Celebrity Skin is sick of blue-jeans-and-tee-shirt guitar-pop bar-hero bands. The group wants to bring glitter and glamour back to rock 'n' roll. It wants to revive outrageous, wailing superstardom.
"I don't want to see just the guy next door playing guitar," says Skin bassist Tim Ferris. "I want to see something that's totally radical."
Little wonder the band has a penchant for sporting flashy costumes while cranking out chaotic and noisy power-pop melodies. Ferris is quick to claim that around its hometown of Los Angeles, the Skin has a reputation for never wearing the same get-up twice.
These far-out fashions often come from fans, drummer Don Bolles confides. They'll say, "`Yeah, I would never in a million years wear something like this, but I figured you'd like it.'" Bolles laughs, "And they're right."
The group combines its gaudy garb with a no-holds-barred stage assault to create a combination clubgoers are not likely to find elsewhere, says Bolles. "It's not like some singer and his back-up band with Guitar Institute graduates," says the onetime drummer for the Germs and 45 Grave, "It's like five Elvis Mick Ronsons all at once."
The Celebrity Skin experience is so colorful and chaotic that neither Bolles nor Ferris can help but chuckle when asked to recall some of their most notable memories.
"We had some [fireworks] explosions at [L.A. nightclub] Scream," says Ferris. "That was really good. All our clothes were singed and our hair was all singed off, and the drummer got completely surrounded by a ball of flame . . . It was kinda bad though, 'cuz some of the sparks shot off into the audience, and this one girl got a big hole burned in her big hair-spray 'do."
"It carved this anti-mohawk in her huge bouffant," recalls Bolles. "She was really mad at first. Then, the next night she was over in the offices where we lived and brought us this case of beer and told us what a great show it was and asked us if she could live with us."
Although the moment seems funny in hindsight, Ferris says the band won't take any more chances playing with fire. It doesn't want to see anybody else getting burned. "We don't mind hurting ourselves at all," the bass player says, "but when it went into the audience, that was when we thought, `Oh, gosh, we don't really want to do that.'"
But even without pyrotechnics, the members of Celebrity Skin are never at a loss for ways to keep themselves and their audience amused. The group just breaks loose and goes wild, says Bolles, especially lead vocalist Gary Jacobi.
"He's a rock god, and occasionally he will have this need to run up on top of the PA cabinets," says Bolles. "One time he leaped up and was playing away, shaking his booty and such, and then he realized that it was a really long way down, and he couldn't get down from there. He just kinda had to sit there for a while. And finally he jumped and he fell over, and he managed to muddle through [the song] somehow, but he was on the ground, in pain."
It'd be nearly impossible to re-create Celebrity Skin's anarchic live performance in the studio, but Bolles says the band did its best with a four-song compact disc on Triple X Records.
The cover features four of the Skinners sloshing about in a bowl of slimy soup, while lead singer Jacobi is skewered on a fork, about to be eaten. Three of the songs are originals, and the fourth is an interpretation of ABBA's hit "SOS."
Actually, C.S. treats the Seventies' smash with unexpected reverence. "We're not doing ABBA as a joke, we're not doing it to bring back the Seventies," insists Ferris. "It's just a beautifully written song, and we rock it out."
The group adds a liberal amount of distortion and its own uniquely demented leads. But it also incorporates some well-executed vocal harmonies. "We think that's something a lot of bands today are completely forgetting about," says Ferris, "which is the beauty of music, which rests a lot in the harmonies. We work hard on our harmonies and we think they're important and we're proud of them."
But don't expect to hear the band harmonizing on mainstream radio just yet. Most of the music on the CD contains an equal amount of heavy noise. The group powers through metallic mania on "Clown Scare," a torrent of tortured confessions on "Monsters," ("I've created a monster/Now I live with it"), and finally, a busy, bemuddled rocker based on a scary dream, called "Mother's Day."
All in all, Bolles says the CD is a representative sampler of Celebrity Skin's wild and various mood swings. It highlights different sides of a schizophrenic musical personality that can swing from sweet harmonies to loud and aggressive power chords. But if there's one thing that stands out, it's how the band can cut driving tunes that are comical, powerful and frightful all at the same time.
Yet even as unpredictable and energetic as the band's songs and stage show can get, Ferris points out that it never becomes violent. "Basically, the whole scene that surrounds us is not a violent one. There's other ways to channel your energy. Our fans like to dress up, that's one way of channeling energy and just having a good time. I don't want to sound like a hippie or nothing, but it's like peaceful raw energy instead of violent raw energy."
Bolles insists that the Skin's wild sound is not conducive to fighting. "There's no senseless, awful violence at our shows," he says. "If there's a slam pit that develops, which often there is, it's a friendly one."
Celebrity Skin will perform at Asylum on Sunday, June 3. Show time is 9:30 p.m.
EATING MCDOWELL A COOK'S TOUR OF PHOENIX... v5-30-90