There's a good chance you've never heard of Fang. Slithering out of the Bay Area punk scene, they kept a low profile, putting out caustic, snotty, energetic punk music that deserves to be heard. They were like The Germs' cousins: just as eager to tear apart language and music as Darby Crash's gang, but with the ability to play their instruments a little better.
While they haven't become as well-known as contemporaries like The Dead Kennedys, Fang have become a member of that rare class of "Bands That Are Your Favorite Band's Favorite Bands": Kurt Cobain put Fang's classic Landshark LP on his greatest albums of all-time list, and Green Day used to do covers of Fang's "I Wanna Be On TV." Their profile has increased over the years, thanks to growing interest in the Bay's punk scene, as well as the band's prominent place in Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor's oral history of that era, Gimme Something Better.
The band initially fell apart at the end of the '80s, as frontman Sam "Sammytown" McBride became addicted to heroin. McBride's descent into drug dealing and addiction lead to him being sent to prison for voluntary manslaughter for killing his girlfriend while being severely intoxicated. It's a subject that's been covered extensively in great depth elsewhere, so when I called McBride to talk to him about Fang's upcoming show at Rips Bar, I focused the conversation on the band's current efforts, his work as a tattoo artist, and his thoughts on Fang's legacy.
New Times: Is your Valentine’s Day gig at Rips a one-off show, or part of a tour?
Sam McBride: We constantly tour. We’re doing a Southern California run right now — Phoenix, Vegas, and four shows in the southern California area.
The band’s lineup has evolved and shifted over the years. Who are you playing with now?
It’s the same lineup I’ve had for awhile now. Tom Flynn was playing guitar in the band for awhile, but he wanted to focus on other things. The guys that I’m playing with now are Tommy Obadiah, Brandon, and Jamie Dangerous. Jamie’s been on drums now for about nine years; Obadiah’s our new guitar player.
The first time I heard about Fang, it was while reading Gimme Something Better. I was wondering if you’ve noticed a renewed interest in Fang since that book’s release? Has it had an effect on your band’s profile in the music world?
I don’t know if I’d necessarily say that. Gimme Something Better was an amazing book; it was a really good history. But I think most of the people who read that book had at least maybe heard of Fang before, so it probably didn’t expose us to a lot of new people.
I think that this year we’re going to be more widespread. This year there’s this documentary that Green Day are behind. It’s coming out soon. Iggy Pop is the narrator, and it’ll have international distribution as a documentary. It deals with the East Bay punk scene from, I think, '85 to '95. Possibly even earlier. We’re in it. That should have more of an impact, because it’ll reach a bigger audience of people who are Green Day fans but don’t know as much about hardcore punk in the Bay Area.
Have you been working on new material to put out this year?
We’ve been writing a new record for awhile now; our last came out about three or four years ago. It was called “Here Come The Cops” and came out on Malt Soda Records.
I’ve got one more question for-
-so I just wanted to say, I read your Donald Trump article about making punk rock great again.
I was sad about it. Given the political climate now, that’s one of the only things that gives me hope — that in these times, it’ll be the spark for a new and more cohesive underground.That’s been the rallying cry for a lot of people: “Hey, we’re screwed, but at least it’ll get people off the couch.”
Fang’s never been considered a political band, but this new record we’re writing is reflecting on what’s going on politically. Anybody who has any kind of voice — now is the time to start saying something.
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I hear that. I wasn’t trying to dog the idea of political art in general… it just seems like a bit of cold comfort, in a time like this.
It is a cold comfort. More than just the music, though, I hope it galvanizes a group of people that haven’t really been involved. I do hope that’s what happens. I have hope that it will make punk rock great again.
As a tattoo artist, have you ever had people come in and ask you to do work that’s inspired by your band?
Oh absolutely! That happens fairly regularly. That’s my staple — I’ve done more Fang tattoos than anything else.
It must feel pretty surreal, doing that.
It is kind of bizarre. If anything, it is very humbling — that anyone would want to carry that on their skin. It’s certainly not what I thought I would be doing in the 21st century. .... Honestly, I didn’t even think I’d be living this long, so everything at this point is kind of surreal!”
Fang is scheduled to play Rips on Tuesday, February 14.