Members of the Liar's Club sit and stare plaintively into their drinks. You'd think they were contemplating some recent run of emotional trauma and bad luck, the death of a loved one, the witnessing of a car crash. Or you'd guess, perhaps, that they are stoned. Couldn't they say something? I mean, they have to say something; this is an interview, after all.
Finally bassist Tim Sorensen breaks the awkward silence by proudly recounting an episode from his days as an Apollo High School student. Jennie Garth, it seems, caught a glimpse of his member.
"One time I was going to the bathroom and my zipper was stuck," he says, in a confident, boys-locker-room tone. "And I was tryin' to, like, fix it, and my dick was all hanging out."
Miss Garth, you'll recall, was the mousy blonde on the TV blunder Beverly Hills 90210.
Sorensen continues, picking up much-needed momentum: "One of her friends, as a joke, pushed her in the bathroom and she saw my penis. It was great! So every time I used to watch 90210, I would be like, (his voice now a childlike shrill) "Sheee saaaww my coooooock!'"
The Liar's Club guys don't really laugh at the tale told by Sorensen. Clearly, they've heard it before. They just sit there, looking like Mount Rushmore.
"And that is the goddamned absolute truth," adds Sorensen.
With his Sergeant Carter flattop, straight nose and chiseled features, Sorensen could pass for a Marine. Albeit, a chick-pulling marine.
"She was a real cool chick," adds drummer Eric Dahl, breaking another noiseless pause. Dahl looks every bit the misplaced surfer dude -- blond hair, bright eyes, a loafer's carriage. "She was like a surfer chick. Really cool."
More silence ensues. There's some talk of jazz. Some murmurs about how the band wishes to have a record out by year's end. Even the bartender looks bored.
"Sorry we're so boring, man," burbles guitarist/lead singer Cean through a mouthful of rum and Coke. "We're not good at doing interviews."
Cean possesses a clumsy sort of humor, often giving away punch lines too early. During a photo session earlier in the evening, his main concern was his face. He was asking the New Times photographer for a little Photoshop aid. "My mug is gonna need some help, man."
One guy at the table, Liar's Club's 22-year-old guitarist Chris Berry, rarely says a word. All slack and shy, glasses, a few zits; he's almost computer-geekish -- looks 14, tops.
Berry came up playing jazz in a band called The Respectable Prostitutes and also does time in local country/punkabilly cut-ups Harm.
"I've always been into punk rock," Berry says. "Pretty much everything."
You wouldn't guess that Berry's an intern counselor for sex offenders at the state hospital. And he's the only Liar's Club guy who's not a former member of the Generiks, the much-adored, critically ignored Phoenix punk band.
In the past decade, the five-member Generiks made four nationally distributed albums of bratty punk. They did seven full national tours and saw kids rally around them. Now they're on the shelf. The Generiks were, simply, one of the more quietly accomplished bands ever to have taken root in Phoenix.
The three ex-Generiks in Liar's Club grew up mainly in west Phoenix. Talk of the Beverly Hills 90210 babe keeps the conversation, uh, chugging right along.
"She was always the hot girl in school," says Dahl, "and everybody was in love with her."
More talk about buildings and food, Web sites, beer and punk rock.
The four guys in the Liar's Club don't say much for a reason: They claim they don't really have much to say. On first impression, I imagined the band's members wasting days sucking on bongs and watching Scooby Doo reruns, their nights looking bored and standing around kegs at desert parties. Not so.
Turns out drummer Eric Dahl is the only bonger in the bunch. Dahl lives in the old Generiks tour coach, a converted 40-foot, 1972 Bluebird school bus parked in a west Phoenix trailer park. The bus is fully converted with hot water, a shower, electricity, A/C, rooms and beds. Dahl says he got tired of being homeless each time the Generiks came off the road.
He now owns his own Internet company. A company, he says, that is starting to make bank. Soon Dahl will launch a site called Bands4free that will allow users to download music and info on indie bands from across the country. Each band is categorized by its home state. Dahl, it appears, is a computer whiz.
"It'll be like an Internet radio thing," explains Dahl. "You just log on to the Web site and it starts playing songs like a radio station. You tell it the type of music you like and it will give it to you. You can put in "Arizona' and it will play a radio station that will only be Arizona underground bands. Log on to Wisconsin and it's the same thing.
"I know how to do all the programming to stream it all and make a little MP3 player on the site. I think a lot of people now are getting high-speed connections. They just turn it on and get music throughout the day. Whenever a song is playing you can click to get info on the band, there'll be a picture of their album, the name of the song, that type of shit.
"After going on tour and shit," he adds, "we couldn't keep jobs, so I started my own thing. I just started my own thing and now it's taking off."
Cean works as a doorman and attends school, and like many punk rockers with intellect as big as their creepers, he designs Web sites. He explains that Liar's Club plans don't exclude a Generiks regrouping, that the latter band isn't officially broken up and is a very much an ongoing entity via its Web site.
"The Generiks might reform by the end of the year -- who knows? We're [the Liar's Club] gonna write like another 10 songs together. Maybe try and record something. Then record an album by the end of the year and put it out ourselves."
Sorensen chimes in with a crusty Generiks road story: "We used to have this contest but we never consummated it. It was like that old newscast thing where they'd have a special kid that was deprived in some way, or had a terrible life, called Wednesday's Child. And when we went on the road once, we had this thing called Wednesday's Child. It was basically to see who could hook up with the most gag nasty, terrible like troll girl. But we just couldn't bring ourselves to it. It sounded fun and we could put a pool on it [money], but it never materialized."
Neil Young's "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" blares from the jukebox. The line about Johnny Rotten, and the song's predilection with the seemingly infinite relevance of rock 'n' roll, gives the beery moment a certain bittersweet twinge. The endurance of rock 'n' roll as the perfect juxtaposition to a Phoenix old-man bar and penis talk involving Jennie Garth.
"Hey hey, my my, rock and roll will never die," sings Young.
Scrubbed women with the appearance of days spent on massage tables talking about overseas art auctions trot past. They wear pricey warm-up suits and $200 running shoes. Glistening gray Italian and German cars are parked in driveways. Yards are kept up by teams of brown-skinned gardeners. This is Cean's neighborhood, where the Liar's Club rehearses its punk rock.
Cean's pad is an unlikely setup for a dude who spent years touring, writing and recording with riff hooligans like The Generiks. His is a lovely A-frame guest house on lush grounds with stone path walkways. There's a swimming pool off to the side. The neighborhood is sandwiched between the Willo and Encanto districts near downtown.
The band rehearses in the lower room of Cean's guest house. The neighbors don't ever complain.
Judging from a rehearsal listen, the band's song cache is, of course, much like The Generiks, only slower. The tempos are closer to Rocket to Russia-era Ramones, unlike The Generiks' songs, which were fast enough to make Dickies songs seem like the slow boat to China.
But like The Generiks, Liar's Club choruses loom big and large, support sing-alongs in a bouncy, Ping-Pongy context, coming and going in terse refrains. The songs are a clunky haphazard of hooks with a kind of nursery-rhyme thing going on, a hooky chaos of NOFX and Buzzcocks.
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Liar's Club has been together for only two months. That's impressive in relation to its sound. Cean has only been singing lead vocals for four or five months. In The Generiks he played bass, and Sorensen played guitar. For this they switched things around. It works. It gives the songs a kind of anxiety.
"Sorry we do boring interviews, man," says Dahl during a break. His point is rather redundant. "We suck at doing interviews."
Go see the Liar's Club debut show at Hollywood Alley. They give life to songs in a way you'd never guess by talking to them.
Liar's Club is scheduled to perform on Thursday, July 6, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. Showtime is 9 p.m.