Jamie Monistat 7's jacket is trimmed with pins -- decorative medals, punk decals, random ironic placements, a MasterCard logo. His hair is a hairspray overkill, sprouts and fluffs scattered. Eye shadow gives the hyper singer a demented preciousness.
The singer's evil leprechaun look, mushmouthed vocals and bouncing stage gestures give his odd hybrid of a band, glam-metal-punk-surf-pop outfit Blanche Davidian, its axis.
A married man in his 30s whose real name is James Mather, Monistat 7 owns a Chinese restaurant in Scottsdale named Chop & Wok. He worked there off and on for 15 years before buying it two years ago. Lots of people drive by the place every day, but they might never notice. For reference, it's across from the Circle K at the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Shea. The building is tiny. A patio with psychedelic wall murals separates it from OutofToner.com, a sorta-Kinko's for wallflowers that's equally small. Chop & Wok is timidly aired out by a swamp cooler. If the patio is filled, it's a takeout operation by necessity.
At Mesa's dark, cavernous dive Hollywood Alley on a recent afternoon, Monistat 7 has brought his bandmates with him. They're the other guys in loud clothing, cool shirts, androgynous belts and necklaces and eye-popping makeup that makes them stand out from the handful of regular loudmouths watching baseball. Did they miss the bus to the Gary Glitter convention or something?
The rest of the group's inmates have fantasy-camp names, too. Bassist Ozzy Osmond wears exaggerated eyeliner, all black clothing and a silver S&M-friendly necklace. Guitarist Mike Hawk is tall and quiet, wearing a Chairman Mao ripped red tee shirt. Drummer Hugh Jass, the skinniest guy in the band, wears a faux pearl necklace and a captain's hat. Second guitarist Vil Vodka wears a red frilly shirt and hairspray and falls a few times -- he's had a little too much liquid.
"Why be in a band and do something that's so generic?" opines Monistat 7. "Express. Be yourself. That's why you're in a band."
And to make music, that is. Attack of the Killer, released by the year-old band this past spring, is as double-take-inducing a record as nearly any local 2003 release. The album shapes math-rock heavy metal solos at their most gearhead and grafts them onto riffs straight from the glam canon played at the speed of Motörhead. It also adopts the bombast of early Queen, arranges seven-part harmonies on some songs and uses drum machines in some cases to hark back to early-'80s post-punk. And it indulges in a mix of smart and sophomoric gamesmanship; song titles include "A Genitalia Ballot" and "Ouija Boredom," and when Monistat 7 whines his way through lyrics like "Tries she to hide her cellulite/Thighs are in costume/And are used, bruised, filthy and American/She can't keep her motor clean," it's a willfully obnoxious statement. The live shows, in turn, are about as kaleidoscopic, with onstage mirror ball and projections of old Spiderman cartoons and other curious images.
"We fit in with anybody," Osmond says with elliptical logic. "We stick out like a sore thumb no matter where we play, so it doesn't matter where we play."
"The younger generation of these passionate punks, maybe a little younger than us, stand with their arms crossed. Who the hell are these frickin' guys?" Jass adds. "That's not punk rock, not just Mohawks or anything like that. If you listen to our lyrics, we're poking fun right back at them and making them accountable. But even if they don't get it, they've got to respect it."
Even so, the members of Blanche Davidian say they find supporters in the oddest of ways. The glam crowd is suspect of the metal, the metal crowd is suspect of the glam, and the meatheads, well, they're meatheads. But the music evidently attracts punks, thugs and skinheads.
Witness this story from Chaser's in Scottsdale, as told by Monistat 7. The band, seeing neo-Nazis enter the Americana sports bar, feared the worst. But they launched into "Marilynesque Chambers," a goof on the excess found in the porn industry sung partly in Cantonese and played at Mach 3, and guess who loved it? The chorus is a Cantonese word that sounds something close to "Okay-mag-a-hoy. Oy! Oy! Oy!"
"That's Cantonese for ride the horse across the water' or something terrible and derogatory about your moms," Monistat 7 explains. "The whole chorus, we had all these skinheads going like, Oy! Oy! Oy!' We're singing in Cantonese, you jokers! Maybe we softened their edge a little bit. That's cool."
Now for the back story: None of Blanche Davidian's members were in active bands a year ago. Hawk and Monistat 7 hadn't played in a band since the mid-'90s. Jass had only jammed with a friend once a month for three years as he figured where to head next. Vodka played with the Sport Model, which dissolved on the verge of success a few years back. On the circuit of local hopefuls, they were nowhere.
"We were both in other bands that should have gone on to many other things," Monistat 7 says. "It just didn't work out. You go through a lamenting period. Aw fuck, that sucks."
In their depression and soul-searching, Hawk and Monistat 7 talked about forming bands, only to have those plans fizzle. For a while, Monistat 7 moved back to his native Hawaii, where he scuba-dived and did nearly nothing productive. It wasn't until Hawk trained to become a recording engineer that the story began to change. At a school in California, Hawk met Osmond, also a Valley guy. When they returned, the two sought to invest in equipment and get some ideas rolling.
"The whole thing started out as a project," Hawk says.
He invited Monistat 7 to participate, and between the three vagabonds, they created the entirety of Attack of the Killer. It was enough of a stunner for them to turn it into a real band, which is when Vodka and Jass were invited to participate.
Blanche is now recording a follow-up four-song EP called The Five Muscatels and is looking to launch regional tours and attract interest from labels. The new music, Hawk says, should reflect the fact they're now a working band, with crunchier sound, rawer arrangements, but perhaps not quite as much kitsch.
"In retrospect, thank God those other things didn't work out, because this is much more fulfilling," Monistat 7 says with a sincere smile.
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