Hearts Full of Napalm

Three decades after the fact, L.A.'s Streetwalkin' Cheetahs make good on that old Detroit Rock City promise

Between songs, the in-studio conversation can range from the album that Sonny Boy Williamson cut with the Animals two weeks before he died and the underrated greatness of Thin Lizzy's twin guitar assault to the illegibility of Flipside magazine and how the '80s metal band London (unwitting film stars of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years) is still hanging around L.A. under the Spiders and Snakes name -- minus the irrepressible Nadir D'Priest, though.


Obviously, the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs are dyed-in-the-black-leather-jacket music fans. So what single piece of pop memorabilia would they each like to own?

Rock 'n' roll doctrine: "Most bands nowadays have roots that go back maybe five years. We're not geniuses. We're just creating something out of something that came before."
Rock 'n' roll doctrine: "Most bands nowadays have roots that go back maybe five years. We're not geniuses. We're just creating something out of something that came before."

Jackson: "The guitar that Chuck Berry played on 'Maybelline.'" Everett: "Sid Vicious' bass." Meyer: "The 'General Lee,' that 1969 Dodge Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard." Sessa: "I don't want for anything."


"We're not some kinda Detroit tribute band!" snorts Meyer, addressing the obvious question. "The early Detroit, New York, London and L.A. scenes are what pulled us all together."

"We recognize the roots," Everett interrupts. "That's the difference between the '70s punk bands and the '90s punk bands. Most bands nowadays have roots that go back maybe five years. We're not geniuses. We're just creating something out of something that came before."

"That's why we like to team up with our heroes," Meyer interjects. "We did that single with Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman and New Race; we did that tour backing [former New York Dolls guitarist] Sylvain Sylvain for three weeks earlier this year; and we're going out on tour with Wayne Kramer. We're going to play first, and then we're going to be Wayne's back-up band on all the dates."

"We're trying to send kids back to some cool records," Meyer continues. "We're obviously coming from a different place -- one with more soul roots -- than most [modern] bands. But we're still just playing old-school rock 'n' roll. Yeah, we wear our influences on our sleeves. We're not ashamed of that. We're all those things and more."


Okay, then, who's your favorite dead person?

Jackson: "Audrey Hepburn." Meyer: "Frank Zappa." Everett: "Allison Hayes, the star of Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman." Sessa: "My Dad and Malcolm X are tied."


So what's your favorite musician's joke?

Jackson: "This kid wants to be a bass player, so his dad says, 'Okay, but you have to take lessons.' So he goes to the first lesson, comes home, and his dad asks, 'What did you learn today?' He says, 'The E string.' Next day, he comes home, and his dad asks, 'What did you learn today?' He says, 'The A string.' Third day, he comes home, and his dad asks, 'What did you learn today?' He says, 'Nothing. I had a gig.'"


"We first got together after this porno awards show back in 1995," recalls Everett, explaining the band's origins. "This porn actor was there telling us about how he was making this great techno-new-age-goth-alternative album, and we just looked at each other and said, 'If this guy can be making records, why not us?'" In truth, while Everett had once backed the late shock-rocker G.G. Allin, and Sessa has been playing professionally since 1979, but the Cheetahs are guitarist Art Jackson's first band.

"Art had a tattoo of Johnny Thunders on one arm and one of Winnie the Pooh on the other, so he had to be in our band," cracks Meyer. "Seriously, though, my real motivation came from looking at my record collection. I had all this other stuff by other people, but nothing that was my own. And one of the reasons we've been so prolific [starting with the Heart Full of Napalm EP and the Overdrive album cut for Alive in '96 and '97, respectively] is that the punk audience needs to have new records all the time, so we keep making 'em so we can keep touring. I mean, we all have day jobs to pay the rent, but we split everything four ways, so -- through touring -- this band is completely self-sufficient."


So when you're not on the road, what three things are always under your beds?

Jackson: "A gun, a cat and dirty laundry." Meyer: "A cat, underwear and a remote control." Sessa: "My bed's five feet off the ground, so my drums, my books and my CDs." Everett: "Just a lotta dirt."


"We're not trying to change the world," says Meyer, suppressing a chuckle. "Our goal is to enjoy ourselves and raise the standards for live shows. All those so-called 'alternative' bands' shows were so boring -- everybody just standing there staring at their shoes. They became just as bad as what they were rebelling against. I'm not talking about using stupid props and flash pots. We're not doing that. We're not wearing silly costumes, and we don't do choreography. We're into high energy, and that means moving around onstage 'cause that's how the music makes us feel.

"It's fun to see [local] bands again after we've come though [their towns] on tour. They're all moving a lot more onstage after we've been through. We're not competing with them, though. We're just trying to make it better for the audience. Our props are rafters, poles, amps, glasses, tables, anything in the club. We want our sets to start like a train taking off and end like a train wreck."

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