If you're a fan of the Richmond Sluts, don't expect a bombardment of endlessly galling e-mails detailing the band's MP3 chart positions, gig dates, or egomaniacally personal member updates. The gift of graft is lost on the Sluts. The band could give a shit. Conversation with band members reveals a welcome lack of self-aggrandizing hype. They come off like a proper rock band, befittingly fuzzyheaded and with all faculties in imperfect working order.
Nevertheless, the band name isn't exactly rooted in irony.
"We started out in the Richmond district in San Francisco where we were living at the time," deadpans bassist/founder Chris Beltran. He's talking from the San Francisco rehearsal space of the band. "And the story goes that I slept with this girl to get the drum set, and that was our first piece of equipment. It's a true story. Our house in Richmond was basically a little whorehouse with parties and all kinds of shit going on, ya know? The band is basically everything that we were living and doing at the time. That's how it started."
Sluts? Maybe they were once. Now they claim steady girlfriends. Nevertheless, early on Beltran understood the value of spirit over ability, a fact that had many people coming and going in the Sluts camp. It was that attitude that lead him to singer/guitarist/band producer Shea Roberts, whom he met at a party. Roberts and Beltran had similar hairstyles.
"And we found Shea, he was actually a great drummer, still is a great drummer, and he couldn't play guitar. But fuck it, he's got the spirit, you know what I mean? That's perfect. That's exactly what we wanted. At the time Shea really wanted to be a lead singer, and I'm like, nah, 'cause we already had a singer -- our lineup has changed over the last few years. . . ."
The Sluts' ability -- or willingness -- to respond to interview requests from New Times appeared to be hopeless. It took days and days. This story almost didn't run, in fact. Yet the idea of five guys in a band fiercely loyal to the traditions laid forth by their record collections is alluring. And the same thing that makes the Sluts worthy -- this curiously old-fashioned rock 'n' roll dignity -- could very well be the thing that finishes them off. They don't pretend to be doing PR.
The Sluts loathe the music biz for all the right reasons. The members would, in fact, rather yak about cherished San Francisco drinking holes ("The Orbit Room, because one of my good friends works there and gets us drunk for free.") or why Generation X bassist Tony James was the coolest thing about that band, than bore themselves with career-advancing ploys and such gibberish.
Drummer Bradford Artly (late of Brian Jonestown Massacre) sums up the band's approach to rock 'n' roll with an ideal that recalls the pre-Let It Bleed era of bright and naïve liberation. "I don't pay attention to the business," he says in a drawl that sounds almost narcotic-induced. "I have no idea. I just like to get in the van, ya know? Just show up."
Yet, what makes the Richmond Sluts veritable kingcups in the weed-strewn landscape of underground rock 'n' roll is the band's intrinsic apotheosis of rock 'n' roll composure. And it's nothing to do with a shared fondness for Blondie/Bators bouffants and Carnaby Street get-ups, or the occasional misstep on a rock-cliché land mine. It's more about the imagination and lurking individuality expressed in actions based on musical tastes.
Of course being good at what you do rarely translates into major funding. Most Sluts work day jobs. Or at least pretend to. (Though just-added guitarist Jimmy Sweet makes his living as a staff songwriter for a U.K. publisher.)
"Some of us work, some of us don't," shrugs Beltran. "Girls support some, others have moral support, some have mental support. Personally, I play music, and sometimes I sell a lot of records."
What does that mean, he works at a record store?
"No," he says. "Sometimes I have to sell a lot of my own records."
Still, the Sluts are a damn fine argument against the idea that only real rock 'n' roll bands possess identities based on experience. Together since 1997, the youngish band (all claim to be in their twenties) has managed to update sounds into aberrations of a past breaking through; garish riffs from a distance that resemble the Syndicate of Sound, Brian Jones-era Stones, Ramones and Flamin' Groovies. A racket remarkable in its ability to summon the fuck-you spirit of a lost time, one that passes far beyond the limits of two simple chords working against a third. A glimmering instance of garage-rock pluck and punk tenacity that is perceptive enough to recognize the clichés, have a laugh at them, then fling them back into the rotted heap where they belong.
Listening to the record is kind of a two-way shock; the slab -- albeit raw as fuck -- transcends its categorical shtick (garage rock, trash rock, punk rock, whatever . . .) while at the same time suggesting, sometimes propelling, real personality. In terms of creating a racket peculiar to them, the Sluts break the present mold; they are the contemporary equivocators in the burgeoning and goofball-riddled punk/glam/garage underground.
The clattery disc is littered with traditional rock 'n' roll signposts/red flags; thumbnail sketches about drinking, women and getting lost in rock 'n' roll mythology. Organist Justin's Farfisa organ underscores the Chuck Berry via Johnny Thunders chording. There's Animals here, Them there, and the Plimsouls everywhere.
With pouty-mouthed, guts-in-a-keg accuracy, front man Roberts can intone disfigured observances such as "Strung out again/She's stealing shit from all my friends" like a guy weaned in a Richmond whorehouse. Sure, the songs traverse themes trodden to death by aforementioned forefathers, but the band brings a kind of accidental modernity to the table. That is what makes it listenable. The band doesn't come off like the karaoke offering at the local punk bar.
The Sluts insist that whatever they do is all about the brotherhood, not the calculation. They're pals. Who's to argue?
Roberts, a master of minimal response, explains the key to the band's sound as more to an expectation born of the old me-and-the-boys attitude. "We always go out drinking together," he says, then pauses. After a moment of silence, he adds, "That's how we do it."
Beltran adds that the quintet shares a fondness for the same records. There's no Rush guy on drums or the Fugazi enthusiast on bass. "Everyday I'm listening to my collection. I think we are all pretty much the same way. It's whatever I wake up on and that's what I feel like. Yesterday it was the Clash, Television. Tomorrow it'll be Junior Murvin and all reggae."
To solidify the odd sort of chemistry flowing out of the Sluts' Mission District rehearsal space (dubbed, of course, Rockers), Roberts comes clean with a misgiving Keith Richards would no doubt have mumbled had the issue come up back in 1967. "This cell phone thing is like, whatever. My work just gave me this phone . . . so . . . I dunno. It's weird having a cell phone. My boss just gave me this. He said you have to have this. It's like a walkie-talkie or whatever. And so, I don't know. Whatever; I got a free cell phone."
In all, there's really nothing complicated about what the Sluts do. It's beery fun for ripened punk rockers and class-dodging glitter chicks, the classic rock rotter and any Rolling Stones fan young enough to purchase records.
The Sluts come armed with a genuine love of music and song and the elemental process that makes it happen. What's more, they know their musical history.
"I dunno, says Bradford. "We're sorta growing up musically. You know how some bands just want to play 'one-two-three-four bump ladadadaladadaesshesssssh . . .' you know? That's all they ever do and they do it for four albums. We did that. Our first album was getting our balls squeezed or whatever. Now we are gonna go get real musical. Move forward. There's so much . . ."