In spite of limited commercial success, The Quakes are one of the most influential bands in the tatted up, creepers-and-pompadour subgenre psychobilly. The band formed in Buffalo, New York in 1986 and relocated to London shortly thereafter, where they established a reputation as a fearsome live combo.
"There was no scene here in the states whatsoever, zero, nothing, so it didn't make sense to stay here...back in those days, the center of that universe was in London," says vocalist Paul Roman, the only remaining original member of The Quakes, who has lived in Phoenix for the past 15 years.
Roman is playing a couple of shows with a revamped lineup, including South American dates next spring and a headlining performance at Chaser's on Saturday, December 17.
We met up with the band as they finished recording a promo video to discuss getting deported, the new lineup, and the varying states of the international psychobilly scene.
Up on the Sun: What are you guys up to? Why are you recording a video? Paul Roman: We're going to Brazil later this year. This is a promo thing for Brazil, specifically. It's a cover song of a famous Brazilian pop singer. Does it have anything to do with the movie Brazil?
No, probably not. Her name is Xuxa, and she was a children's TV presenter. She's famous in Brazil. She had a show here in the '90s on American TV in English, but she's pretty much it's a South American thing. When will you be playing down there?
Brazil and Argentina, in May.
You're working with a new lineup now?
Yes, this is a brand new lineup with Wes [Hinshaw on bass] and Kevin [O'Connor] on drums.
How do you know each other?
Kevin played with me on a US tour in 2006. He is the drummer for the 7 Shot Screamers, they were on tour with us and Wes lives here in town. He played a couple of shows with The Quakes in 2009 or 2010. Since The Quakes' bass player didn't live here in town, Wes practiced with us regularly.
How did you get deported from Europe twice?
I was there playing music and you can't do that; you need to have a work permit. Both times I had gone to Belgium to play a concert and when I returned, they asked me all kinds of questions and they found out what I was doing and kicked me out. You can't just move to another country and start working there and living there. It's illegal. When they find you, they kick you out. Right away you're out, you're gone, you're on the next plane home.
At least you weren't kicked out of the states.
It happens here, too. A lot of our friends who come here from Europe, sometimes they don't even make it through customs and they [cancel] because they don't have a work permit. I fooled immigration when I first went into England. You know, that I'm just here as a tourist or whatever. Ever since that point, we've always had a work permit when we go to these places now, but back then in those days, we just didn't have one.
In those days, the passports weren't electronic and they'd put this big mark on your passport that you'd been kicked out, so what we did was we tore up our passports and we got brand new ones that didn't have any stamps, so that when we went through customs, it looked like 'Hey, these guys have never been here before' because it wasn't all computerized like it is now. You cant do that now because they know who you are. The Quakes have been all over the place. How did you get from New York to London to Finland to here?
Back in those days, the kind of music that we play, psychobilly, the center of that universe was in London. All of the bands, all of the record labels were there, so that's where you had to go to break into that scene. There was no scene here in the states whatsoever, zero, nothing, so it didn't make sense to stay here. So we just sold all of our stuff and went there.
I take it you were probably best received in London?
That's where we got started. Best received is Southern California, for sure. Would you say things have gotten better recently?
In Phoenix, for sure, for us, yeah. But for this particular scene in general in the States, it's totally dead right now. It was good from 2000 to 2010, and I think its dead now.
There aren't any young bands that are...that's what it's going to take to lift it again is for some young band in to be in the spotlight to be either on TV or have a hit or something to bring it back.
Why did you start your own label, Orrexx Records?
Just being on a bunch of different labels over the years and seeing how the whole thing works. With the internet and all of that, it's easier for someone to start their own label. It was really good for a while until the whole downloading thing really took off, and now it sucks. Because I'm the label, I pay for everything, so if I'm going to spend X amount on a record to record and everything that's involved in making the record, I have to know that I can at least get the money I spent on the record back because its my money out of my savings account or whatever. With the downloading, it's really difficult to do. Before, it wasn't. I knew I was going to sell X amount of CDs and okay I paid back what I spent on it, and then its okay. I don't care to make a million dollars, but I at least put the money back that I spent and now that's really difficult.
You're working on some new material. What should we expect out of that? Are you experimenting with any new themes or sounds?
There's always one or two songs on the record that are kind of weird and don't belong there just for that purpose, but other than that its just the same old crap.
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When The Quakes first formed, you guys weren't that experienced. Did you set out to make your own sound, or were you trying to emulate something else?
Both. I think we wanted to be accepted by the scene so some of our stuff was geared to try to attract those people but we also saw the other bands on the scene and wanted to be different from them, so we tried to do something a little bit different to be...put just enough of the stuff in there that people would be attracted but make it different enough that we don't look or sound like the other bands.