By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
The last time Jimmy Vespa and Bobby Lava Noxious did something they really didn't want to do, they quit the Hypno-Twists, a band they helped start and watched as it slowly fell apart. Now the regrettable deed at hand is how to word the dreaded "Drummer Wanted" ad for their new band, after having exhausted any and all personal referrals for even a semi-reliable timekeeper. The debut gigs of the Jack Straws, the band Vespa and Noxious formed with former Hypno-Twists bassist El Tato, were quickly booked and just as abruptly canceled when the guy they'd slotted in on drum stool proved making like Alexander Graham Bell and inventing the phone call. He simply bailed out. Nothing like 115-degree weather to filter out the dead wood, huh?
"I just hate doing an ad in New Times," grumbles Noxious, sweat still pouring down his Mohawked head, as he ducks in from the sunny inferno raging outside the Willow House. "You've just got to weed through so many freaks. Guys who want to change the band name right off. Or want to be the leader instead of the missing piece in a band that's got everything else in place."
As if to demonstrate the late group's local popularity, a slow-talking caffeine addict sitting a table away just starts asking them what happened to the band.
"You're looking at 'em," Noxious informs him proudly. "Three members left but the core members stayed. For now, anyway."
To many fans, the band that electrified audiences with its diverse mix of garage rock, exotica and spaghetti Western swagger lost a large chunk of its live excitement, not to mention its video projector, with Noxious' sudden exit last year. It's no secret that a noticeable drop in attendance at the band's Wednesday night residency at the Emerald Lounge can be traced in the weeks following his departure.
"I cried about it for days. I regretted not being there to go to London. That trip was in place before I left. There was just a lot of creative differences in the band," Noxious admits. According to Noxious, a division in the band was already in place around the time the band's name first started appearing in hyphens. "When we formed the band, we talked of utilizing our individual strengths, about goals, where we wanted to be at a certain time, and it all just kind of fell apart. It's a lot of work to be a popular band, and I was discouraged when I'd hear things like, It's 10 o'clock, are we done rehearsing?'
"I was doing everything from the business end," he continues, "the graphic design, the recording and engineering the recordings at Studio Z mixing and mastering, spending eight to 10 hours a day on the Hypno-Twists, and there was no motivation from the other people."
Noxious was spoiled by his previous band, the popular ska outfit Kongo Shock, which was able to make music its full-time gig, tour, have national distribution and write original material almost daily. In contrast, Noxious says his former bandmates pushed for a 50/50 split on covers and original tunes in the live set, and that was one of the chief reasons he left.
"We all grew up with that '80s thing and saw bands like the Cynics and the Salvation Army, the Three O'Clock all do half originals, half covers," says Vespa. "I'd rather do 75 percent original, to be honest with you. But [Jelly Roll] Joel and Laura [Tula Storm] seemed comfortable with half and half." The impetus for working on even more covers was a proposed gig backing up Rudi Protrudi of the Fuzztones.
"Rudi asked us to back him up, we'd go on tour with him and do his material. That would've been an honor," says Vespa. "We learned three of his songs and we did 'em live, but the tour didn't pan out. We went to Rudi's birthday party, which was pretty cool, and met the remaining Doors and Ian Astbury of the Cult. But quite frankly we were a band with a lot of new originals and a new album, and here we were wasting all this time learning Fuzztones songs every practice. I know that pissed Bob off."
What Noxious noticed on the Pacific Northwest tour the band undertook before his split was there was no camaraderie, no hanging out. "We'd go to a town and everyone would scatter. We'd get to San Francisco and if someone had a relative or a friend . . . they'd all jump into a car with them and say, We'll see you at the show.' That was weird. I'd never been in a band like that," says Noxious, shrugging. "When you're on the road in a strange place, you watch out for each other, these are your buddies, and you have fun with each other and shitty times with each other. That's just part of the experience. It was odd for me to not be buds with the guys in my band."
Says Vespa, "See, I'd never been in a band before, so I just felt like that was the norm. The lack of solidarity in the band escalated in London and that broke Tato. When we got there, we were given a flat to stay at and there wasn't enough room for all of us, so it boiled down to What are you guys going to do?' You guys' being me and Tato. We slept on a bunch of hardwood floors in different flats and spent one night freezing in a boat on icy waters. When we got to the airport, Tato just said, Fuck you guys.' I told him he was crazy forfeiting his return ticket, but he was adamant. He said, I'll worry about leaving when they throw me out of the country in six months.'" Tato stayed and was able to support himself by doing paintings, playing in a jazz combo, touring the English countryside and, more regrettably, selling his electric bass to get a return ticket.