Monday, January 30, 2012

Wad o' Funk - special guest column by Ben Snakepit!

Hey gang!  I'm calling in sick this week.  Take it away, Ben.

When I started art school in 1992, there was a guy in a bunch of my classes named Derrick. Derrick had his own style. He was into hip-hop, but he was no gangster. Derrick was old-school, and "down with P-Funk". He would show up to class in red overalls, airbushed with cryptic phrases like "It's the Wad" and "Sir Nose". Sometimes he would wear a compact disc on a chain around his neck. He was a nice enough guy, and after a few weeks we became friends.
One day, he came into class with a boom box and played me his demo tape. He played "She Dropped That Bomb on Me", lip-synching along with a complete choreographed dance routine to go with it. He told me all about his group, Wad-O-Funk. He was "The Wad" (his Name was Derrick A. Walker, his initials backwards spelled "wad') and supposedly had three other members to his group: G-Snap, MC Database, and Sir Funk-A-Nose. Later I learned that they were all just Derrick. He had paid $1000 to have this three-song demo tape made in a recording studio. I asked him for a copy of the tape and he said no. After bugging him for weeks, he finally dubbed me a copy, which I immediately copied for all of my friends, and within a month everyone in Johnson Hall (our dorm) was reciting the lyrics to "Milk It". I asked Derrick if he'd like to play a show with my band, but he had bigger plans. "Naw man, I don't wanna do my first concert in no small place like the Metro, I wanna start off at the Coliseum." The Metro was a 300-capacity venue where punk bands played. The Coliseum was a huge event center where I saw Kiss and Ted Nugent play. Derrick also told me of his plan to achieve stardom. First he had to wait for his cousin to return from Korea with some "sound equipment", which was apparently much cheaper over there. Next, he was going to watch the then-upcoming film CB4, to get some tips on how to make it big in the industry. This would give him the advantages he needed to become a big star, he believed.
Derrick never had any idea how many people liked his tape. He also had no idea that we didn't really like his tape for the reasons he wanted people to like it. Derrick was oblivious to a lot of things. On the first day of our Women's Studies class (Derrick and I were the only two men there), he told the professor that he was taking the class "to figure out why y'all womens is so crazy." Not everyone was a fan of his demo, though. Some of his critics called the beats "cheesier than a Casio", and others referred to him as a "sucka MC". This may be true, but to this day I can still recite every word to every song by heart. I lost touch with Derrick after college. He never got to play the Collisseum, or even the Metro. I don't know if he ever wrote or recorded any music besides these two and a half songs. Honestly, I don't care. This demo is enough. So get prepared, sit back and relax; as we depart from the inner city... Venus, that is.

 01 Introduction
 02 She Dropped That Bomb on Me
03 Milk It

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bad Guy Reaction

The first time I saw Bad Guy Reaction might have been in the attic of 1208-A West Franklin, and I didn't get it.  There was a lot of buzz around them, people were way into them, and they got to be fairly popular in a short period of time.  Looking back, my "not getting them" may have had something to do with my lack of understanding about punk rock, and good ol' fashioned jealousy.
My opinions about each of the members of the band when they were starting out was varied.
KC Byrnes - I remember being at the VCU cafeteria (Hibbs) and there was a fratboy with pink hair being loud and insulting people.  I didn't really know if he was in a fraternity or just hung out with those types, but it wasn't my scene.
Greg Benedetti - Didn't know him at all, but was jealous of his height and his extremely cute girlfriend (I think her name was Amy?).
Dave Garrett - A good friend of mine from Williamsburg.
Marty Key - No idea who this person was.
One thing that was so nice about being young and having all the time in the world is that you could give things multiple chances.  Trial and error.  Nowadays, we click on a youtube of a band and if it doesn't grab you by the balls immediately, you can hit the little red X in the corner.  The Richmond music scene in the early/mid-90's was relatively small, so if there was a halfway good or interesting show, you'd go see it.  That was the entertainment back then - it wasn't about sitting on your couch clacking away on your keyboard (don't say it.).
I ended up seeing Bad Guy Reaction several times over the next few months, and while they didn't connect with me in the same way some other bands did, I grew to respect them and ended up... getting it.  Punk rock is about breaking down the barrier between the band and the audience.  Ideally, anyway.  In the crowd, you're supposed to look on that stage and say to yourself, "That could be me up there."  There was an element of chaos at Bad Guy Reaction shows.  Was a guitar string or a drum stick about to break?  Was an amp going to blow up?  Was a guitar or bass going to get unplugged (the answer to this one was usually yes)?  That's what made it exciting, though.  That, and the fact that after a few listens, the songs were solid.
My opinions on each of the band members changed too as I got to know them.  KC supposedly had an encyclopaedic knowledge of punk rock and legend has it that his record collection stops cold at the year 1983.  Greg actually turned out to be pretty cool, and I later came to wonder if that girl Amy had better taste in dudes than I gave her credit for.  The two of them (I think?) later went on to form the also popular band Wardance Orange.  Dave Garrett  later (and earlier, in a manner of speaking) went on to be in Williamsburg legends Thee Squids, and several others including Polish Revolver.  Marty is one of 2 people I know that have been in as many - if not more - bands than me, the difference being that one of them got to be huge: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
A few years ago, my friend Dan Evans mailed me his Bad Guy Reaction tape.  The actual tape inside had broken, and I spliced it back together.  See if you can find the edit (you won't be able to).
Bad Guy Reaction

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Champs

In the autumn of 1991, I was completely unaware that there was a punk rock scene on the East Coast.  I knew about bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, but they seemed like legends from a distant past.  For the hell of it, I went to a show at William and Mary University in my hometown of Williamsburg to see bands with strange names like Jettison Charlie (or Hassan Chop, I don't remember), the Reverend Horton Heat, and Nation of Ulysses.  The Nation was the first actual noise band I'd ever seen, and one of the things I recall most clearly was that it didn't sound like a damn thing.  Anyway, this is not their story.
Seven or so years after that, I heard that one of the NOU's guitarists moved to Santa Cruz or San Diego or somewhere and was in a band that sounded like Iron Maiden or something.  This band was scheduled to play in the upstairs of my friend's house at 1208-A West Franklin in Richmond - very close to where I lived.
The Champs were a two guitar/drums trio that played victorious-sounding metal without enormous gobs of distortion.  This was at a time when it wasn't really that cool to be into metal.  Everyone there was way into it, and the Champs became something of a flagship for a new kind of... well... I guess the term "hipster metal" is derogatory, but what else can it be called?  People that were hip and played metal.  As opposed to people that were unhip and played metal?  They immediately became one of my favorite bands.  I bought a tape:
This is not its story.

Anyway, after seeing them a few times, I developed something of an acquaintanceship with the guys in the Champs.  To be clear, it was probably more that way than them developing an acquaintanceship with me - but I digress.  At the legendary club King's in Raleigh, NC, they let me open up for the Champs by playing a guitar solo for like 20 minutes.  And I used to wonder why I never got to be famous?  My friend Mike Marunde came with me to the show with some recording equipment, and we set up a couple of microphones and recorded the Champs' set some time in early 2000?  Here it is:

Champs Youtube Playlist

Last I heard of the Champs, Josh Smith quit (I refuse to use wikipedia - that's cheating) and joined a band with the word Horse in it.  I thought this would be the end of the band because Josh was one of the original guitarist, but Tim Green and Tim Soete got a guy from Trans Am and they made another solid album or two.  Or three.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fulflej

The first time I saw Rhithim Lid (or however the hell they decided to misspell "rhythm") was at a basement show somewhere on Grace Street in Richmond.  Maybe it was in the fall of 1992?  They were a three-piece from Virginia Beach or Northern Virginia or somewhere.  The singer/guitarist wielded a Stratocaster, was tall and gangly, had short hair, and "emo" glasses before they were a thing.  The bassist was a laid-back looking black dude that might have had short dreads.  The drummer either wore a baseball hat or looked like he should have.  In other words, they didn't exactly look like Buzz*oven.  Their music almost seemed to be a calculated attempt to get the elitist scenesters in Richmond to hate them, so I was taken with them immediately.  Jangly alternative pop music with the occasional heavy part, with falsetto crooning over top.  I still remember sitting on the floor of that basement, my legs falling asleep while "MC No Joke G" used the Delay Time knob on his echo pedal to change the pitch of the chord he was playing (a technique I also used and built open, impressing maybe a total of 12 people).
To make things worse/better, Fulflej soon released their demo tape, which if memory serves was 3 songs on a 90-minute tape.  This in a town where the most popular band was the three-chords in 2 minutes Avail.  I saw them every chance I could.  There weren't really many bands like them at the time, but they did get a decent-sized following of (if memory serves) ridiculously cute girls that didn't have tattoos or piercings.
Fulflej's next release was a shorter tape of shorter, more accessible pop/rock songs.  I still have it to this day.  In fact, here it is.

How to Turn Household Pets into Easter Bunnies

Somehow, Fulflej managed to catch the ear of James and Darcy from Smashing Pumpkins.  They had started a vanity label called Scratchie Records, and Fulflej's first album came out on it: Wack-Ass Tuba Riff.  Their song "Work in This Universe" was possibly the first song I ever heard on the Buzz radio station - not counting "local hour" or whatever.  Legend has it that they even opened up for Smashing Pumpkins in Chicago.  Crazy, right?  This must have been some time in 1996.  Not long after that, they recorded a song for one of those Power Rangers movies.  Their follow up record was recorded in 1999, but due to legal problems with their distributor, it swirled around in the vortex for about a year, until MC No Joke G gave up and moved from Richmond to San Diego, ending the band.  Later, he did some electronic music and is probably still at least doing something.
Fulflej is something of an anomaly compared to a lot of the bands that I have written/will write about in that they got pretty close to realizing their potential. Going from playing basements to stadiums and having a video on MTV?  Sometimes the universe is balanced.  Also, I'm pretty sure they all have microwave ovens.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cherry Valence/Birds of Avalon Part 2

Birds of Avalon.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to follow them as closely because by the time they got off the ground, I had moved halfway across the country and started a family.  I like to think that they kept a similar schedule to the Cherry Valence.
The only time I ever saw Birds of Avalon was at Fun Fun Fun Fest a few years ago.  They seemed like a more marketable version of their predecessors.  Not to say they were any less enjoyable - far from it.  Just different.
So, I guess I don't have a lot to write about them.  Also, they only Birds of Avalon album I have is available for purchase, which you should do.  I did digitize the Cherry Valence demo though.

01 Lose That Smile
02 Sitting Around Looking at Girls
03 Let Me Do My Business
04 Don't You Worry
05 Waltz for Stevie Wonder
06 Rollin'
07 Last Man on Earth Blues
08 Drunk Ass Self at Home
09 Two-Headed Woman
10 Clark Street Dub