Ruthless Journey

Not highbrow, but not high maintenance, either: Abe Ruthless moves on.
Emily Piraino

No one can ever accuse Abe Ruthless of being highbrow.

The 25-year-old former front man for punk rock misanthropes Slash City Daggers, current Fuck You Ups singer and guitarist and freshly christened solo artist is no art rocker. Ruthless bears all the pretty scars of a young manhood spent in self-destructive punk rock bands and the "don't-give-a-fuck" pursuits of intoxication and gratification.

"The Daggers were like a rock 'n' roll excess fuckin' band. We wanted to be like Mötley Crüe and all that shit," Ruthless says with a grin.

Tattoos including the word "Mom" across a red heart, the number 13 surrounded by a heavy black circle, a band of crowns around one arm, a band of stars around the other, and skull and crossbones with the inscription "Rock 'n' Roll" beneath it adorn Ruthless' arms where the sleeves of his black vintage Poison tee shirt should be. He drinks Natural Light and Jack Daniel's like most of us drink water. He likes to listen to the same song repeatedly while he's drinking. Ask him about his musical influences, and he cites marijuana as one of them.

Ruthless slouches forward, grinning easily while he recalls his adventures in punk rock. These are easier days for Ruthless, who works in a Tempe cafe near Arizona State University. He's also now attempting to assemble a new band to back his solo efforts, which are documented on his recent debut EP, No Nothin' Blues.

He's earned his right to relax. Ruthless survived one of the most dangerous, bombastic, hated punk rock bands the Valley has ever seen.

"The Daggers was crazy. It was fucked up," he says affectionately, but with no hint of hyperbole.

Several of his bandmates, he says, were struggling with heroin addiction at the time of the Daggers' implosion. Ruthless, though, escaped unscathed by the brown scourge of junk. He has spent the last year regrouping, writing new songs, and preparing for an intensive, but less dangerous, future.

"You just gotta eat shit, keep eating shit, until you're drinking piss, then you'll still be drinking piss, until you're drinking Natural Light," he says, following his words with a gulp of said beer.

His story starts at Tempe's McClintock High, where a young Andrew Alexander transferred as a freshman from a nearby school district. Alexander was a drummer. He'd played in his junior high school jazz band, and soon after transferring he met Derrick Fish (better known as Nasty D) and Eric Grover, a.k.a. Eric Toothpaste, amateur teenage musicians who needed a drummer for their band Happy Toothpaste. Alexander became Ruthless, and today, 11 years later, Ruthless still plays with Nasty D and Eric Toothpaste in the Fuck You Ups, a part-time project they began as the Slash City Daggers were self-destructing.

Happy Toothpaste became Born to Ignorance with a few lineup changes, and eventually evolved into BTI, a fixture on the local mid-'90s pop-punk scene, playing at the Nile Theater, the Vault, and Hollywood Alley. BTI, as a three-piece, self-released its only full-length CD, Marfa, in 1996. Marfa assembled pop-punk in the Lookout! Records, Screeching Weasel vein, and made its way into the collections of skateboarders and punk kids' CD collections across the Valley, cementing Ruthless' street cred in the punk scene.

BTI broke up, re-formed, then broke up permanently in 1998. At that point, Ruthless found himself writing songs suited for a rawer, more 1977 punk rock band. He met Dave Reckless around this time, a waifish rock kid who played guitar and had a similar penchant for tight leather pants and Mötley Crüe admiration, and the two became the genesis of the Slash City Daggers.

The Daggers' full lineup at the time of their first release, 2000's Lock Up Your Daughters, was Ruthless on vocals, Reckless on lead guitar, Lucky on bass, Stitch Hopeless on rhythm guitar, and Pickle on drums.

"We got along great," Ruthless says. "But it was definitely a self-destructive band from the beginning. Nobody in it was pretending that it wasn't. It was just waiting to fuck up like that, always. That's what made us good at the same time. We got this bad reputation."

Indeed, a New Times article about the band in 2000 inspired a volley of letters criticizing the band and the author for the Daggers' shameless swagger, shallow intentions, and lack of talent. But the Daggers weren't talentless. Lock Up Your Daughters and its successor, Backstabber Blues, demonstrate that. The problems were beyond the music -- the bandmates were just too fucked up on drugs and booze to consistently perform a coherent live show. Yet their live shows were always a spectacle. Oftentimes, bottles and furniture didn't survive the night, and band members regularly wound up bloodied.

"Every rock 'n' roll band thinks they can do everything all the other rock 'n' roll bands did," Ruthless explains. "I remember the day when people in my band started shooting heroin. I was thinking, This can't be a good thing.' I knew from the beginning that it was gonna be a disaster, real quick."

The Slash City Daggers kept it together enough to record their 2001 album Backstabber Blues, a Stones-influenced, bluesy punk record that capitalized on all of Lock Up Your Daughters' strengths. Recorded by first-wave punk rocker Jeff Dahl, Backstabber Blues was the Daggers at their smirking, apathetic best. But dark days soon descended on the band.

"Pickle ended up moving away about six months after Backstabber Blues came out, when we just really started picking up momentum and doing well," Ruthless recollects. "He's strung out on dope so he's got to move home to get off of it. Which is good, I'm glad about that, but he can't ever come back here. He's afraid he'll do dope. He came back here after that anyway, to play with us at the New Times Music Showcase. We hadn't played for six months before that, but then we won [Best Garage/Trash Band and Most Likely to Make It Big], and things were really going good for us. We were on the Channel 12 morning show with Jineane Ford."

Shortly after the New Times Music Showcase in 2002, the Daggers left for a tour and headed up the West Coast toward Seattle. The band made it as far as Portland before Ruthless decided to give up and go home. "I had a nervous breakdown," he says. "Pickle wasn't in his right mind. I told them I was going home and taking Pickle with me. We were taking too many pills, drinking too much alcohol, being too depressed to be on tour. It's hard to deal with people trying to kill themselves on tour. Or somebody coming off of fucking dope on tour, when they've been lying to you about using it."

It didn't take much from there for Ruthless to end the band. "If you don't feel right about something anymore, then there's no point in wasting your time anymore, so everybody can move on to different things," he says.

Ruthless focused his energies on playing with the Fuck You Ups, which released a 2002 full-length titled Hope You Appreciate It, Fucker!, a collection of short, sloppy punk rock songs with titles like "Fight Fight Fight Fight Fuck!" and "Whiskey and Your Face." At the same time, he was writing new songs with a decidedly more sedate tone.

Four of these new songs appear on No Nothin' Blues, Ruthless' first solo release. The songs are bluesy, Southern-flavored rock numbers with none of the abrasion that he showcased with the Daggers or the Fuck You Ups. Ruthless describes the new songs as "pretty obvious," about "dumb luck and heartbreak."

"This Ol Boy," for instance, is a rollicking mid-tempo number where Ruthless declares "I used to be somethin', and now I'm nothin'" to overdubbed backing vocals and guitar harmonies. "Don't Fool Around" takes a similar blues tack. It's with the soul-baring, sweetly acoustic number "I Don't Wanna Die," however, that Ruthless makes the sharpest departure from his previous catalogue. "You're supposed to be really drunk when you listen to that song," Ruthless says, laughing, referring to its "tears in your beer" mood.

"I want to do something with my band," Ruthless says. "That's what my focus is now, get a band, go on tour. I would love to quit my job, end my lease, give away all my shit and go on tour for two years. I want to have a great rock 'n' roll band, just non-genre, straightforward rock 'n' roll."

Laughing, he adds, "I'd love to be a big rock star. I want the paparazzi. I want to fuck Paris Hilton. I know I could because Paris is dating that douche bag from Sum 41. I saw it on Celebrities Uncensored, and I got angry."

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