Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Second verse, same as the first...

Perhaps it is somewhat ironic that although joining ANTiSEEN as a guitarist, I never really considered myself a guitarist. Of course, I don’t think Joe Young did either. To him it was a point of great pride that with his limited skill and ability he still managed to tour the world and make dozens of records – which remains a mere dream to the so-called  “talented” and “skilled” musicians that have ridiculed ANTiSEEN with contempt and envy.

Although barely above a rudimentary level, Joe’s style clearly packed a devastating punch. Studying it now I realize how deceptively simple his dynamics were. He relied heavily on sustained notes rather than jackhammering away with down strokes a ’la Johnny Ramone. Coupled with his trademark fuzz tone he created a massive wall of noise and wisely allowed the rhythm section to develop phrasing and hooks. In some ways it reminds me more of the Who than the Ramones. But therein lays one of the great things about ANTiSEEN; their varied stylistic influence and approach. Musically they are far cleverer than many seem to recognize or acknowledge. It proves my belief that sometimes ineptitude can yield a fresher, more exciting result.

It also makes the music easily accessible. I probably would never have bothered trying to learn anything on guitar if not for the music of ANTiSEEN. After learning how to position my fingers correctly to form a barre chord I suddenly realized I could play along with their records – and very often did. While some of my friends progressed far past me, I found myself content to blast away giant fuzzed out chords, searching less for the lost notes than the lost noise… just like Joe Young.

As Mad Brother Ward I served as lead vocalist and front man, however my band prior to that I played guitar. My bandmates would often give me flack about sounding “too much like ANTiSEEN”. At the time I resented it, thinking I sounded nothing like them but looking back I see it was probably true. The influence of Joe Young wasn’t how he played, rather how he sounded: dirty and loud.

I distinctly remember seeing them play a short-lived club in Charlotte called the New Millennium. Joe played thru a Hiwatt amp, a combo with a single 12” speaker. It was the gnarliest, nastiest and loudest shit I ever heard.  It still stands in my memory of one of their most memorable sets, largely due to just how awesomely chaotic and menacing he sounded that night. It also directly influenced my decision to purchase a Hiwatt amp of my own when I was told I would be joining the band.

Another favorite memory of mine is the time I tried turning on some of my high school friends to ANTiSEEN. They just couldn’t wrap their closed minds around it. To them rock & roll music was all high gloss, spit and polish slick production and neo-classical virtuosity, mythic maestros traversing the globe in private jets, limousines and tricked-out tour buses. To their ears this was some sort of alien cave man noise, void of anything they could relate to. One friend sourly asked; “is the guitar supposed to sound like that?”…

That only made me love it more.

Later I realized what a pivotal moment that was for me. I suddenly had become more musically aware, better equipped and readily able to distinguish the exceptional from the mediocre. I had fortunately discovered that “talent” and “skill” sometimes are adversarial to getting the job done right.

I still can’t ever get it quite dirty enough. Tracking down Joe’s signature tone while still allowing some sonic space for my own stamp has proved difficult. This makes me appreciate what Joe contributed all the more. He made what he did look and sound easy, but I can assure you – it is not easy. Any change I dare make has got to be subtle in a realm that allows no subtleties. So I seriously doubt anyone will notice. In fact, as with the aforementioned ex-bandmates, some may dismiss what I do as “sounding just like Joe”…


But to me that’s gonna be a compliment.


Monday, July 21, 2014

And in this corner...

Greetings, salutations, welcome and all that other good shit.

I’ve decided to try to keep this blog as an online journal to document my time in the band ANTiSEEN. I figure most of whoever reads this is already familiar with the band (and if not go look ‘em up – here’s the Wikipedia page although it’s (typically) full of errors: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiseen). However probably not too many are familiar with who I am, and how I landed in this spot taking over the guitar duties from the late, great Joe Young.  So as means of introduction…

I first heard of ANTiSEEN around 1986. All I remember was the unusual name in the music listings of the local paper. I didn’t know what their music was like but sorta figured it to be a hard rock band. Later as I got somewhat familiarized with local music it became very apparent they held prominent status with several independently released records available. It still took another year or two before I finally got handed a copy of their seminal ‘EP Royalty’ 7”. I still remember to this day listening to it. It was late at night alone in my bedroom at my parents’ house. I placed the tiny slab of vinyl on my turntable and slipped the needle into the groove totally unprepared for what was about to happen to my life. The opening screeching feedback of the song ‘NC Royalty’ knocked me outta my socks. The guitar was like nothing I’d ever heard; all white-noise fuzzed out chords grinding along with no leads. The vocals were hoarse and growly, but had a soulful quality. The lyrics - what little I could actually understand anyway – were clever, sharp and funny. It was punk rock. Not punk rock as it had been parceled out via the media, but gutsy snide rock & roll that seemed to exist in its own context. I could not reconcile this band to anything I ever knew before. I played that record a couple of times thru, trying to imagine who these characters were that had created it.

And loved it.

Seeing them a couple of months later would be another matter entirely. It was at the infamous Milestone Club in Charlotte, a firetrap dive of a venue that still miraculously stands today. They took the stage, four blue-collar ruffians that looked more like construction workers than rock & rollers. Keep in mind that this was the era of hairspray and spandex, cowboy boots, scarves and bandannas. Even the lo-rent local wannabes played the game accordingly, often dressed in the cheesiest accoutrements they could assemble. Not ANTISEEN. It was t-shirts, jeans, sneakers and work boots. These guys already radiated intimidation before playing a note. And when the note hit…

The guitarist launched into the first song and the place erupted. The kids all seemed to pile on top of one another, pumping their fists in the air and chanting along with every chorus. The singer would continually bash the microphone into his face, either channeling inner demons or exorcising them. I didn’t know or care which. He then vaulted himself off the tiny stage completely unconcerned with whether or not anyone caught him, or if he landed on someone or on the floor. At one point he did land in the floor, right at my feet. I almost helped him back up and thought wiser – I was afraid he would punch me.

It was a life altering moment. Nothing would be the same for me after that night. I quickly realized the sedate middle-class suburban life I was raised in - all my friends, my music, even my family - was over.

Pretty soon I began to see ANTiSEEN every chance I could. I was at every Charlotte show, and pretty soon figuring out ways to follow them around the region, up to the mountains and out to the beach. Any and every opportunity to see them was taken full advantage of. Meanwhile I discovered the guitarist worked at a local independent record shop. His name was Joe Young, and he held court to half dozen other kids like myself that frequented the shop. Joe was very affable and enjoyed regaling us with stories from the shows he played. Occasionally the singer, Jeff Clayton would stop by but I was always too scared to talk to him.

Over time the band recognized my interest as being, shall we say, fanatical. Slowly I got to become friendly with all of them, even the scary singer. It turned out we had a lot of common interests, and it wasn’t long before they invited me to ride along with them, helping load gear. I never felt comfortable calling myself a “roadie”. In truth I was more just tagging along and hanging out. For the next five years I was at virtually every show they played in the southeast.

Meanwhile I started to dabble in music on my own. After my first attempt with a band imploded I quickly assembled what was to be a one-off project. Jeff had jokingly called me ‘Mad Brother Ward’, because he said I was “always bitching”. So I adopted it as my stage name. My friend Tom Nalley played guitar and came up with calling our project ‘Street Trash’ after watching the cult film of the same title. Jeff’s brother, Greg, played drums and declared the name should be ‘Screaming Street Trash’. And so ‘Mad Brother Ward & the Screaming Street Trash’ was born.

What was to have been a one –off project turned into two years of chaotic fun.  As Mad Brother Ward I could channel a lot of the contempt and disdain I held for the local music snobs, elitists and cliques into short, violent sets that often wound up with us being banned from whatever club we played. We recorded two 7”ep’s that surprisingly garnered a lot of critical praise. We had no real aspirations, no dreams of “making it” or even touring. It was just to play as intensely and harshly as we could. However the reputation we established quickly made bookings difficult. When the last club that tolerated our antics finally had enough and told us we were no longer welcome, we knew it was basically over. Eventually everyone splintered off to pursue other interests.

It really began a difficult and confusing time in my life. My arrogance and ego was unchecked and my personal life was a mess. I’m ashamed to admit that I caused a lot of trouble and problems on all fronts, not the least of which was damaging my friendship with Jeff Clayton and ANTiSEEN. After a lot of miscommunication and some deliberate shit-stirring from others, we simply stopped talking. Foolishly, I stubbornly dug into my own hole and proceeded to spend the next few years trying to pretend I didn’t want, need or care about the music and friendships I had discovered and made – the only things that ever made me feel like a sane, complete person.

And it kinda wrecked me.

There is a lot more to the story here, but it’s all personal stuff that doesn’t need hashed out in print. Suffice it to say eventually the dust settled and the air cleared and slowly I began to rebuild my friendship with the band. I contributed to the book ‘Destructo Maximus’ which chronicled the bands history, co-compiled a ‘Best Of’ release and wrote the liner notes for that and the ‘Blood Of Freaks’ re-issue, and participated in ‘Jeff Clayton & the Mongrels’, a side-project that released a 7”ep and played a handful of shows. I also began travelling with them again, selling merch and loading equipment - but still didn’t like calling myself a “roadie”.

Also during this time I began playing music of my own again with a guy named Joe Dead. Joe was from Houston and had a pretty cool pedigree having played with Flipper’s Will Shatter in a band called ‘Any Three Initials’. He had also played with the infamous Nikki Sikki and briefly Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys. We called our band the Dividers. Unlike the Screaming Street Trash, the Dividers were more cohesive musically and our shows less chaotic. However we still had no real aspirations and unfortunately never recorded.

By 2010 I was nearly 40 and ready to slow down again, this time on my own volition. In August I played my last Mad Brother Ward show. In October I formally stopped working for ANTiSEEN, although I still would occasionally travel with them just for fun.

I felt really lucky to have been a part of it all. Looking back I realized that ANTiSEEN was my conduit into a world I might never have known existed. It was only thru them I was able to meet infamous underground cult heroes such as GG Allin, Jeff Dahl, the Dwarves and Hank III. It was my good fortune to have also met some lesser known yet equally great people like Alan ‘God Damn’ King, Phil ‘Whiskey Rebel’ Irwin, and the mighty Cocknoose. Sadly we’ve lost a few along the way, including GG Allin, Devin ‘Commander PP’ Ward, and ‘Fat’ Howard Saunders, aka ‘The Cosmic Commander of Wrestling’.

And this past spring we lost Joe Young.

Although Jeff Clayton has been my surrogate big brother, Joe probably was most responsible for ushering me into this world of outcasts, weirdos and freaks just like me. It was Joe who graciously and patiently accepted me as a na├»ve teenager, introduced me to ideas and concepts I had not known, showed me that that music was not exclusive sanctuary for the exalted talents of others. It was Joe; whose blaring guitar snarl hooked me way, way back that fateful night I first played ‘NC Royalty’ alone in my bedroom.

And I miss him immensely.