OHA Vol. 2 Issue Seven
My First Drum Set, Meet the Fluppies: the Best New Punk Band From Nowhere, and Behind the Orange Curtain: a Review of Tool Live at the Honda Center
My First Drum Set
Pedro the Lion Havasu January 20th, 2022 (Polyvinyl)
I’ve written elsewhere about my delusions of doppelgangers and the envies of youth, about being so close to someone through their art it feels like you know them. David Bazan’s songwriting will do that to you. Combined with an open and affable live persona who treats each show like you’re sitting next to him on a barstool, talkin’ shit, Bazan and his work in Pedro the Lion has spent the last 25 years making you feel like you’re a good friend. Havasu, Pedro the Lion’s sixth full length album and second since reforming after a long solo hiatus, continues this intimacy between artist and audience.
In one sense, Havasu is a most prototypical PTL affair, a throwback to the earliest works of the band. Bazan’s gravelly vocal sits atop straightforward instrumentation, often consisting of little more than a single shimmering guitar track, a wandering bass line, and some simpleton drums. It’s a formula that’s worked for Bazan since 1997’s Whole EP, which caught my eye at the Christian bookstore my senior year of high school. Yet the straightforwardness of the “band” – Bazan performs most of the instruments on Pedro albums – belies the complexity of the way the three instruments are arranged. Anyone who’s sat down to learn a PTL song can attest: many PTL songs are quite knotty in their interplay between stringed and rhtyhtm instruments.
In feel, however, Havasu is far more similar to 2019’s Phoenix than any of the early albums. Like its immediate predecessor, Havasu listens like an autobiographical account of time and place rather than the younger Bazan’s proclivity toward allegorical exploration of Big Themes: death, sex, religion, etc. Like Phoenix, the latest album, surprise-released last Thursday, chronicles a specific time in Bazan’s youth. Where Phoneix took us through the events of Bazan’s childhood, Havasu gives us the tween Dave in all his fairly adorable and at times cringy awkwardness. And, like Phoenix, this album ends with Bazan and his family once again moving on, this time to Santa Cruz.
As a listen, Havasu is an album of two halves, with most of the upbeat tunes frontloaded on the A side. With Pedro the Lion, that’s not necessarily a problem. Most fans of Bazan are more interested in what he has to say rather than how he says it. If the dude needs to have four slow jams in a row to get the tone of the story right, then that’s what we’re gonna get. It does make for an objectively patient listen, but that seems to be the point. One could argue Havasu is ultimately a quiet and meditative reflection of a pivotal year in Bazan’s life more than it is an engaging musical artifact, wondering whether it would have been a better memoir than album.
However, a closer listen suggests there are hooks on Havasu. “Too Much” and “Teenage Sequencer” crackle with PTL’s emo-adjacent-guitar meets bar-band stomp energy while opener “Don’t Wanna Move” fits comfortably in the pantheon of later-era Bazan albums, a slow building song that eventually finds a head-bobbin’ groove only to dismantle it again. The tectonic slowness of “Making the Most of It” works in its favor. Each little addition, like the hi-hat frills on the first chorus feel like statements, or when the harmony seals the deal at the song’s conclusion. Album closer “Lost Myself” owes a debt to Radiohead’s “Let Down,” which has appeared in Bazan’s catalogue as a live outtake, yet the subtle homage works in the context of the album as a whole. If Havasu is a musical memoir, its referential points are entrances to understanding it.
Lyrically, this album hit me hard. I, too, moved in my seventh grade year to a town where I knew no one, because my parents were removed from their church in San Diego. I don’t think there will be a more personally devastating one-two punch this year than “Old Wisdom” and “Stranger,” the two songs on the album that hint at a man connecting the impact of his seventh-grade experiences to his life today. The results, to put it mildly, are heartbreaking. As an Ex-Christian whose father was also a pastor, Bazan and I seem to share a similar pain as it relates to our fathers. When he sings
You’re not allowed to see it, but you always had a choice
Between making a disciple
And knowing your little boy
I can’t think of a lyric that so aptly describes my youth. Listening in rush hour traffic on the way to the bar, unaware of what was coming next, the lyric sent tears to my eyes.
In the following “Stranger,” Bazan explores the effect the power dynamic connecting a father’s love with God’s love had on his relationships.
The loneliness conditioned you to think that it’s virtuous to suffer quietly
Never dreamed it would be forever or hurt this way
Now you’re the stranger displaced, unknown
Trying to locate yourself in someone else’s home
On someone else’s bones
This displacement was something I felt viscerally as a kid. As a burgeoning unbeliever in a religious home, you’re always the imposter, the fraud waiting for the moment you’re found out, the thief a quick breath away from being caught.
Yet despite the titanic sadness these two songs bring me, the most affecting song on Havasu is the enjoyable “First Drum Set.” The summers between eighth, ninth, and tenth grades I worked with my father’s friend, Paul. Paul was a contractor. Together we refinished our church basement (which became our youth group center) and performed countless landscaping remodels. My job usually involved either making the mess – digging, scraping, demolition – or cleaning it up, sweeping, scrubbing, refuse removal.
Paul listened to Rush Limbaugh in the mornings and classic rock radio in the afternoons. He’d pick me up from my house as the sun crested Mt. Diablo to the East with Rush yelling about beltway political scum and took me home nightly in his dented work truck to a soundtrack of Cheap Trick and Bon Jovi. Paul didn’t have kids of his own, so he treated me like a de facto son, a result I believe my father orchestrated. Already I had slipped from under his influence. He needed to keep tabs on me, pinning me within the searchlight of God’s love through Paul’s vigilance of my soul.
During these years I feared my father, yes, but I didn’t have a close relationship with him. I feared Paul, too. He also had a temper, saw things in black and white, and believed fervently in the gospel. In some sense, our father-son bond was guaranteed from the first day he picked me up. As we began to clear the dusty dark church basement of thirty years of accumulated detritus, he would explain the mysteries of the Bible as they related to Rush Limbaugh’s incessant soliloquy. If I fucked something up, he would sternly correct me. At the end of the shift, he’d give me an excruciatingly tight hug. The love-as-reward-for-hard-work hierarchy is one I still have trouble disconnecting from, either in my marriage, band, or work, causing a host of problems. Turns out, you can do the “right” thing with the wrong attitude and it ain’t worth shit.
I wish I remember more from my time with Paul. I both enjoyed and dreaded those summer days. I remember getting tan as leather, lithe as a desert cat. I remember really liking U2’s “One” and the Black Crows. I remember wishing Rush Limbaugh was funnier – all he did was talk about politics and that bored the shit out of thirteen-year-old me. I remember the sense of accomplishment won from finishing an eight-hour day spent working with your hands, the ache in your back, the burn in your legs, but your brain blissfully put to the side.
By August of 1994, I had saved up $500. I had started playing drums before my freshman year, practicing on a maroon Tama kit perched on a makeshift stage in the very same basement I had helped Paul refurbish a year earlier. Because of the kit’s location at church, I was only able to practice once a week, on Sundays after service while I waited for my parents to finish up their workday. Progress was understandably slow. I was already playing in the youth worship band, but I was unbearably awful. Each Sunday morning, as I attempted to play along with the youth worship leader, a rotund gentleman with a mustache and acoustic guitar, my pride wilted as I often failed to keep up, or put the snare on the wrong beat, or fell apart all together after an ill-advised fill. If I were to ever get better, I needed my own kit.
Despite all the contention in our relationship, my father knew I wanted a drum set. Even though he wouldn’t pay for it – not that he could, we were living on a single pastor’s salary at the time – he found a great deal down in Redwood City at a used music store and had my mom drive me to pick it up. My first drum set was a six-piece 1980 Slingerland with pearl case wraps. The set included stands and cymbals, all for precisely the $500 I had saved. While half of it was stolen in 1998, the other half is sitting behind me in my office as I write, stacked like a monument to the bewildering serendipity of life.
Bazan’s dad, to his credit, greenlit a trade in for Dave, from clarinet to a drum set, putting in motion a career in music midway through its third decade. Havasu will most likely end up a mid-table Pedro the Lion album in hindsight, but I was surprised by how much I’ve already listened and thought back to the summer of my first drum set.
Meet the Fluppies: the Best New Punk Band from Nowhere
Recently my friend hipped me to something strange: a punk band with a debut album he couldn’t stop listening to. The only problem, he told me, was he wasn’t sure the band existed. How could that be? I wondered. I did some digging. I hit up my friend Lavin who knows about all things Central Valley punk and asked her if she’d heard of the Fluppies, who were rumored to be from some cow poke town off the 99 near Hanford or Delano or some shit.
Lavin, as always, came through. Turns out she went to grad school with one of the band members’ sister. She got me in touch with this sister, who then got me in touch with the boyfriend, who then got me in touch with one Sarah Quintero, lead screamer of the Fluppies. When I showed up to interview her outside Barstow at an abandoned cafe with some truly epic mid century architecture (a location she chose due to its midway proximity between her and I), I was surprised by her other three bandmates. They were here for the interview, they said. Quinn — as her friends call her — would be joining via satellite phone, something about her being stuck in jury duty.
So, are the Fluppies a real band? As always, the truth is somewhere in between. Below is our conversation, edited for clarity. The album does rip, though.
I see there’s a number of you answering, please introduce yourselves.
Press Chalmers: Press. Vox. Theremin, sort of. I don’t know if any of my parts make it onto the recordings. Lyrics when Sarah isn’t being a dictator.
Sarah Quinn: I’m Sarah Quintero, but I go by Sarah Quinn. I write the songs, play guitar, scream, and sometimes sing.
Vyv: Hi I’m just Vyv. I do keyboards and the computer stuff. Just letting you know Sarah says I can be a little “awkward” so if you have questions for me please make sure she’s paying attention to my answers thanks.
Marc Enriquez: I’m Marc. I play the drums.
First things first: Where the hell is Los Suelos? Your bio says you’re all from Los Suelos. I’m from California and I’ve never heard of it.
V: Right between the river and the Hole.
PC: Real ones know. You from Redding or something?
What was growing up in a town like Los Suelos like?
SQ: There’s not a lot to do. Most people work at the cow farm or just do whatever. There’s a few people who are into music like we are. Sometimes you get a Blue Dicks game, or a movie at the drive-in if that’s your thing…
ME: I didn’t grow up here, but it’s the quiet for me. There’s no internet, barely any cell service, hell we can’t even get radio. It used to drive me nuts, but you get used to it. Maybe it’s an age thing (I’m 36), but now I kinda like it.
PC: It wasn’t much. Met SQ and Vyv. Getting worse, though, I guess.
V: Press is exaggerating, his dad’s like stupid rich.
Speaking of dads, Sarah, your dad’s kind of like a Dave Van Ronk for Californian farmers. Is he who first inspired you to play music?
SQ: I don’t really like my dad’s music. It’s like, there’s A.A. Quinn the country/folk singer, and Angel Quintero, the dad who gave me guitar lessons and stuff. But I like to play loud. I’d say my biggest influence is The Authorities. Vyv showed me them years ago and I knew that’s how I wanted to play guitar forever.
How did you find music in a place as isolated as Los Suelos?
V: Oh I go into the hills for bars.
V: Yeah, where your phone works? I find all kinds of cool shit on the internet. Have you ever listened to The Locust?
SQ: We’re not total shut-ins… we’ve been to shows in Fresno.
PC: Friends in Stockton. Went to LA to do the album.
SQ: Pssshhh, “LA,” it was San Pedro.
PC: All I know is we took 99 all the way there.
SQ: 99 doesn’t go to LA.
PC: San Pedro. 99 goes to everything.
I’ve heard rumors of strange things happening in Los Suelos: a cult, a local disease, gremlins (!)?… I can only imagine these elements have crept into the music. Make the connection for us between your music and these idiosyncrasies.
SQ: I mean, our music is all about Los Suelos. It’s important to be real, you know?
PC: None of the shit we sing about is real. It’s all like Hollow Earth old sci-fi textbook stuff.
SQ: It’s satire. Of course that stuff isn’t real, that’s why we dress up like Belowdowners (sic) and act like we believe it. To put it in a whole new context and deconstruct the belief system.
ME: I’m still confused, not gonna lie.
PC: I still think we fucked up starting off with a baseball song. Now everyone’s gonna think it’s a baseball album. Which is what we actually shoulda done. We’re Blue-Dicking the listener.
V: Blue-balling. I think what Sarah means is like we want to show how stupid the Church is. They try to be so secret and exclusive. Like I had to be so sneaky to get all those clips of Hibiscus [Bernard, a locally famous business owner whose voice features on several Fluppies tracks]. None of it’s real but those people totally believe it. It’s crazy.
ME: Shit is definitely crazy.
V: They’re not gremlins, they’re fluppies, and they are real. That’s why we named the band that.
As the Fluppies, you have already gained a ton of notoriety out of the gate, even inspiring a story by author Ian Kappos. Is that attributable to your live show?
PC: Never heard of him.
V: I feel like it’s just the internet really. There’s only a few kids from school who come to our shows. But once I finally got bars long enough to post our demo online people were so into it!
PC: I heard some kids started calling us skramz which really pisses me off.
Are you mixed up with Surface Dwellers? What do you know about that group?
SQ: They’re a bunch of writer dorks making up stories about our town and asking other writers to make up even more stories. I don’t think they’ve ever even been here.
What kind of personal challenges did the band face while making your blistering self-titled debut?
SQ: Well the hardest part was writing and getting everyone to practice. And then we had to get to Southern California somehow.
V: Press’s dad didn’t want him to go.
ME: Sometimes it sucks I have to drive everywhere. And the rest of the band being so much younger makes it hard for them to relate to some stuff, like heartbreak…
PC: Dude you gotta let that shit with Paloma go. I saw her the other day and she was hella stern. You don’t need that.
Most people don’t know the rich punk history of California’s Central Valley. For the uninitiated, where should they start?
V: So going back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s there’s The Authorities, who had some crossover with Pavement who I guess are super well-known? Kind of before our time there was this psychedelic punk band called Vile…
ME: Oh yeah. I played with them once in Oakland. Those guys went hard.
PC: I like xMALCOLMx out of Stockton. They changed their name, though, I think.
SQ: Basically, it makes sense why Los Suelos gets ignored but there’s totally cool shit happening in Fresno, Stockton, and Modesto, and like if we can learn about it with no internet, what’s the rest of California’s excuse?
Lightning Round. I say a word or phrase and y’all give me a one sentence response.
PC: We had a Nintendo 64 at the practice spot for a while until the TV broke.
V: My brother had Final Fantasy 7 on his playstation, only I never got to play because he took the playstation with him to the Church before he—
ME: Half-elf ranger is my go-to.
The Bronx or Mariachi El Bronx
SQ: Mariachi El Bronx because more punks should appreciate Mariachi music
PC: I don’t like ska.
ME: Dude, some ska’s tight.
Los Suelos Punk Rock Shows
SQ: Pony’s bar is killer, when we can get them to let us in, anyway
PC: Tractorcore. Ha.
PC: Shouldn’t exist.
V: Then your dad wouldn’t exist, haha.
V: Maybe there are some cool ones out there, like we’re honestly pretty open-minded people, but fuck the Church of the Belowdown
PC: I said we should make patches that say “A.B.A.B.” like “all Belowdowners are bastards” but I got shot down.
V: Yeah so like we try to donate money from our shows to good causes when we can, which would be awesome if we played more shows haha.
SQ: A few years ago my second-cousin was getting their pay withheld by some almond grower, I think they got help from a group like that
PC: Hella tight.
Last one: milk
PC: That cave, what the fuck dude…
PC: Nothing. Dumb.
Behind the Orange Curtain: A Review of Tool and Blonde Redhead at the Honda Center January 18th, 2022
There was a moment near the end of Tool’s two hour and forty-five-minute set when the four beleaguered rock stars sat at the front of the stage and performed what seemed like a campfire session of one of their recent songs, something they’d never done before. Seated there, hunched and exhausted, I got the feeling that this was it for them as a relevant band. Tool had entered into full-blown legacy mode, their performances geared towards diehard fans who will go home telling other diehard fans online that they were there when Tool did the just-four-guys-sitting-together-makin’-music thing.
Never mind the fact that the performance as a whole was dreary and uninspired – as one fan I spoke to put it, he’d seen them 35 times and this show ranked third from the bottom – these little moments of novelty still appeared to slake the thirst of the 15,000+ in attendance. Looking around me I saw countless outstretched hands as if we were worshipping in a megachurch – which, in Orange County, you figure most of the crowd is oblivious to the cognitive dissonance of going to a Tool show then going to praise the Lord. While the irony of exaulting vocalist Maynard James Keenan and drummer Danny Carey like messiahs certainly failed to register amongst the faithful, it’s really no different than the entirety of the band’s lucrative career, namely, that the whole kit and kaboodle – the grotesque body horror art, the D-tuned riffage, the maximalist drumming, and the over-serious singing, the titles (the band’s called Tool for Maynard’s sake) – it’s all meant to be one gigantic troll of heavy metal culture. Until it’s not. And herein lies the problem of Tool in 2022. The band seems to have forgotten that their audience isn’t in on the joke.
Despite it all, the prospect of Tool live is an enticing one. For all its obvious racketeering – this is a band who kept their music off streaming services for years and is currently selling NFTs (and, shit, the merch line was longer than the beer line by a magnitude of fifty) – the band spends millions on its live performance and has the technical musical proficiency to rival other over-the-top metal acts of yore. We went expecting an experience, and an experience is what we got, for better or worse.
The Honda Center in Anaheim, home of NHL’s Mighty Ducks, is a slightly smaller, slightly nicer Staples Center. Getting into the show was a cinch; we were comfortably in our seats with drinks in hand by the time openers Blonde Redhead took the stage at 7:30 PM sharp. Blonde Redhead played a tight 45-minute set heavily favoring my favorite album Misery Is a Butterfly and its follow-up, 23. The band seemed rejuvenated and alive, performing urgent and noisy versions of “Elephant,” “Falling Man,” “Spring and By Summer Fall,” “23,” “Dr. Strangluv,” and “Doll Is Mine.” They even reached into the back catalogue and played an absolutely electric “Bipolar” off 1997’s Fake Can Be Just as Good (which, as album titles go, is a 10).
To say I’m a far bigger fan of Blonde Redhead than Tool is stating the obvious, but regardless of my bias, Blonde Redhead came out and slayed, without the big production and big sound afforded the headliner. There was heart in the way they took on the challenge of opening for Tool and a positive chemistry clearly resonating on stage. Little glances between Kazu Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace at each successive juncture, Amedeo’s swagger, Simone’s percussive mastery, Kazu’s undeniable magnetism – all of it paid off. Blonde Redhead left the stage to rapturous applause from the two or three thousand who caught the set.
In contrast, Tool’s onstage chemistry is best described as “professional.” The band members seem to tolerate one another in a way that suggests the reason the band still exists is simply because they mint fucking money. Arriving within a gigantic shimmering cocoon, on which Tool’s patented shock art images were projected six stories tall, the band – sans Maynard – launched into the opening build of “Fear Inoculum” in the same way I take a deep breath before beginning a ten-hour shift at the bar. This is gonna be painful but at least I’ll make some money. Minutes later, Maynard emerged to perch atop one of two gargantuan twenty by twenty blocks sandwiching the drum emporium, in which Carey smacked every rototom, kick drum, snare, and gong ceaselessly for the first section of the show.
It was then it hit me, as Maynard’s voice failed to cut through the drop-D judd-judd of the band, these guys are fucking old. Watching Tool in 2022 is like watching a very talented sexagenarian drum solo for two hours in a suburban Guitar Center while his two friends “jam” with various effect pedals. Meanwhile, the drum room manager, a small man behind the counter with an ill-advised mohawk and racoon paint around his eyes, makes up melodies to himself while he waits for the boomers to buy something or fall over dead from exhaustion. The scene gets its merits from the sheer unlikeliness of it all, but ultimately, like each and every member of Tool on stage that night, one would rather be doing something else.
It’s important to note that, judging from the audience’s cultish devotion, nearly everyone in attendance would disagree with this assessment. I admit. I’m a poser Tool guy. I went hoping for “46 & 2” and got “Pnuema” and “Culling Voices,” long, meandering songs whose only purpose seems to highlight Carey’s incessant polyrhythms. In fact, for one song during the encore, the peculiarly titled “Chocolate Chip Trip,” Carey was the only one onstage, tinkering with a modular synth in between drum solos while in the row in front of me a goateed man with a Tool shit air-humped an imaginary bovine creature in delight, screaming I love you, Dannyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!
There was a time that Tool wrote songs, evidenced by set highlights “Opiate” and “The Grudge,” but that time has long since elapsed. Without Maynard’s once-distinctive vocals anchoring the riff-fest – the sound engineer either couldn’t get his voice right in the house mix or the poor bastard’s just gassed – Tool’s later songs are essentially indecipherable from one another, making a set that leant primarily on 2000s Tool a monochromatic affair.
For what it’s worth, the spectacle of a Tool show remains. The lasers, the projections, the seven-sided star hovering about, the confetti canons, the smoke, the wall of sound generated by the instruments all combine to provide a visceral experience. But, surrounded by men in their forties air-drumming in near hysterics — whether from the music or the drugs it was hard to tell — I found the whole thing so passe. Visually intense, yes, but also somehow a parody of itself. If Jane’s Addiction proclaimed nothing’s shocking back in 1988, in 2022 Tool seem to be saying “but what if you’re high and everything is really large?”
Some things don’t age well. I can forgive the wallet chains and Metallica shirts. Even the dye-and-boob-job contingent obviously dragged there by their mid-midlife-crisis boyfriends. And it was kinda sweet to see how many kids attended with their dads. But Tool’s schtick is no longer surprising or innovative. It’s a known, albeit popular, commodity amongst a certain demographic of which I discovered I’m no longer a member.
That’s it for this week’s OHA! Tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and that 2022 Tool rules, etc, on twitter @benjiheywood or reply to this email.