Sunday, February 23, 2014

1971: Bringing It Down

Two friends. One remarkable musical history.

For more than two decades, drummer Adam Zuckert and guitarist/bassist Beth Carmellini have created some of the finest Alternative Rock to ever come from California. The duo’s work in the recording studio began circa 1992, when Adam (best known in those days as a member of CA Hardcore Punk legends Final Conflict) and Beth (formerly with the group Suicide Door) joined forces in Garbage Hearts, one of many short-lived ’90s projects fronted by the late Rik L Rik (F-Word!/The Slaves). Rounded out by guitarist Brad Logan, the band lasted long enough to record a handful of songs that eventually surfaced in 2007 as The Lost EP 1992-1993. These recordings (especially the must-hear “Unfree”) rank among L Rik’s finest work.

After Garbage Hearts parted ways, Adam and Beth joined guitarist/singer Jenni McElrath and bassist Hedge Jones (later replaced by Mitchell Townsend) in Red Five, a criminally underrated group whose all-too-brief lifespace (collected in a fantastic 2009 anthology) included a stint with Interscope Records and a spot on the Warped Tour. Here’s one of their best-known songs,“Space:”

After Red Five, Adam re-connected with Brad Logan for a stint in F-Minus and later worked with California singer-songwriter Matt Costa, while Beth moved on to enjoy an ongoing career in the media and marketing sides of the music business.

The two longtime friends reconnected musically in 2006 for 1971, a hobby band that exists to this day. In 2009, 1971 (with occasional bass help from Brandon Canchola, Andrew Alekel and Hedge Jones) debuted on disc with Cold Cuts, a six-song EP highlighted by Adam’s exceptional drumming/bass playing and Carmellini’s commanding voice. Instantly accessible, Cold Cuts resembled the best moments of the mid-’90s Alternaboom (imagine a louder Veruca Salt or a less esoteric Smashing Pumpkins) while showcasing the duo’s considerable musical growth. (The soulful  “Compact,” the drum-heavy “Never You” and the complex “Monster” are particularly stunning.) It’s impossible for anyone who’s been a fan of Alternative Rock for the last 20 or so year to not love this EP. 

Aside from Adam’s brilliant 2010 solo project Music For Bad Dreams (featuring guest appearances by Red Five’s Mitchell Townsend and Miles from For Love Not Lisa), little was heard from the 1971 camp until late last year, when Adam and Beth unveiled “Bringing It Down,” a new single recorded in Hollywood with Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren serving as producer. Recorded in one day with Brandon Canchola on bass and Wedren adding harmony vocals, “Bringing It Down” opens with subdued drums and vocals before giving way to a powerful chorus that reminds one of The Pixies’ best late ’80s moments. Don’t just take my word for it – check out the song below:

Nearly 25 years after Garbage Hearts, Adam Zuckert and Beth Carmellini are still creating intriguing music that deserves to be heard far beyond their home state. Even if the demands of life keep 1971 an occasional project for its co-creators, it’s an extraordinary way for them – and their listeners – to pass the time.

Purchase Red Five’s Anthology 1993-1999



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shmu: Chroma Key EP

There is a big difference between acting weird and being weirdIt’s simple to spot by asking yourself this question: “Is the strange person in front of me working hard to appear fucked up, or is this person projecting ‘odd’ by merely existing?” Compare Dot Wiggin to Marilyn Manson, and you should hopefully see my point. A lot of trust fund smart-asses hit the musical conveyer belt on my desk these days, with each cheeky bastard trying harder than the last to shock or befuddle. (They usually bore or mildly annoy.) While I’ve never met the man who calls himself “Shmu,” his genuinely weird music leads me to believe that this cat’s creating stuff as inventive as the Chroma Key EP because that’s what’s in his head naturally and not because he wants to appear “out there.”

Those who keep their pulse on what’s hip in the Land of Indie might know Shmu (a.k.a. Sam Chown) as one half of Zorch, an Austin-based duo who earned a fair amount of dropped jaws last year thanks to the brilliant mindfuckery of their Sargent House album Zzoorrcchh. (What’s it sound like? Imagine Sheer Heart Attack and Transmissions From The Satellite Heart playing simultaneously on Alec Empire’s mixing desk.) Flying solo on his first Shmu release since 2012’s Discipline/Communication, Chown opens Chroma Key with “She’s Leaving,” which sounds like a guy unsuccessfully trying to get a clear signal on a radio that is projecting a staticy, somewhere–in-between mix of Oasis and Sly And The Family Stone, only to finally give up that mission to instead listen to his vinyl copy of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless  – after the LP’s been out in the hot sun all day. So, yeah, that’s the first three minutes of this EP, and there are about 23 more minutes pretty much just like those. You really just need to listen to Chroma Key – especially the Stevie Wonder-meets-Hard-era Gang of Four awesomeness of “Mollasacre” – to get the idea. Words ain’t gonna cut it this time.

If this review hasn’t already convinced you to give Chroma Key a listen, then at least check out Shmu’s otherworldly reinterpretation of Lorde’s “Royals.”

Really. He does “Royals.” And it’s fantastic. Click the link. You’re welcome.

Photo courtesy of US/THEM


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'KISS' Turns 40: An Appreciation

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the debut release from one of America’s greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll bands. In an industry where most acts don’t last 40 months, KISS has survived as a recording act for 40 YEARS – not an easy feat by any means. KISS stayed strong through ’70s Easy Listening and Punk, ‘80s New Wave and all the other genres and sub-genres that were SUPPOSED to eradicate Rock during KISS’ first two decades. With or without makeup, the band always delivered. And when a generation of musicians in the ’90s tried to convince the world that it was cooler to mope around in flannel than kick out the motherfucking jams, KISS put their makeup back on to remind us all of how much fun a grandiose, unapologetically bombastic Rock ‘N’ Roll show can be. 

While some Rock artists focus on the darker aspects of human existence, KISS has always been about exploring life’s possibilities. Although some of the band’s “Live life to the max! WOO!” lyrical content has earned a snicker or two from the more cynical among us, the fact remains that a poor kid from Israel became the God of Thunder and LIVED those lyrics. And just take a look at your top 10 favorite Rock and/or Metal releases. If those albums came out in the ‘80s, there’s a very good chance that the guitarists on at least half of them dressed up like Ace for Halloween as a kid in the '70s. At their best, KISS not only make us believe in the Spirit of Rock ‘N’ Roll, but also in ourselves. If that sentiment comes off as a bit silly to you, you’ve obviously never seen the band live.

Today, I raise my glass to all past and present members of KISS, with a special nod to Gene (whose notorious stone-faced arrogance is always replaced by accommodating politeness whenever I cross paths with him) and the great Eric Singer, easily one of the coolest human beings in an ever-inhuman business. Also, a great deal of appreciation and respect goes to the late Sean Delaney, whose many talents helped make the original KISS so extraordinary. If you’re unfamiliar with Sean’s work with KISS (as well as his stellar 1979 solo album,
Highway), he’s a person definitely worth running through a Google search. (I plan to have a feature on Sean’s life and work on my website in the not-too-distant future.) And of course, three cheers to the departed Eric Carr, Bill Aucoin and Neil Bogart.

We wanted the best, we got the best and we still have the best. Thanks for the last 40 years, KISS!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Helms Alee: Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House)

Although Helms Alee live and breathe in present-day Seattle, the band could have easily existed in the dirty corridors of the ’80s New York underground scene. Right from the first few seconds of feedback on opening cut “Pleasure Center,” Sleepwalking Sailors (Helms Alee’s third album and first for bulletproof indie Sargent House) hits the listener like a long-lost companion of Foetus, Of Cabbages And Kings, A Screw-era Swans, The Thing or any of the other groups that offered sludge and rage on the CBGB stage 25 or so years ago. Now, take that aural landscape and add in some Jesus Lizard, Fire Dances-era Killing Joke and Dimension Hatröss-era Voivod, and you have only scratched the surface of the many intriguing twists and turns that Sleepwalking Sailors takes in just 39 minutes.

Bassist/vocalist Dana James, drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen fill every second of Sleepwalking Sailors with artistic ambition. The songs don’t have “hooks” to get the listener interested, or earworm choruses to ensure radio play. Nothing on Sleepwalking Sailors is a particularly smooth ride, but the high level of fresh ideas presented makes the album a truly rewarding experience. From Verellen’s  gargantuan wails to Matheson-Margullis’ exquisite drumming (especially on “Tumescence,” the 2:45 mark on “Pinniped” and the 1:42 point on “New West”), every sound created for these songs has purpose and meaning. This isn’t a band simply screaming their lungs out and making atonal noise; this is a group of musicians employing these techniques to take their music somewhere else. You can hear the thought, care and precision put into every composition on this album. And while it is helpful to reference other artists when describing Sleepwalking Sailors to uninitiated ears, it only takes one listen to this album to know that Helms Alee is creating music for a new era. Nothing else around these days sounds quite like this.

Photo by Ryan Russell  


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dum Dum Girls: Too True (Sub Pop Records)

Perfect albums do exist.

Charting singer/multi-instrumentalist Dee Dee Penny’s evolution over the past near-decade has been an intriguing study of how an Indie queen can be a Pop star at heart. Formerly the drummer/singer in San Diego band Grand Ole Party (and previously known as Kristin Gundred), Dee Dee launched The Dum Dum Girls as a bedroom recording project in 2008. The first Dum Dum Girls album, 2010’s I Will Be, was a delightfully echoed-out, lo-fi affair that sounded like first Pretenders album recorded on a boombox. The production was smoothed over on 2011’s stellar Only In Dreams, which showcased Dee Dee’s ability to create an unstoppable earworm. (Take a listen to “Bedroom Eyes” and enjoy the song being stuck in your head for the next week.) As hinted on 2012’s dramatically evolved End of Daze EP, Dee Dee has finally gone larger than life with The Dum Dum Girls, fully embracing a big song/big production approach on Too True in an impossible-to-deny shot at the Big Leagues. Remember the last time an act on Sub Pop decided to go to the top? While Too True surely isn’t destined to have the same cultural impact as that other band, it’s still a wondrous sonic experience and one of the best albums Sub Pop – or any label, for that matter - has ever released. 

Photo: James Orlando

From its spotless instrumentation to the fonts used on the cover and CD booklet, everything on Too True is a very welcome reminder of the past. Album opener “Cult Of Love” evokes Lovelife-era Lush, while a splash of Tanya Donnelly-era Throwing Muses drives the shimmering “Evil Blooms.” The flawless “Rimbaud Eyes” hits the listener like something out of a classic John Hughes movie thanks to its Document-era REM charm, while Dee Dee’s vocals on the mid-tempo ballad “Are You Okay?” and the tom tom-heavy “Too True To Be Good” are classic The Rapture-era Siouxsie. The jaw-droppingly great “In The Wake Of You” is old-school college radio Rock that sounds like Belly fronted by Julianne Regan of All About Eve. “Lost Boys And Girls Club” (watch video), “Under These Hands” and “Trouble Is My Name” are the kind of songs you’d expect to find inside a time capsuile buried behind the offices of 4AD in 1991, while “Little Minx” is 150 seconds of pristine Reagan-era Modern Rock (listen to that ’80s snare!) If your late Sundays nights/early Mondays in the late '80s/early '90s were spent watching 120 Minutes, this is the album for you. (By the way, Slowdive has reformed. How about a tour with Dee Dee and Co.?)

And in an age where bands tend to cram as much music as possible on a CD, Too True clocks in at just under 31 minutes – joining classics like Ramones and Surfer Rosa in proving that not every album need to be as long as BEYONCÉ to make its point. 

Photo: James Orlando

Yes, the songs that comprise Too True sound like other acts. Yes, Too True sometimes comes off more like a collection of other bands’ ideas than a creation by a unique artist building her own identity. But on no other album released in the last decade or so do so many great sounds collide in one place. Any quibbles over originality are instantly overshadowed by how beautifully every second of this album is perfected and presented. Some might say this is Dee Dee’s shameless, big-time mainstream cash grab record. Who cares! It’s too damn good not to completely love.

Dee Dee isn’t reinventing the wheel with Too True; she’s reminding us of how magical the wheel once was. It will be incredibly difficult for another artist to top this album in 2014. 

Too True is available on Sub Pop Records.  


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Boy Ain't Dead: Cheetah Chrome on Sobriety, Survival and Going Solo

Picking up the phone in 2014 and hearing the laid-back, friendly voice of Cheetah Chrome on the other end is something truly special. Getting a chance to catch up with the guy is a treat not only because of his standing as one of the originators of American Punk (first with Cleveland’s Rocket From The Tombs, then with the mighty Dead Boys), but also because it’s a miracle that he’s even alive. Once one of the most reckless and self-destructive members of the original CBGB scene, a now-sober Chrome spends his time these days as a loving husband and father, record label owner and Nashville music producer. While many of his Punk comrades met early ends due to their behavior, Chrome came through the other side older, wiser and happy to still be able to move forward. That said, don’t believe for one second that today’s Cheetah Chrome has lost the ability to completely fucking ROCK.

Last October, he issued his first-ever solo EP (appropriately named Solo) on his own Plowboy Records. The seven-song collection is comprised of tracks recorded in 1996 with Dead Boys producer Genya Ravan (with late CBGB owner Hilly Kristal serving as executive producer) and a 2010 session in Nashville featuring New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain (Chrome’s partner in the band The Batusis), drummer Lez Warner (The Cult) and bassist Sean Koos (Joan Jett and The Blackhearts). Although there is a 14-year gap between some of its material, Solo is truly timeless, straight-ahead Rock that easily stands alongside the very best in Chrome’s decades-spanning discography. Whether it’s the brilliant Surf edge of instrumental opener “Sharky” or Chrome’s gravelly voice on the bulletproof “Stare Into The Night,” Solo is Rock ‘N’ Roll the way it should be played. In 1977, Chrome helped introduce the world to New York Punk with the Dead Boys’ Young Loud And Snotty; with Solo, he’s still showing the rest of us how it’s done. It also helps that he has a drummer as solid as Lez Warner involved in the proceedings.

“I wanted to work with [Lez] for a while,” Chrome says. “When Sylvain and I did The Batusis, we did it with Joan Jett’s drummer Thommy Price and Enzo [Pennizotto], her bass player. When it came time for The Batusis to tour, they couldn’t do it [because] they were out with Joan. We needed to find some replacements real quick, and Lez was the first person I thought of. I always loved the way he drummed, and I’m really glad it happened because he’s just amazing. He was even better than I thought he was going to be. He’s one of those classic, good English drummers.”

Although Chrome has lived in Nashville since the late ’90s, his true involvement in the music and culture of that great city didn’t come as a result of playing area stages, but through the decidedly unRock ‘N’ Roll confines of a children’s birthday party. While attending the festivities with his young son, Chrome got talking with the father of one of the girls in his son’s class. Turns out that the dad was Shannon Pollard, grandson of Nashville music legend Eddy Arnold. The two immediately hit it off, and this chance meeting would soon propel Chrome into the next stage of his career.

“[Shannon and I] got to talking, and he said, ‘I’ve had an idea for a label for a couple of years, and I’d like to see if you’d be interested in doing it with me,’” Chrome says.

This led to the 2012 creation of Plowboy Records (with a third co-founder, Don Cusic) and the release of You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold, a Chrome-produced collection of 19 artists performing Arnold songs that was unveiled in May 2013 to coincide with what would have been the singer’s 95th birthday. Unsurprisingly, Chrome has very fond memories of the experience. 

“It was a really cool challenge,” he say. “[Shannon] really wanted to preserve his grandfather’s legacy and bring it to a new generation. He gave me the freedom to do anything I wanted to. I literally could have had Lou Reed do a Metal Machine Music version of any song on there, and he would have said that’s okay (laughs). I had a lot of freedom; it was great. And all of a sudden, I found myself up to my ass in the Nashville music business.”

You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold featured an appearance from Chrome’s longtime friend Alejandro Escovedo, whose rendition of “It’s A Sin” is one of the album’s true highlights. Like Chrome, Escovedo has a Punk Rock past: Before becoming a successful and long-running Americana solo act, he was a key member in the original incarnation of San Francisco cult legends The Nuns and did a stint in Rank And File with Chip and Tony Kinman of The Dils.

Although Chrome and Escovedo are both calmer now than in their earlier days in the business, that doesn’t mean that their Punk spirit has diminished. Just consider how they looked when they went to the Americana Music Association (AMA) Awards together not too long ago.

“It was really funny because he wore a Nuns t-shirt and I wore a CBGB t-shirt!” says Chrome with a laugh. “We’re corrupting Americana from within!”

Plowboy will be putting out Escovedo’s upcoming record with The Fauntleroys, a supergroup that also includes Nick Tremulis (Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra/Candy Golde), Ivan Julian of The Voidoids and drummer Linda Pitmon (The Baseball Project). The band is set to perform at the label’s official SXSW showcase on March 15th at The Saxon Pub in Austin, Texas alongside Chrome (with members of Drivin' n Cryin') and Plowboy acts Ghost Wolves, Paul Burch, Buzz Cason, Chuck Mead and J.D. Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers.

When in A&R man mode, Chrome follows simple criteria when selecting artists for the label.

“Obviously, we’re looking at track records and things like that, but for the most part, it’s got to be something that clicks with us,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be commercial. Case in point, we have Buzz Cason, who was in The Crickets and was the original voice of Alvin and the Chipmunks. He worked for Liberty Records, wrote ‘Everlasting Love’ and sang back-up for Elvis. He’s owned a recording studio here in town, and that’s where The Batusis recorded. I’ve known him for a long time. He came up and said, ‘I want to put out a new record.’ He brought us this finished record that was just amazing. The same with Paul Burch and people who have approached us; it’s all been stuff that we kind of liked ourselves.”

In addition to his work at Plowboy, Chrome is gearing up to play some California live dates in April with the recently reformed Streetwalkin' Cheetahs. As far as where “The Two-Headed Cheetah Tour” goes from there, Chrome is taking things one day at a time.

“Right now, it’s California,” he says. “We’ll talk about everything else, because everyone seems to be pretty happy to hear that The Cheetahs are back together, too. It might be fun to do an East Coast thing or something.

“I’m not going to go on the road for five weeks or anything like we used to do,” he adds.  “I’m too busy to do that, and I do value my home life now, but a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there might be good.”

No matter where Chrome’s life takes him at this stage of the game, his legacy as one of Rock’s true survivors is already etched in stone. Aside from “a slip here and there,” he’s been off hard drugs since 1996 and free from alcohol since 2007 – certainly an accomplishment from someone who’s been counted out more than once in his life. While some artists don’t last 40 months in this business, Chrome’s been at this for 40 years. What kept the man going when things got rough along the way?

“There were periods when I wasn’t as function as I am now (laughs),” he replies. “There’s a lengthy period of time there where I was pretty messed up on drugs and wasn’t handling it well at all. You have to take that into account as well. I guess getting off drugs really had a lot to do with it. All of a sudden, I decided that I wanted to get my music back, and did what I could to get it back.”


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Labour of Love: Southern Records Revitalizes the Music-Buying Experience

Downloading a legal Mp3 version of an album is just fine, but holding amazing record/CD packaging in your hands while listening to that music makes the experience so much sweeter.
This reality is not lost of long-running UK indie label Southern Records. Already known for their decades of tireless work in support of esoteric artists, Southern have taken their appreciation for the aesthetic charm of album/CD packaging into a thrilling new world in recent years with their ongoing “Latitudes” series of special releases.
As explained on the Southern website:
We came up with the idea of our Latitudes series in 2005, partly in honour of John Peel and the great work he did championing so many bands with his BBC Radio One sessions, and partly making reverence to Southern’s origins as a recording studio in the late 1970s, a studio which has continued to operate alongside our label activities. Many incredible bands have recorded at Southern – Crass, Sonic Youth, The Fall, PW Long, Fugazi, Therapy, PJ Harvey, Lee Perry, Bauhaus, Mark Stewart, Antisect, Big Black, Shellac, Babes In Toyland, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Ministry, My Bloody Valentine… the list is virtually endless. However, in more recent years not so many of the bands we work with have had the chance to record at Southern Studios, though it has remained a very active studio. With Latitudes, we hope to reaffirm the bond between our studio and label activities, and in 2009 we even moved all of our offices back into the studio building.
Latitudes is a simple concept. We agreed it would be a great idea to offer our favourite bands – many of them passing through London as part of a European tour – the opportunity to spend some time recording something spontaneous, collaborative, fun or experimental in our studio. Whatever the band wants to achieve in a one-day session — essentially something truly transient, imaginative and unique. Something we hoped to capture in the aesthetic of the resulting record – something with boundless creative scope and freedom – specific to a certain time and space – something with latitude...
Another factor behind the Latitudes series was our impetus to create something unique and beautifully packaged, in limited runs, distributed primarily through smaller, independent distributors, mail orders, web shops and retailers – basically something special for the people who love and support music, in times of mass production and musical genocide. The artwork for each one of our Latitude releases will be specifically embellished by the band. Cult designer Stephen O’Malley has provided us with a wonderful template for the series – think smoky wavy cloudscapes and creatures of apocrypha. On top of this visceral odyssey of a cardboard CD casing, we ask our bands to design an artisan sleeve motif and insert, bearing the details of the session and a photograph which symbolises the spirit in which the session was recorded.
We couldn’t be happier with the reception that Latitudes has received. Most of the pressings have quickly sold out (though we do stash away copies for our mail order), and the bands have all been really happy with the way their releases look and sound.
In 2007, we started releasing some of the titles on vinyl as well, and in 2012 we completely redesigned the vinyl packaging so that it perfectly compliments the original CD design in its unique aesthetic.
Latitudes is our special adventure, and we hope that you will join us for the journey.

This “special adventure” has already yielded nearly three dozen limited edition releases. Very often, the stunning sleeves house music that represents the artists’ attempt to step away from their usual creative comfort zones and come up with the unexpected. As an example, let’s take a look at the Latitudes releases from two of the most popular performers in the series, Wino and Chelsea Wolfe.

As frontman of The Obsessed and Saint Vitus, Scott “Wino” Weinrich is an undeniable Doom Metal legend. But on the Latitudes release Labour of Love, Wino straps on an acoustic guitar, joins forces with German “Dark Folk” artist Conny Ochs and delivers soulful, campfire-ready covers of songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (“Find The Cost Of Freedom”), Chris Whitney (“Dirt Floor”), Townes Van Zandt (“Nothin’”) and Joy Division (“Isolation”).
Really. No lie. He actually does this. And it sounds absolutely amazing.
Released in March 2012, Labour of Love is strictly limited to 500 copies on deluxe foil-stamped CD and 500 copies on heavyweight green vinyl in die-cut, foil-stamped sleeves. There are still copies of both formats available as of this writing, but it’s a smart idea to act now if you want one.                                                                                
Labour of Love is also available packaged with Wino & Conny Ochs’s 2012 full-length album Heavy Kingdom in a handcrafted, branded wooden cigar box. For this special co-release with Exile On Mainstream Records, Heavy Kingdom comes packaged in a handmade twelve-panel fold-out cruciform wallet with gold and black silkscreen and eight-panel accordion-fold lyrics, while Labour Of Love is housed in a handmade origami wallet with green foil embossing and an insert. This gorgeous collection is limited to only 300 copies.

Anyone who’s been following the indie music press in recent months (or watches Game Of Thrones, for that matter) knows that Chelsea Wolfe is on the cusp of a major career breakthrough. This is probably a big reason why her Latitudes release, Prayer For The Unborn, sold out in a flash. Released in January 2013, Prayer For The Unborn saw Wolfe take a handful of chaotic Rudimentary Peni songs and transform them into a low-fi, Goth-tinged blur that sounds like PJ Harvey taking on Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Join Hands. Astonishingly inventive, Prayer For The Unborn was released in an edition of 500 LPs on 180g black or red vinyl in die-cut, hand-packed/hand-numbered sleeves with an insert, while a CD version was issued as 500 hand-packed/hand-numbered discs in a foil-blocked, letter-pressed origami-fold wallet with an insert. Cover art for both editions was created by none other than Rudimentary Peni’s Nick Blinko.

Information on other Latitudes releases is available HERE. Get them while you can.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

A New Revolt: Chris Connelly's Cocksure Return


“Who’s your favorite Cock?

This question was asked over and over during the goofy closing track on Linger Fickin’ Good...and Other Barnyard Oddities, the 1993 major label debut (and, as it turned out, major label finale) of the Revolting Cocks (a.k.a. RevCo), one of many side projects led by Al Jourgensen of the infamous Ministry. The release of Linger Fickin’ Good represented the cultural and commercial apex of Jourgensen’s sonic circus, a love affair with the music mainstream that got a huge shot in the arm (pun intended) a year earlier with the massive success of Ministry’s 1992 album, Psalm 69. While Jourgensen captured much of the Cocks’ media glory at the time, Scottish singer Chris Connelly gained a strong cult following in his own right. Dreadlocked and skinny with a voice that was equal parts Scott Walker and John Lydon, Connelly (also well-known known at the time for his work with Pigface) was an unmistakable presence during RevCo’s heyday, easily becoming many fans’…well…favorite Cock. But not long after Linger Fickin’ Good’s release, RevCo collapsed under the weight of drug abuse and diminished expectations. Tellingly, it was also the last time Connelly ever performed on one of Jourgensen’s albums. (Longtime Ministry/RevCo drummer Bill Rieflin left the fold during the recording of Ministry’s 1996 album Filth Pig, while bassist Paul Barker – an undeniably crucial part of both bands’ success – finally bowed out in 2003.) Although the “Revolting Cocks” returned in the mid-2000s to put out a couple of albums with Jourgensen as the sole original member, it was immediately clear upon the first listen to this new incarnation that the magic - and the core of musicians that made the project so special in the first place - was gone.

Thankfully, fans in RevCo’s home base in Chicago have had the opportunity to re-live the band’s glory days in recent years. Under the “Cocks Members” banner, Connelly, Barker, original RevCo singers Luc Van Acker and Richard 23 and Linger Fickin’ Good-era contributor Duane Buford joined forces with Acumen Nation members Jamie Duffy (guitar) and Dan Brill (drums) to perform Cocks material at the Retrospectacle, a three-day live event held in 2011 at the Metro to celebrate the “33 1/3” anniversary of Wax Trax! Records. In September 2012, “Cocks Members” (minus Richard 23 and Van Acker) returned to headline the inaugural Cold Waves festival at the Bottom Lounge in memory of Duffy, who passed away earlier that year. (16Volt’s Eric Powell took over six-string duties.) Last September, the group returned to perform at Cold Waves II at the Metro. 

Did these quasi-reunions mean that the Cocks would fully rise again? Well, yes and no. With Jourgensen supposedly “retired” from touring life (and, at the time of this writing, about to re-enter rehab) and Rieflin currently involved with the new incarnation of King Crimson (following a lengthy stint drumming for REM), a return of the classic RevCo lineup is highly unlikely. However, that doesn’t mean that the spirit of RevCo (and the spirit of Wax Trax!, for that matter) can’t live on in Cocksure, Connelly’s brilliant new project with Acumen Nation’s Jason Novak.

“I’ve always felt that there was unfinished business with the Cocks,” Connelly explains. “The last album, Linger Fickin' Good, was done in two halves - myself, Paul and Bill, and then Al on his own. Al was hopelessly addicted to something or other and ended up using a bunch of loose ends to squeeze out an album side. He then refused to tour for fear of not being able to score drugs on the road, so for me the Cocks ended on a very miserable and frustrating note. I think we could have gone a lot further, and there is no reason I can’t explore these possibilities. After the reunions of the past few years, I felt it time to write a couple of new bangers!”

Some of these “new bangers” appear on KKEP, Cocksure’s debut EP. Released on January 31 and available in MP3 and CD formats at, KKEP features four tracks including the insanely catchy “Klusterfuck Kulture.” The EP bites and snarls like a Wax Trax! 12" of old, while the duo’s use of seedy pulp fiction imagery only adds to Cocksure’s nostalgic charm. 

KKEP represents the latest chapter in Connelly’s storied non-Ministry/RevCo career, a musical narrative marked by unexpected detours and intriguing left turns. When not touring and recording with an increasingly Metal-ized Ministry, Connelly started pursuing a much different path with the release of 1991’s decidedly unIndustrial Whiplash Boychild. Much closer to Scott 4 than Psalm 69, the album featured a reinterpretation of Walker’s “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg” and the classic track “Stowaway.”

Connelly’s solo explorations continued during and after his association with Jourgensen, producing a slew of highlights including 1994’s Shipwreck, 2001’s astonishing Largo (in collaboration with Bill Rieflin) and 2002’s Private Education.

Aside from a few Pigface tours/sessions here and there and the short-lived Damage Manual project with Pigface leader Martin Atkins, Connelly’s musical output for the better part of two decades was as far away from his Ministry/RevCo days as he could get. His gradual disdain for the genre that fueled the early part of his career is evident in his impossible-to-put-down 2007 autobiography, Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As A Revolting Cock. Of course, this all makes Connelly’s recently activities very interesting. In addition to Cocksure, he is part of Bells Into Machines, a new project featuring (among others) Barker and former Ministry live sound engineer Lee Popa. He reunited with Atkins in 2012 for two live performances of Damage Manual material, while his 2011 solo album Artificial Madness was a clear return to the Rockier side of things. Things have certainly been getting louder and more distorted in Connelly’s world as of late, so what led to his change of heart when his disinterest in this direction was so apparent just a few years ago?

“You’re right; I wasn’t interested,” he admits. “I am not sure why…mainly because I like looking forward. I guess I found the capacity to look forward and keep exploring musically whilst at the same time having some fun with my past. The other thing is that a lot of the people I have been working with have been close to me for my entire adult life. It’s a chance to keep up with each other now; we all have families or whatever. We don’t have a bowling night or fishing expeditions, y’know.”

Chris Connelly (right) with Paul Barker at the Cold Waves festival in Chicago, 9/7/12 (Photo by Joel Gausten)

Interestingly, KKEP appeared just a handful of days after the release of a special record from Connelly’s very first band, Fini Tribe. Issued on January 20, the Detestimony: Size of Ear 2014 Mixes EP offers four mixes of the ’80s track of the same name and is said to be the first in a planned series of releases from the group. A truly fantastic collection, Detestimony: Size of Ear 2014 Mixes is currently available stateside via the mail-order site for Reckless Records, the Chicago-based chain where Connelly has worked for several years. 

So how did it feel for him to hold a new Fini Tribe release in his hands in 2014?

“I am so proud of that record,” he answers. “In hindsight, it’s a beautiful song, and that moment may be the happiest I ever have been. I truly love all the souls involved in Fini Tribe.”

In fact, Connelly went as far as to recently proclaim on his Facebook page, “I wish I had never left the FINI TRIBE.” Clearly, the band is dear to him.

“Hearing ‘Detestimony’ again gave me the nagging doubt that we should have - or I should have - stuck with them, forgotten the lure of the USA and stayed in Edinburgh,” he says. “What I hear in it is this fusion between technology and the beautiful, asymmetrical, wild land that I come from. Probably a midlife crisis.”

While RevCo may have given Connelly his first true taste of international acclaim, it must be noted that Fini Tribe represented many career firsts for the singer – namely his first Wax Trax! single (a 1987 cover of Can’s “I Want More”) and the recording of a Peel Session in 1985.

“We had x amount of hours to record 15 minutes of music,” he recalls of the latter. “I remember the insane rehearsals, and that the drummer from Mott The Hoople produced it. I remember playing everything really fast, hurting our hands doing handclap overdubs and sneaking into a soundproof room with the boys to smoke a joint.”

Naturally, the near-simultaneous release of the Cocksure and Fini Tribe EPs has made many (this writer included) reminisce about a fantastic time for music – and the greatest independent record label of the 1980s. Thanks to an amazing Wax Trax! mail order/archival website (overseen by Julia Nash, daughter of late Wax Trax! co-founder Jim Nash) and a thriving Facebook community, the long-out-of-business Wax Trax! maintains a strong presence in today’s music world. Why does Connelly feel that Wax Trax! remains such a beloved label and era for so many?

“Simply because they did something that no one else did, during a unique time and in a unique place,” he replies. “It was so much more than a label; it was a conduit, an inspiration and a laboratory.”

In addition to having full-length albums by Cocksure and Bells Into Machines on the way, Connelly has been making waves around Chicago with Sons of the Silent Age, a David Bowie tribute act also featuring former Filter/Smashing Pumpkins drummer Matt Walker and Shirley Manson of Garbage. He’s also found time in recent years to publish a novel (2010’s Ed Royal) and record an album with Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth under the name The High Confessions.

Thirty-plus years after launching his music career with Fini Tribe, Connelly is still embracing every opportunity to sing into the unknown and do away with anyone’s preconceived ideas of where he’s going next. 

“I dont plan these things ever, as you can tell from my solo career,” he says. “I am in a position, like many, where no one ever breathes down my neck and insists I do something.”

Official Chris Connelly Website 

Cocksure on Bandcamp


Official Bells Into Machines Website

Fini Tribe on Facebook