Music News

Have Humor, Will Jam

The members of Psychostick are explaining how they came to pack a CD as crushingly heavy as We Couldn't Think of A Title with lyrics weighing in on everything from itchy balls to beer and diarrhea when guitarist Josh "Special J" Keys comes clean about his deep respect for "Weird Al" Yankovic.

"That guy's a genius," he says.

And there's no reason to believe he's kidding, either.

If there's one thing the members of Psychostick would never kid about, it's comedy. "It's kind of funny," Keys admits, "because we're a comedy band, but we're actually very serious and professional about what we do."

They call it humor-core, a blend of Ozzfest-worthy musical aggression and what Keys himself describes as a "dumb" sense of humor. "We love heavy music," he says, "but what we do is kind of a tribute to it and a mockery of it at the same time."

Keys formed Psychostick six years ago after moving to Phoenix from Texas, where he led a band called Asinine that was silly but not nearly silly enough, recruiting fellow Texas transplant Rob "Rawrb" Kersey to handle lead vocals while rocking the "silly hat" look.

"You can't be half funny," Keys explains. "You have to go all out. That's why Rob wears dumb hats and ninja gear. We want no mistake about what our intentions are."

True to their intentions, they picked up drummer Alex Preiss through a New Times ad that specified "Must have a sense of humor." Only 15 at the time, Preiss already had grown tired of dealing with serious-artist types. "I didn't mean a funny band at all," he says. "I just wanted someone with a sense of humor. When I met these guys, I didn't even think about it. But after I don't know how long, several months, I realized, 'Oh, wait, this is funny music.'"

After cutting a demo called Don't Bitch, It's Free, they made their live debut on Valentine's Day of 2001 with bassist Hunter Alexander rounding out the lineup.

"I was honestly afraid that we were gonna get booed off the stage," Keys says.

Even Kersey was nervous. "I was like, 'Oh, God, I can't believe I'm doing this,'" he says. "But we went up there and acted like goofballs, and it worked."

They've always gone over especially well with other musicians (well, unless you count first bassist Alexander, who left over humorous differences and was replaced by Mike "The Evil" Kocian). "All band guys," Kersey says, "are goofballs." Evil J of Otep is perhaps the most famous of several people to tell them, "You're doing what every guy in a band wants to do."

As Keys recalls the conversation, "We're like, 'Then why aren't you doing it?' And he's like, 'Well, it's kind of risky. I'm afraid to be laughed at in a bad way.'"

Psychostick always assumed there'd be people who found their particular brand of humor-core offensive or stupid (and not in a good way). But other than critics — who, as Kersey explains, are "always super-serious" — they haven't met with much resistance.

"I can't tell you how many black metal/death metal bands we've played with here in Arizona," Keys says. "And every single one of them has come up and said, 'Dude, you're evil.'"

It probably helps that they work on the music as much as they work on the humor. "The music has to be there, too, or people will dismiss it," Keys says. "We get the comment a lot, 'You guys are really funny, but you're also great musicians.' And I don't think we'd be where we are if we didn't have that second element of the musicianship."

So where exactly are they?

Well, the easy answer is an outside table at The Good Egg, having just returned from three months on the road with Bobaflex, which took the band members and their goofy stagewear all the way to Jersey. "That was our first tour," Kersey says. "Once we had the opportunity to do a tour, we didn't mess around."

What may seem kind of odd is that they're touring in support of a record that's been out for three years now in Phoenix. But it only just came out a month ago outside of Phoenix on the Rock Ridge Music label.

And they owe it all to beer. Or, more specifically, a song they wrote about how much they like to drink it. It starts with the sound of a can being opened and poured, makes its way through a Primus-style nursery-rhyme section extolling the virtues of beer, then hits you with both barrels tapped and flowing strong on a shout-along chorus of "Beer is good. Beer is good. Beer is good. And stuff."

Evil J — the member of Otep who wishes his band was as funny as Psychostick — gave his copy of We Couldn't Think of a Title to one of the DJs at XM Radio's Squizz 48, a hard-rock station that targets what it calls "the extreme generation" with stuff like Korn and Marilyn Manson. They threw "Beer" up on some Battle of the Bands, and, as Kersey recalls, "That stupid song about drinking beer won 10 weeks in a row."

That national exposure helped them ink a distribution deal with Rock Ridge. And rather than cut a new record with a lineup that had grown to include a lead guitarist — Vince Johansen, who showed up for his first gig with a colander on his head — they opted to reissue what they had and try to build on the momentum "Beer" had given them.

As Kersey says, "The CD is still new to everybody except for the few thousand people who bought it. And the 'Beer' song was starting to get picked up on XM and some FM stations. So we thought, 'You know what? Let's support this record.' We already have the majority of the songs written for the next album, but we want to continue to support this one, because the 'Beer' song is just taking off even though we've been playing it for, like, five years now."

"Wow," Keys says. "It is an old song."

To the people in the band it is, Kersey says. "To the world, it's a new song. I guess better late than never."

As for where they hope to go from here, they'll be home for a month and then it's back out on the road, bringing "Beer" to the people through Thanksgiving and arriving back in Phoenix just in time for Christmas.

After that? With any luck, they'll do some more recording after the New Year. The new music, Kersey says, is "challenging" and "much more technical" than the music on We Couldn't Think of A Title. "We've progressed quite a bit since the last one," Kersey says.

And the lyrics? Well, there's not much hope of progress there. And that's the way they like it. There's a new song Preiss wrote about friends coming over and eating his chips. It's called "Don't Eat My Food." And then there's "The Sombrero Prophecies."

"The first verse," Keys explains, "is a macaroni recipe. The second verse is all about aliens taking over the world."

Some people may find that kind of goofy, but as Kersey sees it, "Everybody loves to laugh."

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Ed Masley