More than a decade ago, the divine ones of punk rock sent forth a messenger to spread the virtues of three chords, sneers and six-packs; a proverbial vessel to carry on the proud missionary tradition of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Beach Boys.
Its name was the Queers, and thank the gods this band has lasted this long, for in these dark days of p-rock posturing and pretension, punk needs the Queers' brand of back-to-basics dogma more than ever.
Not many punk bands would openly admit an affection for the Beach Boys, but New Hampshire's favorite surly sons are not your average self-proclaimed messiahs. The Queers have no aspirations to be your personal Jesus, only a desire that you ". . . have fun and forget all the fucking bullshit in the world for 45 minutes or an hour or whatever." A noble mission if ever we heard one.
The finest purveyors of the oft-overlooked subgenre of dumb punk are bringing the noise to Nile Theater on Saturday, October 5, as part of their Don't Back Down Tour. The Queers' latest LP on Lookout! Records, Don't Back Down, finds the threesome sporting slicker production values, but contains some of the band's best songs in years thanks in part to former Queer JJ Rassler, who co-wrote and plays guitar on several songs. Rassler also co-produced the album with Mass Giorgini (who has also produced Screeching Weasel, and cub, and is currently on tour with his own band, Squirtgun).
JJ's semireturn to Queerdom noticeably boosts the current lineup of Joe Queer (vox, guitar), B-Face (bass) and Hugh O'Neill (drums), and the band seems to be entering its glory days. But we'll let Joe tell you about that . . .
Revolver: Is this album the pinnacle so far for the Queers?
Joe Queer: As far as the band goes, yeah. But there were times in punk rock I enjoyed more, like in the early '80s living out West listening to [famed punk deejay] Rodney on the ROQ, listening to [Social Distortion's] Mommy's Little Monster and Black Flag and the Ramones--that was a special time. But as far as the Queers, it's never been better for us. We're having more fun than ever before.
R: What if I said the Queers are just a Ramones rip-off band, and there are too many of those already?
JQ: Y'know, if you're gonna emulate anybody, you might as well go for the very fuckin' best, and the Ramones are the kings of punk rock. Everybody knows that. Number one, if it's a good song, then who gives a shit? Number two, nobody would listen to the Queers and say, "Gee, that's the Ramones." They might listen and say, "Hey, that's fuckin' influenced by the Ramones," but we could never be mistaken for them.
But, yeah, we're trying to carry on the Ramones tradition. When the Ramones would come to town, you'd be, like, "Yeah!" because you knew you'd have fun and see all your friends, and that's what we're about. And like the Ramones, there's no big message to our stuff. I don't run around acting pompous and thinking I'm better than you 'cause I'm onstage with a guitar, or I have this burning desire to share this half-baked message with the world that I'm so much smarter than everybody else.
Y'know, you see bands like Pearl Jam and the Cranberries, and they think they're bringin' this big message to the world, and it's like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and punk rock never happened, and they did happen, for me and a million other kids, so fuck them.
R: Portions of the punk media have attacked your label lately, calling Lookout! a sellout organization. What's your response?
JQ: Yeah, Lookout! made some money 'cause the Green Day album sold, but basically, they made it doing what they love doing. They didn't change at all--they were just lucky. Like the Queers. We've got an article coming out in the October 1 issue of Rolling Stone. Lookout! sent them some promo copies of the new CD and this guy who freelances for RS contacted us. We didn't grovel in the fuckin' dirt like MCA or Elektra or some fuckin' big label would've--they came to us and asked if we'd do it and we said, "Fuck, yeah."
We haven't changed one fuckin' bit. We're playin' the same stupid shit, fun dumb punk, that we've always played, so how are we sellouts? Y'know, these kids yelling "sellout" are all 16-year-old punks that had a much more privileged upbringing than any of the guys in the Queers. Fuckin'-A, man, I was lucky if I had Cheerios. I'm not gonna say I trudged with my bare feet through the fuckin' snow to school, but all these complainers are fucking rich suburban kids. They're, like, "Oh, if you don't work at Dunkin' Donuts or Taco Bell for five bucks an hour, then you're not punk."
Fuck that. These kids don't tell me who's punk. I have no marketable skills. If I wasn't in the Queers, I'd be back in the kitchen cooking. I mean, my roommate just called, and my gas is shut off at the house, and I'm overdrawn at the bank, so I'm a sellout? Fuck you. I couldn't care less. I'm doing what I love.
R: Any future plans for the Queers?
JQ: Y'know, we really had fun doing Don't Back Down. JJ Rassler's not back in the band, but he's helping me write, he played guitar and sang on a few tracks, and it felt like the Queers again. I was just talking with Joey Ramone about possibly doing some old Queers tunes with him on vocals, and we've been talking to [producer] Andy Paley, who worked with the Beach Boys, about doing some stuff with him. So, y'know, it would be a buzz just to work with either of them. But we're not letting anything but fun dictate what we do.
Fun With Narcotics
K Records godfather Calvin Johnson (of the seminal Beat Happening and the Halo Benders) knows more about music than how to get indie-pop seven-inches into teenagers' bedrooms--he knows how to get that ass shakin', too. Calvin's x-large disco ensemble Dub Narcotic Sound System has graduated from its reputation for inconsistency and repetition on DNSS' latest LP, Boot Party. Said party will be live at Hollywood Alley in Mesa on October 23.
Despite that Calvin virtually engineered the current ultrahip punk scene in Olympia, Washington, his fondness for Jamaican music and an undeniable desire to funk out led him to assemble the DNSS collective. Along with three members of the hip-hop outfit Dead Presidents, and various other contributors (including indie babe Lois Maffeo), Calvin grafts looping rhythms onto minimalist disco stylings, subtle jazz and record scratching courtesy of DJ Sayeed. Boot Party is a well-rounded dance recording--you get the instrumental mellowness of "Test Pattern," Lois Maffeo playing soul diva on "Ship to Shore," the ultrabounce of "Shake-A-Puddin'," and the techno-synth of "Robotica." Dub Narcotic's Valley performance should be the disco event of the year (the Boogie Knights should go and take notes). (K Records, P.O. Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98507)
J Church's Whorehouse
A long time ago (actually, it was 1987) in a galaxy far, far away (okay, Berkeley, California), a band called Cringer pioneered the now-ubiquitous pop-punk sound. When Cringer split up in the early '90s, guitarist-songwriter Lance Hahn and bassist Gardner Fusuhara decided they weren't through leaving their mark on punk rock.
Enter J Church. Possibly the most prolific band in indie rock, for the past six years J Church has churned out albums and singles on God-knows-what-record-label-it-is-this-week. Hahn's near monotonal, semimelodic singing, and the decadelong chemistry between him and Fusuhara, makes J Church stand out from what "pop-punk" has become--no NOFX comparisons here.
J Church's eclectic song subjects (which have ranged from vegetarianism to cigarettes, Bikini Kill to Jennifer Jason Leigh) are in their usual fine form on the band's new LP, Whorehouse: Songs and Stories, now out on the London-based Damaged Goods label.
Let's see--a song about gut-searing loneliness (check), a love song for Hahn's guitar (check), a one-night-stand song (check), a cover of a popular alternative song (Beck's "Asshole") (check)--yep, it's a J Church recording. This one's quite a bit rawer than the overproduced (but verrry nice-sounding) Arbor Vitae, but no one expected J Church to stay shiny for long.
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Recently, Revolver asked Fusuhara why J Church isn't the next big thing yet. His reply: "That kinda stuff doesn't just happen to you--you have to try. One thing we're realizing now is that as far as radio play goes, the recording quality has to be at a certain level, or they won't play it. I listen to my records and I think, yeah, it sounds fine, but it's not quite up to that radio production level. We're certainly easy on the ears, but Lance has a weird singing style, kind of flat in a way. We haven't tried to remain unpopular. I think it's hit or miss with everybody--they either really like us or really don't." (Damaged Goods, P.O. Box 671, London, E17 6NF, England)
Wuss Rock for the '90s
Okay--everybody who was listening to the Lightning Seeds in the late '80s, raise your hand. New Order? The Smiths? All right, now everybody who's really embarrassed that your hand is up, raise your other hand. We have good news for you--Tullycraft. Finally, wuss rock with no shame.
The title of this Seattle trio's debut LP, Old Traditions, New Standards, pretty much says it all (no comment on the Debbie Gibson promo shot on the album's sleeve). Three boys crank out perfect indie-pop love songs with a simplistic naivete worthy of any cuddle-core band. The best tracks here are "Josie," about a girl who wants to be in a punk-rock band ("We got a place and we play good stuff/But Josie says that it's not quite punk"), "Superboy & Supergirl," about the perils of superheroness in the '90s ("Please don't let them get you down/'Cause you're the only superheroes in our town"), and "Sweet," a charming little love ditty that sounds a hell of a lot like the Lightning Seeds song "Pure." If these guys were on a major, they'd probably make the cover of Tiger Beat. (Harriet Records, P.O. Box 649, Cambridge, MA 02238)