One album later and Antagonizers ATL have ascended from Working Class Street Punk(s) into KINGS!
From the moment the bounding chorus of opening number “Worries” takes hold, a major-chord rock ‘n’ roll stride—carried in the organ and barreling rhythms—distills decades of boot-stomping, fist-pumping sing-alongs, and brotherly hugs into a sophomore album that’s a street punk classic-on-arrival. With KINGS (Pirates Press Records), the group keeps one foot planted firmly in the traditions of Fred Perry Polo shirts and Oxblood Docs. But singer and frontman Bohdan Zacharyj, singer and lead guitarist Richard Henderson, keyboard player Billy Fields, singer and rhythm guitarist Eric Antell, singer and bass player Wynn Pettitt, and drummer Don Tonic push themselves to rise above garden variety oi to become a great rock ‘n’ roll band, punk or no punk.
Part of the group’s strength lies in its snarling three-guitar blitz. But at the core, each song is bursting with positive energy, culminating in an earnest and deeply personal celebration of do-it-yourself pride and allegiance to a moral code that transcends everything else.
“Black Clouds,” the album’s first single, is where Antagonizers ATL’s indomitable spirit and its message shine brightest: Build strength through self-reliance, watch your friends’ backs, and always maintain a PMA (positive mental attitude) no matter what obstacles life throws in your path.
Matt Henson of Tacoma, Washington’s NOi!SE joins in the chant with the lyrics: “Keep on swingin’ and I’m missin,’ too. At least I’m swingin,’ and not cryin’ the blues. I’d rather fail than not try. Give my all ’till the day I die.”
These words project a stylish clubhouse rule to leave your complaints at the door. This record is all about finding strength and integrity through endurance, in a time when knee-jerk hostility is the order of the day. In 2021, this whole dynamic is, once again, the frontier of punk and hardcore, and it’s a thread that ties together songs such as “Trouble,” “Problems” (featuring Chris Doherty of Gang Green), “Us Against the World,” and the album’s title track. … And For all intents and purposes, Antagonizers ATL might just have a hit on their hands with “Hold On Hold Strong.” Here, Monty Neysmith of British ska/reggae legends Symarip adds a touch of his signature Skinhead Moonstomping inflections for what is without a doubt a modern hardcore anthem. With each song, the group remains fast, furious, and proud, while leavening these qualities with genuinely powerful songwriting. Every step of the way Zacharyj, Henderson, and Pettitt reach deep, trading lyrics that transcend politics and expectations with a message of true positivity, delivered in 10 songs of working class punk and rock ‘n’ roll par excellence.
In January of 2020, Loony took the stage at 529 to play Radfest with Purkinje Shift and W8ing4UFOs—my birthday party. It was a Sunday afternoon “matinee” show that ended up going well into the night. Who knew we were so close to losing live music for much of the coming year?
A week before the show, singer Anela DeVille, bass player Silas Fiction, guitarist Scott Price, and drummer Isaac Makin got together for practice and recorded the “Dead Heat” demo that you see and hear above.
Over the last year, the group’s lineup has paired down to just Fiction and DeVille fleshing out six songs that they hope to release by this summer via Die Slaughterhaus Records. For these six new recordings that are currently in post-production, Price played guitar, and Amos Rifkin of A Rippin’ Production filled in as temporary drummer. While a permanent lineup has yet to take shape, Fiction and DeVille are pressing forward. First up: “Dead Heat.” Although this recording is a rough demo, it’s a solid sneak peek at the group’s full-throttle charge. It’s also an homage to one of Joe Piscopo’s finest/most absurd acting roles, Detective Doug Bigelow in the 1988 action-comedy sci-fi cult sleeper, Dead Heat.
“I had written those riffs, and later that day we watched Dead Heat,” Fiction says. We both loved it!”
Together, Fiction and DeVille penned the lyrics as a summary of the movie. “It’s so ingenious, and it had us laughing so hard,” DeVille says. “We wanted to make it known how badass this movie is. Those who haven’t seen it need to watch it in order to know what we are talking about.”
The music is inspired by So. Cal hardcore/nardcore Thrasher Magazine skate rock aesthetics of the ’80s. It’s music for fans of TSOL, RKL, Agent Orange, Agression, JFA, McRad, Doggy Style, Vision Street Wear, pulling off slappies and smith grinds, and getting awesome. Check out the lyrics below.
Dead heat Back from the grave Nothing to do No one to save
Dead man walking Cannot be shot down Terrorizing The entire town
Dead heat Back from the grave Falling apart Slimy decay
Infinite lives Soul cannot be found Decomposing Time is running out
Dead heat Back from the grave Dying to live Willing to trade
Time is running out!
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Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the right words that express just how much you care for that special someone in your life. This year, let Didi Wray’s guitar do the talking. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, the Santiago, Chile-based surf rock torchbearer offers an enchanting instrumental take on the Ramones’ classic crush song, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”
True to form, her cover clocks in at just under two minutes, rendering the Ramone’s most sentimental number in rose-colored hues of reverb and tremolo. Here, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” drifts in a breeze of Didi meets Dee Dee, taking shape as a tender and campy redux that hones the Southern California surf influence underscoring the Ramones’ sound. It’s the often overlooked element that adds depth and texture to the brothers from Forest Hills’ signature rock ‘n’ roll blitzkrieg, and it’s brought to the front and center here. Press play and fall in love again!
Jayne County is an avatar of social and cultural change—a transgender trailblazer, and a rock ‘n’ roll provocateur. “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere,” her latest single and collaboration with former Sexual Side Effects guitar player and songwriter Am Taylor takes stock of her six decades-long journey, from growing up in rural Dallas, Georgia to performing for New York City, London and the world. She worked side-by-side with and inspired legions of groundbreaking artists including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, the Kinks, Lou Reed, the Ramones, and too many others to name here (seriously, books have been written chronicling her fascinating story). She even acted in Andy Warhol’s theatre production titled Pork. Despite such a long and illustrious career, though, “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” resonates as a mantra, and an anthem for a life spent perpetually on the leading edge of cultural change. Now, teamed up with Taylor, the two have forged a path into new frontiers of rock ‘n’ roll as religion, safe haven, and ammunition to keep fighting in a contemporary landscape.
County and Taylor sat down with me to talk about how they met, recording their first single for Cleopatra Records, and where it’s all going from here.
Chad Radford: What’s striking to me about the video is the chemistry between the two of you. How did you start playing music together?
Am Taylor: We’ve known each other for about 10 years. We met through our friend Jen Belgard at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Little Five Points. Obviously everybody knows Jayne, and she knew of my old band the Sexual Side Effects. One day, Jayne messaged me on Facebook and asked if I wanted to get together and write some songs.
Jayne County: I had played a few shows at the Yacht Club and at the Star Bar. Amber was there, and once we started talking we clicked immediately. I was looking for someone to help me out with some songs I’d written. She volunteered, and she understood what I was saying when I talked about how I wanted a song to feel, how it was structured, and what a song said. She picks up on all sorts of stuff, and adds her ideas, and makes it better!
AT: When Jayne messaged me, I’d been a hermit for a while—a recluse in my home—and was burned out on playing music. I’d done a lot of art and writing—I was taking courses and waking up every morning and doing object writing. I was in songwriter mode, and it was cool to have a collaborator. Jayne would hum a melody to me, I would craft the chords around it, and we’d have a song. That’s literally what our writing process has been.
JC: I don’t know where the songs come from. All of the sudden there’s a tune in my head. I’ll take it to Amber and say it goes like this [hums]. She picks up her guitar and plays what I hummed. Before long she’s playing the whole song!
Have songs always just come to you?
JC: Yes they have, they just descend down on me. Where do they come from? I’ve got that thing where there’s a constant humming in my ears—tinnitus. Sometimes that’s where the songs come from—my tinnitus hums a tune at me. I might be driving in my truck, feeding my cats, cooking, or doing anything, and a tune will come to me. If it disappears, it disappears. If it keeps coming back to me I know it’s catchy, and it will probably be a good song. I’ll record them into my phone. Then Amber works on them.
AT: I have my own process with my songs—I have a factory! I’ll sit down at the kitchen table or wherever, and write down an idea that comes to me, and that’s one session. Another phase: I’ll drive around in my car and rate the ideas that I have, one-through-five. Then I’ll have another session where I’ll piece the songs together. Then I’ll write a first draft. Then I’ll rewrite it and make it better. Then rewrite it again! I usually go through about four drafts. I spend a lot of time on my songs. With Jayne and it’s easy because she comes to me with ideas and it’s like boom, boom, boom, done. We’re a productive team.
JC: We can have one rehearsal session and come up with two or three songs.
AT: She’s into all of this ‘60s stuff and comes up with cool doo-wop and surf stuff that I wasn’t aware of. Working with producer and engineer Andy Reilly, we made our song sound really cool. He knows Jayne so it’s still rock ‘n’ roll. But with the new stuff we’re going to have a production that’s something like the Viagra Boys: loud drums, driving bass. But we’re adding some ‘60s elements. I’ve been playing through a Marshall, and I’ll have these Queens of the Stone Age sounds. With Jayne, I’ll play a Fender and get a James Bond surf rock sound.
JC: I like the folk-rock twangy kind of sound, too. You can hear it in “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere.” To me, the music of the ‘60s was great because it was taking rock ‘n’ roll but adding elements from Indian music, classical music, adding sitar, flute, harpsichord. There was a lot of experimentation with music going on back and then, and a lot of it stood out.
AT: I love Ennio Morricone who composed soundtracks for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Danger: Diabolik, Deep Down. The soundscapes that he created were so weird and different and even the soundtrack for Barbarella: I love the guitar tones. We play music the way we do, but I want to bring those production elements into it as well.
What did you have in mind when you wrote “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere?”
JC: I am a big fan of protest music: “Eve Of Destruction,” P.F. Sloan, the Byrds, early Bob Dylan when he was still a protest singer—before it became really boring. “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” came from out of nowhere, and the tune came with it. It’s along the same line as the Kinks’ song, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” We have this structure called society that says there are certain things that you have to do, and certain things that you have to believe in. Anyone who can’t do it, just can’t do it. They stick out, and that’s what that song is about. By that I mean not fitting into the gay world, not fitting in with the trans world, the straight world. It’s about being one creature—on your own in the world—but not letting it get you down. Making it work for you.
Jayne, you were a teenager in Dallas, GA during the Civil Rights era, you moved to New York City and participated in the Stonewall riots, and you were there when punk rock was forming.
JC: I was a little before punk, they’ve often called me proto-punk.
You’ve been a harbinger of cultural and social change. Do you look at contemporary society and see the results of what you’ve been a part of? Do you still feel like you don’t fit in?
JC: I have thought about this before: How much of an impact did I really make? I have always been anti-establishment, or whatever the established norm is. I truly do not fit in, so I try to change things for the better for everyone. I can see that certain things have changed as the result of some people being on the frontlines, and not being afraid to make change. You can’t be afraid, or change won’t happen. People have to be on the frontlines to build the different kinds of roads to go down. I had to make my own road to go down.
And yes, I still feel like I don’t fit in. I built my own road to go down, and that road always leads back to me not fitting in. But that keeps me going and working harder. If I fit in I probably wouldn’t be Jayne Country anymore.
Maybe that’s where the frontline is now: In the wake of social media, people need to find that road to embrace their identity.
JC: Yes, and younger people need to know more about history. People are really dumb about history now. I’m a history buff; people have done a lot of really shitty things in the past, but nobody seems to ever learn anything from it.
AT: I’m a history buff, too. The Roman Empire: I have a song about Julius Caesar called “Blood Moon,” and a song about Winston Churchill called “The Darkest Hour.” Instead of writing a song about how a boy or girl broke your heart, this was a different way of writing a song. I studied all of these eras and learned about their stories and pulled imagery from the locations and the people. One is Julius Caesar’s revenge as a ghost, which was cool. It was a lot like “Game of Thrones,” or something. Julius Caesar gets his revenge in the end.
JC: Ancient Egypt is my thing. If you look at the walls in my living room they’re covered with nothing but Egyptian stuff. Hundreds of statues of Bastet, Anubis, Tutankamon. I do a lot of painting with Egyptian themes, but my last two shows have been postponed because of the pandemic.
I have a three-legged cat named King Tut, but we just call him Tut. Most of my cats are rescues. Right now I have about 13 cats.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed!
JC: Oh I know it. My cat food bill is way too high, and I think I feed them too much. But they’re safe and they’re happy here. I leave dry food and water out for them, and I mix wet food with treats. All I have to do is shake the bag of treats and they come running!
Amber, when considering Jayne’s legacy, do you feel pressure to raise the bar for yourself?
AT: The way that I can raise the bar is by thinking about us together—making the songs the best that they can be. I think about how we work together, and respecting Jayne’s ideas, and giving her the space that she needs. I do a lot of rewriting of songs. Sometimes a great song isn’t complete. With “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere,” we didn’t have the hook at the beginning. We tried a bunch of different things, so that’s how I raise the bar.
There’s this trick that Radiohead and the Smiths do to make songs sound weird and cool and creepy, called using borrowed chords. You write out each note of the scale within a major scale and then pick the minor scale. For each one of those notes within that scale is a chord, and you create a chord progression. You can then swap out that chord—the fourth note in the scale is the fourth chord—and you could swap that out for the minor scale version. That’s what a lot of Beatles songs do, and you hear that in a lot of my songs. How can we make this cool as shit? How can we make it like the Smiths?
What would Johnny Marr do (WWJMD)?
AT: Yes! He does all of these inversions, and weird jazz shit. I want to add that into it as well. Make it go to an all new level of cool.
JC: No. I’ve been thinking about updating “Man Enough To Be A Woman,” but we’re concentrating on writing new songs.
AT: We have about five songs, and we’re getting more together for an LP.
JC: Among those five songs there are still ideas that haven’t been pulled out and worked on yet. But when we get 10 songs together we’ll be in good shape for an album.
You did the new single with Cleopatra Records. Are they interested in releasing an album?
AT: Cleopatra said, “Let’s see how things go with this one, and we’ll figure out what to do from there.” We’re still learning the business side of things. From this go around we’ve learned that Jayne has a huge following in Germany, Scandinavia, and Sweden. People were Shazaming the song an awful lot over there.
JC: Iggy Pop played the song on his BBC show. He played “Paranoid Paradise” on the show, so I sent him the new video. His response was, “It’s good …” He didn’t say he was gonna play it or anything like that. But he did!
AT: He said I was a “shrewd rockin’ chic!” I’ve never been called shrewd before, but that has to be Iggy’s stamp of approval, right?
Absolutely! You don’t want him to call you a goody two-shoes!
AT: I guess we did break into a church in the video, but at least we went to church, right?
It’s a long story, but our video turned into something much different from what we thought it would be. Initially we were going to go to all of these places and get kicked out. But since we didn’t have a lot of time or budget we shot it all there and at the Star Bar. As it turned out, he Star Bar had closed down a few days before we were supposed to shoot, but we got in touch with the new owners and got in there. Video Rahim is great, he had all of these ideas like “why don’t you smoke a joint in church, or somebody should grab this girl’s boob here.”
We were lucky to get Justin Welborn, who plays the preacher. He’s our friend, but he’s a TV star now. He was in The Signal, Unforgiven, the reboot of MacGuyver. He has a great look … Great priest! We just asked, “Hey, would you be in our video?” We have all this crazy extra footage of him freaking out and screaming about us going to hell. He’s such a great actor.
What’s next for you?
JC: When we recorded “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” we also recorded another song called “Too Much Information.” We’ll make a video for that next.
AT: That song has extreme James Bond guitar in it, like spy hunter sounds.
JC: I talk about Facebook and Youtube on it: “Leave me alone/Youtube is on” … “Smart TV/MP3/Can you download your love for me?” Stuff like that.
Have the two of you played live together yet?
JC: Not yet. I’ve thought about doing an invitation show, where we play the songs in front of an audience. There’s a new song we’re working on that I’m excited about, called “She’s On A ‘60s Trip.” The lyrics are tongue-in-cheek, and the verses are constructed using titles from all of these ‘60s songs put together as verses, like “Come On Baby, light my fire, break on through to the other side,” ”Trapped in the house of the rising sun,” “I wanna hold your hand at the revolution.”
AT: We’ve only kind of worked out the acoustic part for it. It will start to morph a little more when we go into the studio and start doing demos. I’m big into creating soundscapes with music. I play a bunch of instruments, and I want to create these soundscapes behind things, so you know the ‘60s stuff that we keep talking about will be fun.
JC: I met them at Max’s Kansas City years ago, and we’ve known each other for years.
I get the impression that, in the mid-to-late ‘70s, you were either a Max’s Kansas City band or a CBGBs bands. Some groups played both, but there was a perceived loyalty to one or the other. What was the line in the sand?
JC: Max’s was more diverse. CBGBs got to a point where it was suburban kids driving in with their punk clothes in the car. They’d dress up in their punk clothes in the car and go to the show. Afterward they’d go change out of their punk clothes, and get back into their office gear for work the next day.
Max’s held up the real freak scene. The real artists scene. There was a big gay clientele there, but it wasn’t a gay club. Gay people were welcome; everyone was welcome. CBGBs became kind of homophobic after a while. A war between CBs and Max’s started in about 1976, because Dick Manitoba from the Dictators jumped up on my stage one night at CBGBs. He’d been in the audience calling me all kinds of names. He jumped onto the stage and I thought he was going to attack me, so I clocked with the mic stand. He fell over and hit a table and was hurt really badly. I felt absolutely terrible about it. That started a war: A lot of people at CBs were taking the wrestler’s side—Handsome Dick Manitoba. People Max’s took my side.
He pressed assault charges against me, but he wouldn’t show up in court so the case was thrown out. He was embarrassed because word hit the streets that poor ol’ Dick Manitoba got his ass kicked by a drag queen.
After that, for a time, Patti Smith talked about it in her shows, saying: “You can’t judge people by what they look like, or by the clothes they wear.” … All because I whooped him. I only did it because I felt like I needed to. He’d been yelling homophobic things at me—just saying horrible things. When he jumped up onto the stage it scared me to death. He had a beer mug in his hand, and he turned at me. I thought he was going to hit me with that beer mug. Later, he said, “Oh, I was just trying to get to the bathroom.”
You moved to London soon after that, correct?
JC: Yes, I moved to London in ‘76 and started playing the clubs there. In ‘77 I went on tour. The Police were my opening band!
When people talk about the golden era of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they think about the Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, that era at CBGBs. Over at Max’s there was Cherry Vanilla and later came the Misfits, the Victims, the New York Dolls. You were there before those scenes took shape, but you are one of the artists who laid the groundwork for that whole era to begin …
JC: People say that, but it’s hard for me to judge things clearly. I’m so close to it all, and it’s hard to think that was really even me—the person—who was there.
You really were there, and you really did kick Handsome Dick Manitoba’s ass at CBGBs.
JC: He tried to make it make it out like “Oh, I was just going to the bathroom and this big ol’ mean drag queen attacked me, a poor little ol’ wrestler.”
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To celebrate the arrival of their first new album in over five years, Antagonizers ATL are hosting a weekend of soul, reggae, street punk, and oi rock ‘n’ roll sounds. The festivities kick off at the Star Bar on Friday, March 19. DJ Gonzo and The Low Life Sound System fly in from the West Coast to spin an evening of soul and reggae hits and deep cuts. It’s $10 to get in, and a limited number of tickers are available. Doors open at 9 p.m.
Entertainment, for most intents and purposes, fell silent after releasing its 2009 debut album, Gender (Stickfigure Records, Adistant Sound, and Duchess Archive). Aside from playing shows in the Southeastern U.S., sharing stages with Modern English in 2016-17, the gothic-leaning post-punk outfit has remained far from the public eye for nearly 11 years.
In October 2020, two of the group’s founding members, Trey Ehart (vocals, guitar, bass, and synthesizer) and Bari Donovan (drums and percussion), along with Entertainment’s latest addition Jim Groff (synth) emerged from the void with a new single, titled “Maggot Church.” From the song’s hissing salvo — a deluge of sonic light and shadow — “Maggot Church’s” stark, effects-laden doom and ambiance are pierced by Ehart’s spectral moans of catharsis. Released with a handful of remixes by INHALT, Delphine Coma, and SubVon, aka producer and former March Violets guitar player Tom Ashton, “Maggot Church” is an empowered number cut from rhythmic grooves and distortion, and charged with intensity. It’s a twisted and contemptuous song that expands upon the group’s brand of gothic rock with an evolved and atmospheric makeover. It’s also the first cut from an upcoming two-part EP to be released in early 2021, titled Horror Parts 1 and Part 2. While preparing for the first EP’s January arrival, Ehart took a few minutes to talk about what the group has been up to for the last decade, and what Entertainment has in store for the future.
The two-part EP that you have in the works is called Horror. The video for “Maggot Church” opens with a quote from intro to the old television show “Tales From the Darkside.” I bring this up to get your thoughts on the EP’s title and the concepts that are at work here. … After watching “Maggot Church” I went down the Youtube rabbit hole, watching episodes of “Tales From the Darkside,” “Friday the 13th,” etc.
Those shows brought out a sense of chasing those childhood thrills of terror and elation at the same time.
I have always been obsessed with the intro to “Tales from the Darkside” — the negative trees, the way the music bends as the world turns dark, and the underlying context of the narration. In a weird way it helped shade the lens through which I see the world. There’s definitely that sense of terror and wonder, something dark lurking beyond you, mixed with childish wonder and elation, but there’s also a harsh existential truth buried beneath it.
Stephen King has a quote: “True horror is the coming undone of something good.” That, to me, is the essence of where we are as a band. When we started coming back out, suddenly I was hit with a lot of people affirming to me, for the first time, that we were something good, and we had completely come undone underneath that. The childish sense of blind self-assuredness had devolved into a sense of doubt, a black cloud hanging over me, like a Kafkaesque maze of conflict. Combine that with my love of camp B-movie horror from the ’80s, and that’s where we’re coming from now.
What prompted you to get the band back together and continue moving forward?
We never really officially broke up, but after touring behind Gender for two years our bass player Tommy bassist left. I moved back to Atlanta from Athens, and we struggled to regain momentum and maintain a reputation. We were working with DISARO Records, which was a huge accomplishment for us, but I lost faith and direction in our songwriting and position. We did meet our synth player Jim during this time though, and played SXSW twice, trying to find a new way forward. But our live presence almost completely dropped off, and I spent time working with Kris Sampson on nurturing our sound through recordings. Pretty soon the indie goth scene that we’d seen and been a part of in New York and Los Angeles started taking off in Atlanta, and I was asked to DJ at a few nights. I also started seeing more like minded musicians at the DKA nights at 529, and Silk Wolfs’ goth nights. That’s also when I started to realize we had a very underground cult following here. But the big moment was in 2016 when we got the opportunity to open for Modern English on the Southeastern dates of their Mesh & Lace Tour. So we grabbed Jen von Schlichten from Black Lodge and Hymen Moments, and went from nothing to the biggest tour of our career. It was unbelievable, we had everything and nothing to prove, and had to rely solely on the strength of our songs and live presence. We came back to Atlanta completely rejuvenated, played two sold-out shows at The EARL in one day, where half the crowd thought we were from the UK, and then we crashed back down to earth, went back out with Modern English in 2017, this time working with Henry Jack from Weary Heads by way of a connection through Dead Register, and we naturally started re-working and improving newer material. Once we came back from that tour we decided it was time.
How did you come work with Tom Ashton at SubVon Studio. Has working with him helped you realize anything new or different about your songwriting and the group’s sound and vision?
I met Tom through a mutual friend at a Peter Murphy show in Atlanta. Then we ran into each other again backstage at the Modern English show at the Earl, and again at the March Violets reunion show at the Masquerade, and the dots started to connect for me. I’m pretty shy when it comes to promoting our music, but once we started re-working our newer material I found the courage to reach out to him for help mixing and mastering the material Kris Sampson had helped us work up with the overdubs we did. He’s been a huge source of support and understanding for us. I originally approached him in a very nonchalant way, but March Violets is the ultimate street cred, and a very different approach from the way we do things. He has really helped to teach me strength and how to desaturate — to lean into the atmosphere of a song but also mind the hook — and to trust myself.
Do you feel like Entertainment is part of a larger community of like minded bands in Atlanta? I ask mostly because I have seen bands like Tears For The Dying and Hip To Death working with Tom Ashton as well. All three of these bands are quite different, aesthetically speaking, but there is an underlying thread of commonality — darkness, post-punk, gothic tendencies. Do you think of these bands as kindred spirits?
I’m pretty sure I introduced them to him, if I remember correctly. I love all those bands. We have all circled each other for years, and worked together pretty frequently. But there’s definitely a more concrete scene developing Out of SubVon, where we all have a place we can work. Honestly, I can remember seeing Hip To Death terrify kids at frat bars in Athens, and I’ve always admired Tears For The Dying from the time they used to rehearse next to us and Snowden in a warehouse off Howell Mill Road. And I think we’ve all developed separately, but we’re all hitting a certain level at the same time.
A little more than a decade has passed since Entertainment released Gender. Aesthetically speaking, how have things changed over time?
Not much, weirdly. I think I’m more inclined to be appealing now, much to the relief of the band. I still look to the artsy tension of bands like the Virgin Prunes and Bauhaus for inspiration, but I’m more interested in allowing people to enjoy us without having to be confronted. Leaning more into Japan and Psychedelic Furs. We were recently referred to as “the bastard child of Swans and Duran Duran,” rather than just “the sound of death,” so I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Do you have a favorite song amid all of the new material?
We have so much unreleased stuff at his point it’s hard to say. If you asked the band I think we’d all say something different, but our upcoming third single, “An Alter of Remembrance,” and the track “Distance” are two we tend to gravitate toward.
Have any of the remixes surprised you or revealed something about the music that you didn’t expect?
Yeah definitely! We’ve been lucky to have so many talented people support us and completely transform our songs. I love hearing how other musicians interpret and manipulate us. At times I am surprised and horrified at how desperate the solo tracks sound, or how small changes can really pull a chorus together in a much more accessible way. They really help put possibilities in place as we decide what the next sound is and get out of our heads.
Do you have a release date in mind for the EPs to arrive?
We have one more single before Horror Part 1 comes out, we’re waiting on a few remixes for that. Then Part 1 comes out in January and a third single and Part 2 come out in February.
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The album was originally released by the Atlanta-based Rob’s House Records and features cover art by Bradford Cox of Deerhunter. “Wife Eyes” captures the Coathangers‘ original lineup of singer and guitar player Julia Kugel, bass player Meredith Franco, drummer Stephanie Luke, and keyboard player Candice Jones’ primal blend of vampy garage-punk and ramshackle angularity.
For the vinyl hounds, the record is being pressed on “confetti crush splatter,” “neon strawberry banana pinwheel,” and “wreckless” (blue-green) colored vinyl editions—500 copies each.
In the meantime, press play on “Wife Eyes.”
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For Parris Mayhew, life under quarantine conditions has not passed idly by. A camera operator in the film industry by trade, Mayhew is best known as a guitar player, songwriter, and original member of New York City’s whiplash hardcore torchbearers the Cro-Mags.
The group’s story is riddled with lineup changes, inner-band squabbles, and just as many groundbreaking albums as forgettable releases, blending elements of hardcore, punk, and thrash metal. Just as Bad Brains adopted Rastafarianism, Cro-Mags singer John Joseph and bass player Harley Flanagan embraced Hare Krishna philosophies.
In June, Flanagan released Cro-Mags’ In the Beginning LP via Orchard Records—the first album released under the group’s name in two decades. After a 2019 lawsuit, vocalist John Joseph and drummer Mackie Jayson have continued playing live under the name Cro-Mags “JM.”
Mayhew served as principal songwriter for the Cro-Mags’ most influential albums—The Age of Quarrel (1986), Best Wishes (1989), and Revenge (2000)—but parted ways with the group long ago. In October he returned from his long silence to release “Chaos Magic,” a new six-minute instrumental song and video under the name Aggros.
In this two-part interview, Mayhew talks about the music and experiences that inspired “Chaos Magic,” and his move away from his past with the Cro-Mags on his own terms.
Chad Radford: The pandemic has been a trying time, but it has also played to my strengths: I’ve had time to focus on projects that have been on hold for too long, now that I don’t have to interact with the outside world. How are you holding up in quarantine?
Parris Mayhew: It’s an extraordinary kind of shock, like someone shook us all and said, “This is what life could be!” A lot of people are struggling, and people are getting sick. But, for example, I worked right up to the day of lockdown. After a month, when I got used to the idea of leisure time, I immersed myself in several projects. I have a pinboard with two movie ideas, and another pinboard with a television pilot idea. Over the years, I’ve been slowly assembling songs one at a time. When I found myself with all this time I began addressing those things in more than a peripheral way.
I spent 22 days shooting the “Chaos Magic” video, which is insane. I shot it by myself two-to-five hours at a time, and it was so exhausting that I couldn’t shoot for any longer than that. Then I immersed myself in editing. In one day, I went from a guy who used to be in a band to a person with a legitimate release. Probably none of that would’ve happened otherwise. I work on television shows, and got a call this morning asking: “Will you test today and start working tomorrow? That’s how quickly it happens. That’s been my life for the past 20 years, working on sets for 13 hours a day, five days a week, and sleeping away the weekends. I find myself with very little time. Your comment about realigning priorities based on having time—that has made a huge difference. And here we are having a conversation about my new song because of it.
On the surface, “Chaos Magic” is a somewhat different approach from what you took with Cro-Mags songs.
People have asked if I intended to make instrumental music. I didn’t realize this until maybe last night when I was lying in bed: I’ve always written my music as if it was instrumental music. Even with the Cro-Mags, I wrote songs to be and feel complete. All I cared about was making the music as heavy and as fast as I could. I tried to get out these complete musical thoughts. When it came time to have a singer—whether it was Eric Casanova, John or Harley—I always thought, how can I get the singer to sing on it and be as unobtrusive as possible? When I wrote “Chaos Magic,” I did it with the same thing in mind.
I puzzled together “Chaos Magic” from parts that I wrote over the years. I tried to have the mindset of myself when I was 15 or 16, standing in the audience looking up at the stage. I even put breaks in the song to rest. I knew that I would be going berserk for 45 seconds, and I’d need a break to take a breath, and then it starts again. I would just go crazy for another 45 seconds, and needed another break. That sounds a little abstract, but I literally thought of it that way. Playing and performing live is an athletic event. You realize that if you don’t put breaks in there your arm will fall off.
I remember playing songs that I wrote for Revenge when we were on tour. I would get to a point where I would just let a chord ring out—I would literally shake my right arm off while that chord rang out. Then I’d start again, like I was playing to the peak of my physical ability every night, just to complete some of those songs. I wouldn’t say “Chaos Magic” is written to the peak of my physical ability, though. It’s just a different kind of journey. It’s not such an athletic event as it is chapters. What I’ve found gratifying is that the song is almost six minutes long, but almost nobody has commented on how long it is.
I watched the video and thought: “There you are playing bass, wearing classic hardcore gear … a guitar player wearing a Cheap Trick T-shirt … This must be the personification of crossover. Later, I read that each one represents different phases of your life. … I don’t see how it could be less than six minutes.
Your observation about crossover is relevant, because I’m just a fan of music. I love Cheap Trick as much as I love Motörhead and the Bad Brains. It’s personally gratifying when I am acknowledged by my peers, and I enjoyed giving nods to my peers in the video—Cheap Trick and Motörhead and so on.
When I was 15 or something, I went with my friend Paul Dordal—an original member of the Cro-Mags who came up with the song title “World Peace,” and wrote the Murphy’s Law songs “California Pipeline” and “Skinhead Rebel.” He gave them to Murphy’s Law as a gift. He said, “Let’s go see this band called the Mob, I think you’ll like them.” So we went to A7 on Avenue A and 7th Street—this little club that had no windows. It had a piece of loose-leaf paper on the front with the band names written in pen—$3 to get in. Bands would start playing at like 10 p.m., and the last band would go on at like 6 a.m. It was totally illegal, and that’s just the way it was.
I’m sure we had many cans of Foster’s lager beer before we went in. The place was glowing in the most perfect way that it can when you’ve had a bunch of beers. I stood in front of the guitar player, Jack Flanagan, who was a peculiar site at a punk rock club. He was a redhead, and had a gigantic red afro. He was also playing a B.C. Rich. They burst into a song and his right hand disappeared! He was moving so fast that it was a blur. I’d never seen anything like that, and I’ve never forgotten it. When I made the “Chaos Magic” video I was thinking about this part, and how fast I had to strum just to articulate it in time. When I shot my hand doing that part, I thought of Jack Flanagan, and I 100% was trying to recreate that moment when I was 15 years old.
Playing a Rickenbacker bass is a combination of my love for Geddy Lee, Chris Squire, and Lemmy. I thought about what T-shirts I would wear, the only one I was firm about wearing was the Motörhead shirt. Motörhead is absolutely the biggest influence on me both musically and physically. When I play, it’s the physical imitation of Lemmy, and I always say that my right hand is Lemmy and my left hand is Rush. Somehow it becomes this weird mix. If I did a breakdown of the songs on the first Cro-Mags album you would be amazed at where they came from. “Sign Of The Times” is basically “Anthem” by Rush backwards. Alex Lifeson does this thing at the beginning of the song, he rides the E chord high and then low. I remember thinking I can’t believe he’s making this amazing riff with just one chord! So I played it backwards, and instead of going high-low, I went low-high, but I played the right hand like Lemmy. So it’s like the same song flipped upside down and played by Lemmy.
The crawl at the end of the “Chaos Magic” video says COBZ plays drums …
COBZ is the drummer on this track, and he probably plays on four other songs that I’ll eventually release. There will be other drummers, too. COBZ is a Brooklynite. He’s got his own business, and he has kids. He’s got a busy life so he doesn’t prioritize music, but he is an extraordinary musician.
I have another track with Roy Mayorga from Stone Sour, and there will be others. I did it this time without trying to teach somebody how to play like me. To a large extent, when you hear the bass part on “Chaos Magic” you can’t play it kind of like that. You have to play it exactly like that. The drum beats are built into the bass rhythm. A lot of drummers have a repertoire of beats in their head, and they’ll start playing a beat without listening to what you’re playing. You literally have to place every bass drum and snare drum with my right hand, or you’re not playing the song. Otherwise it won’t make any sense.
I did that when Cro-Mags recorded Best Wishes and Revenge, too. When we recorded the basic tracks the only thing anybody heard in their headphones was me. When we played live, the only thing in the monitors was the bass drum, the snare drum, and me … Except for Harley’s monitor, he would have his vocals, but we always did a careful monitor set up so we wouldn’t hear anything but my guitar and the drums, and us two locking. I was the pace card. I basically did the same thing with “Chaos Magic.” I played everything, and in my opinion it couldn’t have come out better because it’s the song. It’s not about skill—I guess it’s about skill to an extent—because my playing and my writing go hand-in-hand, and whenever we would go on tour with the Cro-Mags, we took on new musicians, whether it be Rocky George, Bobby the Handball, Rob Buckley, Doug Holland, or any of the number of people that would play. I would always spend like two months teaching people how to play the songs. They couldn’t just pick it up off the recordings, because it’s a peculiar thing.
I literally blasted out all the tracks for “Chaos Magic” in one afternoon. It was the same thing I did with Revenge. I did all the guitars for the entire album in three days. Of course, we took eight days to do bass tracks, and we were in the studio for nine months. But I did all my tracks in three days.
You mentioned you like getting feedback from your peers. Have you heard from any of your former Cro-Mags bandmates about “Chaos Magic?”
I don’t have any contact with any of them. I did get an email … It doesn’t take much to get Harley to say unkind things online. But apparently this was fuel for him. Most people know that I don’t care or don’t want to see it, so no one forwarded it to me, or relayed what he said. They just say he wasn’t very positive, which I didn’t expect. He’s the kind of person who’s only happy when other people aren’t happy.
I see social media posts from Harley and John. They project a lot of positivity into the world. But when it comes to each other things turn negative quickly.
You write a book called The PMA Effect, and then spend the rest of your life being negative? I’ve observed that kind of thing with John for many years—espousing to be a religious person, based on a kind and loving religion. John’s thing with Hare Krishna is a strange offshoot. It’s like a bastardization of the Hindu religion: They recruit a lot of people by appealing to what they call the warrior side. They say that some people are missionaries and some people are warriors. That’s why the ranks of the Hare Krishnas are lined with lots of ex-cons. Like John!
It was always funny to me, whenever I met any of them through our encounters, almost all of them, within the first few minutes of putting their hands together and greeting you with a soft voice, would start saying, “Yeah, back when I used to fuck motherfuckers up! Back when I was serving time in the pen!” It almost always reverted to that.
Harley is the main reason why there will never be a Cro-Mags. People can say, “There is a Cro-Mags. They’re putting out records.” But certainly that’s not the Cro-Mags that people buy into. He likes to say publicly that the reason there isn’t one is because I won’t participate, and he wants to bury the hatchet. Be nice and all that kind of stuff—we’re all grown men …
Then he’ll go and make statements endlessly. He has a whole platform for making statements that diminish everybody’s role in the band—primarily mine. He doesn’t say anything about Doug because he doesn’t see Doug as a threat. But when you look at the credits on TheAge Of Quarrel it says all songs written by Parris Mayhew and Harley Flanagan. My name is first, and the reason my name is first is because I am the primary songwriter. But he puts out a press release six months ago that says “35 years ago, I wrote an album …”
How does he expect there to be any kind of reconciliation when his entire platform is based on diminishing other people? The truth is, I have outgrown him. I outgrew him long ago. For a long time, I had an attachment to him because of my pride in my music. But one thing I realized when we were tracking basic tracks for Revenge, Harley didn’t even know some of the songs. I did the basic tracks with the drummer Dave DiCenso. Harley learned them and subsequently played bass on them afterwards. It wasn’t until I was in the recording studio playing these songs that I wrote by myself with the drummer, when I said to myself, “I could have done this by myself.”
The reason we kept returning to each other was because I made this connection between what I achieved in music with him, and I believed his hype of diminishing me. I believed it to a certain extent. I felt that we were connected by it. This time, I thought, I’m going to do it the way I have always done it, but without him. The results are for other people to determine. But I am happy about them. I am as proud of “Chaos Magic” as I am with anything I have ever done?
You can hear the The Age Of Quarrel, Best Wishes, and Revenge DNA in the riffs, guitar tones, and melodies of “Chaos Magic.” I don’t hate Harely’s new Cro-Mags album, In The Beginning, but it’s different. The values of what you’re doing with Aggros are more closely aligned with where the music came from in the first place—pushing forward into new musical terrain by looking inward.
When we got together to do Revenge, I didn’t want to call it Cro-Mags. At first we called it White Devil. I kept saying to Harley that I wasn’t interested in playing TheAge Of Quarrel and Best Wishes again. We can certainly play those songs. I love them. But I only want to do anything if we make new music.
I also wanted to disconnect myself from 10 years of John touring and playing our music in a pitiful way. I say pitiful because when Harley and I left off with Cro-Mags we were playing festivals in Europe, and headlining. John has resigned the name Cro-Mags to an opening act, playing in small clubs. I wanted to separate myself from that degradation. I perceived it that way because it was my music. So we concentrated on writing something new, and I wanted it to be under a new moniker—White Devil. But as soon as we started playing gigs all the advertisements said Cro-Mags are White Devil. Literally every flyer and anything you saw, the word Cro-Mags was just as big White Devil. We were fighting a battle that was unwinnable. Just today I did an Instagram post where I said something like, nostalgia is an undefeatable foe. You can try to fight it and get washed away. It’s like a tidal wave. If you stand against it, it’ll wash you away until you’re not even noticed. Or you can embrace it—ride it. I don’t shuck off Cro-Mags. I am proud of it. I have just outgrown it, and I’m moving on.
The situation says something about the power of branding, too. The name Cro-Mags will always draw a crowd, because the songs are good, and it has good branding. But when I look at the Aggros logo, I see the same creative hand at work.
I created the logo for the Cro-Mags. I have the original paste ups! Back before computers and stuff, we would actually cut, paste, and put ink on paper. I have the mock-up for the original Cro-Mags cassette. I did it by hand—I have a degree in fine arts.
When I was going to do my logo, I wanted it to be familiar and I wanted it to be me. And to a large extent, the truth is, it was just an imitation of the Motörhead logo anyway! We even toyed with putting umlauts on it. We were kids!
I recently came across an interview where you said that you loved playing music with Harley Flanagan more than anyone you’ve ever played with, but you also hope that you never see him again. Has that changed?
At that time, I was still having a hard time separating him from my abilities. He really did a number on me. If somebody says something to you over and over, you start to believe it. In that same interview, I might’ve said that I would pick up my guitar and play a riff for him, and he would light up! We would play together for hours. To me, that was us, as opposed to us playing my song. The point is, if he wasn’t sitting there I’d still be playing the same song. And I never realized that until I made Revenge. I have finally been able to let all that go, and it’s still true. I still loved playing with Harley. It was great, but I don’t need that.
Do you have a schedule for releasing an Aggros full-length?
No. I don’t have people sitting behind desks telling me what to do. It’s not on a label, so it’s not a commercial venture. It’s just me doing it whenever I feel like doing it, but I have a number of tracks recorded and will release the next one when I finish the next video. Who knows how long that’ll take; I have something to live up to now with “Chaos Magic.”
My wife and I have an agency and we’re basically treating the band like a client to the agency. Once the second video is out we’ll construct all the elements for a 7-inch with probably four songs. Vinyl only. Downloads will be on the website. Hopefully there will be a number of 7-inches to come out, perhaps there’ll be an album collection of the singles, like Siouxsie and the Banshees did. Maybe I’ll pick up musicians as we go, and maybe we’ll re-record all the songs with singing. Or maybe we won’t. I don’t know. We’ll see. “Chaos Magic” was online for an hour and known people from known bands were texting me saying, “I want in.”
I think of the band as like Daft Punk or Ghost. There’s a creative center, and then other people are brought in. It’s presented as a band and why not? On Revenge, Cro-Mags wasn’t a band. It was me and Harley. We were the creative center, and we hired Bobby the Handball, Rocky George, or whoever it happened to be at the time. I’m approaching it that way. When this is seen on stage, it’ll be presented as a band. It will be a great band, whoever it is, but who knows who it’ll be, every time you see me.