Payne Relief

How good fortune turned a skinny duo into the Valley's most inventive and engaging heavyweight act

By Pomerenke's estimation, every time he opened his mouth, a bass player would quit. "I didn't play drums all that well, and the bass players we had were so in the pocket. So they were always getting mad at me," he confesses. Crime Dog went through five such thwackers, including one Andres Jacques Barbet, who held the unique distinction of being a former member of Up With People. And still he lasted only two weeks!

At this point, a mysterious punker Deadhead bassist named Chad, who hitched a bus from Oklahoma to Phoenix for no apparent reason, entered Pomerenke and Karnes' life like Mary Poppins. Pomerenke and Karnes credit Chad with changing their perceptions about everything. Even though Chad thought the band members were suburban dorks who listened to too much radio, he began playing with them anyway, taking up living quarters in the band's utility room for the next six months.

"Chad was always telling us how clueless we were," Karnes recounts, "and we'd say, 'What are you talking about? Look at our parents out front. They're buying us pitchers of beer. They love us!' At the time, we didn't even know what the word 'indie' meant--we still don't, actually."

In addition to turning on the guys to artsy independent bands like the Flaming Lips and Barkmarket, Chad was Mr. Showmanship. "He'd wear a dress onstage, smash his bass, stage dive, it was almost Spinal Tap-ish the way the guy gave 200 percent at every performance. He'd literally bleed at every show," remarks Pomerenke with a mixture of disgust and pride. While Pomerenke and Karnes clicked with this new guy, guitarist Eric butted heads frequently with Chad. Eric quit to play funkier material elsewhere, and although the band and Eric remain friends, the split was hard on Karnes, who felt the burden of coming up with material for this new band, dubbed Lush Budget. The name had a lot to do with getting hammered with Chad and watching some Shirley MacLaine movie.

"It came on and I thought it said, 'Lush Budget Presents the Flaming Lips.' Chad really loved the Flaming Lips," Karnes says, "and we figured if that's where they got their name, we should one-up 'em and call ourselves Lush Budget. I wanted it to be Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Trio. But the music at the time didn't have enough wit to bear that label."

They did play one show as the Les Payne Trio, and Pomerenke had his arm broken, which gave the trio a minimal sound. "It's kind of what we're back down to now," marvels Karnes, who says that show was the only Lush Budget show he didn't hate.

"I was just so angry and depressed," he continues. "Chad would always steal the show, he was such a maniac up there I felt like such a loser, having problems with my voice or guitar trying to get sounds. Nothing was working right. So it was such a huge relief when Chad left."

Chad, whose only reason to be in the band was to explode onstage and get all that attention, suddenly wanted a normal suburban life after all. After he moved back to Oklahoma, Pomerenke and Karnes spent a year practicing without a bass player. "We came up with an arrangement for 'We Are the Monster' without words, and a bunch of friends came over to listen to it," Karnes says. "The next day, our friend Jeff Buffano from Reuben's Accomplice called and said, 'I was just thinking about this, and I think you guys should be a two-piece.' I said, 'Okay,' and it just clicked in my head. That was all the motivation I needed."

It was around this time that EMO Camaro, a side project of Les Payne with Jeff and Chris Krojak of Reuben's Accomplice, was formed. "EMO Camaro is the largest influence on Lush Budget Presents because before that, me and Chris were just so hung up on what to do with this band--should we get a bass player, do we want a guitar player. Those two guys came in there, and they were always about having fun, sober energy. And we were just constantly thinking up scenarios for EMO Camaro shows after that."

To date there have only been three EMO Camaro shows. There was a White Trash night at the Mason Jar, where EMO Camaro brought up a rusty old water heater and an assortment of debris onstage. It's also employed a basketball-game theme at Nita's Hideaway, complete with the national anthem at the start of the show, coaches calling time out from the back of the stage and a sickening number of high fives.

"I just felt so free," says Karnes of the anything-goes attitude which has carried him and Pomerenke ever since. "We never say this is too stupid, nobody's gonna get this. If we're amused by it, we're just going to do it and it's going to be fun when we do it, even if there's cricket sounds in the audience. It'll be funnier if they don't get it because it'll show how stupid they are," he joshes.

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