Balls to the Wall

Surviving bad luck, barroom brawls and band squabbles, Balls reveals real cojónes

The band's low profile in Phoenix is in large part because it doesn't promote itself -- which makes it all the more appealing. The members also claim to have no friends.

"We don't do dick to promote," says Soulos. "We're lucky we have anyone come to our shows."

"I don't know anybody except these guys here," adds Mackos, looking to the other band members. "They'll [club bookers] say, 'Why don't you bring your friends?' And I'll say, 'All my friends are in the band.'"

Based on happy times: Balls, clockwise from left, Jerry Meyers, Buck Ellis, Stephan Mackos and Tricie Soulos.
Based on happy times: Balls, clockwise from left, Jerry Meyers, Buck Ellis, Stephan Mackos and Tricie Soulos.


Scheduled to perform on Friday, October 20, and Monday, October 23. Showtime for both is 9 p.m.
Green Room in Tempe

Sometimes more than friends. Mackos and Soulos instantly became a couple when they met in 1994. Two years ago, they broke up. The love hangover left Soulos more than a bit bummed. What's amazing is the band survived the inner split.

"When we broke up, things were very strange," explains Soulos. "We wanted to stay friends because we didn't want the band to break up. It was really bad for a while. I would just show at shows all drunk and play and leave. That was my drinking binge. I was this big around." She illustrates her waist size by making a small circle, pressing her forefinger to her thumb.

For the now-28-year-old singer, such heady bouts of self-destruction were nothing new. "When we broke up, I never ate," she says. "I had a Mohawk. I was a mess."

Her messiness manifested itself in other ways. Soon after her breakup with Mackos, a guy Soulos didn't know who played in another band punched her out one night. "The guy's microphone stand fell over and I picked it up for him while he was playing," she says. "I was just trying to help him. Next thing I know his girlfriend literally lunged on top of my back. She thought I was flirting with him. Then later, outside, the guy walks up and just fuckin' punches me in the face and completely floors me.

"Some skinhead guys happened to be out there and they saw all this," she continues. "They completely freaked out and beat the shit out of this guy. His collarbone was sticking out of his body. They [the skinheads] were actually really cool, but then the next day they turned around and were assholes to me. I think they just wanted to beat someone up."

Less than two months later, a car hit Soulos when its soused driver didn't see her as he backed up. After a long night passed out on booze, mixed with Valium that somebody poured down her throat, somebody took her to the hospital. "I got to play onstage with crutches," she says in mock sarcasm.

Out behind the duplex, in a cramped space built for personal storage, is Balls' rehearsal room. The band is talking about working on new songs, having grown tired of many of the ones it recorded for an upcoming album. Even now, things continue to go wrong, the band members say. They're sick of being stuck on bills with Limp Bizkit knockoffs. A much-anticipated show just went awry -- seems old hippie Door Robbie Krieger needed the night. There's no money -- and there never is -- for anything other than basic living expenses. But, hey, anything less wouldn't be rock 'n' roll.

Fittingly, an October rain gives the night a melancholia that mirrors the mood of the band.

The upside to all of this is the record, titled Gotta Have 'Em, which was recorded and produced by Pollen's Bob Hoag and Kevin Scanlon more than a year ago. It has yet to find a home on a label. For the time being, the band will stick with its DIY ethos and sell copies at shows.

In the studio, Balls sounds like the Rezillos with Johnny Ramone in a walk-on role -- a relentless wallop of major-chord guitars that gives the lovely illusion of musical harmony. Songs like "5:45" and "On the Road" use the sledgehammer concept to lure you in. Choruses are unashamedly singsongy, and take up residency in your head for days. The anthem-for-the-uncommon-Joe themes in the lyrics don't hurt. And kudos must go to any band that can cover AC/DC's shamelessly sexist "Whole Lotta Rosie" while keeping its gender-specific crux; when sung by a female, the tune has an, um, decidedly disarming tone.

"How can you be a rock 'n' roll band without an AC/DC tune?" asks Meyers.

Balls has the panache that can be mustered only by a young band that still believes in rock 'n' roll stars as saviors. "From the very beginning, we said we gotta kick ass when we play, we're gonna be tight as hell and we're not gonna fuck up," says Mackos, his voice rising to a level that threatens to alarm the neighbors. "We'll do everything we can to put on a kick-ass show. I hope to be a big rock 'n' roll star"

Rock-star status or no, Soulos says she'll be back in school by next spring. She describes herself as an aspiring author who dabbles in short-story writing. Being the best-kept rock 'n' roll secret in town can only contain promise for so long. Yet it's that desperation borne of diminishing hopes that makes Soulos, and Balls, seem so worthy. The shitty luck has to end sometime.

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