Arrested Development 

The Stitches' obsession with punk's first wave has made them a fan boy's dream.

Punk, arguably, is a young person's game. Since its inception, the genre has remained rife with songs about adolescent fantasies and exaggerations. While it's been fifteen years since the release of the Stitches' raucous first single, "Sixteen," and about a decade since they were at the height of their career, the Southern California band hasn't strayed from punk's debaucherous ethos, and continues to sporadically traverse the world's dingy bars.

The Stitches do seem to suffer from a sort of musical arrested development. Like a lot of bands, they have a tendency to romanticize their own adolescent dreams and look backward at the first wave of punkers. But that doesn't mean that their music is void of impassioned moments.

The Stitches' first full-length, 8 x 12, issued in 1995 by TKO Records, is a recognized pillar of the modern punk canon. It has been reissued several times on vinyl, necessitated by the group's continued popularity despite only sporadically touring beyond the West Coast. "We started a whole revolution of mostly terrible bands, but some were good," recalled Johnny Witmer, the group's guitarist and songwriter, in an e-mail. The Stitches' sound could very well have come out of the late 1970s instead of Orange County in the 1990s, amid a scene populated by skaters and drug enthusiasts. But the Stitches acted like a conduit through which the past was filtered through to a new generation of boozy youth. "Even kids that weren't born in 1995 love it today," he continued, referring to the band's first album, which featured songs dealing with a variety of illicit substances — a theme that continues through their present work.

"Ninety-five percent of the Stitches' songs are about getting fucked up," said Witmer. "When we started out, we were doing tons of meth and drinking Mickey's 22-oz. Stingers," he reminisced fondly. "After the twelve-inch came out, some people started doing heroin, and we moved on to cocaine and imported beer. It was just a natural progression when you get paid." But 8 x 12's drug fixation shifted to an equally obsessive fascination with technology on the follow-up, 12 Imaginary Inches, released in 2002. "Automatic," the album's single, contrasts natural human responses with robotic impulses over a stripped-down 1980s concept of what rock in the future might sound like.

Today, the seasoned quartet doesn't exactly live like kings, despite the fact that adolescent-minded collectors obsessively devour its merchandise, frequently shelling out upwards of ten times the original selling price of an album on eBay. "I love that our stuff goes for what it does," said Witmer, who's also an avid record collector. This kind of fanboy worship is more akin to comic-book collecting, even though the band and its early fans are now in their thirties or forties.

As the Stitches haven't been the most active band of late, Witmer had time to cultivate a new project, the Crazy Squeeze, with players from Los Angeles, including Chicago transplant Frankie Delmane, who previously fronted an underrated power-pop group called the Teenage Frames. Although Witmer said the impetus for the new band was to surround himself with folks that, as he put it, "can actually play their instruments," the Crazy Squeeze isn't too far removed from the sound of the Stitches. Both bands are unquestionably linked to 1970s punk and excitable pop tracks, except the New York Dolls quotient has been ratcheted up a bit in the Crazy Squeeze. Whatever nuanced differences exist between the two, though, are easily overshadowed by their similarities.

While fans continue to troll online auction sites for the band's old releases, the Stitches are primed to release some new material on seven-inch, which should be out any day now. According to Witmer, the band also recorded a "New Wave LP of Stitches songs." "Maybe that will come out soon, too," he said somewhat cryptically.

That phrasing doesn't sound too promising, so in the meantime, fans' best bet is to see the band when it comes through town on Saturday, June 20, at Thee Parkside, along with the Crazy Squeeze. It'll be an opportunity to see a historic act, even if the set list is filled with songs about booze and pills from a few decades ago. 

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