First things first about Cop Shoot Cop. The band's name is not some sort of white-boy take on Ice-T anger. And it's not a pithy stage direction from an old Keystone Kops flick. At least not according to Tod A., Cop Shoot Cop's lead howler.
"We used to have a rehearsal space on Avenue B in lower Manhattan," the singer explains over the phone from his current Big Apple abode. "It was a big drug spot, a big drug-copping area. I was really broke at the time, and the sort of cyclical nature of addiction--copping, shooting, copping, basically, these people whose whole lives revolved around getting their next fix--it all reminded me of my own life, working a day job to pay the rent to work a day job to pay the rent. That's where the name came from."
It's a nice story. But the name still conjures images of Kojak and Barney Miller getting testy with each other. Tod admits the moniker's offensive to some.
"Yeah," he says. "But fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
The sensitive Mr. A. (Tod Ashley to his accountant) has similar advice to po-mo types expecting Cop Shoot Cop to be humorless, Angry Young Men. The band's songs may rattle with spasms akin to the latest spew from Skrew, or Trent Reznor's outbursts with Nine Inch Nails. But Cop Shoot Cop's pretty hate machine allows for an inch or two of irony to join the fun. CSC's most recent CD, Release, features a love song titled "It Only Hurts When I Breathe." There's another cut, "One of These Days," that includes "getting in shape to become an astronaut" on a things-to-do list.
"It's a survival tool," Tod says of such sideswipes at humor. "If we were dead serious all the time, I think we'd be a bit more suicidal."
Cop Shoot Cop indeed otherwise sounds like a metal band on the verge of a breakdown. The anxiety is enhanced by a heavy emphasis on bass and percussion, with noisy samples and tape loops splattered in the mix. Guitars, when present, are a decided afterthought.
"In New York, you wind up having to stake out your own territory," Tod says. "There's so many bands all trying to play the same clubs. It's not a competition of who is going to succeed, but more of a competition of what your identity is. Since all these bands were so into guitars at the point when we started--Swans, Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Live Skull--we decided to do it without guitars."
Cop Shoot Cop first elbowed its way onto the New York club circuit in the late Eighties, having formed in an appropriately roach-infested basement. "The band was more of like an expensive hobby," Tod says of the early days. "We never had any aspirations of making a living at it."
Tod had worked with Pussy Galore's Jon Spencer in a band named Shithaus. Co-Cop founder Philip Cary Puleo was a percussionist specializing in pots and pans and other metal objets d'drum. Bassist Jack Nantz soon came over from ex-Misfits Bobby Steele's group, the Undead. (Nantz, incidentally, also did time with filmmaker Richard Kern in a band named Black Snakes.) Samples and tape guy Jim Coleman (a.k.a. "Cripple Jim" and "Filer") signed on, and then a few years later, the Cops recruited guitarist and trumpet player (!) Steve McMillen, from Motherhead Bug.
Cop Shoot Cop lost little time making a name for itself--initially because of its name. But the band also grew as an entertaining live act with an unpredictable, good-Cop-bad-Cop m.o. Band members, for example, habitually veered into violence onstage, often trashing faulty equipment and then throwing the wreckage at the audience. The Cops have also had run-ins with real cops on both coasts--in L.A. for cruising the wrong streets a day after the riots, and in New York on weapons violations following a late-night fracas outside CBGB.
Maybe Cop Shoot Cop really is an angry young band, after all.
"There's a certain energy you feed off of just living here," Tod says of New York. "And some of what we do is inspired by that. But for the most part, we're inspired by just living in the United States, circa now."
Tod allows himself to slip into a hazy, post-Hegelian dialectic. "I think in general people feel pretty powerless," he muses. "I mean, a lot of it has to do with their government not really being a voice for them. And a lot of it's just general confusion on where the country's going. Music a lot of times can be an outlet for that kind of frustration. Bands put into words something that you might not be able to articulate yourself. It serves a function in that way."
One could quibble with the man called A.'s grasp of Anglo-American attitudes. But then Cop Shoot Cop seems to kill 'em across the pond. The band just finished playing a series of Lollapaloozalike gigs in England, including a set at the increasingly influential Reading Festival. "That was probably the largest show we've ever done," Tod says, recalling the 30,000 bleary faces staring back at the stage. "I'm not sure if everyone wanted to hear Cop Shoot Cop at 1 in the afternoon, but they were into it."
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The band's assignment now is to get America's great sweaty masses into it. Tod remembers playing "for about ten people" the last time CSC stopped in the Valley. But things are changing. For starters, the public's interest in preapocalyptic headache bands seems to be on an upward spiral. Witness the presence of new bands like Drown from L.A., and the continued presence of older acts like Chicago's Jesus Lizard. And witness Cop Shoot Cop swimming safely in a long-term deal with Interscope Records, home of the like-minded and startlingly popular Nine Inch Nails.
Still, Cop Shoot Cop has some work to do. Trent Reznor screaming in the mirror about a hole in the head makes for a slightly different target audience than the one attracted to CSC lines like, "I asked a pig if he wanted to dance/He said, 'Is that a gun in your pants or are you just glad to see me?'"
If happiness indeed is a warm gun, then Cop Shoot Cop's got some good times ahead.