Perfect Sound Forever

Angry Samoans- Kevin Saunders

early band picture
from left: Kevin, Metal Mike, Billy, Todd

Interview by Jason Gross

bonze == Kevin Eric Saunders a/k/a bonze blayk, co-founder of the Angry Samoans, Metal Mike's kid brother, and author of "Comet" (and dataComet), the Cornell Macintosh Telnet application.

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

BONZE: Gee, I couldn't say, since I wasn't there. I moved to Van Nuys from Little Rock in July 1978, lured by my brother Metal Mike's promise of 1) a part-time bookkeeping job, 2) a $30/month garage to live in, and 3) a concerted effort to mount an excruciatingly funny AnArkansic response to the shamelessly effete East-Coast slob-rock dominion of The Dictators. We would realize the original vision of VOM: "The Fugs meet Heavy Metal".

PSF: How and why did the group get together exactly?

BONZE: Mostly magic, with some help from the Valley Green Sheet... the magic involving the processes of spontaneous combustion arising in composted vegemental matter... you know, Monsters From the Collective Id. We were all together by 9/78; Gregg was a Metal Mike co-conspirator from the days of VOM, and Billy and Todd showed up and stuck. I do believe Todd was the only bassist we auditioned. The glue? A joint admiration for the Ramones, and otherwise eclectic tastes centered around the love of loud guitar music, in which mode Metal Mike was already a master songwriter. And oh yeah: I had a PA, and Gregg's parents had a garage.

PSF: Do you think the band fit into the local music scene at the time?

BONZE: What local scene? In my conceptualization, a "scene" implies a "sound", or at least a "look", but there was nothing coherent I could figure out. There were a number of OK clubs, in most of which the sound routinely sucked due to lousy PA systems (I had been spoiled already by the music scene in Austin, where I attended the University of Texas).

Seriously, every other middlin'-great band from the entire USofA moves to L.A. at some point, so there were many great bands in every genre. Only one band I saw was inspiring enough to induce people to dance (for some reason Angelean club-goers were loathe to boogie ca. 1978): Daily Planet (at Club 88). I roadied for Tremors, who gigged fairly regularly, so I saw a lot of bands. Some of the greats (the ones I saw anyway): Tremors, Blue Öyster Cult, Bates Motel, Fear, Rubber City Rebels, The Aliens, The Subhumans, Rick Derringer, Badfinger, The Dogs ("Slash Your Face!"), and THE IMMORTAL FLAMIN' GROOVIES!

PSF: So what was your first gig like?

BONZE: It was at the Rio Theatre on October 28, 1978. The Rio was a very nice converted theatre in Rodeo with a large open hardwood floor; we were billed third, after the Cornell Hurd Band and headliners The Aliens--who rendered LIVE a truly inspiring, competent, and very scary musical interpretation of a DEAD flaming paranoid schizophrenic psychosis, even though Roky wasn't present. These guys covered the vocals seamlessly anyway: for a long time I stood mesmerized, absorbing the oddly crystalline yet grungy lead runs spewing and spitting from Dwayne's Jaguar/Tone Bender/Marshall/8-10" array as he spat out the lyrics to "Two-Headed Dog". Seriously, whenever he momentarily ceased picking--which wasn't often--the sucker would sound as if it was gonna blow!

Gregg and Todd and I slam-danced to The Aliens in a largely empty hall. OK, I take that back, Todd and I slam-danced, and eventually Gregg and his girl-companion of the moment did an amusing impression of the baffled tourist couple (unassuming fans of Cornell Hurd?) overwhelmed by the buffetting of the madded punkers, falling down to the floor in simulated slo-mo while keeping their beers upright. Too bad there was no video, Gregg was turning in yet another excellent performance as an "innocent bystander"!

Anyway, we were probably pretty dreadful on-stage at this first appearance. Tony Conn was brought on for the last few songs in this gig... it turns out he was too embarassed to sing the real lyrics to "I'm in Love with Your Mom," so he was changing them on the spot. So much for Mike and Gregg's "Secret Weapon"!

By the way, the irony of our first billing shared with a band named "Cornell" (see below for ironic expansion) had never occurred to me until this very moment... yet another example of the de-synchronicities which seem to plauge my path in life. The portentous conjunction with The Aliens is a much more obvious presentiment of "Things To Come..."

PSF: Being a wild punk band, do you have an stories of debauchery from the early days?

BONZE: The Samoans were not a particularly debauched group; our major off-music pursuit consisted of midnight bowling expeditions (Todd and I would take advantage of this opportunity to drink beer and smoke ceegars, however). In fact, I attained a high game of 236 while in L.A., and got my average up to around 168...

I understand perfectly: No public confessions, no publicity: OK, I confess, I'm a thrill-addicted degenerate: there were repeated outbreaks of Risk playing among us residents at Mike's house, which I'm proud to say I won 80% of the time.

And to take another look into the black heart of horror, a life squandered in the pursuit of kinky thrills with wild abandon. I willingly endangered my standing at work with my absolute insistence that I MUST be home by 4PM so I could watch The Avengers ("Mike, I am not gonna miss The Avengers!"). Hey, that's pretty debauched!

OK, I've got you all slavering now, you want the "hard stuff": there's my participation in the "movie industry," if you have the temerity to call the filming of the VOM videos with Gregg and Richard Meltzer "industrious"...

PSF: OK, so no debauchery. What about your time with Vom (pre-Samoans)?

Well, OK, sorry again to disappoint, it was kinda fun but not especially debauched, though it was forward-looking in the "whips-and-chains as fashion statement" department. Imagine making a rock video in an apartment where the downstairs neighbors are banging their ceiling with a broom, and you must perform the drum parts AS A MIME. Aprés-MTV, even, the concept here was that Casey was gonna ship it off to New York and VOM would soon be appearing on Saturday Night Live's contributed film segment (recall "The Mr. Bill Show"?). It didn't work out that way, but Richard's on-screen in-bathtub performance in "Electrocute Your Cock" is electrifying!

If you see this stuff in the vidementary "Angry Samoans: True Documentary," you may get the mistaken idea that the so-called "Kevin Saunders" was the drummer in VOM. This is incorrect- "Ted Kluzewski," drummer and mostly-author of "I'm in Love with Your Mom," "Son of Sam," and "Beaver Patrol," was in fact Metal Mike Saunders operating under yet another nom-de-numb for the purposes of 1) anonymity and 2) self-deconstruction.

Of course, if you'd had anything to do with the sole recording emitted by VOM, you'd probably be seeking anonymity and/or deconstruction yourself! In my case, I'd probably disavow any assocation whatsoever, except 1) the videos are cool and 2) maybe someday Casey will get rich and I'll get the $400/day I was promised by Gregg as an incentive for getting up at four in the morning!

During this period for amusement I mostly hung out, and drank Carlsberg's excellent Elephant malt liquor. I smoked a fair amount of pot. For a while I tried pipe smoking (an in-thing among prominent economists of that era). Outside of Billy, the band members were usually too uptight to be debauched--and Billy is too wholesome to be considered debauched, despite being proven girl-bait. No, "suburban teen-angst hostility" was the focus here, and constitutional incompetence at debauchery must be considered part of the problem-constellation.

Oh yeah, I learned electronics to pursue the noble goal of fixing my '65 Fender Tremolux, got some nasty shocks, and learned great respect for the insidious ramifications of Ohm's Law. Debauchery, huh? Oooo yeah! "Rock and Roooooollll!"

PSF: How was Inside My Brain put together?

BONZE: I can only account for Side 2 of the second and succeeding versions of the EP (Tracks 7-11 on The UnBoxed Set), since I left months before songs on the original version of Inside My Brain were recorded--"Hot Cars" hadn't even been written yet. Tracks 7-9 were recorded on 4-track at Llloyd James Recording studio, where we laid down the basic tracks for 5 songs in about two hours, with Todd and Mike and I playing guitar outside. (!) We then waited for about 5 more hours for Mike and Gregg to put down acceptable vocal tracks (!!).

Technically I was the producer on these tracks, since Mike designated me as the ultimate EQ and mixdown arbiter, and there was no other production involved besides a bit of reverb on the vocal tracks: just loud guitars, a pounding beat, and a couple of guys blowing verses and feeling anxious about their inflection. Outstanding memory: Steve Besser (our manager, Gregg's neighbor from birth) and I returning from the Stop-and-Go and hearing Gregg doing an awesome rant on "Too Animalistic."

(It's important to see here that Mike and Gregg were not yet comfortable Coming Out as flaming Front-Forward assholes... yet. It took Mike a couple of years to get used to being a frontman, and charmingly, he still lacks the ability, or perhaps the innate meanness required, to take advantage of the role viz-a-viz teenage groupies or socio-political posturing. As he retorted to a heckler at a recently videotaped gig, "What's the joke? What's the joke? Don't you get it? I'm the joke!").

Anyway, Tracks 10 & 11 were from Live at Rhino Records, where we were unknowingly taped on a cassette recorder. Yup, that's me playing improv guttar on "Right Side of My Mind", an event not to repeat itself until Steve Drojensky joined the band some years down the line. (As a retort to Trouser Press, I wanna note that the among the voices of the "dozen fans" you could hear not only the fabulous Gold Sisters performing improptu backing vocals to "You Stupid Asshole", but also derisive comments from Richard Meltzer, Gene Sculatti, and Harold Bronson... so our fans may have been few, but they were select enough to recognize and appreciate a whole massive terra incognita of chartless and --deceptively-- depthless stupidity on first witness.)

By the way, it was Carrie Gold who arranged our fabulous lunch-hour gig at Santa Monica High (alas she could not swing the booking with her own school, Beverly Hills High!). To give you some indication of our status as trendsetters, the Angry Samoans not only preceded the awesome RATT in this critical venue: according to reliable testimony our performance inaugurated what was to become a tradition of chucking milk cartons at bands (SAMOHI, indeed!).

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

BONZE: I'd been gone for about 2 years (?) by the time of The Queer Pills anyway. Huge admirers of Roky Erickson and the Aliens, I don't believe we ever qualified as insiders. Believe me, after you play Camarillo, you'll never want to be an insider again.

It's true, "Get Off The Air!" was the hate anthem that finally set the tone for the whole Samoans infatuation with frank psychosis in 1/79, but nobody at first thought to threaten Rodney (Bingenheimer, DJ and unwitting subect of the song) with DEATH as opposed to VERBAL HUMILIATION... and frankly, I probably would've joined Tremors or other relatively mellow hard-rock outfit rather than passively tolerating advocacy of Rodneycide.

Ironically, though, Rodney clearly never appreciated that this Samoans anti-homage would become his vehicle to cultural immortality, as opposed to hanging out with "rock stars" and crucifying us with Phil Spector's worst recordings on Christmas Eve 1978. Although, it's true, no hanging, no crucifixion, no song: Rodney DID play a crucial role here! Like Chuck Eddy says, it's "the meanest rock-joke ever", but I do believe we were already banned from the Club 88 (don't forget, "I'm in Love with Your Mom"!). In some ways Rodney failed a test here: if he really comprehended punk, he would have understood that it's an honor to get roasted by Metal Mike: he should have made "Get Off the Air!" his signature song, and then invariably follow it up with some ironic counterpoint (say, David Bowie's 'D.J.' from his great Lodger album: 'I am a DJ, and I have believers!').

Seriously, the record industry at that point in time sucked pretty bad. Punk was a badly needly antidote to the cult of "coolness" and "commercial viability" as opposed to musical expression. "New Wave" was already being co-opted into "Power Pop"... oooh, my stomach hurts when recollection sets in!

Remember, this was the era of The Knack ('My Sharona'). The KNACK, are "The Next Beatles," you say? You can kiss my copy of "Ass"! According to my songbook "The Second Coming of The Beatles" was in 1969 and the band was called "Badfinger"!

As an example of the mindset of the times, we finally got the booker from Madame Wong's to come down to Gregg's parents' garage to audition us. Gregg commented on his lapel pin: "Hey, that's a Rickenbacker!" The booker sneered: "Yeah, you guys would *sound* better if you *played* one." "I *do* have one!," Gregg exhaled! Indeed, Gregg DID OWN a Rickenbacker! At this point a guitar collector as opposed to a guitarist, he eventually got to be a reasonably competent guitarzan, but while I was still in the band the Prime Directive from all four musicians in the band was, "Gregg, you're allowed to hold a guitar onstage, even strum the sucker if you wish, what the hell, this IS a PUNK band is it not?... but you are NOT under ANY circumstances to plug it in!" For this guy, we shoulda let Gregg play, he was clearly cruisin' for a bruisin'.

PSF: How/why did you leave the Samoans?

BONZE: I left to attend grad school in Economics at Cornell in September 1979. (Ironic expansion: I quit grad school almost immediately, but eventually wound up working for Cornell for 8 years, developing COMET, the Cornell Macintosh Telnet application, along with some other less well-known software.) I found L.A. very depressing anyway, possibly because I wasn't rich enough to afford decent housing. Ithaca has its own unique mode of weirdness, so of course I wound up here! Note that the only U.S. monasteries of the Tibetan Buddhists are located in this area.

PSF: What did you think of what they did afterwards?

BONZE: Back From Samoa is one of those few deathless punk-classic contributions to Western Civilization- hell, let's include Eastern Civilization also, since the Japanese probably like it! Other than Back From Samoa, it's pretty good stuff, and I'm happy I'm not alone in finding a lot of it excruciatingly funny. Remember, "Metal Mike is to the pop song as Franz Kafka is to the short story": that's my official analogy, for the record. I expect you'll see this analogy appearing in "Rock Culture 101" pop quizzes and SAT tests any decade now, so you might as well memorize it straightaway.

In my opinion the songs I'd done with the Samoans that appear on Side 1 of Inside My Brain sounded a lot better in the original versions, including "Get Off The Air!", and especially "Haizman's Brain is Calling," the proper rendition of which absolutely requires psychedlic lead guitar, no ifs-ands-or-buts.

STP Not LSD is a hot and humorous hard rock album, which you get as a freebie when you buy The UnBoxed Set. Yesterday Started Tommorow has some nice songs. About 30% of Metal Mike's post-Samoans stuff is great, but it's more uneven, and the singles are better than the CDs (e.g., 'Election Day,' 'Kill for Satan,' and 'Kurt Cobain's Dead').

The appearance of The Angry Samoans Live at Rhino Records ten years after the performance was weird and unexpected, along with having this early live/demo stuff appear on Brain, which then wound up occupying the #73 slot on Chuck Eddy's STAIRWAY TO HELL. The irony is that I had always felt kinda cheated in my Samoans tenure: I'd really wanted to record a REAL demo! I had had sentimental feelings about the Rhino performance though, the only live one I'd ever heard on tape, because it proved I could play guitar passably well even in a state of anhedonia. Note that YOU NEED THIS RECORD, because it's the ONLY Samoans offering which includes 'I'm in Love With Your Mom'!

It's worth noting that I've only been in two bands, first the Angry Samoans, and then Auld l'Anxiety from 1986-1990, and since then I've played solo, bonze blayk a/k/a Kevin Eric Saunders, an exceedingly sensitive folk-metal troubador.

The current Samoans line-up is a gas: Mike sent me a video of some recent performances, and we're talking about a kinder, gentler kind of laff-riot here. Billy is playing drums, which makes it an official Samoans as far as I'm concerned, and Alison Wonderslam (lead), Mark Byrne (rhythm), and Adrienne Harmon (bass) are 100% Samoan, in spirit if not in stature or raw rugby potential.

PSF: So what about you and Mike? I get the impression from the liner notes of The Unboxed Set that you're out of touch...

BONZE: Hardly... Mike comes out to Ithaca fairly regularly to visit with his niece, Rachel, and check up on all the thrift stores in the area. Occasionally we also make appearances as, you guessed! the Angry Samoans. Last time Mike was in Ithaca we hit a jam party in T-Burg and baffled partygoers with a BlitzKrieg set, with Mike playing drums and singing (shades of Dave Clark!) and me on guitar.

A more memorable occasion was the time we played at an afternoon all-ages show when we were visiting in Little Rock on Easter Sunday 1990. Mike recruited Bircho of prominent (not only loud but musical too) LR punk band Trusty to play drums, I borrowed a bass, and we were all set to go! We played "Help," "Slave to My Dick," and "Inside My Brain" for a finale.

Mind you, I'd never played bass in front of people before, and didn't know any of these songs prior to the day we played and we'd never played with Bircho either! Regardless, by the end of "Brain" there was a crowd of a couple of hundred kids chanting 'HOMO-SEXUAL! HOMO-SEXUAL! HOMO-SEXUAL!'

Mike declined the encore, even though I was unpracticed but game. It was really funny to discover that the guys in Trusty, some of whom attended Catholic High, venerated the Samoans but hadn't realized that Mike and I were fellow LR natives who had attended Hall High! (The line in "Fatso"... "stuck inside the classroom, lookin' at the dots up on the wall"... refers to Hall's acoustic ceiling tile. Can you picture Metal Mike playing trombone in a marching band?)

PSF: What's the legacy of the Samoans?

BONZE: The Samoans incarnate The Spirit of '65, punks in garages who may or may not be destined for more melodic futures, but who are onto the game and understand that music is about communication and feeling, not competence, and that there are worthwhile feelings you can (and should) express with just three chords and the True Revealed Version of the lyrics to "Louie Louie" (which you will of course make up as you go along!).

On second thought, this comment betrays my age: strike '65 and "Louie Louie" for '81 and "Gas Chamber", a theme song for the '80's, which is a more complex era and deserves a couple more chords. That's the legacy, all right! "Right Side of My Mind!" says it all!

I'm amazed to find that there are Samoans tribute bands out there, indeed, Canadian and German and God-Knows-What-Nationality tribute bands, maybe even Samoan Samoans (to satisfy Philip K. Dick's category of "fake fakes"). It's an expression of the universal gosh-awfulness of the human condition, wheverever you go, however badly you speak (or sing) English.

See Kevin's Samoans site