By Kidwell King
It’s not often that a band provides a musical experience you can equate to ballroom dancing with a jackhammer. If that sounds enticing, pick up the latest record by the Coachwhips, Bangers Versus Fuckers, a messy eighteen minutes of pure, nearly indecipherable brimstone out on Narnack Records. This slab of wax must be played at full ear-pillaging volume, but this isn’t just needless noise. There’s something lurking deep within the sonic onslaught of this album, and without the volume, you’ll never hear past the static.
The San Francisco-based trio is made up of John Dwyer on guitar, a cat-in-heat communiqué they call “the vox,” secret weapon Val-Tronic on keys, and Mat Hartman on drums. The keyboards are really what distinguish this band, adding a chrome-like sheen to the trash sculpture. Val’s keys lash out from the metallic walls of Dwyer’s guitar, like some lewd sex-slicked ghost out to disrupt your pulse.
The Coachwhips’ two previous albums — Get Yer Body Next Ta Mine on Narnack, and their debut Hands on the Controls on Black Apple Records — are a worthy and advised investment, but the band achieves the audio penultimate to the all-out sleaze of phone sex with Bangers Versus Fuckers.
John Dwyer is best recognized as the pink jumpsuit wearing Pink, of defunct SF legends Pink and Brown. In the years since he moved to the West Coast from Providence, Rhode Island, John established himself as the scene’s resident punk rock auteur, having his hand in multiple projects at any one time.
We caught John, fresh off a Coachwhips tour in Japan, and presented him with a nice little barrage of questions. This is the shit he laid down on us, and we were wide to receive.
Ok, to start off, I’d like to ask you what the supreme mission of the Coachwhips is about, from your records to your live performances. Do you just want people to get on the floor and shake their asses, or is there some sort of deeper artistic agenda?
To shake one’s ass is and should be our motto, I suppose, but soon we are gonna start working on our experimental set… which will simply make people into shaky asses.
I appreciated what the keyboards add to the entire Coachwhips sound. What inspired that expansion?
Believe it or not, there have always been keyboards in the band, maybe the records sound sooooo like crap that they are hard to pick out. But anyhoo, way back when, we put keys in the band ‘cuz Mary Ann (our old keyboard player) looked bored at practice, and rightfully so I guess. Can you imagine sitting through numerous practices havin’ to look all psyched just shaking maracas? Plus, her timing was closer to realistic on keys than on the old maracas.
I’ve seen pictures and heard that you have a saxophone player on occasion for your live sets. Why saxophone, and who handles (or has handled) the brass duties?
We used to have Mat Hartman play sax to break up the monotony of the shows live… then blam! Next thing you know, he is playing drums for us now… don’t ask, it’s a long and tear drunk story.
Bangers vs. Fuckers is an incredibly, viciously loud album. What’s the reason behind the “in-the-red” production?
I always wanted to do a more distorted record. I think we were just pussin’ out with the earlier records. The next one is gonna be way more blown…I hope.
I know you toured with the Flying Luttenbachers in Pink and Brown, but how did bringing Weasel Walter in to work on your latest album come about?
I just really liked shit he had recorded in the past… Arab on Radar and his own gems… so we thought that he would be a welcome addition to our recorded sound. The man has golden ear holes… and that ain’t all.
The band’s sound tends to veer towards the scuzzy and dirty side. From what do you derive your inspiration for this sound?
We are dirty people who think about how dirty we are alllllll the time. Its really kinda one-dimensional… God, we are sooooooooooooooooo boring to sleep with.
There are some rumors about an upcoming Pink and Brown LP. What’s the status on that?
Pink and Brown are kaput, sorry. But Jeff Brown is busy with his Eminars and we ain’t got no more material to record anyway. Plus, me and him together in a recording studio, its like two dogs fighting over a pork chop. I love him.
Speaking of Pink and Brown… what prompted the transition from early Pink and Brown, which was fractured noise rock, to the sounds of later Pink and Brown, that featured more structure and melodicism, all the way to Coachwhips?
I dunno… we just started smokin’ mad weed in the practice space. Jeff was really into pot back then and it just came through in the sound… with Coachwhips, we’re all so old now we gotta just recycle old school garage sounds and make them all thumpy and pointed… to dance to.
Do you do all of the songwriting, or is it more of a shared writing process?
More so now than ever, we write the songs as a unit– sometimes I’ll bring stuff in and we’ll hammer it out… usually I bring stuff into practice and Val shoots it down and I cry in the shower later… oh yeah, we get along marvelously (knock on wood). The new line up just kinda coheres really well.
Being from Providence, Rhode Island, did you ever fall in with those guys in Lightning Bolt or the Fort Thunder arts collective? Also, what was that atmosphere like? Are there any particularly interesting tales of note you can share with us about those days?
I hung out with the boys and girls of Fort Thunder. I used to live across the street from them at a joint known as 556. Now I live in a joint called 608… funny how life is so cyclic. Everything I know about rock and performing came from Providence, I owe those people a lot… stories… the most popular is Dan St. Jacques burning himself real bad at a show. And I was just like shit, that ruined rock for me for a long time… there are so many stories, that it would be a whole ‘nother interview. The Lightning Bolt boys, I have seen in some hairy situations… particularly Brian Chippendale.
What exactly happened with Dan St. Jacques and the fire?
He lit himself on fire and got burned, but dominated the dance floor anyway… it was ridiculous.
Do you feel that the music scene in San Francisco is flourishing these days, or is it the contrary? I hear that the ‘Frisco scene is divided, kind of like Austin now, where the barriers between audiences have been steadily building, making crossover bills uncommon.
I think the scene here… the view anyway depends on who yer talking to. It’s tight knit, but there ain’t no bad vibes… I think some people are bitchy and would make it appear so, but hey, fuck them. Those folks are like yer drunk uncle who told yer grandma to “fuck off” at Christmas dinner. Nothin’ can help these people… that’s why they started a band that blows anyway.
I think I’ve seen a picture of you playing with the Hospitals from Portland. What’s your relationship with those guys, and what do you think of the scene they have going on in the Pacific Northwest, with bands like the Hunches and the Hospitals?
I play in the Hospitals now… Adam Stonehouse, like my little barrel-chested brother, has moved here a few months back. In fact, we are playing tonight with the Piranhas.
I mention these bands because it seems that a lot of the bands from that scene, who are very true to rock’s roots, are doing something exciting. Bands like the Hunches and the Hospitals, even the Horrors at one point, maintained a strong relationship with blues, but implement a lot of extraneous noise and allow for profound experimentation, like the Hoover vac on Yes. No. Shut It. We like to think of this stuff as really progressive rock music. Do you identify with what any of these bands are doing?
I joined the Hospitals cuz I loved it. The Hunches are rad, and the A-Frames and the Intelligence are my favorites from up that way… those guys are the shit, and hell yes, I can relate to their excess noise… new static mixed with recognizable pop. I hope that doesn’t sound shitty.
With the Hospitals, is it now just you and Adam, or are there more members? Also, what directions are you guys headed in?
It is just me and Adam, and the direction would most likely be alcohol poisoning.
Our editor, a few years back, was really into this idea of the stage being obsolete and really unnecessary, and thought bands ought to mingle with the audience during their performance. Since a lot of bands tend to just repeat themselves, the only thing that really ever changes is the audience. What inspires you guys to play on the floor? What’s your motivation?
Most soundmen suck, honestly, and usually the spot they want you to play is the most predictable. We just don’t need that shit if the place is small enough, and I can touch the peoples’ faces with mine if I wanna… so can they, I guess.
People always have these incredibly high expectations for your shows– they have a reputation for being pretty wild. Do you guys have a happy medium, or are you always trying to push things in a different direction, or striving to do something different every time?
We want shit to get silly… you know. Uh, but we try and break it up by not playing the same spots all the time, unless they are our favorite… so much depends on the crowd on tour though. After thirty days straight, you just kinda play the songs and try to hold on.
Have you guys ever encountered audiences who just didn’t respond or responded in an ill manner to what you guys do?
We have definitely played for people who had the “whatever” look in their eyes… we take it well though, and it can be a learning experience. You know, like, don’t yell at the crowd and say nasty things about their beer bellies and stuff like that.
The tour process for you must be incredibly grueling. Anything you’d like to share about recent tours? Crazy stories?
Tour life is the good life… it makes you grow up in dog years. We just got back from Japan, where at the last show we played at UFO in Tokyo, the cops and fire department came. And then, a young, drunk American boy got hit by a cab while yelling “Coachwhips!”… this was in front of the lot of Japanese kids at the show, and he was fine, so somehow at 5am it was kinda funny and weirdass. He gave me the devil horns from the ambulance.
We heard you played South By Southwest, at an anti-party called Stache By Stachewest. Did you guys grow mustaches for the event? And how was the atmosphere down there this year? It seemed like underground rock really had a strong presence down there in 2004.
SXSW was great. We didn’t grow mustaches, but I think I had one made out of the insane-o cocaine they were givin’ us… there was fire, and I think I upset the guy from Smog by tellin’ him I liked his stuff. And we got yelled at by a guy while he was peeing to “get off my land,” the sun was comin’ up… we did five shows in three days. I was a tired puppy at the end of that fiasco.
What would be your “dream bill” to play on?
Hasil Adkins, where we both get to play on top of a car.
I know you just got back from that tough tour of Japan, but could we expect a U.S. tour anytime soon?
Soon, baby soon… lookout!
What does the future hold for Coachwhips? Another louder and groovier album? Utter destruction?
New record soon, and a split 7″ with this awesome band from here called Rockandroll Adventure Kids. See you on the floor…
Very special thanks to John Dwyer and Ryan Wesierski for all their help in making this interview possible.
Update: The Coachwhips have sense lept into the ether and are no more. Visit the Narnack website for more info on The Coachwhips and other Dwyer-related projects, such as OCS. Dwyer can also be found in part on the latest Hospitals release, I’ve Visited The Island of Jocks and Jazz. He’s “allegedly” working on some other new band right now… WHATEVER, MAN!