture Patton as the O.G. rock & roller, raising hell like it was 1929.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it should be said that Peyton’s voice is pretty unique and often comical, especially to those who might be unfamiliar with the band or style of music. However, by the third or fourth song the brain catches on and your feet will be too busy stomping along for your grey matter to even notice.
This is the perfect album for any Delta blues fan and a great beginner for anyone who might be into the alt-country/folk-punk scene but hasn’t dug into its musical roots. Available on CD, LP and limited edition 78rpm vinyl, this is the cleanest you’ll hear Patton with some of the closest reproduction in sound you’ll find besides going directly to the source. For a man who left this world virtually penniless, without fame and not even an obituary in the paper, Peyton on Patton proves that artists never truly die.
by Mat Weir
Hello, my name is Mat and I’m a vinyl addict. For those of you already in the know, this will just be a reaffirmation of our horribly neurotic & meticulous tendencies. But for those of you who don’t have a turntable or, for some god-awful reason, are set in your downloading ways, here’s some food for thought. Give it a whiff, let it sting the nostrils, chew it over, let it digest, maybe let it settle over some meditation and in the end, you’ll agree. If not, then just wait until the next time your computer decides to crash.
1. Artwork – Album artwork is meant to be mulled over. The musicians that you revere so dearly, painstakingly choose the album art. What better way to appreciate it than on a 12 inch space? Not to mention older albums were never meant to be shrinked to a dinky CD size.
2. Free Promos – Back in the day, albums came with free stickers, posters and even t-shirts for the hungry fans. Today, the same standards apply. When was the last time iTunes gave you something free?
3. Quality – DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. Just because mp3s and CDs are a newer technology does NOT mean that they are better. When it comes to audio, analog is always the way to go which is why so many of today’s artists are still recording in analog. Plus, iTunes rips you off in giving you an even cheaper quality of music file than even CDs have. Ask any music junkie and they’ll agree: there’s nothing like the warm sound of high-quality vinyl.
4. Drop-In Cards – But for those of you who don’t believe number 3, these days most artists will include a drop-in card or CD copy of their vinyl. This way you can either save your vinyl or at least have a portable version of the album. That’s what we call “bi-winning.”
5. Value – Kept in good condition, most vinyl records increase in value over time. Of course there are other factors in play (has it been re-issued? Did the artist die? Is it a rare recording done with a tin can in a barn?) but purchasing a vinyl record is an investment and when you’re in a tight bind, it’s nice knowing you can get $60 for something you paid $20. Try doing that with a puny, plastic CD.
6. Picture Discs – A record with the album cover on one side and a rare band photo on another is a beautiful thing indeed. Fun to play and you can look like you have some culture by displaying them as wall art.
7. Playing Process – Taking the time to choose an album, put it on the table, move the tone arm and carefully place it on the grooves is actually a helluva lot more fun than it sounds. And much, much more fun than just hitting “play” on a computer.
8. Rare & Re-Issues – Not everything recorded has been reissued. This means there’s a plethora of rare and obscure music just waiting to be found in the dust bins and milk crates of others. There’s a certain charm in knowing you own a record that not many people know about or have even heard of. On the flip-side, more and more music is beginning to be re-issued on vinyl so even when you think you can’t collect anymore, there’s always something good just waiting to be found.
9.Long Lasting – Vinyl lasts forever! Ever wonder why you can go through Streetlight and find records from over 50 years ago? If taken care of properly (and honestly, even if not), vinyl records have a vast lifetime that will make even Methuselah a little jealous. CDs scratch too easily and even wear down after a couple years of play & nobody needs to be reminded of an mp3′s lifetime when faced with a virus-filled computer.
10. Nostalgia – Vinyl records help connect us with the past. Sure, it’s really cool that you can search for a song and instantly download it to your phone, but it’s important for us to remember our roots. Vinyl connects us with our ancestors all the way back to Edison. To take the words of Cat Johnson, with every pop & hiss, the spirit of music is “transcending time and space with its ability to move us.”
by Mat Weir
If you don’t know Left Lane Cruiser, then consider this the first day of the rest of your life. Hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana, the two-piece powerhouse boasts Fredrick “Joe” Evans II on slide and vocals with Brenn Breck on drums, harmonica and all other make-shift percussion. Combined, these two create a minimalist junkyard blues sound with the snarling attitude of redneck punks. Picture the Black Keys if they were raised on moonshine, mud-womping, and hellish bar fights with a touch of R.L. Burnside on the sly.
I originally noticed the band back in 2009 after listening to their first nation-wide release, 2008’s Bring Yo Ass To the Table on Alive Records. Really, it was my girlfriend who first discovered them but after I heard the song, “Pork & Beans” I was instantly hooked on Evans’ ability to really swing each note into the next on his greasy slide, producing a raw but clear sound absent from any of the manufactured country pop (if you can even call it “country”) on the radio today. Add into the mix songs like the gritty “Amy’s in the Kitchen” with its muddy vocals while Breck plays the cowbell and washboard, or “Busket” with its heavy breakdowns and foot-stomping beat and I knew Left Lane Cruiser was a band to watch out for.
This past March they released their third album for Alive, Junkyard Speed Ball; a hillbilly cacophony of songs ranging from infusing good times (“Weed Vodka”) to late-night shenanigans with a waitress (“At The Denny’s”).
From the moment the single drum kick and high hat start their beat on the opening “Lost My Mind” listeners are instantly tapping their feet in irresistible pleasure as a harmonica melody, reminiscent of a down-home jug band, begins to pick up speed. Then–BAM! The electric guitar slams down with an ornery punch to the face that leaves you begging for more. And just when their audience can’t take anymore these country gents pull a few punches and deliver softer ballads with “Pig Farm,” “Road Again,” and the spirit-fueled, “Giving Tree” with it’s angelic keys flying through the air.
My only two faults with this album is it’s lack of the washboard sound that littered Bring Yo Ass and Evans’ use of mic distortion on every track. Don’t misunderstand– the distorted vocals help give Left Lane Cruiser some of the dirtiest sounds I’ve heard in years. However, at times the vocals can become too muddled, making the listener miss out on the band’s clever lyrics.
That being said, Junkyard Speedball is easily in my top five favorite albums released this year. I already have it on three different formats and have been burning copies to anyone who is even remotely into rock music. This is one speedball you won’t want to pass up.
by Mat Weir
It’s a nine-hour drive from El Paso to San Antonio, Texas, the next stop on the tour. The plan was to wake up early and hit the road after a hearty breakfast but we woke up late in the afternoon and had to get on the trail as soon as possible. Dusty called the promoter to give him fair warning in case we were late but he quickly got a weird look on his face.
“Uh, no,” he scoffed. “Don’t cancel it, we’re driving eight hours to get there. We’re going to play.” The phone conversation ended abruptly and we all could feel the uneasy tension.
Driving through Texas is a strange experience. The whole state is a vast horizon of nothingness, pimpled with pockets of major cities between the blackheads of country towns that would be the perfect setting for the next installment of “The Hills Have Eyes.” At any moment I was ready for a pickup truck of plaid clothed rednecks bearing loaded shotguns to pull in front of us and say, “You boys ain’t welcome herr’” with toothless grins. (It never happened, but I was prepared.)
The great thing about travelling with the Stellar Corpses is their easygoing nature. I’ve travelled with other bands, some short distances and some long, and there was always at least one major blowout between band mates. Someone had a chip on their shoulder, didn’t get enough sleep, didn’t get laid the night before or all three, and they would take it out on the first person to open his mouth.
But not the Corpses. They all have a mutual understanding that we are in this together and the only important thing is the music, above and beyond any petty difference or hurt feelings. Pondering this, I realized it really boiled down to a mutual respect that they have for one another. Each person has their assigned job—publicity, contacting promoters, loading gear—and they all take their turn driving in shifts. Instead of acting like this is a vacation, they treat the band for what it is—a business. And a well-oiled machine works at maximum efficiency when every cog is working.
As we pulled into the suburbs of San Antonio, I wanted to be surprised at the similarity to California’s suburbs, but as anyone who has lived in middle-class America knows, everything is the same. The landscape was littered with the usual chains—Chili’s, Applebee’s, Subways—and the architecture was the same Western Ranchero style that has spread throughout all of Southern California like the culturally devoid cancer that it is. Thankfully, the closer we drove to the downtown area, the scenery became more unique and I felt like I was somewhere I have never been by the time we pulled up to the venue.
We crawled out of the van, but before we could even stretch the promoter, a guy who could be Kevin Federline’s clone, complete with a bad fedora, baggy parachute pants and horrible gold chain, came walking up and we all braced ourselves for what came next.
“Yo g’s, I pulled the show.”
“What?!?” Kyle exclaimed, his face quickly growing red.
“Well, you know, like, the opening bands cancelled and I’d have to pay the club if you play. So I just pulled it, sorry.”
The band’s guarantee was supposed to be a few hundred bucks, but K-Fed only offered $100 and to nobody’s surprise, only paid $80. But all was not lost, thankfully, because there was Steve Salcido and his lovely lady, Hannah Gore, both old-time fiendish friends of the Corpses. They had recently moved into a new house and offered to let the band play in the garage. When the venue’s sound tech heard that, the thought of losing whatever money he could still make was too much for him, and he convinced the manager to let the band play in a different room. The only catch was the Corpses had to play for free to bring in bar revenue.
Bond’s 007 Rock Bar is just that: a rock bar. The walls are covered in memorabilia from bands that have played there to shrines for fallen heroes. As a tourist, the first things I noticed were the two signs welcoming patrons: the first stated that the bar did not provide a non-smoking area, and it was pinned next to the sign reminding patrons that possession of a licensed or unlicensed weapon was a felony and backed by a minimum 10 year prison sentence. Welcome to Texas! Bond’s was broken into two rooms, one for the four pool tables with the blacktop bar stretching from one end to the other in the space next door. The wall across from the bar was psychedelic nightmare. A giant mural of Jimi Hendrix in neon colors that glowed under the black light was painted in the center with horrific swirls filling in the negative space. I understood what they were going for, but cringed for anyone who saw this while tripping on mind-altering substances. It would be impossible to erase from an open mind and unquestionably the cause of many bad trips.
Since K-Fed had cancelled the show, there were no opening bands. Once again, Steve stepped up to the plate and called his old band, The Saturday Nite Shockers. In a similar vein as the Stellar Corpses, the SNS is a fast-paced horror-punk outfit whose ghoulish songs cover topics that live in the shadows of the soul. However, what made this particular performance a real treat for everyone is the Shockers broke up in March of this year. Truly stand-up guys and professionals in the first right, they were a little nervous but showed their true rock star colors to the excited roar of the crowd. Punks and death rockers clad in ripped fishnets, home-altered shirts, chains and wild make-up stomped their steel-toed boots from the beginning of the set until the end when the Shockers closed with their cover of the Ramones’ “Pet Sematary.”
The Stellar Corpses were just as energetic, ripping through the flesh of their hour-long set with added intensity that was a mix between anger at the promoter and a passion to prove to the bar’s manager that they should be asked back. The staff had worked with that particular promoter before and wasn’t surprised at what had happened. So they were already sympathetic to our cause, buying shirts to wear beforehand to help promote the show in whatever way they could. However, by the third song in, everyone in the club was rocking out so violently that even the bartenders across the room had to stop by the merch booth for some sort of memorabilia. By the end of the night, they had given us more free and nearly free booze than any of us could handle and the manager even paid the band an extra $50 out of his own pocket commenting on the “jackass” of a promoter.
K-Fed, by the way, continued to show his impeccable character that night by drinking himself into a stumbling mess of slurs (with money he still owed the band, mind you) and then proceeded to talk trash on the band, the venue and anyone that came in eyesight, all while trying to help us load the equipment back into the trailer (for what reason I’ll never know). Everyone ignored him and I had to bark at him several times to go sit on the curb. When he finally realized he wasn’t welcome, he wandered down the street muttering about how “this isn’t how he does business.” One can only hope that he was arrested for public intoxication and had to spend the night in the drunk tank next to a couple of nice skinheads who would want to take turns being the “big spoon.”
With everything packed and ready to roll, we followed Steve and his friends to the nearest WalMart for food and then back to his new house. Even after everything that had happened that night, Steve still made the entire household a hearty meal of spaghetti while we talked about previous shows, horror movies, and the finer things in life until the first rays of the sun began to show.
by Mat Weir
My first taste of a dusty American interstate road was after the TSOL show. At 2:30am we jumped on the 91 heading East. I was behind the wheel, hopped up on Redbull, Adderall and the raw excitement from the night’s show. Dusty and Kyle slept in the back on the makeshift bunk bed while Dan and Emilio were the last two up, talking about previous tours, girls they saw at the show and horror movies. By the time we passed Pomona, I was the only one awake in the Land of Nod.
The drive was an easy one. It’s a straight shot on the 91 to the 10, which we took all the way to Texas. As a native son of Southern California, driving is more natural to me than walking. It’s a time when I can gather my thoughts with nothing but the open landscape hitting my eyes like a 3D painting—real, but intangible. I kept my tape recorder close to me making sure to document my inner dialogue on this strange journey.
By 5am the city skylines were long gone and I knew we had reached the edge of the desert. Yucca plants and Joshua trees littered the horizon, broken only by the occasional abandoned meth trailer and dilapidated house. I have always hated the desert and have never trusted anyone who voluntarily lived there. The combination of vast nothingness and pulsating sun seems to boil the human brain into a hot mess of violent apathy. Desert people live in a state of extreme isolation and will turn on anyone who looks at them crookedly. In my opinion, there’s no reason to have cities like Blythe on the map, and I was happy to leave them far, far behind.
In an hour’s time we crossed the border into Arizona and made our way hastily—but not too hastily—through Maricopa County. Home to the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa is one place you want to avoid arrest at all costs. Unless, of course, you enjoy wearing pink underwear while working on one of the last chain gangs in the country.
By 8am Kyle was wide awake and, despite my protesting, behind the wheel. We talked about the future of his other musical project, A Band Of Orcs, and the time he spent working as the roadie and merch guy for The Expendables. As we did, one by one, the rest of the guys came back to the land of the living and we stopped to eat at Denny’s.
Sixteen hours after we left Redondo Beach, we finally pulled into El Paso, Texas. It was already after 6pm but the load-in time at the club wasn’t until 8, so we drove straight to the house where we’d be staying at that night. It was a single story 1970s ranchero-style house in a neighborhood of similar buildings, all complete with white rock gardens that contrasted against the red brick of the structures.
A friend, Jenn, met us out front with a smile and told us she had ordered pizzas for dinner. A regular in the El Paso scene, Jenn had worked with and followed several different bands and her room was decorated with pictures of the bands dispersed between hand-painted music notes. With food in our belly and a good stretch from such a laborious journey, the guys prepped for the show while Jenn and I nerded out over our mutual history degrees.
Miss Lips Lounge sat in the middle of downtown El Paso, its red walls unmatched by anything around it. Known as El Paso’s premier lesbian bar, the inside was decorated with murals of cartoonish women, and the black and white checkerboard floor gave Miss Lips an element of kitsch chic.
Sweat poured from my freshly shaven mohawk as I unloaded the merchandise. By the time everything was unpacked I was drenched from head to toe, and not even the $2 Lone Star beer cooled me down. A group of kids greedily huddled around the Corpses’ table, peppering me with requests for this T-shirt or that patch before I had a chance to lay everything out.
“Jesus!” I snapped, beads of sweat flying everywhere, “Give me 15 goddamn minutes and then you can consume all you want, alright?!?” Like the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson himself, my blood is too thick for Texan weather. The kids got the hint, but I gave them a couple of free stickers as restitution when they finally did come back around.
The first two bands were a mix of country/rockabilly and psychobilly horror, and both were good at what they did. When the Corpses took the stage, Miss Lips was tightly packed with a mix of punks, greasers, transvestites and a couple of street kids that looked like they couldn’t have been older than 15.
With a roar from the crowd, the band exploded into their first song, a new one called “Evil Dead” with uncharacteristic harmonizing vocals. Completely inexperienced and utterly useless, the sound guy had no clue as to what he was doing and after every song at least one of the band members had to ask him to turn up one mic or the other. After the fourth song he gave up in a fit of frustration and walked away from the sound booth in a huff.
And that’s when it happened.
BOOM! Everything went black—only Kyle’s fast-paced drumming could be heard. Apparently, the Stellar Corpses’ mighty sound was too much for the venue to handle, and they blew the building’s circuits in a sacrificial tribute to the rock gods.
The dumbstruck bartender rushed around the venue, searching for the sound guy, as Dan started to slap out a walking bass solo. The poor bastard’s fingers had already blistered over and popped twice from the past couple of shows. A slight grimace stretched across his face, only noticeable to those who know him. Dusty and Emilio picked up on it right away and led the audience in a chorus of “Mothman,” Dusty’s nickname. When Dan couldn’t take anymore, Kyle took over in a wicked drum solo until the power came back on.
Then, two more songs in, the power died once more.
The jackass sound guy was finally back and connected the power to a different source and brought it back to life for good, but it was too late and half of the audience had left for other adventures.
When the show was over, we packed up the trailer in a hurry and drove back to Jenn’s house to catch up on some much-needed sleep. It had been a long day, and there were still more shows to play in the next couple of days.
This article originally appeared on the Santa Cruz Weekly blog.
by Mat Weir
Question: When you’re in a band is it better to be the opener or the headliner? The answer isn’t as obvious as you’d think. Being the closing band has its benefits: the venue is usually full and most of those people are there for you. However, when you’re an underground, DIY band, you might not be able to pull as big of a crowd as if you had opened up for an even bigger band. This is one of many delicate decisions musicians have to make when booking any tour, and the Stellar Corpses are no different.
Originally, we were supposed to leave from Fresno and drive to Phoenix, Arizona for one of their friend’s birthdays, then off to El Paso, Texas the next night; quite a trek, but manageable with plenty of time for rest. However, when you’re asked to play with legendary L.A. punk band TSOL in Redondo Beach, you don’t turn down the offer. And neither did we, for that matter.
With the painful memory of the flat tire still fresh in our minds, we woke up early and bought a spare before heading for Los Angeles. I have driven that route so many times that I’m sure I’ve spent at least a solid year of my life on that road. It’s one that I have tackled in several various vehicles, at all times of the day and under various different strains of extreme stress. But this time seemed different somehow. Wandering through my clouded thoughts about the next two weeks, I barely recognized my own hometown speeding past the windows.
“Soon it’s onto the 405 freeway and straight into the belly of my favorite concrete beast,” I thought with a twinge of anxiety.
But I had made the greatest mistake of all and forgot to factor in L.A.’s biggest export: traffic. And there was plenty of that once we made it over Sherman Oaks and into Downtown. The clogged arteries of L.A.’s heart pumped a mile every 10 minutes and we were still a couple hours from Redondo. Luckily things began to clear up and we made it to the venue at the same time as the first opening band.
The Brixton is a medium sized club that resembles a 1930s jazz speakeasy. It sits at the beginning of the Redondo Pier, and the bar upstairs has a great view of the aqua green ocean. The club itself lay at the bottom of several flights of stairs that made it a pain to load and unload all of the gear. Dimly lit, the Brixton is a sea of blood red leather booths sitting adjacent to the dark oak bar. Beautiful women in tight outfits slung the booze and the bouncers were all good people. Two things really determine the worth of a club: the venue itself and the employees and the Brixton had both going for it.
We quickly unloaded the van and my parents stopped by to wish us luck for the upcoming tour. I went upstairs with them and after a hearty salad with a gigantic quesadilla on the side, I made my way down to the trusty merch booth; my home for the next couple of weeks.
The first band up was a five piece, down and dirty rock & roll combo called J.J. And The Real Jerks. With catchy tunes and a devil may care attitude, they were a mix between the New York Dolls and the Rolling Stones with a dash of speed from the Ramones. Highly impressed, I tried finding the singer later on to buy an LP, but luck was not on my side. So it goes.
Hollywood’s sons, Harmful If Swallowed, was up next with their blend of pop punk. I’ve never been a huge fan of that style, but the songs were solid and I had several good conversations with Carlos the guitar player, so I have to give them credit. They do what they do and they do it well. Play on.
By the time the Corpses were ready to play the venue was packed shoulder to shoulder. Punks, psychobillies, vatos and “normal” people from outside of the scene filled the dance floor and beads of sweat glistened on everyone’s head. From behind the merch table I watched a group of my female friends talking to a pear shaped middle-aged Jewish woman. The girls let out a roar of laughter as the woman walked towards me.
“What can I do you for, love?” I asked with a touch of worry. I knew my friends’ senses of humor and knew they were up to something.
“That all depends,” she said slyly, a giant grin on her face.“What can I get for this?”
In a flash she spun around and began doing a booty-shaking dance that put every hip-hop video to shame. My friends let out another roar of laughter as the woman whooped it up with a scream as she felt herself up. I must have looked like a deer in headlights because when she was done the woman gave me a pat on the shoulder.
“You like that darlin’? I paid my way through college with those moves.” Hmmm, indeed. Even as I write this, I shudder purely out of the horror of it all.
In a moment everything went black and “Cry Little Sister,” the theme song from The Lost Boys and the Stellar Corpses intro, blasted over the audience. A few bars into the music and the guys emerged from their green room lair with a crunchy note from Emilio’s guitar.
One thing that I’ve always loved about watching the Stellar Corpses is their sheer tenacity to always put on a good show. When they hit the stage, any problems from the previous day melt away and the guys are transformed into rock & roll machines, delivering everything they have to their hungry fans. Dusty’s skill as a frontman is finely tuned, cracking jokes and keeping a constant interaction with the audience in-between songs. Nothing is more boring than a band that just plays their songs and leave. After all, if someone just wanted to hear the music, why bother spending $10 to deal with a crowd of drunks when they can just download the album for free?
The guys delivered a powerful performance that brought plenty of people to the merch booth after, keeping me busy between sets. By the time T.S.O.L. played, I was drenched in a pool of sweat and exhaustion, fueled only by the wonderful goodness in each can of Redbull energy drink. I’ve always been a bit of a “caffiend” and usually need 3 cups of coffee in the morning just to bring me on the level most people function at. But this night had the added bonus of a 13 hour drive to Texas immediately after the show, with yours truly having to take the first length of that terrible trek. Luckily, I had been saving a high dosage pill of Adderall (a legal amphetamine prescribed to curb A.D.D.), given to me by a friend last year, for just such an occasion.
One of my favorite bands of all time, I have seen T.S.O.L. a handful of times and even interviewed them once a few years back. Middle-aged and chiseled with scars, the all-too-often paid toll from living the weathering punk rock life, they still play a set so powerfully packed with energy, one has to sit back and admire it before going back into the ever-spinning circle mosh pit. Wearing a suit jacket and plaid kilt, singer Jack Grisham served his usual dish of crass jokes leading into the next song on the list. They finished up the set with their biggest hit, “Code Blue,” a wonderful little ditty about the joys of necrophilia. If you’ve never heard it, then you need to. Just make sure you have a sick sense of humor and keep it away from grandma.
With the show over, we packed up the gear and prepped everything to be loaded into the trailer. Dusty left to pull the van around as we waited on the curb out front. Five minutes went by, then ten, then fifteen. Anxiously, I walked around, mentally preparing myself for the road ahead while trying to kick off the Adderall and caffeine shakes. When the white whale of a van emerged I was half-crazed and babbling with a street junkie who talked about the dangers of drinking, drugs and cigarettes, before bumming a smoke from a lingering fan. Dusty parked the van and got out with a glazed look.
“So, I fucked up. I fucked up real bad,” he said with a shake of his head. “Look at the trailer.”
I walked around to find the front of the trailer’s roof ripped open from end to end. It wasn’t quite torn like a sardine can, but the damage was definitely significant. The gate to the garage where we had parked was partially closed because of the late hour, and there were no attendants around so Dusty decided to take his chances and, almost, cleared it. Almost.
“Jesus Christ, you guys just have no luck with trailers, do you?” I exclaimed in a remorseful chuckle.
“Well, now we have a moon roof,” he sighed.
It was only the second day and already that poor trailer was taking a worse beating than any of us. We loaded the gear in the back and jumped in the van. We searched out the nearest Wallmart for a tarp to cover the hole, but it was closed so we jumped onto the 91 freeway and headed East into the looming desert night.
This article originally appeared on the Santa Cruz Weekly blog.
by Mat Weir
We started off in high spirits, knowing that the first show was only a couple hours away in Fresno at a bar called Audie’s. I had met up with Kyle, the drummer, in the parking lot of the good ol’ Catalyst. With my suitcase, briefcase and camera bag in hand, I crawled into his beat-up white van between paint-covered ladders, cans and drop cloths. We headed up to Pleasure Point, where he and bassist Dan live, talking about our pet snakes and which upcoming shows should draw the biggest crowds.
When we arrived at their place, Dan was waiting with cold beers in hand. He told us Dusty was still working on last-minute preparations and would be a little while. I looked around the room, noting the various Stellar Corpses posters from previous tours mixed in between memorabilia from other bands, boxes of CDs for the tour and luggage. Half-jokingly, and half out of true concern, I turned to Dan and asked, “So, what should I be prepared for?”
“Ha, wellll,” he said, taking a swig from the frosty beer, “last year when we traveled across the country our trailer kept falling apart. The damn thing kept coming unhinged from the frame. Whenever we’d drive you could see our equipment catching air and bouncing around. We had to get it welded in five different states. But don’t worry—we have a new trailer and even a couple new tires. Everything should be fine.”
“Yeah, all right,” I thought. “Things should go smoothly for a little while. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. The road gods will be with us.” Ho ho.
Soon enough, Dusty arrived and as we loaded our gear he handed a long cardboard tube to Dan. “Dude, you’ve got to see this,” Dan said to me with a grin. He quickly unraveled a thin speaker screen with an eye-popping design by Klem from O’Reilly’s Tattoo. In green, white and shades of purple was a sexy mummy, her bandages blowing in the wind as she sat on top of the band’s name in its trademark horror font. In rock & roll nothing says “professionalism” like a pin-up speaker cover, and that’s no joke.
With everything loaded, we picked up the final key element of the equation, the guitarist Emilio, and headed on our way. Three hours to Fresno, just a quick blast over Highway 152, with plenty of time to set up once we got there. But we were soon to learn that such rebellious pride always catches the attention of the gods—and they are a vengeful bunch.
Two hours into the 152, around 7pm, we started noticing a funny bounce in the back of the van. As cars drove by, they would point to our trailer as they mouthed dreaded words that we couldn’t hear but didn’t need to. Dusty pulled to the side of the road next to acres of green fields and, sure enough, there was our first blown tire, ripped all the way around. I’m a firm believer in the theory that we should fear technology before it becomes our evil overlord, but I have to admit that the iPhone was the savior of the day. Dusty quickly found a mechanic 10 miles away, though we would still be stranded for over an hour since they had to bring the wheel back to the shop. “Well, at least we got the first problem out of the way, right?” I asked, trying to keep the spirits up. My poor attempt was met with groans and half-smiles.
By the time we finally reached Audie’s it was 9:30, but as we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed another funny thing: there were no other vans in the parking lot. Audie himself greeted us in the parking lot with a hearty, “Glad you guys made it, you’re the only band. All the local acts bailed!” Luckily, this also meant we could take our time setting up, and after the previous couple of hours, we needed to unwind.
The set itself went off without a hitch. The sound quality was spot on and the whole room was singing, dancing and whooping it up as much as they could on a Thursday night. The Corpses ripped through a bunch of crowd favorites and the new songs were a hit. People who had never heard them before scrambled to the merch table, like the photographer the guys dubbed “Dr. Wario” for his uncanny resemblance to the video game character, who ended up buying one of every item.
After everything was packed up, we realized none of us had eaten, so it was off to Denny’s for a 1am meal. Afterwards it was off to their friend Sonia’s house, by which time all communication was exhausted, and with a couple of acknowledging grunts, we passed out, wondering what tomorrow would bring.
This article originally appeared on the Santa Cruz Weekly blog.
Live Fast, Die Young and Leave a Stellar Corpse
by Mat Weir
Like every good American kid, the first time I heard the crunching bite of rock & roll, I was hooked. But even at that young age, I knew it wasn’t just about the music. Sure, I would sit in my room for hours geeking over the bands; wondering why they chose certain lyrics over others and then trying to decipher what they actually meant, learning the histories, etc. But it was the idea of rock&roll that really captured me. To think, a kid from the ghetto of Detroit could become Iggy Pop, or that a gang of petty-criminal misfits could pick up instruments and become the Ramones. Everything enthralled me: the lights, the noise, the rebellion and the touring. Each city bringing its own batch of weird problems and situations that most people wouldn’t even begin to fathom, much less want to tackle. Sleepless nights spent driving all-night, trying to find the next venue, only to drain yourself on stage for the deranged hordes of fans, drunks and all that one creepy couple that seems to be in the corner of every bar across this great land. And once they’ve given their all, it’s back on the road just to sacrifice themselves in the next grimey spot.
With ideas of grandeur and screaming women floating in my head, why the hell did I become a writer? Well, sometimes in life the path chooses you, afterall, you can’t outrun destiny. But that idea of the open road and all of the mysteries it contained when mixed with the passion of rock&roll remained to be like that person you always wanted to ask out in high school but never did.
So, when Santa Cruz’s favorite psychobilly sons, the Stellar Corpses. asked me to roadie for them on tour, well, “no” just wasn’t an option. Since 2005 the Corpses have been serving the scene with their adrenalin-fueled, nightmarish sound. Originally established by singer Dusty Grave and stand-up bassist Dan Lamothe, they soon grabbed old-time friend, Emilio Menze, on guitar. Drummer Kyle Moore, with his spider-like playing joined in 2009.
By blending punk and psychobilly with their personal influences of rock, goth and various pop, they have created a danceable sound that literally spans the age gaps. Their first two albums, Respect the Dead and Welcome to the Nightmare contain everything from tongue-in-cheek numbers (like “Hail Bop,” a 1950’s style sock-hop song about the Hail Bop cult) to songs about b-movie themes, the dark side of psychology, and even a love ballad or two complete with a horrific twist.
For 2 ½ weeks we will be driving in their 16 passenger van, (modified to an 8 seater with a DIY bunk bed in the back). With a massive equipment trailer in tow and a “I’m Proud of My Eagle Scout” sticker on the back, we will be delivering the ghoulish sounds of rock&roll to the good people of Colorado, Texas, Utah, Arizona and of course, California. Even though they have toured countless times before, nobody really knows what we have in store for us (last year, for instance, none of the guys knew they would have to weld their previous trailer in five different states—but they did).
But no matter what the road decides to throw at us, you dear reader, get all the benefit without the hassle and old beer smell (remember what I said about destiny?). For the entire tour I’ll be writing constant updates about anything the tour throws at us, from the good and the bad to the odd and depraved. So keep checking back with this weird journalism to find out the trials and tribulations of a DIY band as they work for their next meal on the desert streets of America. Actually, keep checking back to make sure that none of us need bail money — “always be prepared,” right?
This article originally appeared on the Santa Cruz Weekly blog
by Mat Weir
Once upon a time, not too long ago, rap was more than just bling & hoes. Hip-hop was about finding inner strength to rise up beyond your surroundings and personal faults to achieve something higher; sometimes it was about just having fun and appreciating the good times because they never last. Luckily, Santa Cruz’s own Haji P. remembers the true essence of hip-hop and spits its knowledge whenever he can.
Born in Hawaii and raised between the islands and family in New Jersey, Haji experienced the beauty of life while still staying grounded in the projects. While attending college in North Carolina, he began working at a radio station spinning an array of hip-hop and started the rap duo, Brown Co. with longtime friend, Dun Dee. In 2007 the two released Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; a compilation of heavy beats and rhymes ranging from making the most out of life to dealing with the realities of modern day racism. Later that year Haji decided to head for the West Coast, landing in our dear Santa Cruz and later releasing his solo album, Welcome to the Neighborhood.
Like Beautiful, Welcome is an album littered with witty rhymes about the obstacles of every day in the life of an independent hip-hop artist. Haji masterfully weaves together stories of dating while broke, the realities of not-so-hidden racism in a politically correct world, and trying to make it in life all while maintaining a positive mental outlook. This is hip-hop for the true fan and anyone who might just be looking beyond the glitzy image for something real and close to the heart.
Mat: How are you doing man?
Haji: (laughs) Very intimidated! (points to the recorder) I feel like I shouldn’t be because [the recorder] is so small. But I’m doing great, fantastic. Fantastic times ten.
M: Right on. Fantastic times ten, that’s pretty good, man. (laughs) First thing’s first, how’s the album, Neighborhood Kid, doing?
H: In my head it’s doing phenomenally. Naw, it’s actually doing pretty good. I’m pretty proud of the work it’s done. It’s getting recognized outside of my general area, so that’s always good.
M: I love the line on “Neighbor” when you say,” What? You’re going to burn down my church but I can’t get a cup of Kool-Aid?” That cracks me up.
H: Man, that song is real. That’s a real song. (laughs). I mean, everything on the album is loosely based on reality, plus some imaginary points. But we had a neighbor, Dunny and I, who—at the time we also worked at a toy store, so we had the coolest stuff that would come out. We lived in a nice cul-de-sac in a nice townhouse. We were the youngest kids in our neighborhood besides parents with kids and our door was always open. You know, we’d sit outside on the porch and everything was cool. We always had new Playstation games or whatever, fighting with toy swords outside, so kids liked hanging out with us. Know what I mean? Like the neighbor’s kids loved us, but every time we were outside, their dad would pull them back in the house. And every time he saw us in cars or whatever, in the house, he’d always give us smug looks. So we would always assume it, but I mean, you never really know. You don’t want to be so presumptuous as to say, “I know what you’re thinking.” But one day, we were getting out of the car as he was getting out of his and his daughter comes out and she says, “Like those kind of black people, daddy?”
H: And we were, “Awww, I know whatever he said it was nothing good.” So that’s what that song was about, it was about that neighbor. That dude was so ill to us, just super ill.
M: Damn. I just don’t understand that mentality. Especially since you work at the Boys & Girls Club. Obviously you’re good with kids.
H: I mean, I understand any parent’s position. If I don’t know that dude I’d be like, “Why is my kid always hanging out on that porch?” I fully understand that. But we made friends with all the parents. It was a small area, so we made friends with everybody. It was nothing if the whole family came over, or whatever the situation was. It was just that particular family, Or not even the family, because the mom was cool. Mom was cool with us, it was just the dad. He was not feeling us at all. (laughs) He’d be like, “So, how’d you get that car? What do you do?” Know what I mean? Just these little snide comments. We lived in a pretty nice area, we had pretty nice stuff. We were doing it. I’m a college graduate, goddamn, I deserve it! (laughs) I deserve what I earn, know what I mean?
M: So you moved out here in 2007 then?
H: Yeah, late 2007. It took a minute. It wasn’t home, you know? And when I left Wilmington, I was so glad to leave. I was like, “I’m going to leave here and never remember you guys again. Just because I had been there for so long, know what I mean? But the minute I got out here I was like, “Yo man, this ain’t the same. (smirks) There’s no biscuits, no racism (laughs). What am I going to do?” Plus, it was another culture shock again. So it just took me time, I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do. But now that I understand what’s happening I freakin’ love it! I still miss home to no avail, I learned in Wilmington that that’s my home. But I definitely like where I live now. Wilmington will always be there when I visit but I’m loving Santa Cruz.
M: Let’s get into the music. How do you write?
H: it’s kind of weird. Usually I can finish a song in the car. It’s just in my head. I don’t need to freestyle everything, so I just repeat lines in my head and as soon as I get home I write it down before I can forget it. But if I’m just at home and something hits me, I can’t sit down and write. So what I do, I don’t know if this sounds vain or not, but I have to stand in front of a mirror and move so I can watch myself like I was performing. I write it like I was performing it. So while the beat’s playing, I’ll come up with a line. And while I’m searching for the next line, I’ll just keep repeating the first one. Plus it helps when I do shows because I’ll have the song memorized before I even put it down on paper.
M: Yeah, exactly. And that way you’ll know what you’re going to do on a certain line.
H: Exactly. So unless I’m in the car I can’t be still when I write. I have to be moving around.
M: In your music, you make a lot of references to a lot of different things. For instance, in one line you talk about the Black Panthers.
H: I guess there’s no specific literature that I’m into. There’s one book, called Ishmael, it’s the dopest book I think I’ve ever read. I don’t know if it’s an introspective book so much but it’s about a young boy. The opening title is, “All I’ve ever wanted to do was save the world,” and he ends up talking to a gorilla in a glass case. I don’t want to spoil it if anyone reads the book, but he’s asking and answering a lot of questions about himself to this gorilla in the glass case. But I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s going to read it. It’s an awesome book. But I guess I read just more introspective things. As far as literature about the Panthers and Black History, I do but a lot of it was fed me growing up just because I am African-American, you know? I learned a lot about it growing up, I learned about it through personal experience etc.
M: But that’s cool you were fed it growing up. I mean, just because you’re African-American doesn’t mean you have to learn it all.
H: I guess it doesn’t, but I have a very strongly rooted family. My family is very proud of obstacles they’ve tried to overcome—have overcome—you know, trial and error. So they instill a lot of that in me. And usually if my mom talks about something –and she was very big on this—if she tried to tell me something, she’d say, “You don’t believe me, read it.” And then, as the defiant kid, I’d say, “Pfff, fine, I’ll go read it, whatever.” Then, once I was done, “Damn, she was right. Damn she made me read!” (laughs). Dirty trick! When I’d get grounded, I would have to write essays about why I’m grounded. But nowadays, I thank my mom at least once a week. I call her back and I thank her once a week. My mom’s my dawg, dude! She gets mad at me, though, because I won’t write a song about her. I told her I wouldn’t because, “you should know already.” I don’t have to write a song about it.
M: How did you get started at the Boys & Girls Club?
H: Good question. I don’t know. I got started at this Boys & Girls Club just because I came down. I came down here on a whim, I had no plans. I gave away everything I owned, and what I could sell I sold. So I came here with no money, no job, and I was like, “Crap!” One of my homeboys—I know it sounds like I’ve had a trillion jobs, cause I did!—but I used to do personal training at a YMCA and while I worked in radio I was volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club. Long story short, I got the job and started working my way up. I’m doing a lot for the Club, and kids outside of the group. I do a lot of community work with kids, I’m very big on that. Very big.
M: I definitely could tell. On Record Store Day last year, there was the one, lone kid dancing and you gave him a couple free CDs. I was like, “Alright, you practice what you preach.” I thought that was cool.
H: I know I need it personally. I’ve had my not-so-great moments with kids too, plus I have smaller cousins who have gone through all kinds of stupid stuff that kids don’t really need to go through. So I try to do a lot for children. I’m in the process of legitimizing a charity called the “Neighborhood Kid Foundation,” and it will do a lot of work for the Boys & Girls Club specifically, just because that’s the program I work with. But there’s other child organizations that I’d like to raise money for too.
M: Musical influences?
H: The Muppet Show. (laughs) People ask me that all the time, and that’s not even a snarky remark. That’s the dead honest truth. I watch a lot of Muppet Show. I like Jim Henson and a lot of the interludes—early Muppet Show, not Disney-I-just-bought-Jim-Henson. The real, 70’s show, it was Ralph the Dog to Electric Mayhem. Watching them perform, I know this sounds friggin’ weird, but it was off the hook!
M: Hell yeah, Dr. Teeth!
H: Hell yeah! (laughs). I just thought it was rare because it was really animated. I just thought it was cool that you had puppets in real-life situations. But, rap wise, real stuff, artists like De La Soul, Bush Babies, Pharcyde. Just any type of group that #1) I’d think, “I want to hang out with those dudes.” Just creative groups. I’ll never make a divide between underground and commercial rap because it all has its place and I like all of it. I’m a rap fan, I like all of it, you know? My personal favorite is Sean Price. Sean Price is probably—and M.O.P.—are the most violent rappers I can think of. But I’m like, “Dang, these dudes make shooting people sound like fun!” I don’t want to go do it, and I don’t want to be the recipient of a bullet, but they’re creative. So just genuinely creative artists. I mean I could go on for days: Redman, Boot Camp Clik. . .
M: Have you had any favorite shows?
H: My favorite show ever was in Puerto Rico. This was years ago, probably early ’07 or whatever. I did a show in Puerto Rico with a friend. It was a place called the Pool Bar; there was a really high stage and in the center was a pool. The pool was pretty big, and on the other side was cement and the bar; it was all outside. So, there were all these people that showed up and they were all enjoying it but there was only one dude in the pool; and the guy in the pool was loving it! Like, “That dude is clearly enjoying the pool!” I was thinking, “Man, when I finish my set, I’m going to jump in the pool with everybody and it’s going to be amazing!” But nobody else was in the pool! Why was nobody in the pool enjoying it? I mean, this guy was clearly enjoying it. I thought maybe he was a drunk dude, but he wasn’t drunk enough to be annoying. I do my set and I get really weird after a show, I just don’t want to be around people. So I go off to the side and he comes up to me. He doesn’t really speak any English, but I pretty understand what he’s saying. “Musica! Musica!” And he’s “thumbs-uping” me and making a gesture for a CD. So I give him one, and he wants me to sign it. Hell yeah! I’m in Puerto Rico signing autographs! But for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why nobody else was trying to talk to me. Like, “Damn, I just did a great show and he’s the only one telling me I did a good job.” No One! And nobody’s coming around him either. Finally, the guy who booked the show comes by me and whispers, “You alright?” And I was like, “Yeah, great! Me and this dude were just hanging out for a minute.” Turns out, that guy was a hired hand in the Rancoon Mafia and there were friends of people he killed in there. That dude was a certified killer!
M: At least he liked your music!
H: For real, I’m glad this dude’s on my side! After he left, my friend debriefed me and gave me the whole story. “People around here don’t really mess with that dude.” “Naw, I’m down with him!” (laughs) “Clearly he was my friend!”
M: You’re album, Neighborhood Kid, has a Brer Rabbit style dialogue throughout the whole thing. What made you want to do that?
H: That’s one of my favorite stories, #1. I really like that story and I’ve been compared to Brer Rabbit, a lot. In the sense that I move around a lot.
M: Getting into trouble then getting back out of it.
H: Pretty much! That’s pretty much, exactly it, know what I mean? Like, every time I’m in a certain position, or things get boiling hot I just get tired of it and it’s time to do something else. I go somewhere else where I don’t know nobody, you know? I just start over. But every time I go somewhere new, it’s always the same thing (laughs). Plus I felt it was right. When I left Wilmington, I had known so much of the town and a lot of people knew me. I’m not a saint, I have my troubles, you know? When I left, I just wanted to go somewhere and leave all of that, just forget about it. Came here, started fresh, but as soon as I got used to the place the same things started happening all over again! I was getting into the same trouble I was back then, so it seemed fitting.
M: And talking about trouble: the song, “Trouble,” is that loosely based on real life?
H: Everything on the album is based on real life, I just tend to be highly exaggerative. Is that a word? If not, I just coined it. In my head, even in the worse situations, it comes out like a cartoon. Like, “Oh man, that was fun.” But naw, it was based on a real life scenario. I dated a girl and she had a problem thieverin’, amongst other, past, no-goodness. (laughs) So yeah, it’s a real-life story, I just got creative with it. Clearly she wasn’t part Godzilla.
M: As soon as you put the album on, there’s humor. I mean, you take your music and your art seriously, but at the same time, you don’t take yourself too seriously. Like you said, it’s kind of cartoony and that makes it fun. I listen to it and think, “Dude, this guy is on top of his shit.”
H: It’s just because I don’t want to be miserable, you know? When I read something, I don’t want to be sad. When I listen to something I don’t want to be depressed. When I write something, especially, I don’t want to be feeling all somber and morose, crying myself to sleep. So whatever the situation is, I gotta make the best of it. If it didn’t kill me, I’m lucky. I write it down and make it into something entertaining.
M: Do you have anything else coming up in the works?
H: I want to do more personal songs. I don’t do a whole lot of personal songs, you know? I mean, I do, but then I mask them with some type of clever, humorous, exaggerated story. Usually every project I do will have that one “Here’s what I’m really like” song. “Fine, here you go, feel like we’re friends now?” And those are always the songs that people seem to love the most; they’re loving my pain! (laughs) But naw, there’s just a lot of real things I want to write about. I’m pushing old age and I’ve seen some real life experiences and I just want to do a lot less of the clever metaphors and just a straight, “Look this is it, I’m regular as hell” and that’s what I’m going to write on this record.