It's laughable how many Valley bands still insist on using a "rising from the ashes like a phoenix" analogy in their bios when all they've struggled with is the climate change from the living room to the garage to the gig. But in the case of the Walnuts, it's totally appropriate to compare them to some mythical bird that dies in flames to be reborn. They've even got the skin grafts to prove it.
We'll get to our inspirational happy ending in just a moment, when the reconstituted Walnuts gear up for their first live shows in three years and officially release the Walnuts DVD . . . and the King said, "Off with their heads," which they set out to finish last summer. But first, a bit of trauma.
On August 20, 2005, Walnuts singer Joey Nugent rendezvoused with guitarist Cril McAniff in El Paso, Texas, where McAniff was finishing his hitch in the Army. McAniff's enlistment a year and a half ago had effectively scattered the band. Itching to play again, McAniff posted fliers in El Paso looking for people to jam at the house he was renting. He found a 17-year-old drummer named Christina Moward and invited Nugent up to jump-start the Walnuts. That night, they wrote a fairly demented new song, "Goat With Moat," and videotaped the session. Sometime between 10 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., an electrical fire started behind the couch. Nugent, McAniff and a malfunctioning smoke detector all managed to snooze through the initial blaze. When Nugent finally woke up, the house and his arms were on fire, an effect he eerily re-creates on the "Goat With Moat" video, along with footage taken just 90 minutes before the blaze.
Martini Ranch in Scottsdale
DVD release party on Thursday, July 20
"The visuals I have memories, nightmares is of jumping off the couch [with] my arms and clothes on fire, [and] running through the house screaming before the ceiling started collapsing on me," Nugent says. "The screaming woke Cril up. He trampolined out his bedroom window and came back to look for me three times." When firefighters found McAniff, he was drifting in and out of consciousness and calling for Nugent.
Paramedics, thinking Nugent was also an enlisted man, arranged a military escort to Lubbock University Medical Center. "That's really what saved my life," he says. McAniff was burned on the neck badly and in a coma for five days. Nugent had second- and third-degree burns on 43 percent of his body and remained in a coma for an entire month. "I'm grafted from my fingertips to my shoulders," he demonstrates, pulling back his shirt to reveal how the blaze wiped tattoos clear off his skin.
As for the month of rubbed-out consciousness, Nugent, fueled by morphine and a slowed heart rate, busied himself with coma dreams of several alternate lives. "I can remember one where I had lived in 1933, had a wife, kid, wore a derby, rode on the train, went to sleep, woke up. I think I was a journalist!" Then there were more harrowing ones, like getting drugged at a pizzeria, being locked in the basement by the owner, and being drugged and sodomized for months. "It wasn't until the fifth day of consciousness [that] I told them to take out the morphine so I could stop fuckin' hallucinating," he says, laughing.
It was no less crazy in the conscious world. Christina Moward, a Walnut for all of one rehearsal, was now in the weird position of contacting friends and family of someone she just met. Along with the upset of being the only one in her new band not in a coma, she was the prime suspect in what was initially believed to be arson. "They wanted to arrest me. They thought I'd burned the house down," the petite timekeeper says. "Cril had a little outdoor grill, and there was a drumstick to stir the charcoals that said 'fuck you' on it they found near the lighter fluid can, so they wouldn't release any information to me. I was the only suspect. And Cril had all this weird spray painting on the cabinets like 'I hate you,' and they thought it was me who went ballistic."
When the embers cooled down, the Walnuts were left with a lot of useless charred equipment (see www.thewalnuts.net for the incendiary pictures) and virtually no old video footage of the band. Amazingly, what did survive was the videotape of that first rehearsal (taken two hours before the blaze), and a burning desire to keep making music and fill out the Walnuts lineup.
Current bass player Joe Edwards (now mysteriously "Joe Giavahni" on the band's MySpace page) had been a Walnuts fan for years. He abruptly quit his band, FYI, during rehearsal when he heard the Walnuts were in the studio next door. As he tells it, "I showed up at their door and said, 'I'll quit these fuckers and play bass with you.' They trained me for a month, sitting way up close to me, waking me up in the middle of the night, telling me this is what it's gonna be like on tour."
The ensuing months have not been entirely without incident. McAniff had a rollover accident with his Blazer off Riggs Road a few months ago, and at the time of this interview, he was holed up in Tent City serving time for a DUI. Adding to the Walnuts' macabre penchant for documenting everything, they managed to get footage of the wreck, complete with police telling them they didn't want any filming. After the accident but before incarceration, McAniff nearly died when scar tissue on his stomach was strangling his intestines.
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One might expect that after such life-threatening experiences, the Walnuts might get all benevolent and "glad to be alive" in their music, but that's obviously not true if you've ever seen the Walnuts live. They're about as in-your-face as any band could be, and Nugent has been known to accrue as many fines as fans for his pissed-off live-show demeanor, his stage-diving, and his carried-away-in-the-moment vandalism. "I actually pissed off a lot of bartenders and owners at Mason Jar and Bash on Ash, where I climbed the chain-link fence over to the bar," Nugent says. "Shit, if they didn't want me to cross that line, they should never have given me a hundred-foot cord.
"I still sing about depression, relationships and bullshits," he continues. "It's still pretty dark."
And like the band mural in his house that depicts all the harrowing events of the past 11 months, it's oddly uplifting, too.