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...
Photos taken at their March 28 Omaha show at The
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."
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
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?"
||Ritual Device in their hayday throwing
fans from the stage of Omaha's Capitol Bar & Grill, circa 1994.
"I don't consider us stoner rock, but we
got lumped into it. I don't understand why, other than we smoke pot."
"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
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
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."
"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
"Im 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. Im pretty
stationary these days."
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
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
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. "Im
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. Im 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... )
Published in Omaha Weekly March 23, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.