Ten years ago, as ANTiSEEN approached its 25th anniversary, it became apparent that once again there was going to be another shift in their line up. Both bassist Doug Canipe and drummer Greg Clayton had tendered their notice leaving Jeff and Joe looking at an indefinite length of downtime. Jeff in particular was eager to keep busy, so while discussing the situation with him one evening on the phone, I suggested he make another solo record.
At first he was skeptical but soon we were making a list of possible candidates. Initially the chosen line-up included Barry Hannibal on drums, Jimmy King on bass and Andy Krouse on guitar. Barry was an obvious choice as he and Jeff had so much history together. Jimmy was also an old friend and locally known having played in popular area bands since he was a teenager. I had suggested Andy because he had played with me in the Mad Brother Ward band. Although younger, he was a bad ass guitarist.
I was tasked with making contact with Jimmy and Andy to see if they would be interested. Andy was aloof. He didn't expressly decline, but it was pretty clear he wasn't interested. I've never really figured out why. Jimmy didn't hesitate. However he had a caveat: he wanted to bring along a drummer, a guy named Jeremy Holcomb. Jeremy had served time in a indie rock band called the Talk, who had toured nationally but never got off the ground. Given his background, I wasn't sure he would be a good fit. Plus Jeff really wanted Barry. Jimmy made a strong case for Jeremy, assuring me he was a "slugger". It wasn't exactly "take us both or not at all" but it seemed his eagerness for the project would be diminished if Jeremy wasn't included.
I figured at this point the deal was sorta shot. I didn't think Jeff would want to proceed without Barry on board, nor would he have the patience to see if another guitarist would be interested or available. However he sorta surprised me with agreeing to use Jeremy Holcomb.Then Jimmy told us that Mike Hendrix was interested. A longtime local legend and excellent guitar player, Mike was the leader of the high octane rock outfit the Belmont Playboys. A Clayton/Hendrix combo was gonna be a big deal. Suddenly things were falling together in ways I had not anticipated.
The biggest surprise came when Jeff casually mentioned I would play second guitar. Although I had been helping assemble the band, I had not considered being a member. I could play punk rock power chords with the best of them, but the idea of playing with the caliber of musicians we were putting together intimidated me. Moreover, I had no equipment. Jeff can be pretty persuasive though, and before I knew it I was scrambling to get some guitar gear.
Eventually we all assembled for an inaugural practice, basically a trial run to see if it would actually work. We knocked around some old punk rock cover songs, feeling everything out. Jeremy proved to be a good drummer, but he wasn't very well versed in the background the rest of us came from. The minor obstacle left things pretty loose but it still showed promise. I was just trying to keep up. Everyone was really supportive and helpful. It was clear I needed better equipment. The guitars I had were serviceable, but the amp rig I had clumsily put together sounded like ass. Fortunately Jimmy hooked me up with a sweet Fender amp and I was on my way.
Eventually we stitched together a set list of choice cover tunes and a few old ANTiSEEN standards. Our first show was on February 2nd, 2008. The show was a bit of an event due to the "all-star" line-up. We sold out the club and played a somewhat ragged but fun set. I don't really remember too much, it sorta whirled by really fast. We had set ourselves up in a pretty large way. The question now was when, where and how to repeat it.
The next show came about three months later. By now we were really starting to gel. We booked into the Milestone and the resulting show was one of the 5 best sets I've ever participated in. It was just one of those rare nights when everything falls into place. I was more confident in my position. Jimmy and I stood off to the side slinging our guitars like long lost bastard sons of the MC5 while Mike flashed away licks a'la Johnny Thunders. It was a great show and I felt pretty proud and lucky to be a part of it.
We headlined the annual Plaza Midwood 4th of July Pig Pickin that summer. This event was a pretty big deal; a bar-b-cue festival featuring fireworks and live music attracting hundreds and hundreds of people. I went in feeling supremely confident, but the show was a disaster. The sound crew hired for this event really didn't seem to have any clue what they were doing. To be fair, it was outdoors, and running sound outdoors is tricky business. The sound crew just didn't seem to have any way to compensate. I also think they weren't used to high volume hard rock. The PA couldn't keep up with what we were doing. It sounded like pure shit. Our onstage monitors weren't near powerful enough and nobody could hear what the other was playing. Fortunately Jeremy was right on point, nailing it together and keeping it from falling to pieces. It didn't help that steady drizzle of rain started to fall. We were just up against the elements.
We rallied with another set on August 16th, Elvis Presley's birthday. We added a few covers of the King in tribute. We had also added the Sex Pistols song "Satellite". I also wanted to try to write some original material but nobody else was too keen on that. Everyone had full-time gigs they were focused on. This wasn't gonna be a vehicle for extra-curricular exploration. However we did start thinking that our take on some of these songs was unique enough to warrant recording a few. We had totally revamped the ANTiSEEN song "Warhero" as well as an old Mad Brother Ward song called "Need It Bad". We also decided to do a version of a song Clayton had recorded with the Australian band Rupture called "If I Had A Thousand Dollars (I'd Be A Millionaire). Truthfully, we could've easily recorded everything we had been playing but finally whittled it down.
We recorded late that fall at the home studio of Justin Williams, who had played with Jeremy in the Talk. Justin had some old analogue recording gear and had us set up in different areas in the house. It was interesting to see drums set up in the living room and my rig in the kitchen but we got a really good ambient sound. I was able to lay down my parts in one take and felt pretty swell about it. I also remember watching Mike rip the closing lead on "Warhero" and we all cheered. It was an amazing moment that we were lucky to capture on tape. The record came out a few months later and it still remains a proud moment for me.
We played our final show in Raleigh around this time. It was a terrible set. We made every amateur mistake imaginable and stumbled thru the gig like we had never played together before. Honestly, it might be the worst show I ever played. To be fair, I think we all were in different places and heading different directions. Whatever the reason, it was pretty clear the project had run it course. We only met one last time for a photo shoot for the local free paper. We had been awarded "Best New Band", which was ironic in that not only were we all longtime veterans of Charlotte music, but the band was already finished.
The Mongrels was something that I remember with fondness, an adventure that I never would thought I'd get to participate in. Having recorded and performed with guys that I looked up to and respected was really humbling and gratifying. We made a really great record that I'm super proud of. I could've easily walked away from that project and felt justified. No regrets. It's now a part of Charlotte music lore. Perhaps someday when the planets align and we have nothing better to do, it might happen again.
But lightning rarely strikes twice.
As I write this we are readying a set for some shows in the coming weeks. March 17 will see us back in Spartanburg with the Independents, and April 7 we finally return to Wilmington, NC for Gray Matterz fanzine's 2nd Anniversary Party at Reggies 42nd St. We are also busy working on new recording projects that are coming together slowly but surely. So as always, keep your ears out for our rumbling thunder and we will see you all SOON.