Men of Porn's Tim Moss tweaks music the way most kids torture metal in welding class. He takes sheets of hard rock and scraps of experimental noise and melds them together, flattens them with sludge, scrapes them with sharp guitar squeals, and nails industrial-strength jams around their borders. He leaves his edges jagged and makes sure his tools are the biggest and noisiest ones around.
At times, MOP sounds like a melted mix tape of noise, metal, and psychedelics, pushing you headfirst into frenzied, alien squalls of feedback. Then Moss will switch gears and catapult down some dark rock freeway, his distorted vocals flapping behind the roar of guitars. The directional shifts are so swift that the only things you can count on from MOP are plenty of uncharted trips to rock's outer spaces. "I like doing fucked-up records," Moss says with a grin, drinking Budweisers at Annie's, a hidden little dive between bail-bond shops in San Francisco's SOMA district.
Moss has been piercing appreciative ears with Men of Porn's "fucked-up records" since 1995, when a stint in the noise band Ritual Device went south and the Elkhorn, Nebraska native decided to start his own act to cover the leftover tour dates. After doing a couple of shows with some Nebraska friends, Moss' pal Frank Kozik (artist and owner of the now-defunct label Man's Ruin) asked him to move to San Francisco, offering to release Moss' records on his label. It wasn't a tough decision for Moss, who was living in a small farming town with a population of 7,300. "I had nothing to do in Nebraska but a bunch of fucking drugs," he says of the decision to come out west that same year.
MOP had its first San Francisco show in 1997. The lineup was Moss and John Wolf on guitar, Joe Goldring (Swans) on bass, and Joey Osbourne (Acid King, Altamont) on drums. The four-piece horrified the audience at the Covered Wagon, cementing Kozik's affection for Porn's confrontational sound. "The first show we played was at Stinky's. It was just complete noise -- a lot of fun. We basically cleared the room. Kozik was there and he was like, 'Yeah, this is gonna be great,'" Moss says, smiling.
Over the next two years, Moss split his time between Elkhorn and San Francisco, recording songs with noisy crews in both cities: Misha Avrushenko (bass), Jeff Heater (drums), Jerry Hug (bass, from Ritual Device), Osbourne (drums), Jon Weiss (drums, from Helios Creed and Horsey), and Wolf (guitars). Goldring provided guitar tracks and his Pigshead Studios space and helped record and produce the band's debut, American Style, which was finally delivered to the public in 1999.
American Style is an excellent firstborn from Moss and company. It's a sleazy record of raunchy talk and dirty rock. With songs about "Teabaggin," and "Battle of the Bulldyke," and music that sounds like a Stooges score for a biker film, American is totally aggressive, abrasive, and unapologetic about its experimentation, both sexually and musically. The star attraction, though, has to be the album's opener, "Comin' Home (Smoking Pot on a Saturday Afternoon While UFOs Drone Overhead)." The eighteen-minute opus sinks into stoned riffs with doubled-up distortion, cresting into metallic squeaks and thrashing around in short, straight shots of hard rock. "I got a lot of shit from people who were like, 'Why did you put that song first?'" says Moss. "Well, either you're gonna get the music or you're not gonna get it, and that song's gonna tell you right away."
"Comin' Home" is also the centerpiece for MOP's infamous live "D sets" -- where the Porn show consists of the one song stretched out for forty minutes nonstop. It's definitely not for those without earplugs -- no matter how much you love Porn. "We'll play the D set if we get a weird vibe from the crowd or the club or if we're in a bad mood -- or if we're in a good mood," jokes Moss. "We were out on tour with High on Fire once somewhere in Texas and we played the D set and cleared the room. High on Fire was playing next and they were like, 'I hate the D set. I don't ever want to hear you guys play the D set again,'" he laughs. "It was great."
Although Moss steers clear of the conventional, his primary goal is not to piss people off -- that's just one of his many perks from the gig. He thrives on making brutal noise that exposes rock's gut parts as chunks of distortion and loops of feedback -- and keeps Porn alive, even when his label, bandmates, and vocal cords all failed him within the last year and a half.
Moss has been the only constant member in Porn's revolving lineups, and in the spring of 2000, he was touring with guitarist Wolf, bassist Avrushenko, and a fill-in drummer named Brian Pollard. With only part of the tour completed, the drummer had a nervous breakdown in St. Louis and Avrushenko also quit on the spot. Luckily, though, the enterprising Moss borrowed tourmate Lost Goat's rhythm section and covered up for the substitute members by telling crowds that the original guys had OD'd in St. Louis. In November of that same year, Moss worked with Goldring and a new crew of noisemakers -- Brian Hill (Buzz-Oven, Acid King) and Sean Tyler (El Dopa) -- and set out to record a follow-up to American Style called Experiments in Feedback. They began recording in late November 2000, and that same month, doctors found a nodule on Moss' vocal cords, throwing the second spike at the band in one year. "When we were on tour I lost my voice a couple times, and when I got back my voice was gone for a couple days," says Moss. "The doctor said that I had a nodule on my left vocal cord. He went in and chopped it off with a laser. I woke up on the best drugs, it was great," he laughs. "But after the surgery I wasn't supposed to talk for three weeks, which was weird. And no drinkin', smokin', nothing for three weeks. I was really removed from the general population and was basically in my head the whole time. It sucked."
The surgery delayed the recording process, but it also forced Moss to work more with his instruments instead of his vocals -- which aren't a big part of Porn's sound anyway. "Joe and I started making up a lot of noise," Moss says. "Originally, the record was going to be half experimental and half rock. We started reworking a couple songs and it became more and more experimental as we went along. It was cool because we got to do more crazy shit than I would've done if I was singing."
Just as Moss was ready to release the record this fall, the third blow happened when Man's Ruin folded. "It was a drag. Frank's a good friend of mine," says Moss. "He really tried. He lost a ton of money and a lot of bands are owed money, but what are you gonna do? Shit happens." Luckily, Detroit-based rock label Small Stone stepped in and Men of Porn is set to release its latest racket November 2.
The creation of Experiments in Feedback may have driven Moss through minor hell, but for Porn fans, it's well worth the wait. The album opens with a cover of Pink Floyd's Meddle classic, "One of These Days," and from there it spreads into a most literal example of the words psychedelic rock. A cover of Motörhead's "I'll Be Your Sister" appears three times at various speeds: "Valium," "Nod," and one full-speed cut that sounds like it was taped on an 8-track in someone's garage. "Capp Street" is an ominous rocker that curls guitar effects over Moss' grizzly voice as he hurls stories about getting arrested at San Francisco's shadiest place to get a date. Then there are the three "Feedback" tracks that sound like tiny airplanes landing and taking off while robotic dolphins send underwater signals. Or, you know, something like that. The final "Feedback" has between six and seven layers of pure noise.
"I had the idea of weird guitar feedback effects running in the background so we could mix them in and out when we wanted to," says Moss of the final "Feedback." "Then we played the tracks back and thought it sounded kind of cool. We were sitting there stoned and adding more and more feedback, looking at each other with a knowing smile, like, 'Dude, we're gonna make the whole song like this.' When we finished, we were sitting back and listening to the record and Joe goes, 'This is the most fucked record I've ever worked on.' It made me feel good." Moss takes another swig of his Budweiser. "That's a seal of approval."
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