Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Story of Mad Brother Ward (Part Three)

- CONTINUED FROM PART TWO - 

It was only after the demise of the Screaming Street Trash that it ever occurred to me there was any sort of following for the records. We didn't include a mailing address in the records but somehow people still managed to write me occasionally. I also learned of kids in the outlying counties that were fans, which was weird because we sorta openly courted contempt and hatred in our brief existence. There was a young band down in Clover, South Carolina that I heard about that covered my song "Hated". I got in touch with them and they were excited to have me come down and jam. I wound up getting onstage with them a couple of times. 

My friend Brad was in a band that I wound up recording some of my songs with one afternoon on a 4 track recorder. Really basic. It was done all on the fly, just goofing around for fun, but it turned out great. I briefly considered trying to release it, even going so far as contacting Malcolm Tent, but it never happened. Two of those songs were recently resurrected as new ANTiSEEN songs. It goes to show what can be accomplished, even at an extended length of time. It isn't necessarily what you produce in the short term, it's what can be produced over time as a whole. Persistence. It's a good lesson to have learned.

In 2001 a friend of mine named Ryan was promoting some shows around town. After a band he had booked cancelled out I suggested that he and I could quickly put something together. He agreed and I recruited a guy named Jose to play bass while Ryan got a guy named Chris to play drums. We got the OK from Tremont Music Hall. I wasn't even certain that adding the name Mad Brother Ward to the bill would have any effect, but Ryan put me in the headlining spot. We drew about 90 people on the night of the show. It was a very loose set but a lot of fun and gave me confidence to do more. 

I booked another show about six weeks later at a little bar that ordinarily didn't host bands. Ryan bowed out due to his own full time gig in another band. So I once again called Brad into action. With limited time until the show we tossed together a set of only six songs, all new material. It was a very sharp set that I think surprised people. The brevity of it only worked to our advantage. It was over before anyone knew what had hit them. Always leave them wanting more. 

For a short time I served duty as bassist for the Self Made Monsters, and it was a blast. After ANTiSEEN, the Monsters remain my favorite band to ever come from North Carolina. They're one of those rare bands that evolve and mature without losing the core attitude or style that makes them unique. Although together over twenty years, they've never gotten the recognition or respect they deserve. My tenure with them remains a highlight of my musical endeavors.

I also partnered with Brad once again starting a band called DRAT. He and I recorded another 4trk thing just for fun but it wound up on a compilation CD called 'Bomb Threat'. The song, called "All The Kids Are Doing It", is probably the best thing he and I ever wrote together. Around that time somebody was putting together a themed Tribute night at Tremont, where a bunch of local bands all did Misfits songs. Melanie, the manager of the club, mentioned all the drama that surrounded the positioning of bands on the bill; nobody wanted to be first. I volunteered DRAT and we knocked out a strong set that pretty much blew the other acts away. Afterwards they decided to continue, but I bowed out owing allegiance to Self Made Monsters. 

Around this time I met a guy named Joe Dead. Joe had recently moved to Charlotte and was looking for a band to get into. The weird thing was that I had actually heard of Joe. He had been in a band in Texas called Humungus, which was fronted by Nicki Sicki from Verbal Abuse. They had made a record with Cheetah Chrome, which was how I had heard of them. I think he was surprised that I knew who he was. I also discovered he was in Will Shatter's last band, Any Three Initials (aka A3I). We met up and tossed some ideas around, agreeing we should definitely do something. 

There was moment where I had to make a decision about doing my own thing or playing with the Self Made Monsters. I loved that band. I loved playing with them. However I also knew I couldn't serve two masters; one would eventually fall to the demands of the other. Deciding that my own trip was the journey best taken, I reluctantly served my notice to the Monsters. In hindsight, I think this was a mistake. Resurrecting Mad Brother Ward would prove to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated.

Putting together a new band was a bit daunting. Joe suggested we continue to use the Mad Brother Ward name.This wasn't going to be a revival of the Screaming Street Trash, though. I knew this needed to be its own deal, rooted in what the old band had done while establishing its own identity. Through a little trial and error we finally formalized a line-up and were gigging out. We called it Mad Brother Ward & the Dividers. Musically the Dividers weren't anything like the Screaming Street Trash. It had a whole complete different energy and vibe. The guys that played in the Dividers were much more accomplished musicians. We were better equipped and more professional than the local punk bands of the time. We printed our own t-shirts which allowed us to undercut other bands prices. And we could see our influence. Bands upgraded their equipment and lowered their merch costs in effort to compete. 

I found that I could still get under peoples skin pretty easily, and without the violence that marked so many of the Screaming Street Trash sets. Kids were a lot more sensitive than the decade before. It was only too easy; all I had to do is deliver a barbed comment dropped in the middle of our set and watch kids erupt like angry ants on an upturned mound. But there was a method to my madness. I recognized that the relative success most local bands enjoyed was predicated on a social level - meaning that the music was secondary to to the idea of the event itself. Music merely served as a disposable vehicle to make the "scene". I wasn't shy on calling people out on it. And we built our audience in spite of it. They may not have liked me personally, but they respected the band and our music. We had a decent little run. Where I made my biggest mistake was in not ever recording the Dividers. If we had released something maybe we would've gained a little more traction. Who knows? 

In 2008 I participated in Jeff Clayton and the Mongrels. ANTiSEEN had some downtime and Jeff wanted to keep busy. What resulted was an "all-star" assembly of locally renowned musicians including local legend Mike Hendrix. Mike fronted a band called the Belmont Playboys, sort of harder edged rockabilly band. Back in the proverbial day, Mike had been a member of a legendary North Carolina punk band called No Rock Stars. So just the pairing of Jeff and Mike was a pretty big deal. Somehow I fell into the mix as a second guitarist, even though I really couldn't play. I drilled out my power chords and figured out where I could fit in behind Mike. We made recorded a 7" and I was stoked to have re-recorded an old Mad Brother Ward on it. 

Also in 2008 I made effort to reunite the Screaming Street Trash for the ANTiSEEN 25th Anniversary Pre Show Party. I had contacted Tom Nalley, who now lived in Arizona and he said he could fly out. Greg Clayton agreed to participate as well. I couldn't find Chris Wilson so I decided to use the Dividers bassist, Pyro Dave. Things went wrong straight away. Tom of course never got a plane ticket and Greg had a family emergency. Jeff Clayton suggested I just go ahead and do a set with the Dividers, but I felt we weren't in practice at the time, plus that wasn't what was advertised. So I cancelled it. I felt pretty rotten about that, and still do. 

One afternoon I was surprised by a knock at my door. It was Jon Bowman and Jeff Clayton. They had a big box they gave me. I opened it and was shocked to find it full of CD's of the Mad Brother Ward records. They had remastered the recordings and got Zodiac Records to release it. It's one of the most humbling gifts I ever received. 

I had always planned to quit by the age of 40. I was spending more time travelling with ANTiSEEN working as their merch man and roadie than focusing on my own band.  In 2010 I played the last Mad Brother Ward shows. We did a big show at the Milestone at the start of the year with the Flat Tires and decided to repeat the bill at Tremont late that summer. I distinctly remember being in the middle of the third song and realizing I was done. I shortened the set and disregarded the opportunity for an encore. I walked off stage and never looked back. 

I realize now I was never a good band leader. I do better in collaborative situations, such as what I had with Brad or what I did in Self Made Monsters and what am now currently doing. And as for the current situation, it wasn't anything I had planned or aspired for. It really came barreling in outta left field. Suddenly having the opportunity to travel the world and make records has been pretty rewarding, even if the circumstance under which the opportunity was afforded wasn't the best. I often joke about being a "middle aged novice", but I've at least had a little previous experience to draw from. 

Now the objective is to shoulder the load and take it a little further on down the line. As I wrote this Phil Irwin from Rancid Vat passed away. Saddened as we all were, I can at least temper the feeling with some gratefulness at ever having known him at all. And that gratefulness extends to all the colorful and unique characters that have populated my life. Their names read like comic heroes (or maybe villains), pro wrestlers and wild west outlaws - Whiskey Rebel, Commander PP, GG Allin, Bruce Roehrs, The Cosmic Commander of Wrestling, Mighty Joe Young - all now passed, all leaving a large mark on my life and outlook. Someday, long away in the distant future, some kid in some podunk town is gonna stumble across these names. And somehow, someway from far beyond the grave these names are gonna still change lives. 

And this is what gives me hope for the future.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Story of Mad Brother Ward (Part Two)



- CONTINUED FROM PART ONE -


Almost immediately after our first show were offered the opportunity to play at a newly opened club called Heretic's. The guys that ran the place had heard the story of our set and unlike the Milestone, who had banned us for our antics, they actually wanted us to come and get crazy. We took the show but unlike our first effort we were pretty sedate. After that things kinda ground to a halt as Tom and I found ourselves without a rhythm section again.
 
I wanted to fill the downtime by working on new songs, but working with Tom proved difficult. He had wrote a song I thought might be the best direction for us to take. We called it "Dead End Sunday". It reminded me of the Lazy Cowgirls, a favorite band of mine. But Tom kinda stalled out after that. He would toss ideas around without remembering much of it. I started using a tape recorder just to keep the random ideas together. I don't think we used any of it, though. I went off alone and wrote "Need It Bad", "Shitkicker" and "Bloodlust Deathwish". Tom finally scored big when he brought in the music to what became "Kill The Scene".

Around this time ANTiSEEN hooked up with Jeff Skipski and his Baloney Shrapnel record label. Skipski expressed interest in releasing a second MBW record. Initially the thought process was for it to be a double 7". Tom and I really didn't have enough material for a double EP, but at this point I figured we could pull it off. We once again talked Greg Clayton to sit in for the recording. We also recruited a guy named Chris Wilson to play bass. Chris would ultimately prove to be the partner I needed.



We only got to practice once - the day before we recorded. The songs all came together pretty well. Greg had been playing with a band called Skullbuckle who had an untitled song that I loved. I told Greg if we should do it and he agreed. I didn't know the words so I improvised, a lot of it  nonsensical. We titled it "In Trouble". We also worked up a cover of the Plasmatic's song "Butcher Baby" which was a bit tricky. The toughest one was "Shitkicker". Tom never played that song the same way twice, and it made things difficult for the bass and drums to follow. Somehow we got it together and entered the studio the next day.


We had Jeff Clayton go with us again to produce. We were still sorta puzzling it together. At one point while working something out, Jeff got a phone call and excused himself. He was gone for awhile. When he returned he called us all into the control room. "GG died last night", he said. We all just sort of looked at each other. GG had been in town just the week before. I remember I had been driving up Central Avenue when a car rolled up next to mine, the occupant on the passenger side hanging halfway out the car window screaming "Mad Brother Ward, you cocksucker motherfucker!!" It was GG. I didn't know he was even in town. He was going to join ANTiSEEN onstage for their encore at a show they did that week, but at some point he simply disappeared and we never saw him again. I still really don't know what Jeff was feeling at the moment. He and GG had been pretty close.


Somewhat disheartened, we settled into the business of recording the songs. It went fairly smooth, but the session was longer than the previous one. I went outside and rewrote some of the words for "Bloodlust Deathwish" to make it about GG, sort of an impromptu tribute. Greg and Chris were squarely on point and finished their parts relatively quickly. Tom however had difficulty with everything. At one point something went wrong with his amp. He fiddled with it and got it working again. I think he was just stalling. He never had his solos worked out, and it quickly became apparent he was simply wasting everybody's time. Jeff and I finally decided  we could come back and punch it in another time. Again I did a few wrestling-style rants and got a quick mix down on cassette for reference. We would return to do a final mix a couple of weeks later.


At this point I started trying to figure out what the title of this record was going to be. In fact it was becoming more clear that I was making pretty much all the decisions. Tom just couldn't be bothered. I tried to keep him engaged but he seemed to have lost interest. I finally called him out on it. He insisted everything was fine, he just didn't have any real strong opinions on anything. Eventually I started to partner more with Chris on the decision making. Chris was a lot more proactive. It also didn't hurt that he took a job tending bar at Heretic's. The guys that ran then place welcomed whatever we wanted to do. We now had a "home" club, which was a good thing because we weren't welcome anywhere else.


I came upon the title "Am I Cool Or What?" from a children's album with the comic strip character Garfield. Something about the absurdity of it appealed to me. I was also trying to not come off quite so serious. Word was getting back to me that people felt I was trying to act like I was tough. I never felt that way. I didn't think about toughness or macho bullshit; I just was trying to put over some aggro and attitude. I wasn't trying to make friends. I thought the title "Am I Cool Or What" reflected that obnoxiousness without pretense. And the fact I got it from a children's album made it all the better. Generally this sort of irony isn't something I appreciate, but I felt it was sorta called for.


We went back to the studio a few weeks later to do the final mix. I also re-did some vocals. I changed some of the lyrics again to a few things, and re-did some things that I didn't feel were up to snuff. Then Tom finally laid down his lead parts. This took more time than the actual mixing. It was obvious that he didn't bother practicing anything in the time between the first session and this one. We walked thru the solo of "Bloodlust Deathwish" piece by piece and he still never really had it. He couldn't figure out the timing of where to drop it in, so it runs longer than it should. He didn't know where to come out, so it sorta ends abruptly. It was a mess. We tried to put together a solo for "Dead End Sunday" but it wasn't happening, either. Jeff Murdock, the recording engineer, finally did sort of a model solo for Tom to copy, but it was pointless.
 
"Am I Cool or What?" was supposed to be a double EP. I'm not too sure who squelched the plan, but I think Jeff Skipski decided it was going to be too expensive. It didn't matter because we really didn't have enough material for it anyhow. I decided to scrub "Dead End Sunday" entirely and also considered dropping "Butcher Baby" but got talked out of it. I've never been particularly enamored with our take on that song, but I guess it really doesn't matter now.


When the test press came in, Jeff called me. "We got a bit of a problem", he said. "The record has surface noise. This is because we're trying to squeeze too much on each side, so the grooves are smaller". When I heard it I could tell what he meant. It sounded thin and tinny. However it also added to the overall rawness, which could be a positive. I decided to let it go as it was. This wasn't Pink Floyd.


Around this time we were offered a show opening for a band called the Skatenigs. I didn't know anything about this band but their promo material boasted they were "the anarchy the Sex Pistols could only sing about" and how crazy their show supposedly was and all other sorts of self-aggrandizement. When they showed up it was in a giant tour bus pulling an equally massive equipment trailer. Apparently their shtick was sort like low-rent GWAR - lots of props like rubber dildos and stupid shit like that. They crammed the stage with massive amounts of gear. I told the Skatenigs road manager they might want to move some of their stuff. He told me just to be careful. I said that wasn't the kind of band we are. They grudgingly moved a few things.


After soundcheck we went and sat in the closet that served as the dressing room. It was also filled with more of the Skatenigs junk. Charles Inman, who had played bass for our first two shows, came in to say hello. While we were talking a guy came in and told us we had to leave, this was for the Skatenigs only. Charles looked at the guy and asked if he was in the band. The guy says he's with the band. Charles asked the question again, and again got the same response. Charles suddenly exploded. "I didn't ask you if you were with the band", he screamed, "I asked are you in the band!" Charles then proceeded to make they guy grab every bit of the Skatenigs stuff and kick him out of the dressing room. "This is OUR club!! This room is MINE!! STAY OUT". The guy scrambled to grab stuff and scurried away, terrified. We all laughed like hell.


Our set was a blur. I've since had people tell me details I have no memory of. Supposedly a pinball machine was damaged and chairs were thrown. I don't remember any of that. I do remember there was a guy challenging me to a fight, claiming I had spit on him. "Come on", he shouted, "Spit on me again, I dare you!!"


I have never wanted to spit on someone so badly in my whole life, before or since.


Unfortunately I was dehydrated and cotton mouthed. No spit was forthcoming. I simply stood there screaming "WHOOO!" over and over. People were throwing stuff at us, and we were throwing stuff back. It was like a small scale riot. The soundguy was with the Skatenigs and cut the PA, but we refused to leave the stage. Finally the club owner, Kevin, was telling me to "just play!" We were onstage 30 minutes and only got about four songs in.


After we got off stage we were told we had to leave, immediately. The Skatenigs were on their bus refusing to come off until I and everyone with me had left the premises. Apparently at some point Charles stood outside their bus shooting his gun into the air. Even after we had left, they refused to play. This was the band that bragged about being "real anarchy". I found out later that of the roughly 150 people that paid, only 4 asked for their money back.


The second record came out and, as with the first, was met with great reviews. Sure enough, the noisy pressing only added to the rawness. People never realized it wasn't supposed to sound that way. Flipside magazine said it had a "fuck-you quality" and MRR raved on it as well. Personally I didn't feel it was quite as good as the first record, but it was cool so many people liked it. Still, things didn't really happen. We had striven for a reputation of destruction and mayhem without really thinking about the ramifications. And believe me, nobody was beating a path to my door.


We played a show around Halloween and then another on New Years Eve, closing 1993. The New Years Eve show was recorded professionally. The show was a two day thing put together by the club for a proposed compilation CD to document the local music scene. It never materialized. I don't know who has the master recording for that. Our set was pretty awful to the tell truth. I noticed when I listened to the tape that Tom played half the set without using his distortion pedal. He just didn't have a clue what he was doing.
 
In early early 1994 we played a show which proved to be Tom's last with the band. He called shortly after to tell me he was quitting. He claimed he felt like his ideas weren't being accepted, but the truth is he never brought anything to the table. He felt I was always on his case and that it wasn't worth the aggravation. He would rather we part ways as friends and not let it fester. And that was that. He would start a band called the Irritations; a name I had given him. And truth be told, they were a killer little band. Tom suddenly was writing a ton of kick ass songs. I've since suspected he had been holding out on me. His drummer copyrighted Tom's songs under his own name without giving Tom credit. But for whatever it's worth - Tom wrote ALL of it. It didn't matter - by that point he was getting into hard drugs and burned out accordingly. It was sad to watch happen.


We tried out several people. I briefly considered taking on a guy named Shan Evans as Tom's replacement. We had talked about bringing him in on second guitar before Tom left, and he actually sat in on a few practices. He eventually confessed stage fright and we took a pass. Surprisingly my friend Brad, the same guy I had started playing music with and who I formed my first ever band with, offered to sit in. It was great to put all the bad blood behind us and finally move forward. He wasn't exactly joining the band as much as helping out, and he was pretty up front about that. I didn't care, I was thrilled to have him come in and help.
 
By summer we were practicing a little more regularly with Greg was sitting in more frequently. Having Brad in the band made a huge difference. He didn't play as well as Tom, but was better in the respect that he had more drive. Things were coming together better than before. One night after practice we decided to hit an "open mic night" at a local metal club. This place was populated with a weird cross section of lingering leftover hair-metal types and the nascent crop of kids suckling heavily on the MTV success of arena-grunge a'la Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and the like. The rule for the open-mic thing was that in the interest of diversity and improvisation, no established acts could play.


But we weren't ever interested in rules, were we? 
 
We stuck out like sore thumbs. Chris had a neon orange liberty-spiked mohawk. Brad had somehow daubed his face with Ace Frehley make-up. It was clear before we ever stepped foot onstage that we were interlopers and outsiders. We waited for the host band to finish their jam and then Greg made sure we were first in line. He basically kicked everyone off the stage, even literally taking drums away from some girl who thought she was gonna be first. We took our positions and people started to gather closer to the stage, wondering what the hell was going on. There were probably a good fifty or sixty people there, random bodies with nothing better to do on a weeknight in Charlotte.


We blasted into the first song and everyone literally stepped back two steps. It was the first time I really felt the force of the band itself, firing away as it should. Whereas before we were always sorta compensating our lack of tightness with craziness, this line-up could hold its own. We fired off three songs before anyone really knew what hit them, and stormed directly off the stage and out the front door. On the way out I heard a barmaid loudly say in a thick southern accent: "Now I liked that, that was GOOD!"


It was good, but it wasn't to last.


We were booked to open another ANTiSEEN show along with Tom's new band; sort of head to head combat. Unfortunately I wound up with the flu and passed out at work the afternoon of our show. I wound up in the ER that night instead. A lot of naysayers said I had "chickened out" but I didn't feel the need to prove myself at that point. Still, I really feel had we played that night we would've turned a corner. I think we were at the absolute strongest point the band had ever been. I regret that line-up was never recorded.


We played one more show and everyone went their separate ways. The Screaming Street Trash was no more. What was never meant to be more than a single record and show had grew and developed into a pretty memorable band. And if it happened under the name "Mad Brother Ward", it certainly wasn't done alone. Chris Wilson really hit the ground running when he joined, and is probably the real reason we ever had a second year at all. Greg Clayton and Brad Mullins' selfless help cannot go thankless. Those guys gave the band a proper viking funeral. And it probably sounds like I'm pretty harsh on Tom Nalley but if it weren't for him, it likely wouldn't have happened at all. And of course all the help, guidance and assistance from Jeff Clayton, Malcolm Tent, Jeff Skipski, and all the various members that served time in this most... difficult band.


- TO BE CONTINUED -

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Story of Mad Brother Ward (Part One)

I thought since things were relatively slow at the moment, I'd write a little about my musical past. I honestly don't spend much time reminiscing or wistfully pining for the "good old days", because frankly the "good old days" weren't so good. In fact mostly it was filled with useless trivial drama, petty jealousies and poor decisions. Somehow amid the stupidity and chaos I managed to make a couple of decent little punk rock records and play a handful of memorable shows.


So this is the story of Mad Brother Ward.


It all started initially within the context of the first band I was ever in. I met a guy named Brad while working in a pizza joint. After our shift we would usually sit around in the parking lot and talk about starting a band. At some point we stopped talking and started doing. And it all fell together pretty quickly. Initially I wound up on drums - not for any reason other than having access to a kit. Brad learned guitar quick and almost immediately starting writing songs. We hooked up with a couple of other guys and before we new it, we had the rag-tag combo out onstage playing our first show (opening for ANTiSEEN, of course).


Our band was called Failure. On the day of our first show I learned there was already another more established band with the same name. I didn't care. I figured the world was big enough for at least two Failures. Although Brad was the principal songwriter, I was sort of the defacto "leader" meaning only that I booked the shows and organized band practices. But everything was scattershot and off the cuff, nothing was too intently planned. We basically lived up to our name.
 
Very rapidly the line-up shifted and I wound up on guitar.  We knew we couldn't outplay other bands, but we could easily outshow them. And we really pushed as hard as we knew how to. We played a set in an old warehouse converted into an indoor skatepark and I smashed my guitar to bits. We were banned at the Milestone Club in Charlotte after our show ended with the building surrounded by firetrucks and police cars. We opened a show for the Holy Rollers, a band on Dischord Records. We lied about having our equipment stolen and asked to borrow theirs - and they actually let us. After the show they told us we had blew them off the stage. And on their own equipment. I could tell we were quickly becoming a popular local act, and really pushed to keep going for the jugular, even to our own detriment.


Around this same time their was a movement to bring an "alternative" radio station to Charlotte. It was led by something called the Alternative Radio Coalition, or ARC for short. Every month ARC would hold a meeting, usually at a local club. A keynote speaker would be brought in to make an address and then a band would play. I can't remember the details but I think what happened was the scheduled band cancelled at the last minute and the organizers were left scrambling to find a replacement. Apparently it was Fred Mills, then a local music writer, who thought it would be funny to get us to play. We eagerly accepted the offer.


By chance, Malcolm Tent was in town. He ran the now legendary record store Trash American Style up in Danbury, Connecticut. He also released records on his own record label, TPOS. I can't remember why he was in town, but Jeff Clayton and Joe Young brought him out to this ARC thing, raving that he had to see us. I still remember sitting outside anxiously waiting to play. This was sort of a big deal for us - an opportunity to upset a lot of the local scene taste-makers and demigods. There was a good crowd, around a hundred fifty or so people. They gathered up around the stage to check out what they thought would be another interesting "alternative" band reflecting their sensibilities and aspirations. Instead they got ...us.


When we launched into our set the volume of everything seemed to roar right back at us.The room was all concrete and steel and everything reverberated and echoed in the worst ways. Not that we played worth a shit anyway. That wasn't the point. As we rolled into the second song a mass exodus started to occur - the room quickly cleared leaving only a handful of people - mostly our friends. We climaxed our set with waves of feedback while Brad smashed his microphone with a brick. I spear-chucked my guitar against the back wall. I
After the set Malcolm came up and told me he HAD to put out a record for us. I was elated. Everything had fallen together exactly as I had hoped - we were the young upstarts challenging the convention of cool and establishing our name on our own terms. I knew what we were doing was the correct thing to do. But there was a push/pull duality to everything - I was very much into being combative and confrontational, while the others were more into just trying to get our shit together and playing as well as we could. A large part of my motivation was born from a deep insecurity coupled with an intense dislike of most everything. It was creating friction within the group. Truthfully we lacked identity and direction.  I didn't know it, but by the time we recorded a plan was already underway to give me the boot.


Our recording session went fairly smooth, but the resulting tape sounded terrible. My parts were almost completely mixed out and the remaining guitar was an embarrassment. It could've ( and should've) been a lot better but I had no say. The day after we finished I was told I was out of the band.


I gotta stop and qualify some things here. Hindsight being 20/20 I totally understand why the others were fed up with me. I'm still friends with these guys today, but at the time there were a lot of bad feelings tied up in this. Being kicked out of the band I started only fed my anxiety and hatred. I felt betrayed, rejected, confused and angry as I could possibly be. I didn't know where to go from this point, but I knew whatever I did, it had to be better than where I had left off.


Jeff called me up and was sorta trying to mediate the situation a bit. He had been a friend and mentor to all of us and now the loyalties were divided. "Man, I told them they need to reconsider", he said. "I told them I thought what they did was wrong". I asked what he thought I should do and was surprised at his response. "You should make your own record." I hadn't even considered that. I hadn't even really considered starting another band. But he began to explain the logic - find some people, write some songs, record them and see if Malcolm Tent might still be interested.


So I got busy.
 
I spent several days considering my options. I wasn't really thinking of anything beyond a one-off recording project, so I wasn't interested in having a "proper" band. However in those days, bands that actually recorded weren't very common, and any sort of boastful clams were met with doubt and suspicion. I contacted one of the past members of Failure and he was indifferent. He was more into the grunge thing that had exploded the previous summer (and he would later die of a very grungy heroin overdose, but that's another story). I also contacted the drummer, who I knew was also ready to quit the band. He wasn't anymore interested in helping me than he was helping them either, but seemed to adopt a "wait and see" position.


The girl I was dating at the time was friends with a guy named Tom Nalley. Tom was a quirky kid with a face hidden behind long locks of badly dyed hair. He talked in a deep-voiced mumble and seemed stoned all the time, but wasn't. In fact when he was stoned, it sorta balanced him out and he would become clear speaking and lucid. Sorta hardwired backwards. But he could play guitar, and play pretty good. We'd already been hanging out a bit. I knew he had a deep crush on my girlfriend so the situation was awkward for him -  and he was already an awkward personality to begin with. But he was on board with the plan, so we agreed to meet and see what we could figure out.


We sat down one weekend and wrote two songs straight away; "Hated' and 'Take Ya Down". I also wrote a song called "Give It Up" and an instrumental thing that never had words put to it. The next weekend we met up at ANTiSEEN's practice place and Greg Clayton volunteered to sit in on the drums. We drilled out the songs, focusing on "Hated" and "Take Ya Down" as a possible single. Feeling satisfied, the very next weekend we went into the studio to record them.


We went to the same place I had recorded with Failure the month before. Jeff Clayton was along to help produce the session. The owner, a guy named Jeff Murdock, had the place set up for recording his own band. He suggested we just use the drums that were there as they were already set up to record. Tom would double his parts and add bass, as we had no bassist. While there I decided to add another song, one from my old band called "Goin' Crazy" (I figured since I wrote the words I had equal rights to it) and I played guitar on that since Tom didn't know it. It turned out great. Then I then took a half-assed stab at the instrumental I had written with Greg sorta improvising along the way.


Once we had the basic tracks down I got ready to do the vocal parts. While setting the mic levels I started doing old-school pro wrestling rants just as a lark. Clayton sorta pricked up his ears and came out of the control room. "Hey, give some of that a little more thought, we should record it." So after laying down my vocals we recorded several of these rants and then quickly mixed the thing together. The entire session took about four hours.


Jeff sent a copy of the tape to Malcolm to see if he would be interested in it. I was optimistic; it was better recorded, better preformed and at least as well written as the Failure tape. In my own estimation, my recording was just all-out meaner. It had a biting ferocity that the Failure recording lacked. Failure leaned heavily in a pop-punk direction, and honestly had some killer songs, but their recording lacked the out-and-out balls it really needed. I had also recorded fewer tracks so mine sorta held a tighter focus.


Macolm Tent agreed. He wanted to issue the Mad Brother Ward single. I was pretty elated, if not surprised. At first he was going to release both the Failure and MBW records simultaneously. At this point I had kept the recording a secret. I didn't want anyone knowing what I was up to, especially if Malcolm had opted against releasing my record. Now that it was happening, I concocted a plan where I'd have him bookend the box of Failure records with copies of my own. This would be how they would learn that I had carried on. Petty? Yeah, but my attitude was fuck 'em.


Sometimes fate intercedes and conspires a direction and course you originally had never intended nor foreseen. In the story of Mad Brother Ward, this would prove true repeatedly and constantly. The first was when Malcolm decided to pass on the Failure project and focus solely on the MBW record. This was the validation and victory I had strived for. And I had achieved it on merit, without resorting to any underhanded or backstabbing tactics. It was just simply a better recording. The second was when I was offered an opening spot on an upcoming ANTiSEEN bill. To put this record over I would have to play some shows, so it was basically time to put up or shut up.


The first thing I considered was the futility of having a band with identifiable members on equal footing. I knew whatever I did would be focused on one person - me. I hadn't ever considered nor aspired to be a frontman before, but now I was going to have to for this to work. I wasn't interested in participating in a democracy anymore. From here on out it would be a what I would later describe as a benevolent dictatorship - I allowed voting power, but I had veto power. My primary co-conspirator would be Tom. He was my writing partner and right hand man, so I sorta figured the "band", as it were, to be just us two. Anyone else would be welcome to come and go as they pleased.


I had acquired the nickname "Mad Brother Ward" from Jeff. We were joking about what our names would be if we were professional wrestlers. He said my name would be Mad Brother Ward because I was "always bitching about something". I immediately adopted this as my stage name. I now needed a name for the band. Tom and tossed about ideas - Mad Brother Ward and the... ?? Then one night we were watching the old exploitation movie 'Street Trash' and Tom remarked that the name "Street Trash" sounded like one of those horrible L.A. metal bands. We then looked at each other and knew that was it. Mad Brother Ward and the Street Trash. It was Greg Clayton who said, no, it should be the Screaming Street Trash.


And that was it.


By this point we had recruited the rhythm section away from Failure. Their defection to my band only exacerbated the ill feelings between my friend Brad and I. This was to my eternal regret. Brad had been my best friend for a long time; the guy who I started playing music with, the guy I had the best working chemistry with. This probably still holds true; some of the best things I've ever written were done with Brad. However he had chosen to trust the word and ideas of the other guitar player in Failure. Their popularity quickly waned as they struggled along, eventually changing their name once or twice before ultimately breaking up.
 
The first show was on January 9th, 1993 at the infamous Milestone Club in Charlotte. The bill was ANTiSEEN, Cocknoose and us. The room was oversold and tightly packed. Although the winter weather was freezing outside, it was like a sauna inside. Our guys were working up courage and fortitude via bottles of Cisco. We finally hit stage. It was chaotic and shambolic, nobody was much in time with the other and the whole thing was a mess. At some point I noticed a guy I had a beef with and went after him. We exchanged blows and the crowd scattered. We got pulled apart and somehow the set continued. I spotted him and again we squared off before we were separated once more. I think the whole set lasted about fifteen minutes. It's a hazy memory at best, and probably best lost to time.
 
The rest of the show only got crazier and more violent as the night wore on. I would argue it was one of the more crazy shows that this town has ever witnessed. I mean, think about that line-up. Add the Cosmic Commander of Wrestling and some skinheads to the mix and the situation was a powder keg among flying sparks. suffice it to say it was a long night, and would be a long story to write. Maybe another time.
 
The Mad Brother Ward 7" was released 10 days later. Tom titled it "Hated By All". Seemed fitting. We expected and anticipated the inevitable bad reviews from MRR and Flipside. We just knew they were gonna hate it. But then to our surprise, both publications heaped it with praise. It wound up on both Tim Yohannon and Jeff Bale's Top Ten lists (as well as several others) and was described as "the best all-out punk attack record of the year". Several other small fanzines picked up on the scent and came to the same conclusion. It wasn't super-stardom, but it wasn't bad.


All the drama, hard work and aggravation had paid off. I had accomplished everything I had set out to do - make a record, play a crazy show and piss some people off. My work was finished. Or so I had thought. Almost straight away we were asked when we would we be doing another record, when the next show was going to be and what was next?


It wasn't gonna be easy...


(TO BE CONTINUED)




A few notes on whats happenin'... For the last several years it has been somewhat customary to play a "small" show at the infamous Thirsty Beaver Saloon in Charlotte. The owners, brothers Brian and Mark Wilson, are both longtime A-SEEN fans going way waaay back. However as of late the tiny bar has been in the cross-hairs of developers. The tiny abode is now surrounded by a towering condo building, dwarfing the bar and swallowing all the available parking. The bar has survived and thrived however, their plight gaining international news notice by everything from the TV tabloid show Inside Edition to the New York Times.


Meanwhile the Wilson Brothers have also opened a Tex-Mex style restaurant with the same quaint charm of the Beaver bar, only with a little more elbow room and a lot more parking. It's called the Tipsy Burrow Cantina. It was only logical we would play there this go 'round. So on December 16 we celebrated the holidays Destructo style! Setting up on one end of the restaurant we plowed thru a set of old and new; a few things off the new album we haven't played live before, a few tunes we haven't played in ages and capped with a cover of the Kinks "Father Christmas". We were also treated to the spectacle of Jeff Clayton in full Santa Claus garb, with a big sack of goodies which he occasionally pilfered thru and tossed to the crowd. It was a great night and we appreciate everyone who made it out.


It looks like we are gonna spend most of this winter wood-shedding and writing. We are currently focused on some projects that I don't wanna mention just yet. It's some cool stuff, though. After that, a new album? Those ideas are already percolating as well. Anything is possible. Just coz we get quiet don't mean we ain't here.


Until next time...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017 Tour Journal (Part Two of Two)...

Previously I wrote of our pre-tour launch and the opening days of our tour with ZEKE and Against The Grain. If you haven't yet read Part One, I'd advise you to do so now. And if you have read it... read it again!

And so the adventure continues...


SAN ANTONIO - Oct 19

One of the perks touring Texas is a stop at a Whataburger.  The Whataburger chain doesn't extend too far beyond the Texas borders, so a pilgrimage is always in order. I mean, let's be realistic here; it isn't the best burger on the planet but it stomps the dogshit outta McDonalds. Back home in North Carolina there is a small unrelated chain of burger joints also called Whataburger. The Carolinian version is more like something served in a bad elementary school cafeteria - some sort of shriveled rubbery slab of dried patty served on a stale bun garnished with dirty wilted lettuce and and unripened heel slice of tomato... I mean, we have friends who actually enjoy that farce so we always tease each other over it. Anyway, although this visit was somewhat of a letdown, the Texas Whataburger remains superior in every respect. 

We are staying the night with Phil 'Whiskey Rebel' Irwin of the infamous and legendary Rancid Vat. He's quite a character and I always enjoy listening to him pontificate on any given subject. He welcomes us into his home and we have just enough time to settle before rounding up and heading out to the club. Its a really nice fall evening, I watch the sunset thru the van window and feel anticipation. San Antonio is one of my favorite places to play.

The club is called The Limelight. We played here before on our tour with the Meatmen. At some point between then and now the club has changed ownership. It seems a little nicer than the last time we were here, but essentially it is unchanged. After loading in I go and sit in the van. Sometimes you need a little downtime away from everyone else. I think of how we were parked in basically the very same spot the last time we were here. I watch people walk by, heading to the area bars and restaurants oblivious and disinterested in underground rock and roll. It's moments like these where I feel like some sort of fugitive. I have only one goal to accomplish and then move on to another day in another city for another show. 9 to 5 ain't no way to make a living.

We take stage and drive into the set. I like playing here. We always have a great response in San Antonio. The crowd here isn't as jaded as Houston or Austin can sometimes be. It's still funny to see Latino kids sporting rebel flags. Everyone seems disaffected by usual punk rock dogma and cliches. These people rock out, and really that's all that any of this is ultimately about. We get an encore tonight. I love this city.

After the show we head back over to Phil's. He sets up a round of shots and we drink a toast to the many friends we've lost. We sit up for awhile on the back porch sipping beer and discussing the finer points of alcohol consumption and job loathing. The irony is not lost that we -  tattooed ne'er-do-well ruffians - have all been cited as exemplary workers at our respective jobs. The subjects change and morph into a variety of topics and opinions. Sitting out on Phil's back porch sipping beer in the cool fall air is one of the highlights of this tour.


DALLAS - Oct 20

Before leaving San Antonio we head over to restaurant managed by Phil's son, Elvis. Elvis has set us up for lunch so we make good work of his hospitality. We then scurry up the highway to Dallas, arriving in rush hour traffic. As we slink slowly thru the city I set up motel arrangements. We are able to score rooms about a mile away from the place we are playing. I even score an upgrade - king beds!

Hey, I'll take whatever perks I can get.

The club is called Gas Monkey. It's actually a restaurant. I guess it's tied into some TV show, but I really don't know anything about it. There is a large patio area with a giant stage set up. Kyle from ZEKE jokes its the nicest Applebee's he's ever played. To be fair, the entire set up is nicer than most clubs we play. The staff here are all pretty cool and helpful. The downside is that we discover another "scene" thing in effect. A lot of people refuse to come here and the bands that play here are labeled "sell-outs". Whatever.

Although this is a high-end establishment, nothing here is free. Everything is merely discounted. Some of the others order food but I opt to save my money. The backstage greenroom is actually a private VIP lounge on the second floor overlooking the patio below. It has its own bar staffed by a young lady who sits quietly and patiently for drink orders that never come.

Our set feels weird on this big stage. Playing outside all the sound evaporates above you, so if people are cheering (or booing), you really can't tell. Plus it's pretty windy, so who knows what that's doing to the sound. Earlier in the day I managed to pull a muscle in my abdomen. It's a dull pain but uncomfortable. I have a hard time working up any energy but I think we still played well. There are the usual handful of locals who know us right up front. They are into it. A couple a ladies come and stand in front of me and take a bunch of pictures. After the set they introduce themselves (I believe their names were Sheila and Carrie - I still wanna see the pics!). They tell me that I "rocked", so I really shouldn't be too self critical. Ultimately I feel like we still connected in the end.

I watch ZEKE from behind the stage. They drill away in their usual ultra-high speed manner. They toss a few mid-tempo dirges in there, too. At one point Marky and Kyle do this cool call-and-response thing with their guitars, knocking off the lead break from Led Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker". They volley the lick back and forth before mangling the whole thing back into their own image. It's a cool spot.

After the show some of the Against The Grain guys introduce me to Kelley from the band Mothership. Somehow thru the course of conversation we discover we all know Erik Sugg from the Raleigh-based band Demon Eye. Erik was the guy who bailed me out when I had my infamous guitar malfunctions in Raleigh several years ago. It's interesting how interlaced and inter-connected the backroads and alternate avenues of music can be. I'm sure a lot of folks use these opportunities to "network", but I just enjoy the curious coincidences. Even thousands of miles away from home, you realize it's a small world.

We load out and head down to the motel, stopping at a gas station to load up on some junk food. I also grab some over-priced medicine. Despite my best efforts, I have managed to catch some sort of cold/flu bug. This is gonna make the rest of the tour less than comfortable. Fortunately we are close to the finish line.


AUSTIN - Oct 21

On the way out of Dallas we make a side trip to visit the cemetery where the legendary Von Erich wrestling family are buried. The patriarch, Fritz Von Erich, ran wrestling in Dallas for years. He had six sons; Jack, David, Kevin, Kerry, Mike and Chris. Jack died at age six in freak accident. The rest all followed their father into professional wrestling. For several years their popularity in Dallas rivaled anything in sports or entertainment. The boys were regularly mobbed everywhere they went. Sadly things went awry in 1984 when David died of enteritis while on a Japanese tour. Over the course of the next eight years, Mike, Kerry and Chris would all take their own lives. The business tanked in the wake of seemingly endless tragedy. Fritz died of cancer in the late nineties leaving Kevin the sole remaining Von Erich. It takes a few minutes to locate the graves. They are all modest and not well kept, save for a bouquet of yellow roses placed on David's grave. It's almost as if fate and history have condemned this family. It's less depressing than ominous. Nature abhors a vacuum, ever more so in the unreal world of professional wrestling.

We hit a truckstop with a Denny's for a late breakfast and scoot back down to Austin. Trying to find a room turns into an unpleasant adventure. Apparently there are multiple sporting events occurring around Austin. I don't keep up with this sort of thing so it's all just a giant hassle as far as I'm concerned. We make calls and stop at multiple places, all have no vacancies. We finally decide to wait and chance it down the highway after the show.

The club is called The Lost Well. it is located on the east side of Austin, far away from the usual venues located along 6th Street, Congress and Red River. It seems that all the clubs are closing as Austin is slowly giving up it's status as a music capital in favor of more pedestrian Millennial expectations. The whimsical unofficial city motto "Keep Austin Weird" no longer applies, unless you somehow find coffee shops, piano bars or DJ's with laptops belching robotic beeps and whistles "weird". I don't. I don't even find it interesting. Oh well, nothing lasts forever.

We load in to the small dive bar. It's a dark cramped room with a tiny stage. The stage is curiously punctuated with a support pole sticking up thru it. Naturally it would be right on the side I have to set up on. I make a mental note to be wary of it. It's too small to backline so we have to store our gear in an awkward spot until time for our set. There is a small trailer out front selling tacos and such. The boys all grub on it and rank it high marks, but I have no appetite. My head is full of crud and I feel pretty lousy.
 
Marky has agreed to jam "Death Train" with us. Since we've been opening with that, we decide to move it to the end and add "Burning Money" for the opener. We haven't played it in a long time, maybe a year. We also "Funk U" to the set - it's been at least two years since we last played that. Apparently some of the guys in Against The Grain are fans of it, so we wanna surprise them. Barry and I go over the songs and we feel confident we can pull them off. It's cool we can do stuff like this. Ideally I'd prefer we practice them, but sometimes the best stuff happens when under pressure.

The set is a good one. Once the adrenaline kicks in and the sweat starts to flow, my head clears and I can tap whatever reserves of energy I have. Somehow, its always there. The pole doesn't affect me too badly. The crowd is pretty large and seems into it. We knock off the unrehearsed songs really well. "Funk U" feels a little wonky, but we pull it off. I doubt anyone could even tell. When Marky joins us I can feel the crowd pop. I let the opening notes dissolve into feedback and then we hit - hard. It sounds mammoth with the second guitar. We blitz the song pretty furiously and its a great close to the set.

After loading out we hit the highway back north. We finally score rooms in Temple, about an hour up the road. Physically I feel pretty rough, but my spirits are high. We've been playing some great sets this tour.


OKLAHOMA CITY - Oct 22

After shaving the extra hour off our trip last night, today's jaunt was a fairly brief three hour ride. Riding up thru north Texas we past the mammoth Texas Motor Speedway and then, just past the Oklahoma state line, the Winstar Resorts Casino. It's a weird sight sprouting up in the middle of nowhere here on the plains; a maze of towering hotels and casinos designed to resemble world landmarks such as Big Ben and the Empire State Building. Oddball sights like these pepper the otherwise boring monotony of long highway rides.
 
The club is called The Blue Note. The front end is essentially a pool hall while the backside houses a stage. The stage is rimmed with blue rope lighting that has the appearance of neon tubes. The room is choked with a thick haze of cigarette smoke, which doesn't bode well for my congestion. ZEKE are already here and loaded in. The promoter is named Matt and really does a great job making us feel welcome. We load in our gear and he starts to prepare us a meal. There are two big grills outside and he loads them down with steak. There is also a big walk-in cooler filled with beverages and we are told to simply help ourselves. I opt for an energy drink. Usually these things make me feel like shit, but I figure sipping one slowly might be beneficial. Matt soon has everything prepared and we feast out on some really great fajitas.

Against The Grain have played here several times before and are already familiar with the staff and have a local following. I only watch a few minutes of their set, but they kill it. They invite Jeff up to join on their cover of "I Stole Your Love". After their set it takes a few minutes to change over the gear. It's a deceptively small stage so things are cramped. I try to clear the sickness from my head and chest and set up my rig. We do a line check but I can't really tell much difference. I trust my own stage volume.

The set is strong, probably the best one of the tour. We open with "Burning Money" again. I like opening with this song, its easy to play and really sets the pace. I lean into each song and violently bash out the power chords. I allow the guitar to drone and the amp to feedback, moan and hiss. The monitors aren't really working like they should and Jeff is getting frustrated. The soundguy come to the lip of the stage and makes a quick fix. It's not much of an improvement, but it's still better than nothing. We drive thru the set and it's really really strong. Marky gets up with us at the end again for "Death Train" and we tear this city a new asshole. I walk off the stage knowing we have gotten the job done.

After the show I get to talk briefly with Lloyd Nickell, merch peddler for the Dwarves. Also a guy named Corey Johnson, who surprises me with a deep knowledge of my old MBW stuff.  People sorta mingle and there seems to be an air of procrastination - we all make our reluctant good-byes. Nobody really wants this to end. This package has been a great one. It would be cool to piece it back together for another run elsewhere down the road. We gather up for group pictures. Tonight will all go our separate ways; Against The Grain will return home to Michigan, we will return to North Carolina. Both bands have nearly twenty hours of drive time awaiting us. Zeke will continue their tour heading due west towards their hometown of Seattle. But for the moment we embrace our waning time together. It's been a helluva run.


YPSILANTI - Oct 28

After the tour we were home for a few days. We had scheduled this final weekend of October before the tour was finalized. Unfortunately we weren't able to keep one of the dates, but the other was a festival show built around us. We didn't wanna break our commitment to it, although it put us in the awkward position of travelling ten hours for a single show. This is where professionalism meets common courtesy. So we piled into the van once more and headed north to Michigan and the Smoke Rituals Festival.

We leave on Friday night to break up the trip somewhat. We cruise quietly into the night before stopping in West Virginia just shy of the Ohio border. The next morning we hit a Shoney's breakfast bar and trek the rest of the way. Still sick from whatever I caught on tour, I try to sleep as much as possible. Honestly, it's a pretty easy ride.
 
The club is called the Maidstone Theatre. It's a smallish cinder block building painted bloodred with it's name painted in giant black lettering along the side. I have no idea how or why it gets called a "theater" (or as they spell it, "theatre") but it's an interesting place. The giant stage nearly swallows the room. As with the bar we played in Austin, there is a pole that juts up thru the middle of the stage, again on my side. There's already a band onstage setting up. We sorta load in around them. The entire affair seems smaller than I anticipated, but I'm ready for anything.

The promotor, Rick, does a great job organizing everything. He orders us food and makes sure we have everything we need. There's a guy here with a table set up selling homemade effects pedals. I talk to him a bit and he's really cool. I wish I could try some of his stuff out, but this really isn't a good environment for that sort of thing. I get his card. His company is called Daddy-Daughter Pedalworks. I think he lets his daughter do some of the artwork on the pedals. It's some cool stuff.

Our friends Drew and Lorie Toth show up. They have brought along the infamous videographer "Punk" Rick Scullion with them. He's traveled down from Canada to videotape our set. We spend time catching up a bit. Our pal Lance Runngren and his wife Melissa are here, too. Lance's band Busby Death Chair are also on the bill tonight. Tesco Vee shows up. I'm pleasantly surprised. Tonight is turning out great. 

We finally take the stage and knock into our set. I can't really hear too well. The monitor mix is pretty weak. I also have to contend with the pole, which is situated right in my way. Other than that, it's a great set. The time spent on the road really has us primed. Even with the lingering crud in my head, I feel pretty good and my energy is strong. We blitz thru one song after another without stopping. We get called back for an encore and then it's over.

After the show we all hang out a bit. We take some group pics with Tesco. Punk Rick and I have a shot for the road. I really don't drink too much anymore, but I figured it was... medicinal.  Before I know it we are back on the highway, headed home...

This run of shows was a good one. Personally I felt we were tightly focused and preforming at high level. I am 46 years old - hardly a spring chicken but far from the seasoned experience of the others. There are times that are admittedly difficult. There are long stretches of abject boredom, cramped conditions, stiff muscles and sore backs. I got sick and felt like hell for half the tour (and still carry a lingering hack as I write this). You miss your friends and loved ones, even if only for a relatively brief separation. But the time we spend onstage, the time we spend interacting with fans (both longtime and brand new), the time spent with old friends and the experiences and sights along the way are what make these trips memorable.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the dedication and hard work of Todd Goss and Brandon Robinson, who truly keep the whole thing together and running (mostly) smooth. These are not small men, and they curl themselves up in the van with the rest of us riding the endless miles without comment or complaint. They help load, unload, set-up, tear-down, sell swag, tape, tote, glue and mark. Sometimes they bounce and sometimes they usher. Sometimes they even literally carry the water. I can't say how much I appreciate them and everything they do. 


With a season of shows behind us we are on focused on writing again. We've got a few things working, so we'll see where it goes. Personally speaking, I'm eager to put together a large enough batch of songs for a new album. We also have a few other recording ideas we are working on that I don't wanna reveal yet. It gonna be killer, though. The upcoming season may seem quiet but believe me -  we are going to be working hard behind the scenes. We have lots of cool stuff planned as we barrel down on the 35th anniversary next year...

So hold on to yer britches!!

 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017 Tour Journal... (Part One of Two)

Three years ago I embarked on my first tour as a full fledged member of ANTiSEEN. We hooked up with the legendary MEATMEN for a fast paced, no holds-barred run of punk rock barnstorming that taught me lot about performing. Several months ago we caught word we would be doing a similar run with ZEKE. I knew that our band was even better and more prepared than before. I found myself eagerly counting down the days until we hit the highway. Before we hooked up with ZEKE we scheduled a show in our hometown of Charlotte, just to prime the engines, so to speak. After the tour we still had an outstanding date in Michigan. I'll include both dates in this, the unvarnished and unexpurgated 2017 Tour Journal...


CHARLOTTE - Oct 13

We are at the Milestone again. There's a sort of comfort to play here. We've been on this stage many times. This show is sort of a launch party for the tour. A lot of old friends have turned up. Jason Griscom is here as well as our #1 Superfan Matthew Vain. Local country musician Jason Moss is here and I also spy my old pal Andy Cauble. Slayer Dug from KIFF and his lady have trekked all the way down from Raleigh. It's always great to see old friends and allies.

The opening bands are the Beatdowns, which has former A-SEEN drummer Phil Keller, and a band I'm not too familiar with, Jocephus & the George Jonestown Massacre. Jocephus is the alias of Joey Killingsworth, a Memphis based musician who has ties to a seemingly endless array of talent on many levels. His recent Black Oak Arkansas tribute album boasts an impressive list of guests including Jello Biafra, Greg Ginn, and Nik Turner among many others. He followed suit with a Johnny Cash tribute that features King Buzzo, Warren Ellis and J.D. Pinkus. In addition his own band proved to be a barnstorming powerhouse of their own. I catch the last third of their set, which climaxed with a cover of the MC5 anthem 'Kick Out The Jams'.

Our own set was fairly loose. Some nights it seems no matter how well prepared you are, things just don't go right. From the start of the set my pacing seemed off kilter. I immediately knock my guitar out of tune and I get too wrapped up in trying to set it straight without disrupting the continuous flow of the set. Absentmindedly I start 'Lo-Fi' in the wrong key. We play thru it and somehow pull it off. When the song finishes we all look at each other and can't help but laugh. From that point whatever tension I had breaks and the set falls together as it should. We knock off a great version of 'Walking Dead' that features a brief part of 'The Devil Meets The Longhaired Weirdo' in the middle. We also close out with a ripping version of 'Haunted House' in keeping with the Halloween seasonal spirit. It proves to be one of the most fun shows I've done in a long while.


NASHVILLE - Oct 15

Tonight is the first night of our tour. We are opening for ZEKE on this run. ZEKE and ANTiSEEN toured together about 7 or 8 years ago right after I stopped working merch. I almost went along but decided it against it, which I now regret. I've played this tour up in my head as being a pretty big deal. Another band called Against The Grain are along in support. We have a new album to promote and the band has really been firing on all cylinders, so getting out as part of a package tour is important.

We arrive in late afternoon rain early enough to find a motel and check in. It's considerably cooler here. Fortunately I planned ahead and brought along a jacket. However I stashed it in the back of the van and somehow it managed to get wet. I stick it in a coin-op dryer. It does the trick; by the time we leave out for the club I have a very warm and dry jacket.

The club is called the Exit/In. I'm stoked to be playing here. It's a legendary venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in music. Everyone from George Jones to the Police to the Ramones have played this club at one time or another. Seriously, the list is endless. We walk in to discover the other bands already onstage setting up. We get instructions where to load in and get down to the business at hand. The introductions will have to wait.

It takes a minute to figure out the clubs system, but we get it sorted out. We wont soundcheck on this tour, but we never soundcheck anyway. We do what is called a "line-check", which is simply establishing the sound levels of the PA right before you play. Sometimes this doesn't work out all too well, but in our experience, neither do proper soundchecks. So it's always a crap shoot any which way you turn it.

The backstage greenrooms are pretty decent. I sit on a couch next to Blind Marky from ZEKE while he restrings a guitar. It's my first time meeting him and seems very intense. On first impression all the ZEKE guys strike me as sorta heavy. They are all very focused and don't suffer foolishness lightly. This is not to say they are rude or anything. Just... heavy.

The opening band, Against The Grain are all young guys. I haven't had much exposure to them so I'm somewhat skeptical. From what I gather they are a fairly straight forward, four-on-the-floor hard rock & roll band. In my experience, bands like this take a dry ironic and convoluted approach. I gauge them cautiously. They do all come off as really friendly and eager. They clearly have their shit together.

I'm still pretty tired from the long trip in and apprehensive at being sandwiched between two road tested bands. I walk out into the main floor right around the time doors open. Straight away I run into Geoff Howlett and his girlfriend, Danyelle. Geoff booked us into Nashville the last time we we here. He also fed us maybe the best road meal we've had since I joined the band. We talk a bit and he warns me that the turnout might be bad. Apparently there's some sort of "scene" thing about crossing town and this venue, blah blah blah. Great. He says he wants to book us again in the late winter or early spring next year. Hopefully we can make that happen.

Tom Hughes shows up with his wife, Kristi. They have driven up from Chattanooga. Tom has had some health problems recently, so I'm glad he's made it out. Josh Mayfield also made the trek up. Both Tom and Josh are alumni of Hellstomper. I'm pretty flattered they would drive all this way to come to the show.

Somehow I miss Against The Grain entirely. I had made a point to check them out, too. I'm too lost in my own mental preparation. When we take the stage it flies by fast. We have worked up two different setlists for the tour. We are much more together than the show in Charlotte, but I don't feel anywhere near as relaxed. That's OK though, because it's important to play well. The only minor flub occurs in "Fuck All Y'all", where I momentarily fall out of sync with the others. The entire episode lasts maybe three seconds, but it feels like three hours. Although they are rarely noticed by anyone, I get very upset with myself when I make mistakes, no matter how minor.

ZEKE play like a jackhammer drilling on the frontal cortex. They are the fastest band in the world. Super tight. Marky literally barks between songs, virtually unintelligible calls to action and the band hits with precision accuracy. They waste no time to so much as breath. As intense as they are personally, they are only more so onstage. They knock over raging covers of KISS' "Shout It Out Loud" and Ted Nugent's "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" to boot.

After the show I get summoned up by the parking lot. Two guys are waiting with stuff to sign. I'm surprised to discover one of them scored a copy of the test press of the new album. Their names are Jason and Shane and are really cool. we talk for long time before they cut out. I forget it's a Sunday night. People have to be at work in the morning. It's been a good start to the tour.


BIRMINGHAM - Oct 16

While still in Nashville with some extra time to kill, we decided to drive out to Hendersonville and visit the Johnny Cash grave site. He and June Carter are side by side. Mother Maybelle and Ezra along with Anita Carter rest close by. The legendary songwriter and manager Merle Kilgore is also buried here as is country guitarist Joe Maphis, who famously played a Mosrite double neck guitar. After paying our respects we drive back down thru Nashville and pass the old Ryman Auditorium. We then wind around and slink our way up Broadway. Even at an early hour on a Monday it is jam packed with throngs of people. We don't bother trying to stop. It's all too crazy.

On our way to Birmingham we stop at a truckstop/travel plaza. The place is giant, filled with a dizzying array of snacks, tacky home decor, toys, stickers, clothing, hardware and truck accessories. We stumble about like zombies staring blankly at the displays of stuff. At some point I glance outside and notice a few of the others standing outside the van. I walk outside to see whats up. Every band sooner or later enjoys some sort of Spinal Tap moment while touring. The varying ways and degrees things can go wrong are immense. Ours occurs in this instance. We've manage to lock ourselves out of the van. The blame gets shuffled about and I go back inside with Clayton. We chuckle at the ludicrousness of the situation.

Eventually a locksmith arrives and we are back on the road. We arrive in Birmingham just after dark. We get a little turned around on the GPS but finally locate the club. Even with the afternoon lock-out hiccup and the GPS problem we still arrive before the other bands. The parking lot is tiny and we are forced to park along the side by a fence.

The club is called The Nick. It is a legendary dive, much like the Milestone in Charlotte. A staple of the southern independent/underground touring circuit, virtually everyone has played here. The room is papered in ancient 8x10 promo glossies and old flyers. The floor has a damp stickiness and the air is choked with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes and piss.There seems to be a sliding scale of charm when it comes to dive bars. The downbeat, dark and dirty bars that sorta run and hum in their own unique way can offer it's own charm. And then there are other joints where the charm has worn into a crusty dimness. This is the Nick.

We load in and wait for the sound guy to arrive. Barry orders a pizza and we chow down. The other bands roll in and soon we are sitting out front getting acquainted. It's cold here, but the fresh air outside is preferable to the dank stench inside. The Against The Grain guys strike me as very young, but I guess they are all pushing 30. They are really great folks and it becomes apparent they take what they do quite seriously. I pick their brains a bit and happily discover they have a lot of great influences and inspirations. I also get to chat a bit with Kurt, the bassist in ZEKE. He's a scary looking dude, but I quickly discover he's super down to earth and good-natured.

Old friends have driven in from far away. The inimitable Mondo Braswell arrives from Macon, Georgia. Later our old pal Fred Laney strolls up. He has driven all the way from Greenville, South Carolina. We all sit around killing time. There is a local opener tacked onto tonight's bill. They are called Skeptik. They do a Stooges cover, which is really cool. Against the Grain plow thru their set. They do a song with a cool dual-lead thing in it. Shades of Thin Lizzy, perhaps?

Our set is pretty good. It takes me a few songs to find my zone. We play a different set than the previous night and I try to keep on point. The PA is clearly quite old, but the stage mix is pretty good. We get a good response from the crowd and are called back out for an encore. I feel good about the performance. I think it should only get better as the tour moves on.

After the show we pack up and head down to Mississippi. We have arranged to stay in Hattiesburg with Walt and Heather Wheat. They are always accommodating, going above and beyond. We arrive at 5 AM. Out here in the middle of nowhere the stars seem to multiply. I see a shooting star and decide its a good omen for the trip. Walt is just waking up. Heather has thoughtfully left some food out for us. After a quick shower I sit in the kitchen and chat with Walt for bit. It's good to catch up with him. He's an interesting guy; very level headed about things with a depth of knowledge that covers a wide spectrum of subjects. Every time we stay there I'm given my own room. I can't bring myself to dirty up their nice linens, so I always roll out my sleeping bag and crash out on the floor. I go to my room and there is a note on the bed: "Russ - Sleep. In. The. BED. Please!".  


I still sleep on the floor...


NEW ORLEANS - Oct 17

It's only about two hours from Hatiesburg to New Orleans. This gives us plenty of time to sleep in. I wake up to discover a breakfast casserole and crumb cake on the kitchen counter. Eventually we make our good-byes and pile back into the van. I nap on the way into New Orleans and wake up as we enter town. My impression of this city remains unchanged - probably one of the most depressing places we visit. As we worm our way deeper into the city the disparity and hopelessness becomes more apparent.

We usually play a bar called Siberia, which is a cool place with a kitchen that serves killer food. Apparently there was some sort of shake-up over there and the promoter is now  booking bands at a bar in the French Quarter. Even after all these many trips here, I've never been to the French Quarter. This is a first for me. The streets are tight one-way affairs and people crowd the sidewalks. The sense of claustrophobia is suffocating. I don't understand the appeal.

We have to circle around the block before locating the club. A guy standing out front moves some trash cans and tells us this is where to park - directly in front of the place, as luck would have it. I ask him where to load in and he grins and tells me he doesn't actually work here before disappearing into the night. No matter. We have arrived.

The club is called Santo's. It is a narrow room lined with a bar to one side. The bar is decorated with multi-colored lights and a giant image of Lemmy Kilmister dressed as a Bishop overlooking all. A tiny stage is situated to one end. The stage seems hardly adequate to hold a band. A folk singer on a stool, maybe. It's gonna be a trick to get all our gear on there. Still, its a cool little spot, even if the operative word is little.

The only person staffing the place is a very cute young lady who seems a bit perturbed to be interrupted with our demands. We are given a key to a door that leads upstairs to a sparsely furnished and unfinished room that serves as the backstage. A single overhead bulb is all that lights the room, giving the whole scene an aura of seediness.

When we finally set up to play we somehow manage to cram all our gear onstage and launch into the set. It becomes immediately apparent there isn't room for Jeff, so he simply takes to the floor. This move of practicality actually heightens the excitement of our set. People swarm around him and chant along to the songs. Stinging sweat pours into my eyes making me play harder. Its a good set.

Afterwards I tear down my rig. I feel like I need to move faster. This is not our show and ZEKE are waiting for us to move. I need to figure out a way to more efficiently set up and tear down. I move as quickly as possible but it still takes too long in my opinion. Nobody says anything, and maybe they aren't even concerned. Still it's important to be on top of my shit.


HOUSTON - Oct 18 

We left New Orleans directly after the show and stopped in Baton Rouge for the night. After a Waffle House breakfast we hit the road, crossing the Mississippi River on our way out of town. We trudge onward to Houston. Along the way we pass ZEKE. Their guitarist Kyle is at the wheel, intensely focused on driving. I don't think any of them notice us.

We roll across the Texas border and I can't help but be excited. I've always loved Texas. Soon the Houston skyline looms in the distance in a ghostly haze of smog. I've passed thru here before, but never had the opportunity to stop. Now the city looks very uninviting, but I feel like we are primed. This show is sorta important to me. I'm ready for battle.

The club is called Warehouse Live. And that's pretty much what it is - a warehouse converted into a big club. We are met at the door by a cute young lady who introduces herself as the sound engineer. She helpfully shows us where to load in. There are two rooms here, one with a giant stage and one with a smaller stage. We are in the "small" room. It's still larger than most clubs we play.

There are two rooms along a rear corridor that serve as greenrooms. They are pretty nice, equipped with refrigerators, sofas, private bathrooms and showers. They also have cool murals painted on the walls - one room has a caricature of Willie Nelson, the other, John Lee Hooker. Our pal Jeff Skipski shows up. We are staying at his place tonight.. Jeff put out the second MBW record way back in the 90's. I also meet Bill De Gidio, an original member of the Pagans. Since relocating here from Cleveland he now has a band called the Guillotines. They aren't playing this show, so he just came down to hang. A really cool guy. The guys from ESE have come out as well.

Against The Grain have a pretty strong set, but they've been out for several weeks and are really together. They knock it out of the park every night. Their set is punctuated with a cover of KISS' "I Stole Your Love" which they bludgeon and rework into their own form. It's pretty great and a less obvious choice of a cover. They don't pose and they aren't playing anything for laughs. They mean business. They are always consistent and tight. I envy they have gotten to go out much longer than we can. I feel somewhat guilty having been skeptical of them at the outset. I'm happy to have been proven wrong. They are a really good band, both onstage and off.

We take the stage and are hit with the sudden realization that our sound engineer hasn't mastered the monitor mix. In fact, I think it would be safe to say the monitors aren't on at all. Fortunately we are on point and are able to take cues visually with one another. The crowd is unresponsive. Their is a weird air of elitism here and I find myself getting agitated. It makes me play harder. I don't so much play to the crowd as play at them. We all seem to play a little meaner tonight. There are still some old-school die-hards up front and they are with us every step of the way. We take it to the mat and come up with a victory.

This is clearly ZEKE's audience. Nothing wrong with that, it's their tour. I watch them flat out level the place. It's the best set they've done on this tour in my opinion. It occurs to me that I'm not jealous. I don't feel competitive with these bands at all. I don't sense any competition from them either. It's cool that we are all focused on delivering a great night of rock & roll without pretense or pomp. I honestly can't see how anything could touch this bill.

After the show we ride up to north Houston where Skipski lives. His house is decorated with cool flyers, records and a rad velvet KISS painting. Although both he and his girlfriend have to work in the morning, they bend over backwards making us feel welcome and comfortable. By the time I hunker down for the night, I can't help but feel really grateful. We have a lot of great people in our corner and it's very much appreciated. I never want to take this for granted; the band, the people who help us, the people we encounter or the entire overall experience.

This is a very fortunate band...


(to be continued)