Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tips On Starting a Punk Rock Band

Dead Punk Icon or Pro Bowler?

When I wasn’t pretending to be Sid Vicious by snarling, spiking up my hair, throwing a chain with a lock around my neck, and dancing in front of a mirror with my brother’s blue electric guitar, you might find me on a Saturday morning rolling a signature Earl Anthony bowling ball down a lane at Bowl Aurora. Somehow punk rock didn’t fit into the bowling equation and vice-versa. I could be singing along with Anarchy In The UK and a couple of hours later I’d be dreaming of being my generation’s Mark Roth touring across America on the Pro Bowlers Association circuit. This posed quite a dilemma; did I want to be the next tragic punk icon or a dude who spends his life in a bowling alley wearing a funny wristband with feathered hair parted down the middle ordering pitchers of Coors for my team. Thankfully neither dream panned out.

Should I be Sid or Mark?

Somehow I managed to sucker Jimmy into tagging along with me on my Saturday morning league for a couple of months especially after I told him there was a cute Latina who recently joined my team. We both went ga-ga over her. What I remembered most about Valerie was a shirt she wore with the slogan “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Her shirt should have been a giant red flag not to ask her out. On the bright side, I manned up and did the asking this time unlike the Heather snafu from the pervious year. Valerie was the first girl I asked out on a date and I shouldn’t have been surprised when she laughed and answered with a resounding “no.” I went home that morning and drowned my sorrows in a half-gallon of milk poured over a box of Trix.

Valerie thought Jimmy and I were weird because we mostly talked about our soon-to-be band, more like a fake band we called Amerikan Hate. The only components missing were: instruments, a couple other band members, songs…just minor details as far as we were concerned. As 14 year-olds we thought our name was tough and original. I used my budding artistic skills to craft lettering and a logo complete with the letter A circled (for Anarchy) and a skull placed somewhere on the paper. Endless hours were spent developing our grandiose ideas of how our band was going to do this and that; we had it all figured out. We’d sit in my bedroom and compose song titles and lyrics. During school while my teachers endlessly lectured about stuff I should have been paying attention to, I spent hours redrawing to perfect the band’s name and logo so we could show our friends and peers and say, “See we have a band.” We somehow imagined by handing them lined notebook paper with a band name written in bone letters accompanied by a poorly drawn skull was a step closer to becoming legitimate. As much as we thought we had something tangible, in reality we only had some trite ideas scrawled out on paper.

Leonard Cohen might have had a famous blue raincoat, I had the famous green army jacket. Amerikan Hate c. 1982-83
Jimmy and I eventually figured out the bus route to Wax Trax and often spent our Saturdays going down to Denver, as my mom was not always available to drive us. The walk from where the bus dropped us off was a visual parade of graffiti and crudely made fliers that were hand written combined with sparsely related borrowed images. It was an introduction that art can be made by anyone and exist beyond a museum or gallery. The Xeroxed advertisements pasted on light and telephone poles made a deep impression on me; they were a testament that bands were able to promote themselves outside so-called conventional methods. The art of flier making was an alternate universe, a secret code of communicating with like-mined people.

Seeing that anyone could make a band inspired us.  We related with other angst ridden teens searching for an outlet to scream how fucked-up and confusing the world was. We were beginning to be well versed in the do-it-yourself punk ethic from the likes of zines and records we were accumulating. We originally decided to start our own band after I saw Black Flag but it was mostly talk. Neither of us knew how to play an instrument. I decided on the bass since Sid played bass (barely-I found out years later) and Jimmy would sing as he had little interest in picking up an instrument. We knew that if this were going to become something real, we’d have to move beyond coming up with a pedestrian band name and crappy drawings.  

This could be your band.

Several years later when I worked at Winchell’s Donut House on South Broadway a pair of characters would often stop by late at night. I always saw them digging through the trash to fish out a couple of cups before coming up to the counter to ask for refills. I never called them out on their scheme because I needed the warm bodies in the lobby to deter would-be bad guys who might be scoping out the place to rob the $20 drawer. As an incentive for keeping them around, I threw in a donut or two that were destined for the dumpster once the fresh ones came out. They could have been the  original Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith’s fictional characters Jay and Silent Bob but almost decade ahead of them. They went under the moniker of Prince Wicked and his manager. While the Prince chowed down and drowned the freebies, the manager told me his life’s mission was to make sure that Prince Wicked was the up and coming new thing on the metal scene. The full name of the group was Prince Wicked and The Demon Force. The manager carried a suitcase full of lyrics written by his client and was in search of two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer. It was hard to keep a straight face when he told me this, by then I had already played in a couple of bands, promoted shows, started a record label and so on, their approach seemed a little unorthodox, it was hard not to be sympathetic. Is there a right way to start a band? I respected that they had a vision and spent all night in a donut shop, often until the sun came up, passionately dreaming about becoming rock stars. Every now and then I still do a Google search to see if Prince Wicked materialized.

The inspiration for starting a band was finding out that my classmate Rob was playing guitar with three high school punks. They called themselves Immoral Attitude. I think Rob got into the band because he and the drummer were next-door neighbors and childhood friends. Their towering drummer, Chris and singer Tommy (Splodge) told us they played skate punk like JFA and the Big Boys. Chris and his older brother Rob built a half-pipe in his backyard where everyone hung out and skated. Jimmy and I were both stoked and admired them; we wanted to have our band together, but it felt impossible at that time.

A neighbor around the corner from my house had a garage sale and was selling music equipment. I told Tommy about this since their bassist Buff was looking for an amp. Buff bought the amp and I borrowed $20 from my dad to buy the Sears Silverton bass. Buying the bass was the commitment we needed, the first step of turning an idea into something concrete. Another punk at school CR and I had been friends since elementary and did stuff together like sleepovers, riding BMX bikes and some skateboarding, both of which I was never really got good at. He seemed perfect for the American Hate equation, and with a simple “yes” he would be our drum-less drummer. CR eventually found a drum set and spent many hours annoying his father practicing to the beats of his favorite groups. Then the three of us just sort of stalled as we searched for a guitarist.

No booze, no spikes and don't fuck with the neighbors.
Immoral Attitude scored a big debut show opening for The Necros from Toledo, Ohio and Ill Repute from Oxnard, California at the beginning of my freshman year. They practiced hard at their brand of skate-punk. The show was at the infamous Packinghouse in the midst of Denver’s slaughterhouse district. The trick was finding the club. If you were a newbie, you’d have to camp out in the 7-11 parking lot that was sort of close by and wait for other punks making a beer run to follow them back to the space.

Article from my school's newspaper.
The tragic part of the evening for Immoral Attitude was Rob’s mom wouldn’t let him play the gig because he was Jewish and the date fell on Yom Kippur. I remember walking upstairs and Buff was teaching a fill-in guitarist the songs. The band’s performance was more or less a disaster with the drum set falling over mid-set while the songs were plagued with a lot of missed timings. The audience didn’t seem to mind, there is some sort of punk aesthetic seeing a new group start out, people were pretty forgiving and encouraging as long as you were having fun and didn’t take yourself too seriously. I thought they were cool for getting up there and pulling it off despite the obstacles. After the weekend Immoral Attitude kicked out Rob, which was good news for CR, Jimmy and I.

It didn’t take much coaxing for Rob to join our group and Chris was nice enough to let us practice on Immoral Attitude’s equipment in his basement a couple times at the beginning. One afternoon Chris’s brother, Rob came down to catch a few songs and went back upstairs with Chris shaking his head. It was a testament to how awful we were. After punishing everyone’s ears by working on our handful of songs several times over, Chris came back down and told us we should change our name to Idiots Revenge. Perhaps his proposal was some sort of commentary about how if we ever actually got a song down, it would be like an idiot’s revenge. We took a quick vote and all agreed on our new band’s name. This was only the beginning and over the next couple years of the band’s existence I would be the only remaining original member.       

Special thanks to Ana Medina and Monica Zarazua for editing

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