Perfect Sound Forever

Angry Samoans- Gregg Turner

early band picture
left to right: PJ Galligan, Todd Homer, Gregg Turner, Billy Vockeroth, Mike Saunders

Interview by Jason Gross

PSF: What was the local scene like before the group started?

The scene was wicked. The Weirdos rocked Hollywood, the Masque had punk-rock installments in subterranean dungeons and the possiblities seemed unlimited as far as being ridiculous and crazy. It was, the incipient renaissance and deathknell of rock music in LA. The last gasp, anyway, before the entire genre became ultimately irrelevant and pathetic (about the last ten years plus or minus).

PSF: How/why did the group get together?

Vom started first. Me and Meltzer were grooving on the Weirdos and Alleycats at some downtown dump, and it hit us that we could make idiots of ourselves as well. Meltzer cut up a pair of pants (w/eyeholes and nose breath-holes) and the rest is history. Vom begain, I think it was, in 1976, ceased a year and a half later. Saunders was the drummer. HE wrote some of the riffs, but when the tried to sell the band this rancid ZZ Top concoction, called 'Beaver Patrol,' Lisa, the bass player went ballistic, and Saunders went AWOL. Eventually he re-enlisted (sans BP) and the crowning show of VOM occurred at the Whisky; the sound guy pulled the plug when some clown was bopped by Meltzer's mike stand (after liberal tossing of crawfish and bronco worms)- apparently the only other act tossed from the Whisky stage was The Doors!

So Vom was sent packing, Meltzer had had enough. And Saunders and I regrouped within half a year with a handful of tunes ('I'm In Love WIth Your Mom,' 'Electrocute Your Cock,' "Too Animalistic,' etc.) and nowhere to go. We practiced (and auditioned early prospects) with a strict diet of Dictators, Roky Erickson and Kiss covers. That pretty much paints the picture.

PSF: With the early gigs, did you think the band fit into the local scene?

We were mostly playing to a handful of friends and so forth. The intitial concept was to have a band to have a platform to make fun of all the losers in LA leftover from one too many Hollywood parties. We didn't fit in, but that was the idea. Then we started to go after Rodney Bingenheimer (local DJ within new wave show, leftover icon from the 70's glam/glitter disco era) and got banned from essentially every club in L.A.. The L.A. Times (twice I think) trumpeted the war of lyrics ('Get Off The Air') and that moron's attempt to try and sue for defamation (problem is, he'd actually hafta prove that he could, in fact, 'read and talk'; see 'G.O.T.A.'

As I recall, Jay Jenkins (then the manager and lawyer for those visonary poets, X) represented Rodney. The battlelines of incest were clearly drawn. At the time, we had little inkling of just how factionalized it would become. In any case, the only shows we could play were at skate rinks in the boondocks- but it turns out that's where the archetype of punk-rock in L.A. was happening. We decided (out of sheer panic suddenly playing with the likes of Suicidal Tendencies and Social D(istortion) and so forth) to triple-time everything. We shed our rock-writer (me'n Saunders anyway) garage-elitism, and started writing songs about poking your eyes. We retreated unscathed from each show/debacle.

The turning point was really when this guy in 83 I believe flew us out to play this club called The Channel in Boston. Suddenly 2000 plus kids were hip to every syllable of every lyric and the songs were on college radio. At the same time, playing L.A. was not in the same league. I remember when we played 'Lights Out' at that Channel gig, these kids in the front whipped out these white plastic forks and proceeded with these mock eyeball impalement gestures. I kept thinking that one of em was gonna slip and go home to mommy and daddy who'd of course be personal injury attorneys.

PSF: Being an infamous punk band, was there lots of debauchery going on in the early days?

Uhm, you hafta understand that we weren't very debauched type people. Chicks were scared of us. we were almost the quintessential opposite of the debauch-cliche you read of rock bands -- on the road or otherwise. Part of this was on purpose - I personally detested that kind of stereotypical image. Conforming to that expectation or standard was about as appealing as listening to Heart. Not that the personalities involved in the band were boring-ly normal or un-peculiar. Todd could play Frankenstein better than Boris Karloff if he had the inclination (often the case) -- and Mike was a better Rainman than Dustin Hoffman. Maybe not debauched, but pretty damn surreal the time in Atlanta when we roomed in some hotel near the airport where there was a Legionnaires convention. Todd was fanged, Mike was running amuck (this was at the end of a two week "tour" (for us two weeks on the road was a marathon) and I was having a nervous breakdown in my hotel room, crying into the pillow how I missed my dog back home (see liner notes on Triple X-released CD of Back From Samoa for amplification/anecdote expansion).

Debauchery ... Debauchery? Lesseee, maybe there could have been some of this ... how about the time when we played the Cactus Club in San Jose and Mike went off to the urinal to read his comic books or whatever (one of his fave recreations) -- who was selling the tee shirts and bumper stickers?? Why, it's "Mother Saunders"! (imported for that Thanksgiving weekend from Arkansas) in some formal evening gown amidst grungy junked out nasty punkoids who look like they've seen the pit of hell, when they we're expecting Metal Mike. "He's occupied in the bathroom, but I can help you."

Debauched? Let's see ... what about the time when Saunders was running a raging fever of 99.4 in Boston (didn't he graph the temp readings everythirty minutes to check the trend? or was that distortion of memory, hard to say?) , but then he relocates into the bathroom after duct-taping the vents in the main room and makes his bed in the bathtub to sweat it out (one can only guess) --- next morning (wasn't it?) the maid discovers his countenance in the tub and she's thinkin OD on LIFE ITSELF and erupts with this bloodcurdling scream.

Less debauched was when Evan Dando (pre-Lemonheads) and friends met us at the hotel in Boston we were staying at- they'd baked us a Chocolate cake! And we wound up watching Re-Animator at one of Rachel's (another friend) upscale society penthouse hangouts somewhere in town. Not too debauched, but one of (few) nice memories. Wonder what Rachel's up to these days...

PSF: How was the first EP (Inside My Brain) put together?

Quickly! Lee Ving (of Fear) sat in for a few days -- then got sorta freaked when the wrath of Rodney (Bingenheimer) threatened the FEAR empire. We recorded with Spot (Black Flag producer) down in Hermosa Beach. He was a good sport to put up with us all. The entire EP was finsihed in a few weekends.

PSF: Was the band made outsiders after "Get Off The Air"? Had to release material as 'Queer Pills' right?

As mentioned previously, the L.A. Times ran an almost blow-by-blow account of the feud in the Calendar section of the Sunday paper. We were banned from every club in L.A.- because Rodney had all the booking agents in his promotional pocket (strangely, his radio show in the late seventies was widely listened to. So, despite an IQ that peaked at no more than 70, he wielded a considerable amount of power). Bands like X and the ilk quickly opted for that nitwit's clique- and so we became an overnight non-sensation.

We never HAD to release anything as the Queer Pills- it was a goof, really. Back From Samoa was taking forever to finish for any number of reasons. Saunders had the left the band for over a year (replaced with Jeff Dahl in that interim) [come to think of it, I guess I was the only Angroid who stuck thru the whole venture from the starting point in 1978 to the ending point in December of 1991. What an earmark of distinction... oh boy], then when we recalled his services back into the fold, we had already recorded 2/3 of the tracks with Dahl. Had to do all the vokes over again and so forth.

Anyway, the last leg of this was mixing the thing in Hollywood. Todd was flipping out (for whatever the usual reasons) and I recall that when he recorded vocals for 'They Saved Hitler's Cock,' he wigged that the line 'now it's starting to get hard, I planted it in my back yard' would, he felt, be confessons of homoerotic yearnings (or reasonable facsimile thereof). So we rushed a quick out-take package (7" EP) that we called the Queer Pills. Mainly because it won't finished product and we didn't want to jump the gun on relasing the record. But then the mouth of hell opened once more: someone at the pressing tells Rodney to watch out for the Queer Pills 'cos it's really the Angry Samoans in disguise (I think he had actually played it on his show once or twice without know it!! We had these prepubescent girls call him and say they'd fuck him if he played it (or thereabouts) and he could never turn down 12 year old puss or the prospects of anyway... but then the word got out (to him) I guess.

Then we had this manager-type guy, let's say his name was Mort. He looked like Jesus Christ and had real weird ideas about what he wanted to do with the band. He didn't last long (another mental malfunction - we attracted these in spades, band personnel nothwithstanding) but he financed the QP's. Then, y'know, time marches on, five years later, ten years later (who's counting?), Queer Pills start flooding record stores. Hmm. Wonder where the source of that could be...

PSF: How was the second EP (Back From Somoa) different from Brain?

It was a hybrid project like I said. Half of it was recorded in Marin County with Dahl on lead vokes, the other half finished back n Hollywood with Pat Burnette engineering and Mike involved again. I don't recall over what period of time this involved, but it was considerable. And agonizing. BFS was our punk record, if you will, and I mean to say that that was the intention. Brain was closer to what the band set out to be aesthetically-- Roky Erickson meets the Dictators. BFS was the result of receiving our mosh pit wings -- having at that stage logged three solid years of this. So it was a natural mutation of the original gameplan. Somoa, somehow, really cracked thru the ice as far as attracting attention. That release really pushed things over the edge. Suddnely college stations all up and down the East Coast were playing the thing -- and kids would show up and know all the words to the "tunes." Strange watching, while we would play, these tortured souls with mock eyeball impalement gestures (complete with white plastic forks) during "Lights Out." !!

PSF: What kind of changes had happened to the band by then? Was it same as when it started?

Right when BFS was released and plus or minus a year or two of this, we were at our peak popularity-wise (not so much aesthetically in my opinion). We'd started out just for laughs, figuring it was a great way to make fun of lowlifes in LA that needed to be made fun of (e.g. Rodney, Poshboy, Kim Fowley, etc.). Then all of a sudden we had become some sort of punkoid icons. That took a while to digest- and even believe. We always had the feeling that one day someone would say "hey did you get the joke? It was on YOU!!" Ultimately, this all became a bit depressing (to me anyway) having to play the same thrash crap over and over and over . By the late eighties it wasn't fun or funny anymore. The joke HAD worn out, and the only person who was still infatuated with it was Saunders. Even Todd, I think, got bored with hacking out the same shtick.

PSF: With the next EP (Yesterday Started Tomorrow) the material was more melodic. Was the band changing again?

It was an attempt to resurrect the original impetus of what we pled allegiance to in the very beginning. I think it came out sounding more 60's per se than we had in mind, but so be it. I mean, Saunders had logged many years being a fan of the Kinks and Zombies, but also KISS and BLue Oyster Cult and so forth. I could listen to Raw Power alternating with spins of Jonathan Richman and Buddy Holly and Ricky Nelson. So the melody thing you ask about wasn't a stab in the dark - something intrinsic to what we were always about, just never had the opportunity to express. Besides, Tomorrow was only an EP. And we rushed the recording of this cos we were s'posed to go back on the East Coast (returning after a two year hiatus) for two weeks worth of shows. Having some vestige of product out seemed like a good idea. By this time Steve Drojensky had replaced original lead-guitarist PJ Galligan.

PSF: The next LP (STP NOT LSD)- was that another departure for the band?

STP was the 2nd LP (BFS the first, although time-wise some people thought of it as an EP). I wouldn't say a departure, more a continuation of where Tomorrow took off. But things strated getting fragmented personality wise. Todd was getting more and more strung out and I don't mean on drugs. It wasn't an ego free-for-all and more and more disparate. Exponentially so. Saunders tried to finance again (he paid for most of the recording of SAMOA and TOMORROW) the session -- that was his way of trying to control all that went on. We had collectively decided, up to then, that we were fed up with 8-track recording. Saunders was infatuated with the idea- "(Black Sabbath's) Paranoid was recording in one week on an 8-track" he'd say over and over. But 8-track doesn't provide much leeway for a drum mix and (Billy) Vockeroth (Samoan's drum dude) was unhappy with his sound on previous stuff.

Saunders took the high road out on this and essentially LIED to everyone, told us that a cost-effective (affordable) 16-track studio would require waiting an additional 10 months to record- that, stated Saunders is what producer Bill Inglot had informed him. The truth came down like a house of cards during the recording session. When Todd found out how preposterous this ditortion was, he trapped Saunders in the studio's bathroom and wouldn't let him out (note the bathroom theme that keeps popping up!)

This kind of animosity got worse and worse and worse. The Angry Samoans became the Seething Samoans- involuted seething of course, that was our specialty. We would have 3-way 'discussions' on the phone (Saudners up in Oakland, Todd and I down in Southern Cal) and it would ultimately end up in unintelligible screaming and ranting and raving. Mike and Todd would degenerate into, like, these adolescent tantrums or seizures. It was ghastly. That was, of course, before Saunders degenerated into total lunacy - to where you couldn't even understand what he was saying or what he was talking about. Ironic, now looking back, that when he and I first met (as writers back in 1974) we joked about the appeal of a Roky Erickson. That watching someone perform who was legitimately crazy was way more entertaining than someone faking it. And now, some fifteen years later, it was anyone's guess whether he was faking it himself. Always hard to say.

PSF: The band broke up a while after that then?

Todd was asked to leave in 1988 I believe. It was just getting worse and worse. His rage-fits were the norm, no longer the exception. Saunders and I wanted to move more in the garage-rock direction and even distill some harmonies and things like that -- Todd, I think, felt excluded and insisted on the punk party line, but there's just so many time and years you can keep up with 'Gimme Sopor' as an anthem. After his departure, it was really like a breath of fresh air. I mean the tension had defalted and for the first time in a long long time, it felt like maybe there was still some longevity in store. Eventually we wound up with this guy Heath Sieffert on bass - great bass player. And we dropped the 3rd guitar player (Drojensky). So for the last 3 plus years it was just me, Mike, Billy and Heath.

In a strange twist, I think, musically speaking, that was the best lineup we ever had. There'd always been considerable guitar overkill with 3 rhythm gtrs- plus we were playing things that Todd outright refused to have anything to do with. There was a symmetry of this material and what we first (pre-Brain Samoans) started out playing. We were covering the Saints ('Lost and Found') and Dictators 'Next Big Thing' etc) and having a lot of fun actually.

Saunders was on a, how should we say it, disposition honeymoon, for about 2 years after Todd left. Then he became an asshole again -- and a deranged one at that.. The combination became inevitably unbearable (for me). The very last show we played was at the Club Lingeire in Hollywood. I recall talking to Saunders on Wednesday before the Friday gig. Vockeroth wanted to know if Mike was planning on making the sound check -- should he take off work, in other words. I phone the Metalman (Mike) up, and pose this question. The response, as best as I can paraphrase, went something like: 'there's lot of fog over the bay bridge' and then something about 'Canseco's power to the opposite field.' I mean, there's only so many non-sequiturs one can absorb in one's lifetime. Then he gets into an auto accident after the show (December of 1991) and demands that it's a band expanse because it occurred within 2 hours of the show (some sort of universal rock band law or reimbursement?). Then he finds some freako acid casualties to take him back to the Bay Area so he won't miss work. I think he wound up somewhere in the Mojave Desert, but I could be mistaken. Maybe it was Death Valley. In any case, it all degenerated into this accusation-babble of debt and monies owed and what a rip-off I was (accountants, says Saunders, are pathological cheapies!) and how I was stealing the band blind etc etc. His cost-ledger paranoia got so bad, that Billy almost put him out of his misery. So that was the end. Period. And mercifully.

PSF: What's the band up to today?

The band is up to nothing (nada) = zero (null set) today. However, a caveat to this, I am forced by journalistic purity to report, is the resurrection of the band-name by Saunders. At first, I thought it was a joke. But then people started e-mailing me clips and so forth testifying to the reality. From what I understand, there's two chicks in the band. And Saunders is still doing the retro mosh pit grandpa to his 12 year old grandchildren.

I haven't spoken to Mike since the last show in '91, but about six months ago he mailed me a package that included these homemade Kinks tee shirts (very groovy), bad Samoans shirts (each one with the face of oner of the new Samoans) and an even more embarrassing video collage of several recent live shows. It was like so godawful even I couldn't believe it. Anyway, he's welcome to the retro hellhole he's reopened up.

I think it's a stretch for Mike to have ever assumed that he was granted perpetuity rights to continue and use the name. Even if I personally had the ambition or desire to continue with it myself, and believed I could follow up with a credible facsimile, it would seem incumbent or morally appropriate to at least ask the others if this was OK.

I'm not necessarily forwarding the position that in my absence, a resurrected Samoans is doomed to crap. But the footage I've seen looks more like a silly parody.

PSF: What's the legacy of the Samoans?

I dunno, that's something only time will answer. If you asked that question when we first started, I might flippantly have blurted: "to have no legacy .. forever.." But I think any posthumous project that enjoyed any measure of popularity, regains a 'legacy' or impetus of such in its wake. So who knows. To our credit, I think we were smarter than the average bear --- and sometimes funnier in concealing that fact. I think musically we put forward a pretty decent mosaic of a lot of the better prime numbers of pop/rock music-moves from the 60s/70s. A lot of Saunders Shadows of Knight / Stooges hallucinations were pretty nifty. I always thought he was a better imitator than an originator. It's a safe position to play from, to be smug and wry and not very revealing or vulnerable. But maybe that's the medium of the millenium - the so-called legacy? Got me.

END NOTE FROM GREG: I'm thinking of following up on an offer to write the unexpurgated story -- the working title the publishers (independent press, not supposed to name any names at this point in time) want is "I WAS AN ANGRY SAMOAN" -- if it's up to me, I'd add a paranthetical to it: "(AND LIVED TO TELL THE STORY!!)" We'll see if it ever makes/survives a print run. who knows...

See Gregg's Samoans site