Thursday, June 30, 2016

Upcoming shows celebrate 30 years of American psychobilly legend The Quakes

The Quakes at the 2015 Psychobilly Meeting (photo by Kim Kattari)
It’s been 6 years since I last wrote about The Quakes, back when I covered their only Southern California appearance in 2010 supporting the release of their 2009 album Negative Charge (Orrexx Records). I was blown away by that show at The Music Box and have been a fan ever since. Perhaps it’s because I admire the way the trio works so well together on stage to always put on an amazing show that demonstrates their skill, energy, and commitment: I’ll never forget Juan Carlos breaking his snare at last year’s Psychobilly Meeting in Spain because he was playing so passionately, or talking to Steve Whitehouse about how bassist Wes Hinshaw uses strings that only the most talented and technically proficient musicians can play, and how he does so impeccably. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a product of the ‘80s and love the new wave influence in so many of their songs and covers like “The Killing Moon” and “Send Me An Angel.” Or perhaps it’s because I love that lyrics range from witty critiques of poseurs and scene-sters, to songs about love and heartbreak, to messages about being different, being a rebel, and not fitting in; I appreciate the variety of topics that singer-guitarist Paul Roman writes about, defying genre clichés and easy categorization. In fact, it is because their sound defies genre expectations that has prompted some people to suggest that they are “too psychobilly for the rockabillies, and too rockabilly for the psychobillies.” Who cares? What I care about is that I know I’ll always enjoy a Quakes performance, the tunes are melodically catchy and musically creative, and I can relate to their song lyrics because they aren’t always about zombies in a graveyard (nothing against songs about zombies, but variety is the spice of life).

This summer marks the 30 year anniversary of The Quakes, with shows on July 2nd at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, July 3rd at Spikes in Rosemead, July 15th at Chopper John’s in Phoenix, and July 16th at Til Two in San Diego. Over the years, they’ve crafted a unique sound and style that stems from their diverse influences. When Paul Roman’s older siblings left home, he inherited their collection of British Invasion vinyl. Around 1979 he began listening to punk and new wave, and soon after that discovered The Kingbees, a band who was reviving bluesy rockabilly with a new wave pop twist a year or two before Stray Cats mainstreamed neo-rockabilly in the U.S. (just watch this video for “My Mistake” released by The Kingbees in 1980). It wasn’t until the success of Stray Cats, Rockats, and The Polecats on MTV in the early 1980s that he first heard the term “rockabilly” and knew what to call the music he loved: “After that, it was searching for records and reading and trying to find out anything I could about it. There was none on the radio apart from occasionally hearing Gene Vincent, Bill Haley, Elvis, etc. on the oldies station on AM. There were certainly no shows. No one had ever heard of that music. It was very confusing because Stray Cats had the number one album in the country yet I seemed to be the only one who liked it!”

The Quakes in 1987 at The Continental in Buffalo (photo provided by Paul Roman)
Paul became aware of psychobilly while in London in 1985. That’s when Paul started to try his own hand at producing something cutting edge in Buffalo, New York, first as The Quiffs, and then in 1986 as The Quakes with Dave Hoy on drums and Rob Peltier on bass. Pre-dating the growth of psychobilly stateside, they became frustrated with the lack of appreciation or understanding from local audiences and their inability to score gigs as an underage modern-sounding neo-rockabilly band: “It’s very hard to explain to people now but there was no scene then. ZERO. No one that came to see us looked like us or knew what we were doing.” They had to find creative places to perform - parties, busking, open mics, and – most importantly in terms of the evolution of their sound – at new wave and punk clubs, like The Continental in Buffalo: “That is when/why we started covering those type of songs and making them our own. It got the attention of the people in the clubs who at first glance would write us off as the Stray Cats. We changed our sound gradually and found that we got more attention playing fast and aggressive.” A trip to England in 1987, where the psychobilly scene originated, made the most sense in order to find a more appreciative and engaged audience, and a contract with Roy Williams’ Nervous Records soon followed. The rest is history, which you can read all about here on their website.

In advance of the band’s 30th anniversary, I interviewed Paul Roman about his musical influences, the balance between commercial success and artistic freedom, his thoughts on how the –billy scene has changed and evolved over the past 30 years, the state of the current music industry, and what being part of one of the most influential rockabilly/psychobilly bands means to him.

Who are some of the musicians who have most influenced your guitar style?
I was self-taught because I didn’t think there would be a teacher who could teach me rockabilly. I should have taken lessons so that I could learn the fundamentals. It would have made things a lot easier. I started to try and copy riffs from old rockabilly records like Johnny Burnette trio stuff, slowing down records and trying to learn by ear. One of the first solos I learned was from “Party Doll” by Buddy Knox.

What’s your preferred guitar set-up? What effects do you use?
I still use the same guitar I have always used, since I bought it in May of 1984. [Paul still has the receipt from the purchase!] It’s a Gretsch 6120 Nashville made in 1963. I like a sound that’s clean with a little bit of edge to it, a little snarl ☺

I love that marimba sound on "Tearing Up My World." Did you play that? Is it an acoustic marimba or a keyboard sound? It works so well on that song!
It was a keyboard. I was probably thinking of “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs, “Collapsing New People” by Fad Gadget, “Gone Daddy Gone” by Violent Femmes, etc. No rules - something different! Who says I can’t put a marimba on my album? ☺

Speaking of diverse influences like marimba, I’ve talked to several members of the first wave English psychobilly bands who said that the music was influenced by all sorts of genres at the beginning - ska, punk, mod, new wave, northern soul, you name it. Many of them felt that some of today’s bands have lost a touch of that diversity and variety that really made psychobilly unique and interesting when it started. What’s your opinion?
That is true. Bands that are trying too hard to be a certain way, whether it’s “old school” or whatever, are missing the boat completely. We never wanted to be the king of the subgenre. We wanted our music to appeal to people in the scene and other people outside the scene. There are a lot of different bands that all fit under the psychobilly tent.

On that note, I’ve interpreted “Nothing to Say” from Psyops as a critique of contemporary psychobilly bands who only reproduce genre clichés like writing about monsters to follow the formula of some of the most successful bands. Do you ever get any comments about that song from fans?
No, not really. In that song I meant it more as “nothing to say” musically and not so much lyrically, although that too ☺ It’s so easy to write “for the scene” - I know what they like, I know what they want, I know what attracted me to this music. But “en ole apinaa si” (“I’m not your monkey” in Finnish). This is my art, not commerce. How easy would it be to draw a skeleton playing a bass with a quiff and flames at the bottom as a t-shirt design? Too easy, cheap applause, like standing on the bass and other circus routines during the show. Besides, being famous in a small subgenre of a subgenre = nowheresville. Stay in school kids ☺

What does being involved in this music mean to you?
At this point I feel a sense of pride that although we didn’t become “rock stars” we had some influence on the scene and some of my songs have real meaning for people.
What do you like about making and listening to this type of music, or being part of this scene?
It’s who I am. I would not call it a “lifestyle” though. It’s about the music. We just got back from the Psychobilly Meeting in Spain and it’s great to see all the guys in the bands. We have been playing with bands like The Coffin Nails, DAG, Frenzy, etc for 30 years. There is a great comradery between most of the bands.

I read that you run a business that restores 20th century modern furniture. Do you still do that?
Yes, I have always had a job of some sort. I can see it from both sides: on one side, we were not successful enough to make a living out of The Quakes, and on the other hand, that has given me the freedom to do whatever I want [artistically]. I know some people who make their artistic decisions based on whether or not they will be able to pay the mortgage. For example, if I had a big hit song with the marimba in it, I might think, “Hmmm, that’s what my fans like. I better come up with some more songs with a marimba and keep this gravy train rolling.” ☺

Any final thoughts?
I know that it doesn’t pay my rent and it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but we were the first American psychobilly band (psychobilly as we know it today - not The Cramps). The Quakes started in 1986. Before that we were The Quiffs. We already had some of the songs that ended up on the first Quakes album before the band started; songs like “You’re Dead,” “Psycho Attack,” “Where Did It Go,” “1000 Cats” were some left-overs from The Quiffs. We were always wondering if there were any other bands like us in the USA at the time. Occasionally Roy Williams at Nervous would get a demo tape from an American band and it was always just rockabilly kind of stuff. He would then let us take the cassettes to record over as we were living in London with hardly any money. The fact is there wasn’t anyone else. We were playing at the Klubfoot before any of the West Coast bands even started.

All the very best, and thanks again so very much!
Thank you - you are the scene ☺

Thursday, June 9, 2016

“Diving Board Head” O’Prez wears many psychobilly hats on top of that quiff

This is the second in a series of articles I’m posting this summer about people who contribute to the psychobilly scene in ways other than performing music on stage. Today I introduce to you Johnny O’Prez: portrait illustrator, psychobilly graphic designer, Hellacious Harmonies album reviewer, musician, and host extraordinaire.

About a year ago, I posted an Examiner article about my interview with Los Angeles psychobilly staple The Quaranteds. Since I hadn’t yet actually heard their latest album, I linked to The O’Prez’s Hellacious Harmonies review. I’d learned about his snarky, entertaining, uncensored, bat-an-eyelash reviews of psychobilly, neo-rockabilly, and rockabilly records when he raved about an album by one of my favorite bands, The Mutilators. He left a comment on my Quaranteds article, noting “Wow! A link my review site! Famous at last :D”. That made me chuckle, so I decided I should try to interview him while I was in Europe for Psychobilly Meeting 2015. After wild shenanigans in Pineda de Mar, España, I headed north to meet Simon Farrell from Spellbound in Dublin, then made my way by bus through the countryside to a small town in Tipperary County, in the interior of Ireland. The drop-off location of the bus was a pub where a very lively crowd was glued to a rugby match. My instructions were to look for the only guy with cuffed jeans, and sure enough, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the only psychobilly-rockabilly fan in that town.

Portrait of Gene Vincent by The O'Prez: http://www.the-oprez.com/
That was the start of several entertaining hours spent with Johnny O’Prez, who adopted that moniker as a tribute to The King. (But his real rockabilly hero is Gene Vincent. More on that later.) Over tea and “bikkies” (which I discovered was short for “biscuits,” what cookies are called in Ireland – which is so much more appetizing than calling them “digestives”), Johnny and I chatted about what it was like to grow up as the only psychobilly in a small town, the size of his quiff (oh, calm down), his frustration with music that lacks originality, his unapologetic admiration for Tiger Army, and his trip to the legendary Klub Foot nightclub. My Irish slang vocabulary expanded exponentially as I learned about plastic paddies, getting the baloobas, gobshites, being pissed as a flute (when I thought it was pissed as a newt, neither of which make sense to me as apt metaphors for being drunk), and how to properly spell “Jaysus,” even if I can’t quite say it right.

After the auld chinwag (did I use that right?), I got to see Johnny’s man cave. Oh, get your mind out of the gutter – it’s the workspace where he produces his grayscale photo-realistic portraits and “new old school” psychobilly graphic designs. The room was decked out top to bottom in musical inspiration (including autographed band photos and LPs), a diecast model of the 1951 Mercury, and a cute pair of psychobilly boy-and-girl resin skulls.

When he was 4, one of his teachers pointed out his natural talent for drawing. He was under the impression that everyone was good at art. But he embraced the compliment and went on to take art classes throughout secondary school, which he aced. Well, there was that one bad grade he received on his final exam from an external reviewer for his portrait of James Dean with a flick knife. Someone clearly didn’t appreciate his choice of subject. But it doesn’t matter – he went on to turn art into a profession regardless.

He specializes in photo-realistic grayscale portraits and has developed quite a reputation throughout the area, having been written up in local rags a few times. Give him a photo and you’ll have an impressive illustration in a couple days that would make a brilliant gift for a loved one. He’s also produced posters and murals for pubs, tattoo designs, and graphic artwork and album covers for bands in the -billy scene. And his work appeared on the cover of DogEatRobot, the psychobilly fanzine produced in Italy (see my interview with creator Mauri here). All this while being partly colorblind; he uses a program called Colorblind Assist that displays the name of the color in the area over which you hover the cursor.

So without further waffling (how’d I do there?), here are some highlights from the O’Prez interview. In order to evade the censors, I’ve done my best with the language. When I’ve had to substitute certain choice phrasing, I’ve indicated it in parenthesis.

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I started by asking him how he got into rockabilly and psychobilly. His mom once dated a Teddy Boy and then he discovered Stray Cats. I was curious to know how he figured out how to do his quiff. Did he look at the hair-dos on the Stray Cats album and just figure it out on his own?

O’Prez: Well, it was actually the Jets, of all people. I could not manage the Stray Cats hair at all, because that was just too extreme at the time. So I actually asked Victor McCoy, who was one of the original Shoeshine Teddy Boys, what do you put in your hair? And he told me just use Brylcreem. So when I walked into school, I got pushed around, because some of the boys down there were 12, and when you’re 11 and they’re 12, they’re colossal.

I suppose another big influence was when I was 14, and there was this record shop in Rosemary Street. They had an LP there by Gene Vincent. And I remember my mother telling me about meeting Gene Vincent. She said she’d seen him in Manchester. And she’d just seen this very pale, slim, dark kind of individual, with a limp, and he sounded fantastic. Then I see his record down in the record shop. And that was how my big enormous love affair with Gene Vincent started, hearing that. He’s like numero uno for all psychobilly stuff in my book. That 1956 stuff. I liked his whole image. Back then I was reading books about him, how he shot Gary Glitter, and I thought, this is the guy for me. It was the whole bad boy thing, romanticized, the loner down at the pool hall. And I’m thinking, I’m 15, this is me.

[Want to know more about Gene Vincent and shooting Gary Glitter (the bullets missed, by the way)? Here's a nice little recap: http://www.goldminemag.com/article/dont-go-calling-rockabilly-artist-gene-vincent-one-hit-wonder]

Then by the time I actually came around to hearing Guana Batz, I was in secondary school. So when I heard them, the razor came out and the sides got shaved, and the quiff got gradually bigger and bigger. When I was 17, it hit 14 inches.

Kim: You know this, that it was 14 inches?

O’Prez: I measured it meself. My friend was a punk - David - only he and I had coifs. And in secondary school, that did not go down well. So they actually brought in new rules based around my image. The wording of the rules was: “No fancy hair. No fancy shoes.”

Kim: So by this point you had discovered Guana Batz?

O’Prez: Yeah, I heard “King Rat”. And then I was off to Dublin - I think it was the following Saturday on the bus - to Freebird Records and bought the album. They had a psychobilly section, which was unbelievable to me.

Kim: Unbelievable that there would be a whole section devoted to it?

O’Prez: Yeah, and then I went to the Klub Foot shortly after. I just went over to London on a whim. Turned out there was no psychobilly band playing.

Kim: Womp Womp. That’s a bummer.

O’Prez: But at least I went there. And I went to some of the record shops in London as well with big massive psychobilly sections.

Kim: And when was this?

O’Prez: 1987.

Kim: What else were you starting to get into?

O’Prez: Well I heard Frenzy’s first album, Hall of Mirrors, around the same time. When I went up to Dublin and bought the Guana Batz album, then I was up to Dublin every second week just chancing me arm and stuff, because there was no outlet for this where you could hear it before you buy it. So I started to hear of Frenzy, and Batmobile, and Frantic Flintstones and stuff like that.

[Note: I hadn’t heard that phrase before. Pretty clear from the context, but just in case: to “chance one’s arm” is to take a risk to get something you want.]

Kim: So if there was no scene here, were you able to find any shows?

O’Prez: There used to be this place in Birr. They used to run this, well they still do, this vintage week. And there was a band at the time called Aces Wild from Dublin, and they used to play over there. And in Dublin, we used to go up to the Voodoo Lounge, but not in the ‘80s and ‘90s, this was fairly recent history. They brought over The Long Tall Texans and bands like that. Oh Jaysus, I used to get so drunk it was unbelievable. I went to see Polecats, and I was going mad to meet Tim Polecat - he’s a big hero of mine! And I remember none of it. I was shown the photographs the next day – “look, there are you hugging Tim Polecat.” But no recollection….

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Next I wanted to know what he liked about psychobilly. What did psychobilly have that he preferred to anything mainstream at the time?

O’Prez: It had the aggression. When I was listening to, say, bands like Polecats and Stray Cats, or to a lesser extent The Jets, who were very sugar sweet, sometimes if I was playing their LPs, I’d stick them up to 45 rpm so it would go faster and think, Jaysus, why isn’t the band like this? And then it was with Guana Batz.

Kim: So you liked that it was faster, and more aggressive. Since you were the only one to go to school with a psychobilly quiff, do you think you also liked something about the shock value of it?

O’Prez: Oh yeah, I liked to walk down the street and stare people out. Like “I’ll kill you if you look at me again.” All decked out in me boots with padlocks hanging from the tags. I liked to give off the impression I was some kind of vicious thug.

Kim: Which you clearly are ;-)

O’Prez: Yeah, I just liked to pretend I was. And it worked.

Kim: You also mentioned earlier that you liked how psychobilly wasn’t too serious?

O’Prez: Yeah, it’s just a bit of fun. There’s no political bullsh!te or any of that stuff like there is in punk.

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We start talking about his tattoos, all of which he designed himself (other than the Guana Batz logo, of course). This soon revealed his preferences when it comes to good – and original – rockabilly and psychobilly. So let’s start with the meaning of the two tattoos on his wrist, the years 1956 and 1986…

O’Prez: It’s quite simple really. 1956 is for Gene Vincent – that’s when he recorded his best stuff and my favorite song of all time, “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” which I’ve told a few people I want played at my funeral. So that’s for him. My next tattoo will be “The Screaming End” across my chest, which was his nickname. 1984 is for when I was first hearing the tides of psychobilly. There’s a Dublin band called Those Handsome Devils. Sean Foy is the lead singer. They put out their single called “Hep Bop” in 1984, which was like nothing I’d ever heard before - not quite psychobilly, and not really rockabilly either, just in between the two. And then I saw them on telly. There was this program called Job Suss. Dave Fanning - the Irish John Peel - he had a program called Job Suss which was about finding jobs for the youth, and Dave had Those Handsome Devils on as special guest, and I thought fuckin’ hell, who are these guys? So that would’ve been ‘84 when I first got an inkling that I liked something different.

Kim: So what made them not quite psychobilly, but not really rockabilly?

O’Prez: I suppose the lyrical content and the speed. It wasn’t fast enough, like psychobilly would be. And the lyrics were basically rockabilly lyrics. They went, like, “see that cat with the flattop bop,” and all that lark. But they were too edgy to be rockabilly. They were out on their own. They weren’t like any other band I’d heard. And I’d heard loads. I’d heard Polecats, Stray Cats, The Jets, Shakin’ Stevens, The Shakin’ Pyramids. But Those Handsome Devils - they weren’t sticking to a set of rules.

[Take a reading break. Go on now, it’s a good time to watch the spastic “Hep Bop.” Check out the awesome 1980s quiffs and the state-of-the-art video graphics! There’s even a section where you can snap along. You know you wanna. My favorite part is where the singer says “dig that cat with the flattop” as the camera pans in on a guy whose hair is sprayed a foot tall in the front and shorn tight across the back. Some flattop! Click here to watch "Hep Bop." Then head over here to watch a live performance of Gene Vincent performing "Be-Bop-A-Lula" in 1958]

Kim: A lot of people on my trip have pointed out that one of the distinguishing features of psychobilly was that the lyrics weren’t about 1950s rockabilly stuff.

O’Prez: Yeah. I’ve had a few rockabilly bands ask me to review stuff for Hellacious Harmonies, but I won’t review it if it’s (just the same ol’) “a-rockin’ on a Saturday night, rockin’ with my chick.” I just turn it off. I’ve no interest in that. Come back with something more original.

Kim: So, it’s not original. Is it also something you don’t like because you can’t identify with it? Like it means nothing to you?

O’Prez: No, it means fuck all. Write that down!

Kim: Ha! I’ll remember that! I guess it’s different in the States than here. Over there, it’s a home-bred nostalgia for that ‘50s type of lyric.

O’Prez: Well, it was, I suppose, over there in the ‘50s, it was about cars, and bopping on a Saturday night. Over here it wasn’t. So we don’t give a shite.

Kim: And a few people have pointed out to me during this trip that the post-WWII experience was very different here than in the States. In the U.S., there were cool cars, and everything was going great in the post-war economic boom. But over here it was bombed out and people were struggling to recover from the war.

O’Prez: Yeah, I remember my mother telling me they were the first house in town to have a television, and they’d all crowd around. That was the ‘50s here: wow, someone has a television. And my uncle Sean was the first to have a car. So there was a big difference.

Kim: Do you think there is a lack of originality in some psychobilly too?

O’Prez: I suppose the lyrical content, with rockabilly being the same shit over and over, psychobilly suffers an awful lot from that too. The nonstop horror themes. And everybody trying to sound like Sparky. That really (ticks) me off and I always bring it up in reviews.

Kim: Did you like Demented Are Go before everybody started copying them?

O’Prez: Yeah, when I went to London that time, that’s when I bought the In Sickness and In Health LP. Fuckin’ hell! I thought, what’s this lad’s voice all about? And the cover, dressed up as a woman on the front! I liked them immediately. They were really pushing the boundaries. For horror-based lyrics, I liked Demented and Nekromantix, because they do it well. I’ll always like them. And Tiger Army. I don’t (care) what anyone says. I love Nick 13’s lyrics. I like their whole Edgar Allen Poe-esque stuff. But I think the best singer of the whole lot is Frankie Hayes of Spellbound. He’s a brilliant singer.

Kim: So you like the horror aspect of the lyrics, as long as it doesn’t become a cliché?

O’Prez: Well I loved it when I was a teenager, but then when you get older you prefer a bit more substance to your lyrics, and that’s where Paul Roman of The Quakes comes in. They’re one of my favorite bands. His lyrics are fantastic.

Kim: And do you like horror movies?

O’Prez: That’s all I watched. And still. I love horror.

Kim: So psychobilly was perfect for you. There was the rockabilly stuff you liked, sped up, more aggressive, and with the horror stuff you were watching. So it was made for you!

O’Prez: It was, wasn’t it?!

Kim: What are some other bands that you like?

O’Prez: I’ll always love Batmobile. And The Magnetix are very good, and Stressor. And the Minestompers from Germany. Yer man has this kind of Pip Hancox hiccupping vocal style. As I said in my review, he’s like a demented Charlie Feathers. He’s really cool.

Kim: What do you like about these bands?

O’Prez: Unlike some other bands today, they don’t neglect the whole billy aspect. They have the rhythmic beat of psychobilly / rockabilly, and the vocal style. It’s not just screaming in your face for the sake of being like “look at us, we’re so wild.”

Kim: I don’t like when all you can hear is click, and none of the bass tone.

O’Prez: Yeah, I’ve often said that as well in Hellacious Harmonies. You have to hear all of the bass notes and the woody resonance, not just the click.

Kim: And you’re a guitar player yourself. You’ve shown me your Gibson over there. What do you prefer aesthetically from the guitar?

O’Prez: What I like for the psychobilly sound is a clean guitar sound with a bit of reverb, as opposed to the more garage-y sound some bands get where it’s all fuzzed up.

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Here I transitioned into asking him about playing music himself. So we started by talking about whether he was self-taught or if he took lessons, and how he figured out what to play…

O’Prez: I didn’t even know what a scale was or anything at first. I’d listen to a song and pick it out, get it wrong 10 times and eventually get it right. Then I went to one lesson and that lasted about 10 minutes. I walked out, I just couldn’t be bothered. She was trying to teach me “Frère Jacques.” Fer fuck sake. “King Rat” - teach me that will you? And back then, if you went out to buy a book at a music shop or whatever, they’d be like, “Here’s your favorite Irish folk songs to play along with!” I had no interest in that at the time. And you couldn’t very well buy a book about psychobilly!

Kim: Have you never had an interest in traditional Irish music?

O’Prez: I actually do like Irish folk, yeah. I liked it more as I got older. I like The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. I really like the Pogues, because with them the whole punk thing started to come into the Irish traditional music. They actually played in a village called Shinrone back in about 1989. And all the different towns came into this one hall for the Pogues and such a fight broke out that they had to bring ambulances in from different cities. The cops were all over the place, stretchers out, the whole place broke up.

Kim: Wow, that’s a punk rock show!

O’Prez: It is, isn’t it?!

Kim: So I have to ask, then. What do you think of Flogging Molly?

O’Prez: I could take them or leave them. Same as the Dropkick Murphys. I like some Celtic punk. There’s a band called Blood or Whiskey from Dublin - they’re very good because yer man has a Dublin accent. He’s not a plastic paddy.

[Note: Another phrase I’d never heard before. Some people find it quite offensive, as it’s a term some Irish nationals use to refer to people outside of Ireland who identify as Irish and appropriate Irish customs and accents, often stereotypically. If you want another reading break, check out this article about whether or not it’s “time for Irish to stop calling Irish Americans Plastic Paddies”]

Kim: Have you ever wanted to be in a band and not been able to here?

O’Prez: Yeah, I would’ve loved to have been a drummer as opposed to a guitar player, because I can hold down a beat fairly good. I go fuckin’ baloobas when I listen to music. And with the drums you can really go mental. Listening to psychobilly, I go berserk.

[Note: I had to look up what the baloobas where. Urban dictionary says: “to get baloobas or go baloobas is a set of behaviour occurring when a person has a consumed a large amount of drink or drugs and behaves wildly, erratically, but all the while having fun.”]

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Finally, I was curious to know how people in his small town react to him, as he’s the only one to walk around in rockabilly clothes and to listen to psychobilly music.

O’Prez: They’re used to me. There’s a whole new generation of teenage wankers that were calling me Elvis and singing “Hound Dog” as I walked down the street. Fer fuck’s sake. I dyed my hair red at one stage and went downtown and they called me “Redvis.” And when that 14 inch quiff is on, they call me “Diving Board Head.”

Kim: They’re very creative ;-)

O’Prez: Oh, it’s hilarious stuff. Jaysus.

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Commission a one-of-a-kind gift by contacting O’Prez through his website where you can check out his portraits and his rockabilly/psychobilly graphic designs. And fine reviews of psychobilly/rockabilly/neo-rockabilly albums here at Hellacious Harmonies.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

DogEatRobot fanzine: a treasure trove of psychobilly interviews and reviews


This summer I’ll be running a series of articles about people who contribute to the psychobilly scene in ways other than performing music on stage (although many of them are also musicians) – the graphic artists, event promoters, podcasters, writers, label owners, and studio engineers who give so much to the scene because of their passion for the subculture.

First in this series, we get to know Mauri SixSickSix who, along with a fantastic and talented team, produces DogEatRobot fanzine out of Italy.

There are 11 issues of this high-quality glossy fanzine so far, which started back in 2011. I love the regular format of the contents: you can expect several Q&A interviews (usually about 4 or so per issue), a few short reviews of new music or video releases, and often a first-hand account of a recent festival such as Bedlam Breakout, Psychomania Rumble, or Pompey Rumble. The festival accounts are probably my favorite – what’s better than reading about dear Bracko’s sick adventures as he drinks his way through Bedlam Breakout, humorously describing what he does – and doesn’t – remember?!

The interviews usually feature bands who have just released a new album, so I enjoy the combination of a recent interview side-by-side with a contemporary review written by one of the magazine’s writers. The Q&As definitely demonstrate the interviewer’s deep base of knowledge for that band’s repertoire and history. They dig deep and ask serious (but respectful) questions about line-up changes and band breakups, or what inspired particular songs. You can tell the DogEatRobot interviewers really know their stuff and this allows the musicians to provide answers we haven’t heard before a thousand times. Based in Italy, you also get a unique perspective, as the bands are often asked about past tours or shows in Italy.

When you binge on past issues like I did – I caught up on issues 4 to 10 all at one time – you notice there are some questions that are asked regularly. I like this consistency, because you can start to compare different musicians’ opinions on one topic. For instance, the question of how bands feel about the internet and illegal downloading comes up often. It’s interesting to hear the range of responses to this one issue, with some taking a “well, what can we do about it?” approach, to those who have embraced the internet as a way of communicating with more fans, to those who urge fans to support bands by seeing them live and buying only legal downloads or tangible merch at shows.

I also appreciate the variety of bands and musicians who are interviewed by DogEatRobot. There’s a broad geographic representation, with bands from Russia, Japan, Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Germany, the U.S., France, of course England, and more. There are also conversations with people in non-band roles, like Tobe (the organizer of Bedlam Breakout) and Roy Williams (the owner of Nervous Records). And the zine doesn’t only cover psychobilly; there are neo-rockabilly and traditional rockabilly bands featured as well.

The covers deserve special recognition. Each features the work of a different artist known well to psychobilly fans. Past covers have been designed by O’Prez (known to many as the Hellacious Harmonies reviewer), Oscar Hertin (the genius who designed the unmistakable psychobilly rats on the Fury Records samplers), Geo Parkin (who created many classic Long Tall Texan album covers), Andy Poluektov (who has done artwork for Stressor, Skitzo, and The Ricochets), Paskal Millet (whose work is recognizable to every psychobilly, having created everything from Meteors album covers to famous event flyers), and Vince Ray (who was also interviewed in the issue).

I decided to turn the tables on Mauri by interviewing him:

Why did you choose the name DogEatRobot?
Mauri: Obviously we took it from The Meteors song included on their “Best Of” album Teenagers From Outer Space from 1986. I really love this album and this song in particular, a song made by The Escalators (Nigel Lewis, Mark Robertson) on their 1983 album Moving Staircases. I always thought that this song title was proper for a fanzine like ours, printed on paper in this age of robots and computers ... "we try to eat robots" haha!!

Why did you decide to start this fanzine?
Mauri: A passion for psychobilly music and for this scene. We want give our small contribution and support to the most beautiful music in the world. The fanzine was my idea and immediately from the first issue I wanted to involve my friend Toni. I knew that he was the right person - we are both "nerds" of psychobilly and rockabilly music; we spend our salaries on vinyl and cd. After that I involved my friend Stefano to help us with the graphic and printing.

Where in Italy are you based? What is the psychobilly scene like there?
Mauri: I'm from Bologna in northern Italy, but the whole team is scattered across north Italy. My fanzine partner Toni is from near Modena and we've a newcomer to the fanzine staff, Marco Saccani that helps us sometimes, from Milan. Our graphic designer is from Verona. And Craig Brackenridge has been with us since Issue #7 and he lives in England.

[Note by Kim: Readers may know Bracko’s work well, including his books on the history of psychobilly and (my personal favorite:) his pulpy sleaze novel about a teenage boy discovering psychobilly music … and girls. I learned so much filthy slang from this fun read!]

To reply to the second part of the question, the psychobilly scene in Italy is small. We've some great bands that are still active nowadays like Evil Devil, The Snakes, Generation Mongoloid (I'm the singer/guitarist), The Nuclears, The Cockroaches, to name a few bands, but I think that the "real fans" are about 50-60 people throughout all of Italy right now. I think that now the most awesome gigs in Italy are in Milan, organized by "Old Farts Promotions" (Marco Saccani is also one of them). They have brought here in the last few years big names like The Meteors, The Sharks, Blue Cats, Restless, Space Cadets, Frenzy, SPAHM to name a few. That's great for our little scene. Yes, we have to travel far to see some great gigs, but at the end this is one of the beautiful things to do.

How did the collaboration with Craig Brackenridge happen?
Mauri: I’m a maniac of all things about psychobilly, so of course I have psychobilly books. I bought Hell's Bent On Rockin': History of Psychobilly, written by Craig some years ago. I've spent whole evenings reading it; it was my bible (haha!). I don't remember well but I tripped onto his facebook page two or three years ago or he ordered a copy of the fanzine...I don't remember now. I just know that asking him to help was the obvious and right thing to do. He puts a lot of passion into this project just as we do. I was finally able to meet him in person last year when I went to Bedlam Festival and spoke with him only for a few minutes of madness during a live set. The miles between us, unfortunately, aren't few.

What was one (or more) of your favorite interviews you did for the fanzine?
Mauri: Hard question...I love all the interviews done for our issues...but if I have to choose I can say both Long Tall Texans and Skitzo interviews in Issue #6, the Blue Cats in Issue #4, The Sharks article (with the bio of the band written personally by Alan Wilson in Issue #9), Boston Rats in Issue #8 and Batmobile in Issue #10. Also the interview with Paul Roman from the Quakes in Issue #3 - it was incredibly awesome; he's great!!

You interview bands from many different countries. Is it difficult dealing in so many different languages? Do you usually use English to speak to non-Italian bands?
Mauri: We always use English with all non-Italian bands! It's international!! Fortunately we have Craig Brackenridge to help us to translate it correctly. After that we translate all the interviews into Italian to make 50 copies of the Italian version of the 'zine. It's a hell of a lot of work but we love it!! With the Italian bands we start with the questions in Italian and then we translate it for the English version of our 'zine.

How did YOU first get into psychobilly?
Mauri: I personally got in touch with psychobilly music thanks to The Meteors Wreckin' Live album in 2002. I was coming from punk-rock music, when in an old record store in my city I found this double live CD of The Meteors. I knew them already by name but, intrigued, I bought the album and after that I was immediately infected by this music genre. The story of Toni however is much more older (hahaha) - he was already a psychobilly kid at the end of the '80s.

[note by Kim: I’m not surprised at all to learn that Mauri got into psychobilly because of The Meteors. For one thing, it’s a story I’ve had people tell me over and over. But I kinda had a hunch when I saw that “F*** politics. F*** religion. Dance with a chainsaw!” is printed on the editorial / table of contents page of each issue.]

What is your favorite thing about the psychobilly scene?
Mauri: Simple, psychobilly is not only a great underground music but is also like a "big family”. Going to the festivals and gigs and meeting people with your same interest is awesome. You have the opportunity to meet new people and see "old" friends from around the world.

What are some of your favorite bands right now?
Mauri: I think there are a lot of amazing bands around currently. To name a few I can say: Sir Psyko and His Monsters, Stressor, The Test Pilots, The Moonshine Stalkers, Luna Vegas (unfortunately they are split now), The Nevrotix, As Diabatz, The Psyclocks. Psychobilly is still alive!!

A lot of the bands interviewed in DogEatRobot are bands that formed in the 1980s, took a break, and have returned to touring recently (such as Blue Cats, The Griswalds, The Sharks, Skitzo, Mad Dog Cole, Sgt. Bilko's). Why do you think so many of the bands from the ‘80s have reformed and started performing again? Do you think it has something to do with the internet?
Mauri: I wouldn't be qualified to give a correct reply to this question, and there is much to say about this. Personally I can only say that I feel lucky for this great return. This has given me the opportunity to see live some great bands that I'd never been able to see otherwise. So I think that is wonderful. At the same time I think that "the scene" should invest more on new bands. There are many new bands right now, and we should give them the chance to play more in major events to gain more experience.

What are some of your favorite festivals/weekenders in Europe (or elsewhere)? What do you like about going to those festivals?
Mauri: My first international psychobilly festival was the Satanic Stomp, Germany, in 2004. After the first one I went back almost every year until 2014. On a personal level I was very attached to this festival because it was my first psychobilly gig abroad. I went also four times to the Psychobilly Meeting in Spain, the first time when it was still in Calella. I went twice to the Psychomania Rumble in Potsdam, and unfortunately only one time to the Psychobilly Earthquake in Bremen. Last year I went for the first time to Bedlam Breakout in Northampton, England. It’s a real shame not to have gone before because I really loved the people and the atmosphere!! I think that Bedlam is now the festival that I liked most so far, and I want advise everyone to go there. It's awesome!! I'm really looking forward to back as soon as possible.

There's a big emphasis today on describing albums as having an "old-school psychobilly sound." I notice it a lot in the reviews. What does that mean to you? What is the "old-school" sound?
Mauri: "Old School Psychobilly sound" for me is when an album has the right rockabilly and rock'n'roll elements united and blended equally with the energy of punk rock. If you lose the rockabilly roots you lose the psychobilly sound, and if you lose the energy of punk-rock you lose the psychobilly sound and become a simple rockabilly band. That's my opinion!

The fanzine is really high quality with glossy pages. And the covers are fantastic! Are you able to produce it off the money you make from subscriptions and sales? Or did you find other financial support?
Mauri: To be honest, I think I'm crazy because we don't have financial support of any kind! I would never think to ask for money to finance our fanzine. It's all DIY minded. I cover the printing costs with the orders that we get. That's it and that is enough. We don't make this to make money. We made this only because of our passion and support for this scene and the bands.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I'm really impressed by the work you and your team have done!
Mauri: Thanks to you for your support! I'm glad that you like our little fanzine. I really enjoyed replying to your questions. Usually I'm in the opposite situation! Ciao from all DogEatRobot staff!

Order the most recent issue, #11, which features interviews and reviews with Damage Done By Worms, Smell of Kat, Stompin’ Mad Bats, The Psyclocks, The Bullet Biters, Clockwork Psycho, The Intolerants, and more! Send an email to dogeatrobot@hotmail.it to place an order. It was easy to arrange a PayPal transfer and Mauri shipped out my episodes super quickly!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Preserving the historical legacy of Route 66: Rockabilly on the Route weekender

Ever heard of Tucumcari? Yeah, I hadn’t either. But if you’re a rockabilly fan, you will start hearing about this little stop on Route 66 in New Mexico. The first annual Rockabilly on the Route Festival was held June 7-9, 2013 and featured live music, a car show, a cruise and burn-out, a pin-up contest, a burlesque variety show, and a gospel brunch. All events were located along 6.66 miles of Route 66. The Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, was the headliner this year, along with The Chop Tops (CA), Danger Cakes (TX), and various other bands from the Southwest.



Rockabilly on the Route is the brainchild of Simon Cantlon of Vive Le Rock Productions and Ungelbah Davila of La Loca Magazine. Cantlon has been involved in the production of The Motels of Route 66, a documentary film exploring the stories behind the owners and travelers of those iconic motels. Davila’s La Loca Magazine, based in Albuquerque, is New Mexico’s first vintage lifestyle magazine. What better people, then, to organize a rockabilly weekender that pays tribute to the legendary culture, music, and history of Route 66’s heyday? Tucumcari was chosen for the festival in part because The Blue Swallow Inn and Motel Safari were featured in the documentary. Moreover, the festival’s proceeds benefited the development of theNew Mexico Route 66 Museum which will commemorate the state’s 604 miles of the celebrated highway.

Tucumcari, then, is clearly an appropriate setting for a rockabilly event which honors the legacy of that bygone Golden Era. The Main Street still offers a window into the past with the vintage neon signs that adorn the hotels and remains of classic cars that rest (and rust) in people’s yards. The city of Tucumcari whole-heartedly embraced the event by closing down a stretch of Route 66, known affectionately as the Mother Road, for a classic burn-out and cruise that seemed straight out of a hot rod movie from the ‘50s.

I got a chance to chat with Miss Davila about Rockabilly on the Route, La Loca Magazine, how she got interested in rockabilly, and what the Albuquerque rockabilly scene is like. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE INTERVIEW.

Bringing retro spirit back to Disneyland: Rock Around the Park with rockabillies

The thought of going to Disneyland and standing in 2 hour lines behind grouchy children right now, in the dead heat of summer, might not sound like your cup of tea (hopefully it’s ice-cold tea). But I have been daydreaming about a trip to Disneyland a little later in the year, when it’s cooler, not so crowded, and the Nightmare Before Christmas theme has taken effect at the Haunted Mansion. So I’ve been looking forward to the annual Rock Around the Park event, when hundreds of rockabillies and psychobillies liven up the landscape with their retro style and flair. Book your calendars now for Sunday, November 3rd, to join in the fun.

One might not automatically associate rockabillies and psychobillies with Mickey Mouse’s Kingdom, but it actually makes quite a lot of sense. As the organizer of the event pointed out to me, Disneyland opened in 1955 and therefore represents a time that rockabillies and psychobillies are invested and interested in. The mid-century vibe that the park still exudes appeals to the members of the scene today. But I can’t help but think that when Disneyland opened its doors, it stood for just about the exact opposite of everything that the budding rockabilly scene embodied. In 1955, a twenty-year-old Elvis Presley was popularizing his fusion of R&B and hillbilly while shocking conservative audiences with his gyrating pelvis and his wet-your-underpants voice and lyrics. Teens were boppin’ to Bill Haley’s jump blues-based rock’n’roll hits like “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” and “Rock Around the Clock,” and they were causing riots at movies like Blackboard Jungle. And – horror of horrors – black and white teenagers were breaking down the ropes that separated them to dance with each other as they rocked and rolled to the thrilling new music. In the midst of this cultural revolution, Disneyland opened its idyllic grounds, an oasis for family values and wholesome entertainment. And so I love the idea of Disneyland being taken over by the people who carry on the legacy of that rebellious spirit of the mid-1950s rock’n’roll revolution.

Regardless of this little bit of irony, I am, like most rockabilly and psychobilly fans, a sucker for the mid-century history and atmosphere of Disneyland. Plus, there’s hardly a psychobilly I know who doesn’t loveNightmare Before Christmas, the most alternative of all the Disney movies and the only one that I think we identify with as society’s misfits. And there’s even a little bit of musical entertainment that rockabillies enjoy, as Billy Hill and the Hillbillies entertain with their boot-stompin' country-and-bluegrass show. One final random connection between rockabilly and Disneyland: the official theme song of Disney’s animated TV show House of Mouse was composed and performed by neo-rockabilly hero Brian Setzer.

I got a chance to talk to the organizer to see what’s in store for this year’s event, which will be the sixth annual Rock Around the Park.... READ THE INTERVIEW BY CLICKING HERE.

Keeping rock'n'roll WILD: Wild Records and the upcoming Wild Records Weekender

An Irishman walks into a bar and ... saw some "Mexican rock'n'roll" that changed the landscape of L.A.'s music scene. Oh, not the punchline you expected, huh? Well, this is the story of what happened when Reb Kennedy caught a show by 'Lil Luis y Los Wild Teens. He was impressed with the energy they had on stage: "Their attitude just blew me away. They're weren't particularly skilled at their craft at that time, but it didn't matter. Their energy was fantastic!" He realized that they were a band he wanted to promote and record, and so began the story of Wild Records.





Kennedy had spent years honing his ear for new talent. He had always been interested in rock'n'roll - he remembers his family listening to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. He started searching the back catalogues of Elvis and began collecting records at the age of 12 (he estimates that his collection is about 50,000 strong at this point, and is stored in at least three different countries). He eventually moved from Dublin to London and worked at Rough Trade Records; he was there when The Smiths were signed to the indie label. He witnessed the highs and lows of the rock'n'roll scene there, and when he felt like it had started to die out he made his way to the U.S. He ran Demarco's 23 Club in San Francisco for a few years, a club legendary for showcasing acts like Patsy Cline and Jerry Lee Lewis. He focused on booking original rockabilly acts - like Hayden Thompson (after whom Kennedy named his son), Johnny Powers, and Eddie Bond - to round out the Western Swing and Honky-Tonk vibe of the club. But he was also keeping an eye out for young rockabilly bands: "But that was very difficult there because there weren't any artists that really fit what I wanted."

Luckily, 'Lil Luis Y Los Wild Teens did have that special sound he was looking for....

CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE BY CLICKING HERE

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yodeler and country singer Slim Whitman dies at 90


Slim Whitman (born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., 1923) was the butt of many jokes and parodies. In 1996, Tim Burton theorized that his yodeling might make aliens' heads explode: Mars Attacks featured Whitman's song "Indian Love Call" as the source of the martians' agony and death. Johnny Carson once pretended to be suffering from "Slim Whitman's Disease," which caused him to break out uncontrollably into yodels while speaking. Luckily, the made-up ad promised, Yodel Hills Hospital can help when "someone you love talks silly" (click here to see that skit). And, according to writer Graham Reid, Playboy magazine unceremoniously ridiculed him: "With a hairline that can't quite decide where it's receding to, a pair of front teeth you could pass a table knife between, and a dazzling black suit of rhinestone and polyester, Slim was the most arresting screen image since Yoda."

But, Slim got the last laugh. He influenced scores of musicians. Paul McCartney was supposedly inspired by a photo of Whitman to restring his guitar opposite from the way it is strung for right-handed players (read Barry Miles' book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, p. 21). Whitman was actually right-handed, but he had lost most of the second finger on his left hand in an accident so he learned to fret with his right hand instead and reversed the order of the strings. With his No. 1 hit "Rose Marie," he held the record for the longest time a single stayed on the UK pop music charts. "Rose Marie" was No. 1 for 11 weeks, a record unmatched even by The Beatles or Elvis! (embarrassing end to the story: he held that record for 36 years, from 1955 to 1991, until Bryan Adams, of all people, broke that record). And judging from the number of RIP's about Slim on Facebook today (even on a day when the internet was flooded with James Gandolfini obits), Whitman has not been forgotten.

His overall career trajectory looks like an upside-down bell curve.... FINISH READING THIS ARTICLE ON EXAMINER.COM.