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Life on the Road with
Men of Porn

Drugs, cops, strippers and rock and roll, as the band makes its way across the great American southwest, riding one long buzz.

 
by tim mcmahan


 

Just Like VH1's Behind the Music...

A week after this story went to press, the tour got even more interesting. After you finish reading this, read Part 2, "And then there were two..."

 


Photos taken at their March 28 Omaha show at The Junction.


 

 

You couldn't have found a better place to kick off the Men of Porn American Tour than San Francisco's Cocodrie Lounge, located across the street from the Lusty Lady. One of the most famous strip clubs in America, it was first to be unionized, then owned, by its dancers.

"The band on stage before us had a stripper singer, who was basically naked most of the show," said Men of Porn leader Tim Moss. "John (Wolf) blew his amp at the beginning of our set. Afterward, the stripper was all over our bass player (Misha Avrushenko). We gave her a shirt and Misha disappeared for the night."

After the show the band tried to buy drugs, Moss said, but couldn't find any. "The one dealer we know moved to Tahoe."

Wolf's blown guitar amp would haunt them all the way to the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin more than a week later, where they would perform at a Man's Ruin Records showcase alongside label mates Acid King, High on Fire and Lost Goat. The amp was only the beginning of the problems ahead. The band's panel van ("so big you can stand up in it"), purchased before the tour from Avrushenko's employer, blew a thermostat outside of L.A. They quickly tore it out, threw it on the roadside and sped off to make their gig at the Troubadour that evening.

But the blown thermostat was nothing compared to labelemate High on Fire's troubles. The band is something of a legend in some circles because lead singer Matt Pike once headed up the seminal stoner rock band, Sleep. The status meant nothing to the California Highway Patrol, however. On the way to L.A., the band found themselves "assuming the position," surrounded by 12 squad cars and 30 cops with guns drawn. "You would have thought I murdered someone," Pike said. "They shut down the freeway and cuffed us. How much of threat could I be? I didn't even have a shirt on."

The cops thought the band's trailer was stolen. The bust was a screw-up, a case of mistaken identity that cost them two hours of drive time to the Troubadour. Both bands ended up being late. Wolf borrowed some sound gear, and the show went on as scheduled. The club was packed, thanks to write-ups in L.A. Weekly and The New Times. "Lori, our booking agent, said there was some MTV and label guys there," Moss said. "We know they're not gonna sign us, but we'll take the free drinks."

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It was a rocky start for the Men of Porn's first real tour and the first time Moss has been on the road since his days with Ritual Device, the influential Omaha band that helped set the stage for the city's first punk revival in the mid-'90s. A tortured, monolithic rock band whose sound had been aptly described as "gutter groove," Ritual Device made perfect background music for your typical serial killing or high-speed chase through a bombed-out Beirut neighborhood. The closest comparison? Maybe the Jesus Lizard meets Ministry with a little Nine Inch Nails thrown in. It was violent music, scary.

But it's nothing compared to Moss's new band, slated to light up the stage at The Junction March 28, with Lost Goat and Ravine. Moss formed Men of Porn after moving to San Francisco following Ritual Device's breakup. The recording band includes original Ritual Device bassist Jerry Hug, drummer Joey Osborne (Acid King, Altamont), drummer Jon Weiss (Helios Creed, Horsey), guitarist/producer Joe Goldring (Swans), and Omaha guitarist John Wolf (Bad Luck Charm, former Cellophane Ceiling). The touring band, however, consists only of Moss on guitars and vocals, bassist/vocalist Misha Avrushenko and new drummer, Brian Pollard, a friend of Avrushenko's. Wolf also is along for this tour, adding some extra guitar.

The band is supporting its debut album, American Style, a sludge rock opus that picks up where Ritual Device left off. Most of the tracks were recorded in '96 and '97, right after the breakup. Fans of that band will immediately recognize much of the same pounding groove that pulsed through all the best RD stuff. Where Porn differs is in its unrelenting love of distortion -- big, thick slabs of gloppy, primitive fuzz guitar. The one-sheet warns potential listeners: "If distortion, dissonance and porn offend you, do not listen to this record." And sure enough, you get plenty of all three.

Moss' lyrics are as depraved as they wanna be. "Teabaggin'" is a veritable classic of hick crassness, the apex of bad taste. Rarely will you find a song that embraces incest, bestiality and (untraditional) oral sex tied with a beat you can dance to. Moss' vocals generally come in two styles -- speaking and screeching. Here, his voice is pure Midwestern corn pone, falling into a rushed mumble before shrieking on the chorus. On the Jam Jar Superstar Remix of "Ballad of the Bulldyke," (the better of the two robust Bulldyke mixes), Moss is a circus barker/street hustler, trying to sell various sexual devices that can be delivered to your door for $1.50 postage and handling. Suave.

"The vocals and stuff were done in the studio with friends here in town," Moss said. "We would go in during the day, buy some liquor and screw around with sounds. A lot of it was off the cuff."

The critics and fans call their music "stoner rock," a new genre that seems to have taken hold in California and includes such bands as Kyuss, Sleep, Fu Manchu, Queens of the Stone Age, Nebula, not to mention all the bands touring with Men of Porn. No one seems to like the term, especially Moss.

"I don't consider us stoner rock, but we got lumped into it," he said. "I don't understand why, other than we smoke pot. I guess the press needs a label to hang on us, like 'grunge' or 'punk.'"

No one knows for sure exactly what the term means. Moss says aficionados trace stoner rock to mid-'70s heavy metal bands like Captain Beyond, Free and even Led Zeppelin. "Bands we used to listen to in high school when we smoked pot," he said.

The California stoner rock roots began with the Melvins and Kyuss. "And now it's being picked up as a scene, but it's not," Moss said. "All of us in these bands are just friends who hang out and go to each other's shows. We never thought of it as a scene, but the press is pushing it, and if we can get the young girls and money from it, then why not?"

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Ritual Device in their hayday throwing fans from the stage of Omaha's Capitol Bar & Grill, circa 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"I don't consider us stoner rock, but we got lumped into it. I don't understand why, other than we smoke pot."


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"We played the first three songs and everything went to shit. It was a small crowd and we weren't in the mood for it."


 

March 12. The band calls via cell phone from The Sugar Shack, a Phoenix strip joint, after a long day of driving toward Albuquerque. The night before was a gig at Club Mesa in Costa Mesa. It was a weird club, but a good crowd. The band played their designated "D set" -- the 16+ minute CD opener "Comin' Home" stretched to 40+ minutes of pure drone and feedback. A real room clearer, Moss says. "We like to see how many people are left after we finish. Most don't really like it because it's one song. The drone is what pisses everyone off."

The next night was a gig at The Launch Pad in Albuquerque, a big room that made the crowd of 100 look like five. "We played the first three songs and everything went to shit," Moss said. "It was a small crowd and we weren't in the mood for it."

The band spent the night at a trashed up punk rock party house. Moss wound up sleeping in the van. Their original itinerary called for driving to El Paso and making a quick trip to Juarez "for young girls and donkey shows," Moss said. But a blown alternator outside Las Cruces threw a wrench in the plan, and the band spent the day haggling at Pep Boys and working under the hood.

They knew they were in trouble when they arrived at the Cantina La Tuya and saw not their names on the marquee, but simply "TUESDAY FOUR PUNK BANDS." High on Fire had arrived hours earlier and already had begun drinking. No posters or fliers meant no draw. "The club guy said he was waiting for two paying customers to leave before we could play," Moss said. Afterward, the club owner asked Avrushenko if the band would mind getting paid in pot instead of money. "Normally that's not a bad idea, but we were broke," Moss said. They ended up getting $50, a hotel room and a case of beer. Thanks to some blow scored from a Mexican cook named Angel, the band wound up partying until 7 a.m.

After an hour's sleep, they jumped in the van for a 10-hour drive to San Antonio for a huge 5-band show at Wacky's Deli that also included Street Walkin' Cheetahs and SubPop band Vue. "Hardly anyone was there," Moss said.

 

Part of the reason behind the band's consistently poor draw is its narrow audience. You're not likely to hear Men of Porn's symphony of distortion on the radio any time soon. And Moss could care less. "I don't want to be a rock star," he said. "I want to make music I like, which happens to have a limited audience. But you never know. Who ever thought Nirvana would be huge?"

Rarely has music caused so much ire among critics. And Moss, it seems, enjoys the hatred. Consider that he only printed the most negative notices on his one-sheet, including the Omaha World Herald's review from last year's South by Southwest Festival coverage: "The Men of Porn, perhaps, was the biggest waste of time at SXSW… They sounded just like noise to me."

"I like people to have a reaction to the music," Moss said. "If they like it, great. I can't ask for a better compliment. But I also like it if someone comes up and says they hate it. If they have the balls to say so, I appreciate it rather than to lie to me.

"I like the fact that we can go into a club and play for 45 minutes and people love it or leave. It's one extreme or the other."

The gigs didn't get any better as the band moved on to New Orleans. The van pulled into the club 15 minutes after their start time only to blow out their front tire on a rake in the street. "We went straight up on the stage and didn't have time to sit down and relax," Moss said. "It was our nosiest set; it pretty much sucked."

It took five hours and a drive to Baton Rouge to get the tire fixed by "a white guy who was called 'boss' by black guys who he called 'boy,'" Wolf said. "We never thought we'd get out of Louisiana. After that, we ate five pounds of crawfish with the gals from Lost Goat, and the seven of us drove in our condo on wheels with an 18-pack of beer and vodka and partied all night. We even had enough room to do a dance contest in the van. ABBA and Boston never sounded so good."

 

 

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"I like the fact that we can go into a club and play for 45 minutes and people love it or leave. It's one extreme or the other."


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"I’m old and fat, and I'm the first to admit it. I can't jump around or on top of people like I used to. I’m pretty stationary these days."


 

Next stop: South By Southwest, one of the country's most important music showcases. Bands flock to Austin, Texas, every year with dreams of signing a huge record deal with one of the more than 6,000 industry hacks sandwiched into the clubs looking for the "next big thing." What do the Men of Porn hope to accomplish at SXSW? According to their quote on the official SXSW website: "We hope to sell our souls to Satan and score with some underage girls..."

The one true punk club in Austin, Emo's, was turned over to the Man's Ruin stable for the SXSW Saturday night showcase. Poster artist Frank Kozik formed Man's Ruin as a place for his favorite bands to record and release records. Moss says that these days, with the poster art business settling down, the label has picked up the slack and is doing well. It was Kozik who helped talk Moss into moving to San Francisco. "He and (Gearhead magazine editor) Mike Lavalla said I should come out there and start a band," Moss said. "Frank said he'd put out the CD. I ended up staying at Mike's place and Frank helped me out with work. It was an easy move.

"I have some good friends in Omaha, but I just needed a change," Moss said. "I come back at least twice a year. I miss the cheap drinks, having a yard, just having space. The only space out there is outside the city and you can't own it. In Omaha, you can park your car in your yard."

The South By Southwest show went off without a hitch to a packed crowd. "We had our act together," Wolf said. "It rocked and we sold a ton of stuff. It was worth all the sucking situations over the last few days. We tore it up."

Moss said a number of industry-types handed him cards and gave him "call me" nods. "They can call me," he said. The band spent the night drinking at the hotel until 5:30 in the morning, got some sleep and headed out to their next gig in Arlington, Texas.

Life on the road hasn't changed much since the old Ritual Device days, Moss said. His stage show, however, has changed. Moss used to be otherworldly during performances, a mix between Charles Manson and a circus geek. His classic throw-yourself-on-the-crowd stage dives and maniacal energy made performances by the likes of Henry Rollins look like a nun leading a prayer meeting.

Not anymore. "The shows now are just the opposite," he said. "I’m old and fat, and I'm the first to admit it. I can't jump around or on top of people like I used to. I’m pretty stationary these days."

So how much longer will this Man of Porn keep up his wicked ways? "I like doing what I do," Moss said. "I don't know. I guess as long as I continue making people uncomfortable. Isn't that what rock-n-roll is all about?"


(Now on to Pt. 2: Life on the road continues as Men of Porn falls apart in St. Louis -- "Our drummer was kind of a head case..." And then enjoys a triumphant return to Omaha, with a little help from some friends... )


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Published in Omaha Weekly March 23, 2000. Copyright 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.