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.
Antagonizers ATL are back with a new single, titled “Black Clouds.” It’s the first song to appear from the Atlanta street punk outfit’s sophomore album, Kings, due out in early 2021 via Pirates Press Records. The song picks up where the group left off with its 2016 debut, Working Class Street Punk. The message is powerful and direct: Build strength through self-reliance, and always maintain that time-honored PMA (positive mental attitude) no matter what obstacles life throws in your path.
The band’s indomitable spirit reemerges bolder than ever in “Black Clouds,” which comes to a head with the lyrics: “I see those black clouds overhead / Try to follow me until I’m dead / I close my eyes and laugh inside / Only the weak run and hide / I’m gonna swing to the left, swing to the right / Duck and dive ’till I’m out of sight / No damn clouds gonna hold me back / I’m on the move and I’m on the attack.”
“It can mean many different things to many different people,” says the group’s singer and frontman Bohdan Zacharyj. “We are all in different boats, just trying to stay afloat. No matter how hard you fight and how far you get ahead, there is always someone or something trying to keep you down. Use that as fuel to propel you farther, faster, and make you stronger.”
Zacharyj goes on to say the lyrics, “’Close my eyes and laugh inside’ serves as a moment for self-reflection, and a reminder to always stay the course,” he says. “When a horse wears blinders over its eyes it cannot see those who want it to fail.”
The 10-song album was produced and engineered by Matt Washburn of Ledbelly Sound. The group’s lineup has also shifted and expanded since releasing Working Class Street Punk. Bass player Wynn Pettitt and drummer Don Tonic join vocalist Zacharyj along with keyboard player Billy Fields, guitar player Richard Hendersön, and rhythm guitar player Eric Antell.
For “Black Clouds,” Matt Henson from Tacoma, Washington street punk outfit NOi!SE, joins in as a guest vocalist, underscoring the camaraderie and respect shared between the two bands. Henson, who is originally from Marietta, met Zacharyj when their bands played a show together in Seattle. They bonded over their mutual experiences in the Army’s Airborne Division, and even shared the A-side on a four-way split 7-inch for Pirates Press Records in 2019.
“I have found Matt to be a good friend over the years, and I thought this part on the record would be a perfect match for his vocal style,” Zacharyj says. “His band NOi!SE does a great job shining light on the armed forces, injustices, and fostering overall compassion for each other, and for humanity over all.”
Another song from the album that remains to be released, “Hold On, Hold Strong,” features a guest appearance by Monty NeySmith of the group Symarip. Keep an eye out for more information on their collaboration coming soon.
In the meantime, press play on “Black Clouds.” The song is also available as a picture flexi 7-inch free with any purchase from Pirates Press Records.
On Friday, October 2, Kevn Kinney of Drivin N Cryin is back to play another installment of his monthly “Free Parking” live-streaming sets on Facebook. Kevn will play some Drivin N Cryin classics and deep cuts along with some newer numbers he’s written. He’ll tell stories, tell jokes, and he might even offer up a few cover tunes, and he’s taking requests!
In the meantime, press play below to hear my April 2019 podcast interview in which Kinney talks about reconnecting with Drivin N Cryin’s first LP, the group’s most recent album, Live the Love Beautiful, and looking within himself to find true happiness.
The specter of nuclear annihilation that hung over the Reagan era feels somewhat quaint now, in light of just how much President Trump’s draconian administration, the global pandemic, and the oppressive grind of social media have twisted up the American psyche circa 2020. Still, the 1980s were a fertile time for punk rock’s cultural growth on American soil.
In We’re Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America, author and Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University Kevin Mattson delves into the golden era of hardcore, punk and DIY culture blooming in the shadow of the Gipper. Countering the oppressive forces of a conservative White House regime, a community bound by the music of groups such as the Dead Kennedys, the Dils, Minor Threat, the Avengers, Hüsker Dü, Bad Brains, Black Flag, and more was compelled to enact empowering social change that still resonates around the planet.
On Tuesday, September 29, Mattson will join GSU history professor and author John McMillian (Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, Beatles vs. Stones) and yours truly, music writer and editor Chad Radford, to discuss the book, the music, and more.
I recently caught up with percussionist Chris Frántz to talk about his new memoir, Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and Tina. A Cappella Books hosted the hour-long Zoom chat, during which we talked about everything from Talking Heads’ early days at CBGB and the hardcore matinees that saved the club in the ’80s to the group’s first time playing Atlanta and hanging out with the Fans and the B-52’s.
Frántz’s book is out now via St. Martin’s Press, and it’s a truly great read. Remain in Love tells the story of a passionate band that brought a tremendous vision to American music by being in the right place at the right time, and by thinking with their eyes and their ears.
And if you’ve ever wondered what exactly David Byrne was doing with that arm-chop gesture in the “Once In A Lifetime” video—you know the one—press play above.
Aside from the two installments of his demonic classical song cycle, Black Aria I and II, Glenn Danzig has released only two recordings outside of the group context—not with the band Danzig, but as Glenn Danzig. In 1981, he reclaimed the Misfits’ “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Spook City U.S.A” for a 7-inch single on his own Plan 9 Records. In 2020, he rolled out the disarmingly gentle Danzig Sings Elvis LP for Cleopatra Records, featuring 14 deep cuts from the catalog of the King of Kings.
When viewed as bookends of a nearly 40-year stretch of his career, both of these offerings illuminate a more mysterious, and a more human side of Danzig’s voice, presence, and persona.
The Misfits took their name from director John Huston’s 1961 film of the same name. When it comes to Elvis Presley’s influence, every punk kid in America recognized it the first time they dropped a needle on the Misfits’ 1982 LP Walk Among Us and heard that rockabilly werewolf howl unleashed in “I Turned into a Martian,” Vampira,” and “Night of the Living Dead.”
The film, The Misfits, was the last feature-length movie in which Marilyn Monroe starred before her untimely death—the culmination of depression and work-related exhaustion from trying to beat the public’s perceptions about her, chronic insomnia, and consuming prescription drugs upon drugs and alcohol.
Elvis left the building under similar circumstances. Both Presley and Monroe were such larger than life stars that their deaths have been surrounded by decades of speculation, rumor, and conspiracy theories.
This dark history and mythology is subconsciously transmitted when Danzig eases into the first lines of “Is It So Strange,” the opening number from Danzig Sings Elvis. His voice reveals subtle depth as he drops the Danzig facade that he has honed since the 1970s. There’s a sensitive, passionate human behind his barrel-chested bark, and he’s more of a multi-dimensional character than we’ve been led to believe.
Danzig’s voice has softened over the years. The full-throttle yowl of “Mother,” “Her Black Wings,” “Dirty Black Summer,” “Kiss the Skull,” and “On A Wicked Night” has settled into a husky range. Here, a layer of reverb over his singing draws out honesty, frailty, and a pensive atmosphere in the album’s first single, a touching and ethereal rendition of “Always On My Mind” b/w “Loving Arms (alternative vocal).” Danzig’s spare guitar rhythms and percussion are brought to a fine point by Prong and longtime Danzig guitarist Tommy Victor’s leads, which underscore a self-styled and uncompromised elegance in re-imagining these tunes.
This can be a difficult pill to swallow for anyone waiting for the punk-metal hammer to drop. After all, there are live bootleg recordings floating around capturing the Misfits tearing into “Blue Christmas” in the early ‘80s. Danzig even called down the thunder with a ripping cover of “Trouble” for 1993’s Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP. So there’s a bit of a precedent for expectation to rock when it comes to this terrain. But Danzig Sings Elvis is a more introspective listen that embraces these songs’ original forms.
The album is executed with such matter-of-fact passion, and the songs are so deeply felt that it almost comes across as a novelty—at first. But Danzig’s interpretations perfectly combine his own soulful baritone with Presley’s drawn-out phrasing in songs such as “First in Line,”“Girl of My Best Friend,” and “Like a Baby.” So much so that it’s impossible to take in this record as anything other than a sincere homage, and a much needed break from the hard rock and heavy metal of latter era Danzig albums.
There is no mistaking the fact that Danzig is one of the greatest songwriters to rise above punk, hardcore, and metal, and his voice remains unmatched. If he has anything in common with Elvis Presley—and indeed Marilyn Monroe—it is an ability to find strength in being bold. What sets him apart, however, is a basic tenet of old school punk rock: Don’t give a damn about what anybody else makes of you. You’re not like the others. And when the rest of the herd cannibalizes itself, that’s when you thrive.
This is the message my antenna tuned into as a 13-year-old kid nodding along to “I Turned into a Martian.” It’s in the lyrics: “I walk down city streets on an unsuspecting human world. Inhuman in your midst, this world is mine to own, ’cause, well, I turned into a Martian. I can’t even recall my name!”
It’s a sentiment that resonates, albeit with a bit more resolve when he sings Elvis’ words as well: “And when you hear my name, you’ll say I’m from a strange world. But is it so strange to be in love with you?”
Nowhere on the album does this newly found energy burst with greater reverence than “Pocketful of Rainbows.” The song’s minimal arrangement, channeled through Danzig’s stylishly murky production, captures a glowing tension that feels as though the song could burst open at any moment. But the piano, percussion, and tremolo on the guitar sustain a vibe of hope and buoyancy.
Rare is the artist who can redefine their character so deep into a decades-long career. With DanzigSingsElvis, the voice and the man behind so much horror business with the Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig breaks the public’s perceptions about him, and breathes new life into his legacy. — Chad Radford
Before Atlanta shut down over the COVID-19 pandemic, Wire played a show at Variety Playhouse on March 7, 2020. It was a Saturday night, and it was the last show I was lucky enough to catch before statewide shelter-in-place orders became too urgent to ignore.
It had been a few years since the British post-punk legends last made an appearance in Little 5 Points. For this show, co-founding members singer and bass player Colin Newman, guitarist and vocalist Graham Lewis, and drummer Robert Grey, along with guitarist Matthew Simms—the latter of whom has been a member of Wire since 2010—were playing shows on the heels of releasing their most recent album at the time, Mind Hive.
Striking a balance between intimacy and intellect—punk reflexes and avant-garde instincts—lies at the core of Wire’s singularly introspective brand of art rock in the post-aughts. There’s a tactile energy between Newman and Lewis’ words and the drawn-out musical atmosphere that billows around them. Channeling this for the Variety Playhouse’s mostly full 1,000-seat room is no simple feat. But on March 7, Wire reached deep with a 19-song set underscoring the strengths of Mind Hive, while breathing new life into a handful of classic numbers as well.
Perhaps one of the most stunning moments of the night’s performance—aside from “Oklahoma” being an absolute barnburner—was the spacious reinvention of “Over Theirs.” The song, which originally appeared on Wire’s 1987 LP The Ideal Copy, is a barbed and paranoid lurker, cut from the digital textures and sparse rhythms of an era when synthesizers were still a new thing for a foundational British punk band to push forward. At Variety Playhouse, “Over Theirs” went to a dark, muscular, and more cavernous place than its Reagan/Thatcher-era origins, showing off wholly new depth and nuance in the song’s menacing nature. When placed alongside both older and newer numbers such as “Be Like Them,” “German Shepherds,” and “Ex-Lion Tamer” the song unfolded like a cautionary anthem for the darkness that still lies ahead.
Mind Hive has been a solid contender for album of the year, at least in my book. That is, until yet another Wire album arrived in June, titled 10:20. The new album is a collection of upgraded rarities, distilling Wire’s post-2010s stylistic growth into an exquisite and wholly new offering that’s bursting with self-references that reach all the way back to 1978’s Chairs Missing LP. More on that later, but sure enough, the freshly reinvented “Over Theirs” appears on the B-side in all of its ominous glory.
Setlist “The Offer” “Be Like Them” “1st Fast” “Cactused” “Morning Bell” “Question of Degree” “Over Theirs” “German Shepherds” “I Should Have Known Better” “Patterns of Behaviour” “Primed and Ready” “Ex Lion Tamer” “It’s a Boy” “French Film Blurred” “Oklahoma” “Hung”
There’s an energetic wisdom possessing every word of “Refine Me,” a new single and video from Harrisburg, Penn./Washington D.C. post-hardcore quintet Don’t Sleep. When the group’s frontman Dave Smalley sings, “You can wound but you can never kill me/You want me in a prison/Of your misconception/But I’ll keep breaking free/From your deception,” self-empowerment becomes the message and the means to rise above.
“Refine Me” is more a personal mantra than it is a political rant—part-Sun Tzu, part-Black Flag in its ruminations on gaining strength through facing adversity in life head on. Or as Smalley states: “It is important to be forged and refined by the flames of adversity. Let your enemies make you stronger.”
Smalley’s anthemic whooaaas and guttural voice project a lifetime of experience in hardcore—he sang with the brawny “Boston Crew” outfit DYS, in Washington D.C. He did a stint leading guitarist Brian Baker’s post-Minor Threat group Dag Nasty, and in Los Angeles he fronted the post-Descendents outfit ALL. He also sings with the recently rekindled L.A. hardcore staple Down By Law. Smalley’s presence alone embodies American hardcore’s melodic DNA. In “Refine Me,” his words are imbued with everlasting depth, resilience, and an openness that allows anyone within earshot to connect the dots and find their own meaning.
“One of the label guys suggested these words are important in today’s environment of folks struggling to ensure every person is treated with dignity and respect,” Smalley says. “I wrote the lyrics last year, and it’s really about personal struggle and overcoming that terrible feeling of betrayal, and coming out stronger on the other side. But if it applies to today, and can give someone hope to come through this current moment looking to be stronger and forged by today’s heat, I’m all for it,” he adds. “The best lyrics are the timeless ones, where the words impact the listener as a human being, but also can be applied to our human family as a whole, and apply to the world. Hopefully this song counts.”
In 2017, Don’t Sleep came out of the gate strong with the arrival of a self-titled EP (Unity Worldwide), followed a year later by the Bring The Light 7-inch (Reaper Records). The group hit the ground running with a string of Warped Tour dates, sharing stages with legacy harcore acts such as Sick Of It All, Madball, and Hare Krishna juggernaut Shelter. But after piquing so many ears the group has remained somewhat in the shadows. Of course, in 2018 Smalley was busy putting together Down By Law’s latest album All In (Kung Fu Records). He also releasedJoin The Outsiders (Little Rocket), the debut album from a new group he fronts with Spanish and Argentinian musicians dubbed Dave Smalley & the Bandoleros.
For Don’t Sleep, however, the downtime has been anything but idle. “Refine Me” heralds the September 4 arrival of the group’s debut full-length, Turn The Tide(Mission Two Entertainment). Smalley, alongside bass player Garrett Rothman, drummer Jim Bedorf, and guitarists Tom McGrath and Tony Bavaria have crafted a sound that expands beyond the tropes of classic hardcore with a balance of muscular riffs and angular rhythms over Smalley’s lyrical ruminations.
It’s a fresh take for a group that’s well aware of its hardcore roots, but isn’t willing to stay in one place for too long, or dwell on the past—literally and figuratively speaking. When the group hits its stride here, the music takes shape amid a powerful yet understated blend of visceral hooks and sophisticated instincts—the sound of five players going all in.
A laundry list of producers and engineers contributed to the album including Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (August Burns Red), Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Youth of Today), Matt Holmes, and Battery singer Brian McTernan. The result is a sound that Smalley says was “a catharsis and a challenge” fleshing out. “It’s one I hope will have the same kind of impact for people that classic albums had for me when I was coming up.”
“Refine Me” offers just a glimpse at this new melodic identity the group has honed with Turn The Tide, promising a purgative and empowering blast of songs that are hellbent on a brighter future.