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While discussing their brief but eventful history in the back room of Long Wong's, the group members never broach subjects like major-label conglomeration, marketing strategies, songwriting royalties or any of the other insufferable "music biz" prattle that will inevitably creep into a conversation with most of today's aspiring rock 'n' rollers. But just because they don't engage in any of the usual industry chatter is no reason to take them less seriously. Based solely on their tattooed, menacing appearance, they're a hard bunch to overlook, but appearances aside, the Mob 40's are musical up-and-comers in the truest sense. With a top-selling local release, a dedicated and growing following, a series of high-profile local shows, and an upcoming slot performing at Los Angeles' famed Troubadour Club, the group is quietly earning itself a national reputation.
Originally formed as a three-piece in 1996 by bassist Myke Augustat, a former member of Valley punk combo Since I Was Six, the band has been through a number of personnel shifts. The core lineup which has been together for the last two years features Augustat, Chokebore founder Luke Langham on guitar, and Kris Bindulski on bass--a move that has allowed Augustat to focus on vocals and his role as the group's front man. Recently, the group added former Impossibles member Rob Impossible to replace the departed Brett Sandy behind the drum kit. They also replaced former lead guitarist Pat Gruchala with Mike Crim, who continues to play with local punk outfit Sam the Butcher.
Most observers seeking to explain the group's appeal have compared their sound to that of New York hard-core pioneers Agnostic Front. While there are some superficial similarities to Agnostic Front's punk/metal hybrid and the throaty vocals of Front singer Roger Miret, the Mob 40's tend to shy away from the comparison. "I'm a fan of Agnostic Front, and I've liked them for a long time," Bindulski says. "But honestly, I really don't think we sound that much alike. That's just some people's perception."
If the group is tired of the Agnostic Front connection, its general reluctance to be lumped in with other bands has more to do with the cookie-cutter mentality that accompanies the classifying of "hard-core" acts. "We get a lot of people who aren't into hard-core who like us. But we also have people who listen to hard-core but don't like what we do--so it doesn't really make sense to try and compare it to anything else," Langham says.
While the Valley music scene is best known for producing jangle-pop bands, Phoenix has an equally long history of giving birth to a number of accomplished hard-core groups. Going as far back as the late '70s with a skate-punk collective like Jodie Foster's Army, the Valley, despite occasional droughts, has had an active and healthy musical underground. In recent years, the local punk/hard-core scene has been fraught with seemingly endless difficulties, including the demise of clubs like The Heat and increasingly tough laws aimed at regulating all-ages shows. The Mob 40's have been one of the few groups that haven't suffered from the lack of a permanent venue to showcase their style of music.
As if to underscore their independence from the frequently narrow conventions of the punk scene, the band is scheduled to open a pair of shows at the Mason Jar at the end of the month. While it would seem that the Jar's decidedly un-punk reputation would rule it out as a possible venue, the group feels otherwise.
"The Mason Jar gets a bad rap. When we get up there to play, we don't focus on any of that," Augustat says. "We just get up and play--and it's cool because the bar is in the back and the people just stand there and let the kids that want to get into it come down front."
Their fearless approach to performing has landed them spots opening for established national acts like D.O.A., the Anti-Heroes and the New Bomb Turks, among others. And while the band members are glad that they seem to be part of a bigger movement hailing the return of old-school punk, they note that their fan base is different from that of most of their contemporaries.
"I think bands like Zeke and the Murder City Devils play to an older crowd than we do," Bindulski says. "At our shows, it's a lot of kids just going off. We do that on purpose. We try and make every show all-ages."
If it seems unlikely that a Valley punk band with teen appeal could establish a national reputation, then the success of the group's first full-length release, Three Chords and the Truth (a title appropriated from an old Rattle and Hum-era Bono ad lib), is an even bigger surprise.
The album (on Scorched Earth records) has been a resounding success, staying at or near the top of Zia Records' sales charts since its December release.
"There aren't any left in there," says Augustat, pointing to a case inside Long Wong's that sells CDs of local bands. "I've seen people come in and buy a handful of them. You know, they just come in and buy like five copies. They said they were gonna send them out to friends."