Hello, my name is Chad Radford and I am an Atlanta-based music journalist with 20 years of experience in writing, editing, and podcasting. Punk, hardcore, jazz, noise, post-punk, hip-hop, metal, modern composition, drone music, and all points in between are where my interests lie. I am an avid nature lover, and I buy too many records.
This site features exclusive content, links to articles I have written for other publications, and refurbished stories I’ve written in the past. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or send me an email.
I have several podcasts, interviews, feature stories, and reviews on the schedule for the coming year. I know the value of thorough research and thoughtful storytelling. If you enjoy this site please consider making a donation to help me keep rolling out more posts. Click here or press the button below to make a donation via Paypal.
Tav Falco is something of a renaissance man. The singer, guitar slinger, author, and provocateur began his extraordinary career in a cotton loft on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1979. It was there that he chain sawed a guitar into pieces during a performance art act. Since then, his notoriously outsider musical outfit Panther Burns has included everyone from Big Star singer and guitarist Alex Chilton to Minutemen and fIREHOSE bass player Mike Watt and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds drummer Toby Dammit.
These days, Falco calls Bangkok, Thailand his home. For Panther Burns 2022 U.S. tour, the group’s lineup is rounded out by bass player Giuseppe Sangirardi, guitar player Mario Monterosso, and drummer Walter Brunetti.
Over the decades, the Arkansas-born auteur has mastered a singularly primitive motif. Blues rhythms carry his less-than-pitch-perfect singing, creating an off-center momentum in which songs feel as though they could tumble apart at any moment. But he always reins them in, creating a marvelous avant-garde tension on the stage. In recent years, his sound has expanded to incorporate elements of cabaret and tango performances, which underscore his latest five-song EP, Club Car Zodiac.
Before his cabaret-infused blend of Memphis rock ‘n’ roll takes over the the Earl for an evening of music and mystery, Falco took a few minutes to talk about how the new EP came together.
Panther Burns are back on the road after surviving the global pandemic!
Yes, and these are the first shows that we have played since the height of the pandemic, when we played a contagion-controlled event at the Il Castello Della Spizzichina in Italy, and that was July 31, 2021. Now, we’re out supporting our Club Car Zodiac EP, which came out for Record Store Day’s Black Friday, and it’s a highly personal recording.
What makes this such a personal recording for you?
I wrote three of the songs, “Dance Me to the River,” “Tango Primavera,” and “La Brigantessa,” which I sing in English. I wrote “La Brigantessa” for a cabaret artist in Rome, Adèl Tirant. I saw her perform with La Conventicola degli Ultramoderni. When I met her I was so impressed with her that I wrote this song for her. In Italian, “La Brigantessa” translates as “a lady thief.” We got to know one another and she sings the chorus of the song that you hear on the recording. I am so very happy with how that recording turned out, and I hope people will listen to it.
The lineup on the record also includes Mike Watt playing some bass. You also have Didi Wray playing guitar. Were you all in a room playing and recording together or were these songs done remotely?
Mike Watt initiated this recording during lockdown. He said, “Let’s do a couple of songs and put out a single.” I thought, why not? So we recorded the entire record remotely. When I got into it I wasn’t happy with the vocals I was getting. So I ordered a large diaphragm microphone, and once that came the vocals started happening for me—and my software. So I said, “This is sounding pretty good, I’m gonna do some more songs for this record. I wrote one, called “COVID Rebel Girl.” It was highly electrified, but that one did not make it onto the record because everyone but Mike Watt thought my playing on the song was just way too bizarre.
So it’s just five songs, but it’s a rather dense recording. Didi Wray is a tango surf guitarist from Argentina. She plays on “Dance Me to the River.” That is a very personal song; lockdown was a very lonely period for me, and I delved into my interior life. I brought out a lot of what was floating around in the dark waters of my unconscious. That song is set in Paris, on the banks of the Seine. It’s a personal statement about separation, betrayal, unrequited love, a sense of loss, bewilderment, and general confusion. It was the end of a period of my life that had gone on for quite some time—the shattering of a relationship—and I wanted to treat it artistically. Doing that was a kind of catharsis.
Then there is “House of the Rising Sun.”
Yes, and that is a song that I have always wanted to do. In fact, most vocalists attempt their version of it at one time or another throughout their career. I thought it was time for me to do my own version. I did ok with it. I’m not unhappy with that track.
“Tango Primavera,” is the last song on the EP, and it’s a rewrite of an Ettore Petrolini recording from the 1930s, the cabaret artist from Rome.
Petrolini has a song called “Tango Roman,” which means Roman tango. I heard it performed in Rome by Maria Freitas in the cabaret La Conventicola degli Ultramoderni.
Maria performed that in the same cabaret that Adèl Tirant performs in and Mirkaccio Dettori plays the piano.
I had done a small show there with Panther Burns, and I became enchanted with this cabaret in the San Lorenzo district, which is the working class district of Rome, where Pier Paolo Pasolini lives.
I went back to Rome after the tour and said, “I would like to perform here.” They asked, “What would you like to do?” I said, “I would like to sing and dance with a dancing cane and a Matta Low hat—the straw hat, like French singer, actor Maurice Chevalier wore.
So I started working on some songs and rehearsing, and I came across “C’est mon Gigolo,” in French, by the 1930s cabaret artist Damia. So I got an English translation from some radio people in Paris, and I put together an arrangement in French and English that I brought to the cabaret. We do it in three languages now: French, English, and Mirkaccio sings it in Italian. It is the original gigolo song, not the one that Louis Prima had a hit with in the ‘50s by grafting together the original song with “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the original, which is a very dark and expressionistic song. It’s an admonition to the gigolo of what will happen in the end.
I also brought in the Irving Berlin number “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” which has some racial overtones in today’s world. But that’s the song. I sing it, and anybody who’s heard it won’t deny that tune. And I do “Brazil,” which I do with Panther Burns, and “St. Louis Blues,” the W.C. Handy number that I recorded on Behind the Magnolia Curtain. After this tour, I will return to Rome and continue doing that under the adopted persona, L’Ultimo Gigolo, the Last Gigolo. That is my character, and I’ll bring it to America in 2023, probably as a Cabaret of Daggers, musical theater piece. We’re developing that in Memphis, with Mario Monterosso who will be the producer, as he has been the producer for my last four albums, and the lead guitar player and arranger in Panther Burns and on Tav Falco solo records.
Mario has a new record out called Take It Away on Org music. It’s a record of instrumentals from which he’ll be playing six tunes in Atlanta, prefacing the Panther Burns performance. Don’t miss that! It’s really outstanding what Mario is doing with these instrumentals.
Yes, I took the photograph that appears on the front cover of that book.
That photograph came up in our conversation. Robert said that you gave him some advice about writing, filmmaking, and anything else, and that was to just jump in and do it.
I think he’s talking about what I learned from William Eggleston. I was learning photography from William, and I asked, “How do you do this, Bill?” He said, you just have to jump in the middle and work your way out. That’s what Robert’s referencing, and that is true.
It’s good to prepare. Technique is important. Learn your instrument and learn your craft: If you are an actor you learn your body and your voice, but that will take you so far. You can learn from a mentor. You can learn in a school. You can be self-taught. You can start from the beginning of an itinerary that’s going to take you to a certain level of ability and control. Or you can just jump in the middle and figure it all out. That’s the way I did photography. That’s the way I did music and theater, and to an extent, film. It may not be the best way, but it’s one way.
In doing that you learn to rely on and to draw from intuitive sources rather than a dogmatic plan of some kind. Only now, after all this time, am I looking at music theory. I’ve started to study that because, Chad, I do not know a note from a molecule, at least not until recently.
Now I have an understanding of the concepts that go all the way back to the classic modes of music and poetry. It’s exciting, but I don’t know if it will help me as a musician or as an artist. It may help me on an intellectual level of some kind, and maybe on a subliminal secondary level. But I don’t see it having any direct effect on what I do. It might help me choose the chords that are more pleasing without having to do trial and error all the time, which is how I normally do it.
I want to communicate with musicians, and I want to do so in the language that I understand. And I want to have a better understanding of musical structure and dynamics in terms of notation, frequency, vibration, and how the musical scale and tonal parameters of music are understood. I’m making progress, but putting it into practice is not so easy.
Since 1995, Catfight! has delivered sweet and salty rock ‘n’ roll anthems, driven by three-chord charges in which their playfulness is matched only by their pedal-to-the-metal energy.
“We were never quite garage enough to be a full-on garage rock band, and we were never punk enough to be a full punk band, but we could go between the two pretty seamlessly,” says Catfight!’s bass player Katy Graves. “We fit right in playing Bubbapalooza at The Star Bar and we fit in playing Drive-in Invasion at Starlight Drive-in.”
Now, Graves, along with singer and guitarist Jennifer Leavey, and current drummer Stacy Kerber (previously of Mota-Litas), are experiencing renewed energy fueling Catfight!’s ramshackle garage-punk anthems.
Take Catfight!’s car trilogy: The songs “Blue Truck,” “My Mustang,” and “Backseat Baby” from their 1996 album, Kitty Glitter—all three have long been crowd favorites. The latter number, “Backseat Baby,” emerged as a response to a song called “Top Daddy (In A GTO),” a full-throttle psychobilly ode to a classic car and its seductive powers written by New York-based rockabilly trio Jack Black (not to be confused with the actor of the same name).
Over the years, the two groups developed a friendship after playing more than a few shows together in New York and Atlanta. Catfight!’s response is a ready, willing, and not-so-subtle reply that greatly eclipses the metaphors in Jack Black’s song in fierce and melodic high-pitched tirades.
Of course, there’s more nuance to many of Catfight!’s signature tongue-in-cheek lyrics, as other songs traverse a variety of topics ranging from more exploits with boys and fast cars to defending women’s rights.
“There is irony in the lyrics,” Leavey says. For more on this, look no further than the cover art for Catfight!’s “Panic Attack” 7-inch, which answers the question: “What would the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers LP cover look like without a bulge in the jeans?”
According to Leavey, “Some people take it straight, and don’t see the irony in what we do, which is frustrating.” Graves adds, “That’s when we get comments—like one night in Savannah, a guy came up after the show and said, ‘Y’all were great, but you would be much better if you were playing naked!’”
“We never had it that bad in the Mota-Litas, but we had a strong lesbian following, partially because we were signed to Amy Ray’s label, Daemon Records,” Kerber says. “We played with some pretty amazing people, like the Butchies and the Breeders.”
Leavey continues: “In 2001, we played Ladyfest at CBGB’s, and it was a genuine feminist gathering. I remember halfway through our set, saying, ‘All of our songs are about boys and cars,’” she laughs. “At the same festival we saw Tribe 8, and the drummer played topless. Talk about a true political statement! They had to cover all of the windows! … Here we are playing songs about boys and cars, but they are angry songs about boys and cars.”
The seeds for the group were planted in the early ’90s, when Leavey, who had been writing and performing songs steeped in the aesthetics of riot grrrl awareness and the underground grunge scene of the era in the band Bite, teamed up with Graves and drummer Ann Ciovacco who both played in Doll Squad. After releasing two 7-inches and two full-lengths, Kitty Glitter and 2000’s Frustrated, Catfight! scored a couple of minor hits.
The A-side from their 1995 7-inch, “Mamie Van Doren,” written by Graves, was picked up by Little Steven’s “Underground Garage” on Sirius/ XM, and named one of “the coolest songs in the world.” The song remains in rotation, and since “Underground Garage” is offered on airplanes, publishing payments have continued rolling in. The song also appears on the compilation CD, Little Steven’s Underground Garage Presents The Coolest Songs In The World! Vol. 4.
“I got to speak with Mamie over the phone, because Little Steven gave her my contact,” Graves says. “I got to tell her how great she was, and she sent me a bunch of signed 8x10s. She said, ‘My son Perry and I will listen to the song and we’ll just laugh!’ That was great to hear!”
“One of us will come in with song ideas,” Leavey says. “We’ll contribute our individual parts, but whoever writes the lyrics and the melody gets the songwriting credit.”
Ciovacco left Catfight! in 2000, and drummer Susanne Gibboney joined soon after.
In 2004, the group paired up with the Helgas for a split CD, titled Splitsville.
In 2005, Catfight! was tapped to create theme music for director Jay Edwards’ monster movie Stomp! Shout! Scream! about an all-girl band in the 1960s being tormented by a skunk ape — Florida’s version of Bigfoot.
In January 2020, Catfight! released a new single, “Majority Rules” (recorded with Gibboney on drums). The song brought an end to a decade- long writing hiatus, boasting lyrics such as: “Girl I want to see you get elected, girl I want to see you get the votes. You’re the one who’s writing the bills, taking care of business up on Capitol Hill. And when they try to
take our rights, you know I want to hear you say no!”
The song’s three- minute, 30-second blast revives Catfight!’s familiar rock ‘n’ roll strut, now with Kerber on drums.
“What I love about these ladies isn’t necessarily a political thing, but they’re bringing communities together—[Jennifer] designed T-shirts when she was locked in a room because of COVID, and is now selling them for a cause,” Kerber says about the Catfight! shirts being sold with 100% of the proceeds donated to Planned Parenthood and NARAL. “There’s a lot of good mojo in what she’s doing.”
While contemplating Catfight!’s nearly 30-year legacy, Leavey offers that one of the most important lessons that she’s learned over the years is to have fun. Reeling through memories of playing raucous live shows, while also recalling stories of witnessing divorces, pregnancies, and earning her PhD in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis from Emory University, she says it’s important to always keep in mind why she’s making music in the first place.
“If you’re always thinking carefully about what’s going on around you, it’s easy to write music,” Leavey says. “When you get bogged down in life, and stop seeing what’s going on around you as an inspiration, writing music is difficult. It’s been nice getting to a place where we can talk and craft a new way of looking at things, and turn it into a song.”
Uneven Lanes‘ debut LP, About Time, gathers up three years of songs that have amassed in the margins after Lloyd Benjamin’s time spent playing guitar and singing with various punk and indie rock outfits, including All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, Affection, and more. He’s also currently playing with Scratch Offs and Air Rights.
Each of the album’s lo-fi, salt-of-the-earth numbers are rich in melody and distortion, capturing the essence of a new, post-pandemic Americana that recalls the fractured indie rock sensibilities and songwriting of Guided By Voices, Pavement, and R. Stevie Moore.
Benjamin wrote, played, and recorded everything heard throughout on the album.
Live, the lineup is filled out by Greg Stevens on drums and Tony Kerr on bass, performing Sun., Oct. 2 for Elmyr’s 25th Anniversary party, on Sat., Nov. 5 at Sarbez! in Saint Augustine, and on Thurs., Dec. 8 at Whitewater Tavern in Little Rock, the latter of which is Benjamin’s hometown, and the base of operations for the record’s label, Max Recordings.
BONUS! The LP comes packed with a full-color 16-page booklet featuring artwork by Benjamin. Get your ears, your eyes, and your hands on one.
If you have enjoyed reading this post, please consider making a donation to RadATL.
WREST is a free-improvisational jazz and noise outfit featuring alto and soprano saxophone player Jack Wright. Since the late 1970s, Wright has traversed the physical and psychological outer limits of improvisational music. The late, great, Birmingham, Alabama guitarist Davey Williams once called him the “Johnny Appleseed of free improv.”
The collective is rounded out by bass player Evan Lipson and percussionist Ben Bennett. It’s the first round of shows the trio has played together in over seven years. For this show, they’re joined by dancer and movement artist Lucifer.
Someone somewhere once described WREST as sounding akin to two dinosaurs having sexual intercourse in a dumpster, or something like that, which is pretty close to the mark. Skronk, rattle, and roll, y’all!
A few locally-based improv. ensembles are performing as well: Priscilla Smith & Friend of Sunk Nameless and No Tomorrow are on the bill. Thread is an improv outfit left by Jared Pepper of Visitors, Memory Locks, and Apparition Trio. Guitarist Sam Wilson of Fuiste and Plastique will lead an improv ensemble as well.
Death is inevitable. It is the natural order that affects every living creature, and sooner or later, it’s coming for everyone.
No two people cope with the reality of the situation the same way. For Dusty Gannon, the singer, guitar player, and principal songwriter leading Athens’ rising goth and post-punk outfit Vision Video, death commands absolute respect.
Gannon is a former Army rifle platoon leader who served in war-torn Afghanistan, and until this summer, he has worked for five years as a metro Atlanta firefighter and paramedic. He is no stranger to death, and fostering a healthier relationship with it is the idea lying at the heart of Vision Video’s latest single, “Beautiful Day To Die.”
The song also offers the first glimpse at what Vision Video has in store with the group’s forthcoming second album, Haunted Hours, set to arrive October 14 — just in time for Halloween.
“Beautiful Day To Die,” takes shape around a simple, powerful melody that’s layered in rich musical textures that open up an emotional evocation of mortality. Gannon wrote the song by pulling together aspects from different stories that he witnessed firsthand to illustrate the sentiments that fill the air when someone dies.
“There is a bizarre energy that happens when somebody has been pronounced dead,” Gannon says. “ A lot of the time it’s terrible, and awful, and sad, but if you look closely at it, and if you don’t shy away from it, you’ll see these beautiful moments that are hidden alongside the grief.”
Pushing the idea forward, Gannon relives the details from one of his recent shifts as a paramedic, when he pronounced an older patient dead on the scene.
“There was really nothing that we could have done, and there was nothing that this patient’s daughter could have done,” he says, while walking through the steps that are taken before a person can be declared dead.
“While we were waiting for the coroner to arrive, I was sitting in the kitchen with the patient’s daughter, and she was telling me all of these stories about this person, about their kindness, and about what an amazing life they had lived,” Gannon recalls. “There was so much sadness, but there was also this small and intimate celebration of this person’s life taking place. It was painful, but it was also beautiful. That is one of the motifs behind the song.”
This is just one of the stories behind the 10 songs that make up the new record. Haunted Hours is stylish, and steeped in shadowy imagery, while remaining existentially buoyant.
Vision Video was born in the summer of 2017 when Gannon and drummer Jason Fusco started playing music together. Singer and keyboard player Emily Fredock and bass player Dan Geller joined the band soon after.
Geller is a co-owner and Chief Technical Officer of Athens’ Kindercore Vinyl pressing plant, and he has a long history of playing in Athens indie, pop, and rock-and-roll bands, including Kinkaid, the Agenda, I Am the World Trade Center, as well as the Booty Boyz DJ team.
The band’s name gives a nod to Athens’ once-great, but now defunct video store, bringing something that they all loved back from the dead — at least in name.
Naturally, after living through his experiences during war time, and then confronting death repeatedly in the civilian world, Gannon needed an outlet where he could exorcize the many traumas that he has endured.
In April of 2021, Vision Video’s debut album, Inked In Red, arrived as a self-released offering. Songs bearing titles such as “In My Side,” “Static Drone,” and “Organized Murder” came out blending grim imagery with a gothic snarl, paired with campy horror film imagery.
Each of these elements coalesced around a colorful, modern take on a classic goth, new wave, and post-punk musical lineage touching on everything from Joy Division and New Order, to the Cure, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Sisters of Mercy. Each song was propelled forward by barreling dance-floor rhythms and major-chord songwriting.
The group’s cover of “Picture Of You” adds warm tones to one of the Cure’s most charming numbers.
And, of course, not all is so austere with Vision Video. A campy song about Gannon’s affection for the felines who walk among us, titled “I Love Cats,” proved to be something of a viral hit, sporting lyrics such as: “I love cats, so much more than I love humans. They’re adorable, hilarious, and not one of them is a Republican …” and “They might keep you up all night, but they’ll never take your human rights.”
If Inked In Red laid the sonic blueprint for Vision Video’s sound, Haunted Hours builds upon its foundation by slowing down and stretching the group’s ethereal pop drive to a dark and seductive breaking point.
Songs like “Cruelty Commodity,” “Death In A Hallway,” and a muscular reworking of Joy Division’s “Transmission” are so voluptuous that their hazy textures become tangible.
Gannon’s vocals meld perfectly within a lingering atmosphere marked by reverb and space. From the sinewy title track and “Nothing Changes” to the lingering reflections in “Unwanted Faces” and “Burn It Down,” the album strikes a balance between simplicity, urgent pop melodies and contempt for the failing world.
As such, the album is an assured follow-up that entrenches Vision Video’s stature as more than a flash in the pan for Athens music.
Ashton is, perhaps, best known as the guitar player for Leeds, U.K.’ early ‘80s post-punk outfit the March Violets. He also did a stint performing live with Xymox, the early ‘90s iteration of Dutch darkwave act Clan Of Xymox.
Ashton has also served as Vision Video’s live bass player for several shows surrounding the Haunted Hours sessions, and continues filling in when he’s needed.
Before recording, Gannon wrote most of the music’s skeletal parts including the melodies and the chord progressions for the guitar and the vocals on his own time. As a result, the rest of the group had months of lead time to consume the demos while thinking about their parts to add, which were written while they were in the studio, working out the songs.
“That allowed us to edit on the fly, and there were no set opinions about any one piece,” Gannon says. “If something didn’t work, we changed it then and there. If somebody had an idea, we would field it. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But it was crafted in a malleable way where, on the fly, we could say, ‘That part doesn’t jive, let’s change it to this,’ and that’s part of the reason it’s so different from the first album.”
Ashton agrees, adding: “It’s just a more mature and spacious expanse. Dusty brought in a different writing approach which really paid off.”
Vision Video may prove the ideal outlet for Gannon to deal with anxiety and darker subject matter, as it relates to sadness, misery, warfare, inequity, and mortality — things that he’s witnessed personally — that can be expressed through aggressive lyrics and performances. But what has garnered equally as much (if not more) attention for Gannon is the Tik Tok character that he has created, called Goth Dad.
“The idea behind Goth Dad,” Gannon says, “Is to create a pure and wholesome character who makes people feel comfortable, safe, and accepted. There aren’t a lot of good father-type figures out there. My dad’s awesome,” he adds. “I was fortunate as a kid to have a really good, positive role model as my dad.”
The Goth Dad character that he plays has gone viral on social media via a series of short video clips that touch on everything from make-up tutorials to corny jokes, such as “What do you call a goth lawyer? Siouxsie Sue!”
“I have been trying to cultivate this place where people can bond and commiserate, and speak their mind about things safely and respectfully, hopefully positively,” Gannon says. “But even if it’s not, that’s cool too. It’s about finding a place for like-minded people to feel like you’re not alone. That’s like the worst part of having post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or anything like that. When you’re feeling like you’re totally in your head and alone, and even if you understand that people are there for you, sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to relay that to anybody,” he adds. “Those are the things that I’m working toward, and I hope that I foster that sensibility.”
Still, it’s the music, and creating a spectacle during live performances with Vision Video that encompass the most important aspect of everything Gannon does.
“It’s like the difference between Twilight as a vampire series and Near Dark,” he laughs. “They’re both about vampires, but they have very different tones, they fulfill very different purposes, but they both fulfill something that’s meaningful in people’s lives.”
Despite Goth Dad’s popularity online, it is onstage in the material world with Vision Video where Gannon is at full tilt. Live, he takes cues straight from the Cramps’ vocalist Lux Interior’s playbook, imbuing high-energy rock with elements of an undead drag cabaret show.
“Of course, I want you to be in the message of the music when we play live, but I also want it to be fun, I want it to be a party,” Gannon says. “That’s the most important thing above everything else: Did you have a good time? Was it safe?” he asks.
When dealing with so much darkness and confronting mortality, levity plays a key role in bringing such death-afflicted music to life.
In 2016, vocalist Christian Perez, who also leads the fractured Americana group Hark, suffered a stroke at the young age of 24 — hence the name Clot. Soon after, his father was involved in a car accident that left him with permanent brain damage. Dealing with these experiences opened up wholly new dimensions of music for Perez and bandmate Yasin Knapp (of math rock outfit Things Amazing, and atmospheric rockers Of The Vine) as a means of finding balance, context, and possibly resolution. Perez writes the lyrics and sings, while Knapp handles the musical arrangements, steeped in a hissing atmosphere of high-speed rhythms, and distortion. Drummer Cameron Austin (Apostle, Of The Vine) unleashes an avalanche of blast beats, pushing the music deeper into the maelstrom.
Bass player Parker Estopinal (of Kid Macho) and guitar player Daniel Weed (Holy Wound and Mannequin Grove) were recruited into Clot after these recordings were made.
Their latest single, “Casual Masochist,” expands upon these themes of real-time confrontation of grief, mortality, and emotional tumult. This time, songwriter and vocalist Perez channels feelings of utter contempt for organized religion and oppression — no matter what form it takes — into lyrics such as “Back up, you bastard. No gods, just masters. Skin stricken with pulsating blisters.”
“Casual Masochist” is a simple, powerful, death-afflicted dirge teeming with shades of grindcore touchstones (Full of Hell, Primitive Man, Old Man Gloom, and so on), but exists in a singularly miasmatic space. Press play below.
A new full-length album is in the works. Keep an ear out for a noiser, and more atmospheric approach with future offerings.
In the meantime, Clot plays Sabbath Brewing on Sun., June 12, with Iron Gag and Fox Wound. Catch them again on Thurs., June 30, When they play Eyedrum with For Your Health, askysoblack, and Royal Scam.
If you have enjoyed reading this post, please consider making a donation to RadATL.
Looking back over the 42+ years that have passed since he co-founded one of Los Angeles’ seminal and most formidable punk bands, T.S.O.L., vocalist Jack Grisham doesn’t miss a beat when insisting that he is not a good singer.
“I do it, but it’s very uncomfortable,” Grisham says in a matter-of-fact tone. “I sound like me, and I am what I am. But when I got into punk rock, I never actually thought about singing. You just kind of screamed it. Next thing I know, I’m still doing it, still making records. … I like a lot of soul and pop music, and I like melodic punk,” he adds. “When I’m listening to punk it’s Generation X or the Jam, things that a lot of people don’t even consider punk. … Those guys could sing!”
Despite his detached self-criticism, Grisham is an iconic vocalist of Southern California’s late ‘70s and early ‘80s punk, death rock, and hardcore scenes. T.S.O.L. forged its fiery and confrontational sound and image amid the epicenter of LA’s early ’80s punk scene, alongside Black Flag, Fear, Cheifs, and the Circle Jerks. Blasts of Marxist and anarchist political leanings punctuate the full-on contempt in Grisham’s unrestrained voice, and the blistering tones and melodies summoned by guitar player Ron Emory.
In the beginning, Grisham’s short-lived band Vicious Circle developed a reputation for stirring up an atmosphere primed for violent altercations with brutal, shotgun-style blasts of jagged punk songs bearing titles such as “I Want to Die,” “Love Of Hate,” and “Complete Kaos.”
But with the arrival of T.S.O.L.’s self-titled EP for Posh Boy in 1981, followed that same year by their debut album, Dance With Me (Frontier), lyrical poetry and haunted tones blended with a punk charge, giving rise to a proto-goth etherealism.
This year, a new documentary film, titled Ignore Heroeswill chronicle the group’s early days, its triumphs, stumbles, and resurrection. Grisham, who directed the film, says it’s not your typical rock doc, and feels more like “a fucked up Ted Talk,” featuring stand-up, live interviews with people who were either with the band, who paid the band, or who tried to kill the band. … And some animation.
“No famous rock guys, no one saying we influenced them,” Grisham says.
In the meantime, T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty) is in the van, traveling across the country, powering through a career-spanning setlist touching on everything from 1982’s “Weathered Statues” 7-inch, to songs from their latest album, 2017’s The Trigger Complex.
“Before the pandemic cut our legs out from underneath us, we were playing 90 shows a year — a lot of shows,” Grisham says. “Now, we’re like those guys who play pro ball for 20 years, they make every game, and never have a problem till they slow down. Now, it’s like every injury, every fall we’ve ever taken is catching up,” he laughs.
Grisham, now 60 years old, says it was drummer and vocalist Grant Hart of Minneapolis’ avant-garde punk trio Hüsker Dü who inspired him to delve deeper into writing lyrics.
“I still have the rhyming book that Grant gave me,” Grisham says. “I’m not that much of an aware kind of guy, I just go around doing whatever, without paying attention to much of anything. Grant was the one who asked me, ‘Have you ever looked at this book?’ It’s just a little thesaurus-type of thing that’s filled with rhyming words — probably something that he got in high school.”
Couching Hart’s knack for crafting gut-wrenching melodies around simple, powerful punk charges reveals previously hidden layers of depth within T.S.O.L.’s litany of classic numbers.
T.S.O.L. emerged at the dawn of the 1980s, in Huntington Beach. Grisham, along with guitarist Ron Emory, bass player Mike Roche, and drummer and former Vicious Circle cohort Todd Barnes bridged SoCal punk with the emerging hardcore scene by way of dark imagery, and a full-throttle guitar assault in songs such as “Superficial Love,” “Abolish Government,” “Sounds Of Laughter,” “Wash Away,” and “Code Blue.”
The latter number, which appears on 1981’s Dance with Me, is a necrophiliac love song blasting lyrics that feel tailor-made for scaring concerned parents in the Reagan era into sending their disaffected teens straight to the nearest psychiatrist — “And I don’t even care how she died. But I like it better if she smells of formaldehyde!”
“We always did whatever we wanted to do,” Grisham says. “There were times when I haven’t seen Ron or Mike in over a year, and I won’t see them until I walk onto the stage at the show and say ‘what do you want to play?’ … We’ll do that,” Grisham says. “T.S.O.L. was in Penelope Spheeris’ film Suburbia, and we played two songs — “Wash Away” and Darker My Love.” “‘Darker My Love’ wasn’t even recorded yet,” Grisham adds. “I said we wrote this one last week, let’s do it!”
While lyrics in other songs such as “President Reagan can shove it!” from “Superficial Love” place T.S.O.L’s mystique firmly in the 1980s, having songs such as “Sounds Of Laughter,” featured in the recent HBO documentary, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off, helps bolster ongoing interest in the group with younger listeners.
“There’s always something like the Tony Hawk documentary happening for us, and there is a huge age gap with the people who come see us,” Grisham says. “We see little kids in the audience all the way up to somebody’s grandfather hanging out, and it’s because we’ve been playing for such a long time. If you were 30 years old when T.S.O.L. started in 1980, you’re 72 now,” he laughs. “If you were 40 years old back then, you are 82 now!”
On stage, it’s the physicality of performing their songs that propels each one forward. “Fuck You Tough Guy” from 2003’ Divided We Stand, is one song that Grisham says is among their most exhilarating numbers to perform.
“To move to those sounds … I play that song like I’m a fan and not a creator,” he says. “The bass starts moving, and I feel like I’m a kid listening to this band play, and I’m just dancing along to the music.”
Since 1999, original T.S.O.L.’s members Grisham, Emory, and Roche have remained in place, restoring order after a long stint beginning in 1983, during which Grisham left the band, and vocalist Joe Wood took lead the group. Eventually, the Wood-led T.S.O.L. saw a total turnover leaving none of the band’s original personnel in the group, as they adopted a prosaic blues-rock and hair metal plod. Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler famously sported a T.S.O.L. T-shirt in the 1988 video for “Sweet Child O Mine,” raising their profile with MTV viewers.
After leaving T.S.O.L., Grisham released a synth-driven six-song EP under the name Cathedral of Tears, and later fronted the sophomoric hard rock band Tender Fury. Later, he rebounded with the more pop punk-oriented sound of his band the Joykiller, and he explored blue-eyed soul and alt. rock with the short-lived group the Manic Low.
In his 2011 memoir, titled An American Demon, Grisham offers a brutal, true-life account of the depravity and extreme violence that surrounded the group’s defining years — much of it at his own hands. “When the book was finished, I really didn’t want to publish it, because it is so brutal,” Grisham says. “It is an absolutely true book, and I’m glad it’s out there.”
Keyboard player Greg Kuehn joined T.S.O.L. and added opulent piano flourishes to the songs on 1982’s Beneath the Shadows LP.
Drummer Todd Barnes died in 1999 after suffering a brain aneurysm related to excessive drug abuse.
All of the original members of T.S.O.L. have battled substance-abuse issues over the years, but post reformation, they have all cleaned up and remain sober.
The group’s current drummer Antonio Val Hernandez joined T.S.O.L. in 2017. As the story goes, he was a mail delivery carrier in bass player Mike Roche’s neighborhood. He was a fan of T.S.O.L., and one day looked in the window and saw a T.S.O.L. photograph. He realized that he was delivering mail to the same Mike Roche. Soon, they became friends, and after some convincing, he became T.S.O.L.’s new drummer.
With post-production work on Ignore Heroes wrapping up soon, and T.S.O.L. playing shows across the country, Grisham is also staying busy with a new book.
Maturity may be a bad word when mentioned in the same breath as punk rock, but for Grisham, if anything has changed over the years, he says he’s more aware of how his words and actions are perceived, and how they affect others.
“It’s kind of trippy, man, but I’m just more aware these days — I’m less willing to be hurtful to people, inflict damage.”
Still, T.S.O.L’s extremely catchy punk melodies still rage today with just as much urgency as the day they were penned.