The mythical "Big Break" is something that never really happens to punk bands. Big breaks happen for Tennessee washerwomen or shoeshine boys in Macon, Georgia. So when Bottles and Skulls scored the opening slot for Incredibly Strange Wrestling at the Fillmore last May, no one, especially the band, thought that it would really amount to much. For a band that came here about three years ago from St. Augustine, Florida, "just so we could actually play in front of some people for a change," it was simply a chance to play on a big ol' stage for more people than they ever imagined. "That show was the best night of my life," says guitarist Kringle. "Never mind that I was out of tune the entire evening."
Now hot on the heels of its meteoric rise (ahem) to fame, the band assembles for its first official Bay Area interview at the Gold Cane bar on Haight Street. ($2.50 Budweisers and plenty o' seating.) The group consists of Alpha Boozer (aka Brent Jones) on guitar and vocals, Jersey Land Phil on drums, Kringle on second guitar, and Hildo (born "Hilary," which his parents insist is a boy's name) on bass. As the empty bottles multiply, the band waxes poetic and tries to deconstruct its zeitgeist. "Let's talk about farts," says Hildo, who brought along a dim but plucky Long Island stripper named Jackie who periodically gives him impromptu lap dances throughout the evening, much to the embarrassment of the rest of the band. But it seems they've got no problems meeting chicks. Just ask Brent. "Incredibly Strange Wrestling was a good time," he relates in his scratchy drawl. "I went upstairs to the wrestlers after a few, and it turned out -- I didn't even know this -- but I guess I made out with one of the wrestlers up there." He pauses a bit. "I think it was a transvestite." He thinks right. It was drag queen Ruby Gardenia. Wrestling announcer Count Dante relays the event on his Web site, and it's also featured on the Bottles and Skulls' site. But Brent doesn't seem to care much. "It was dark, I was drunk."
Yes, there were many things on the rise that night at the Fillmore, and the career of the new SF band was one of them. In heavy rotation for three weeks on KUSF, Bottles and Skulls was number one at the station the last week of July. Word of its live show has also begun to bring more and more people out, and then the band recently released the full-length album Don't Kiss the Wasp. On Wasp, a total lack of contrivance combines with sloppy production, slurred vocals, and great hooks that come together like drunk drivers swerving in unison. Many people feel it's one of the best punk albums to come out of the Bay Area in a long time. The band members of course seem fairly oblivious to all this, but the day they realize how good they are is the day they will start to suck, so in their case ignorance is bliss. The fact that they don't overthink what they do but are dedicated to it at the same time gives them the authenticity that so many other bands strive for (and usually fail at). Take the album, for example, which was recorded in Oakland at the house of Eric Lau (from the Fighting Mutts). He did it for free, and each song was recorded live, with only the vocals added later. "That record was the most fun, slackest-ass recording I've ever done," says Kringle. "It was so easy, it was awesome."
"He's just like, 'All right, you guys set up, I'll get some levels, and then go,'" says Phil. "And that's it. He doesn't fuck with you at all."
"It's a band fantasyland house," adds Brent. "The whole house is his studio, and he lives in the loft above. He just records his own band, the Fighting Mutts, and bands he likes."
The result is Don't Kiss the Wasp, a title Brent came up with, then created a story around because it didn't really mean anything. The story goes like this: A fly and a wasp are in love and they want to do it, but the wasp invariably stings the fly to death when they try and consummate the union. If that fly never kissed that wasp, they might still be here today. "Heady stuff," say Brent with a smile and a swig from his beer.
Bottles and Skulls arrived here about three years ago, after toiling away in the incredibly lame scene of northern Florida. Though they all hail from different points East, they ended up in the Sunshine State. They hated it there, but couldn't seem to get out. "Florida has this gravitational pull," says Brent. "You get there, then the next thing you know, you don't know why you are still there, but for some reason you don't want to leave." Once the band got enough gumption to actually consider leaving, they chose San Francisco and headed out. For the first few years here, they played all the clubs that bands play when they're getting on their feet, but eventually they bent the ears of the two most important punk promoters in the City: Scott Alcoholocaust and Audra Angeli-Morse, who runs Stinky's Peepshow and Incredibly Strange Wrestling. "San Francisco is way better than we thought it would be," says Kringle. "There's a bunch of bands that kick ass, and there's a bunch of cool motherfuckers here. There's a cool little web."
The subject switches to California livin', then California girls; that's when fake boobs inevitably pop up. Jackie offers to let this writer cop a feel, scurrying over and lifting up her shirt. (A fake boob, if you've never felt one, feels a bit like one of those Squoosh toys wrapped in pie dough.) "My mom bought them for me for my 21st birthday!" she yelps. "I was soooo psyched!"
All congratulate her, and order more drinks to toast her good fortune. It is now time to ask the band its influences -- admittedly, a generic "rock journalism" question -- and they are understandably not so interested in talking about that. "Too many to mention," is their pat answer. But after a few beers the truth comes out. They don't call him Jersey Land Phil for nothing: This band is all about The Boss. "It's Brent Jones filtered through New Jersey, grunge, and redneck," says Phil. Then Brent lets out something wistful that he'll regret saying on tape: "The River [Springsteen] is good when you are drinking by yourself, and you are lonely..." In fact, the only description of its music that the band takes umbrage with is "punk."
"We're not a punk band," says Phil.
"We're not a punk band, for sure," reiterates Brent. "I'm not saying that we couldn't be punks, per se, but that doesn't mean we play punk rock music."
The band members seem entirely sure they do not sound punk, which is ridiculous. "So... were you going for a Bad Company thing, and you are surprised that it doesn't sound like that to other people?"
"You mean it doesn't sound like Led Zeppelin IV?" jokes Phil.
"I try to get a certain thing going," says Brent, "and it comes out however it does. It comes out punk rock, I guess, but it all starts out as melodic metal." At this point it's hard to tell how much bullshit is being laid on the table, but everyone is laughing and having fun, so who cares. Brent continues, "After the melodic metal period, it filters through the Boss, and comes out like that. It's sort of disappointing." Finally, names of bands like the Jesus Lizard and the Clash are bandied about, much to the confusion of poor Jackie. "Who's Joe Strummer?!"
"The next album," says Brent, "you will like. I wanna say that the last one was our party record, and this one's gonna be more of a 'after the party' record. A little more serious and dark."
"The next record is The One," adds Kringle. "It's the cleansing." As of yet, the band members have no money to record said album, but they do have over fifty songs written. Let's just hope that whatever they do, they do it half-assed, because therein lies the band's magic. Overproduction is their enemy; slop is their ally. Remember that, fellas. "I like to call our stuff 'Emmyloucore,'" says Brent. "Sorta dark and sloppy, like an older lady who drinks a lot."
Just don't call them punk rock.Guileless slop-rock has its dayjohn mockus
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