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Your practice space is burglarized. All your vintage equipment is gone. You've no secure place to rehearse your music. What will you do? What will you do?
If you're Haggis, you grit your teeth, get the story onto some local nightly news programs as quickly as possible, replace your gear, find somewhere new to play a song at 96 decibels where a cop isn't tapping on your door with a truncheon by the end of it and then you finish making an album. Then you have a CD listening party where you serve actual haggis to guests and take the whole teeth-gritting thing full circle.
Those kinds of stressful stimuli can rend any band apart hell, just the recording-an-album part can do that. After a December 14 Stolen Gear Benefit Show at Nita's Hideaway, the band the Arizona Republic dubbed "'the ubiquitous Haggis' because of its unceasing self-promotion" lay uncharacteristically low until the New Times Music Showcase in April, where it took best Modern Pop honors yet again, without the concentrated campaigning of years before.
"We were down for four months; that's the longest we've ever gone," says bassist Moon (no last name; hey! just like Flea!). "That's what got us to finish our record. Because we'd been playing out so much, it was hard to hit the pause button. It was go, go, go."
The jovial bassman settles down for a round of quiet beers with Haggis singer-songwriter Brian Talenti and his wife at the Bikini Lounge, also uncharacteristically tranquil except whenever the jukebox shanghais the conversation off to tangents about favorite records, boss movies and Shannen Doherty. Equally, the occasional weepie serves to remind the band about stolen guitars, transient drummers and Shannen Doherty.
"In a weird way, the theft brought us closer together," says Talenti. "Whenever your family gets messed with, you kind of go all Tony Montana on them." While togetherness has never been a problem for the group's constant core (Talenti, Moon and lead guitarist Tony Burns), Haggis drummers have always been the variable since the get-go. Tonight, they seem to enjoy taking the piss out of drummer Jack Obregon, who was not quite of a mind to learn "Ace of Spades" by Motörhead for the CD release party.
"We just did a show in L.A. with one of the bands we trade shows with, The Piper Downs, who are really connected out there and they have a lot of fun people, actors they run around with," drawls Moon. "Shannen Doherty ends up at one of our shows. So her and Jack and her people all take off to go to the Viper Room for cocktails and he's just been a little wacky ever since then. Like it was the great rock 'n' roll weekend and maybe it's hard for him to come back to Phoenix."
"I think Spinal Tap having the exploding drummer was for a reason. I say it's an industry standard," jokes Talenti.
As long as we're spouting Spinal Tap's truisms, Haggis blurs that fine line between stupid and clever so that what you're left with is neither highbrow tittering nor Neanderthal air-clubbing but rather just a hardworking band that peppers its shows with humor that doesn't get in the way of superchunk power chords. You won't see Brian Talenti squandering a rousing chorus with a title like "Dick Hertz," "Poopsie Does It" or "Let Go of the Noodle Man." Sure, the short-term novelty hit might ensue, but what then? Nah, Talenti gives Haggis fist-pumpin' songs buff handles BTO would put down their lunch to jot down, like "Turpentine," "Chemical Antifreeze," "Motor Roller" and, er, "Cha Cha Heels."
The band makes more overt gestures to jocularity in its stage patter, choice of album titles, its trademark mannequin head totem pole (which doubles as a mike stand) and its traditional Halloween shows, when the boys get in touch with the inner tramp and perform as Draggis. None of this stops either your local yokel or Ph.D. from pounding back MGDs at the bar and yelling out after every song.
"I know they get the rock end of it. I don't know if they get the humor," says Talenti. His previous band 100 Iced Animals was part of a triumvirate with Trunk Federation and Lush Budget Presents The Les Payne Product, bands that used to share bills and outdo each other with strange costumes and stage design. Among 100 Iced Animals' more memorable stunts was dressing up like the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and having people playing poker onstage during their show.
"That was my mom's favorite 100 Iced Animals show," Talenti says with a smile. "We're always thinking of some caper to do and it fuels us having fun onstage. That's one comment we get from people a lot now: 'You guys look like you're having fun.' Well, that's 'cause we are."
"We have jokes we share we think everyone would think is funny, but it's way more amusing to us than to anybody else," Moon resumes. "Sometimes, people almost get angry because they don't get it and feel they're outside the joke."