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PHOTO: Chris Shields

It’s Been Wild a Ride

For the Erotics, life is a B-movie—with a soundtrack that basks in the glory of decadence

By Bill Ketzer

 

The first Erotics album struck fear into the hearts of men. Or perhaps it was just a mild disgust, but no matter. Lovingly titled Born to Destroy, the 1997 effort contained some of the most self-destructive, decadent punk ever put to tape—and the most dangerous characters ever assembled in one room to do so. They took the title literally; wherever they played, fistfights, broken glass and law enforcement inevitably followed. Singer-guitarist Mike Trash’s willingness to wantonly parody homosexuality, Nazism and the deaf, dumb and blind scared some and offended others, but all were dismissed by that classic Trash laughter, wrung from his body as if against his will.

Today, however, he looks back on those years in an almost detached fashion. “When I was still living in New York City, I had a vision to form this I-don’t-give-a-fuck Ramones-esque type of band,” he says. “At the time I was very self-destructive—I believe the gang of us were. We wrote about those things and behaved the way we did because it was funny to us, but I got bored. I wanted to go back to writing straightforward, kick-ass rock songs.”

With that, the “rogues gallery” era of the band ground to an unceremonious halt as Trash sought others with similar tastes. He hired Billy Belaire, a cohort from the ’80s hair-band days, for bass duties. Belaire—wiry, rail-thin and sporting a reach like Plastic Man—shared Trash’s love for Kiss and old-school glam, and the two built an unshakeable songwriting foundation. “I believe I made the right decision,” Trash says. “Because now we write songs with four chords instead of three!”

Not that their behavior was any better initially. Almost as if in celebration of the nationwide acclaim Erotics 2.0 gained with the release of 2003’s All That Glitters Is Dead, the band still carelessly careened through live sets, hammering through smutty chestnuts like “Slip It In” and “Teenage Drag Queen” with obnoxious helpings of the spanking new “Rocket to Nowhere” and “Gas Chamber Barbie Doll” thrown in to taste. Trash still stood on stage, apoplectic, spitting into the crowd. And Belaire, satisfied with this arrangement, stood poised, thunderous and smirking as people puked behind the soundboard, peed in the sinks and sprinkled the ashes of recently cremated loved ones into buttery pans of hot wings on Erotics booze cruises (true story).

“You are what you eat, you know?” says Belaire. “We’ve lived it. We are rock with a capital S-L-E-A-Z-E. We grew up on Evel Knievel, Steven Tyler, Johnny Ramone and Steve Austin with the grip. What do people expect? I just can’t leave it alone. I saw that Hotter Than Hell record when I was a lad, and it ruined me. I had to have it. I had to have evil. And then there goes college, there goes my liver. Sure, we may have stopped a show after two songs if things didn’t feel right . . . may have had a few Spinal Tap moments. . . . But how many boobs have you signed?”

By 2005, however, the karma cocktail caught up with the band, with Trash almost pulling a Bon Scott in his downtown flat one night after an all-day binge and Belaire also questioning his ability to recover from booze-fueled feats of gravity defiance. Time away from that lifestyle, prescribed so early in life, offered clarity for the duo, and most likely the greatest opportunities of the band’s career. They recruited drummer-Web designer Johnny Riott and began work on new material to capitalize on the buzz created by Rock and Roll Killing Machine, an EP released earlier in the year that grabbed the attention of U.K. fanzine Trash Pit. After regular discussions with editor Rob Lane as to whether the Erotics were interested in crossing the puddle, Trash figured, what the hell?

“They hooked us up with Teenage Casket Company, who is on Trash Pit’s record label,” Trash explains. “Cool guys. In England, the fans are way cooler in general. They love your music, buy your stuff and then they leave you alone. . . . They don’t take pictures of you while you’re trying to eat dinner. We didn’t get to do much sightseeing, but we did manage to stop at Hooters in Nottingham to pick up a few T-shirts.”

“All the sightseeing was through the van window,” Riott adds. “The first run we did was 10 shows in 11 days, in two countries. The 2006 tour was about the same. They really love their rock & roll over there and were really enamored by us being an American rock & roll band—very supportive and appreciative.”

The first European jaunt concluded with three days in Italy, made possible by fans in the country who caught wind of the band’s impending overseas schedule and contacted a promoter to demand a few Italian dates. “Italy was very different than Britain,” says Riott. “We landed at an airport that looked like it was right out of an episode of M*A*S*H, like a run-down military airport circa 1970. The promoter was late, and while we were waiting, we were suddenly surrounded by cops demanding passports.”

“It wasn’t even 20 minutes after we landed,” Trash adds. “They wanted to know if I had drugs on me because of the way I looked. Other than that, it was great. The fans there were pretty diehard. They knew the words to all the songs and got upset when we didn’t play certain tunes in our set. They could barely speak English, but they knew the words to all the songs.”

At tour’s end, Trash and company wasted no time convincing their newfound brethren in Teenage Casket Company to join them for a U.S. tour, and the transcontinental gig-swapping endured ever since. In 2006, the Erotics returned to England to find their popularity spreading; where previously modest crowds appeared at popular venues like Nottingham’s Junktion 7 and the Jailhouse in Coventry, hundreds of kids stood in line, eager to see their shows.

“The second time around also got us noticed by Classic Rock,” says Trash, and that’s no small feat: The publication is one of the U.K.’s best-selling magazines, with strong distribution in North America as well (one can find it in Borders, Barnes & Noble and other retail outlets). “Our ‘Rock and Roll Killing Machine’ single was included on a free compilation CD called Sons of Guns in Classic Rock’s April 2006 issue. It [included] all these upcoming artists influenced by ’80s Sunset Strip bands. A few months later they even did full-length feature on us that really helped. TotalRock radio is playing our new single in Britain because of that exposure.”

Upon their return to the states, the boys were offered a slot on former Tuff singer Stevie Rachelle’s Metal Sludge Extravaganza III tour, which they readily accepted, leaving them with only two weeks to recover from Europe. The package was basically nostalgia marketing (Tuff were a third-rate ’80s hair band at best—Rachelle’s Metal Sludge magazine is far more popular than the band ever were) and an opportunity for up-and-coming bands, but morale began to wane in the Erotics camp, with road weariness kicking in on top of bad news back home.

“For starters, we had to play Tuff songs every night,” Trash says, only half-joking. “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for that tour, [because] three days prior I found out my mom had less than six months to live. So I was just going through the motions. I heard we still rocked every night from the fans, [but] I didn’t really feel it personally.”

“We were still pretty tired form the U.K. trip and pretty distracted,” Riott remembers. “We did the best we could with what we had, [but] we were ready for a break.”

This time, however, coming off the road felt a little different to Trash. His body hurt from a lifetime of manual day-job labor. His mother battled a terminal disease (which she sadly lost toward year’s end). Despite the band’s being more popular than ever before, the will to write new material seemed to slip further away on an almost daily basis. Suddenly, Trash’s tongue-in-cheek answer to the perennial question of whether rock & roll can be saved (“No way. . . . We’re just taking it for its last wild ride,” he often says) seemed to be coming true.

“I was just really bummed out,” he says. “Playing in a different city every day takes its toll on you, especially when you’re singing all the songs and playing all the guitar parts. So I was going to record a few new songs down at Scarlet East, put together a greatest-hits package and call it quits.”

“We were at that point where we were living double lives,” says Belaire. “Obviously we weren’t gonna pick up and move to Los Angeles any time soon [or] be the next Guns n’ Roses at 38 years old. So the unspoken question was, ‘Can we still balance this with a real life, a job, a wife? We’re still out all night doing all sorts of disgusting things, but now we actually have to get up for work in the morning. It’s a conundrum for sure, especially considering the band seems to be in the best place ever for success.”

“I was against the greatest-hits concept from the start, maybe because the band is still fresh for me,” says Riott. “Mike wanted to wrap things up nice before getting out, and he was ready to do it. Then, once we got in the studio and heard how fucking great the new stuff was coming out, I think he got excited about it again. So we decided to do a full-length with all new material.”

Due out this spring, 30 Seconds Over You features Trash’s scrubby proclamations scraped across a filthy canvas of bastardized Ace Frehley riffage, drums like shoulders of beef dropping from the sky and bass that sends the testicles, in the interest of self-preservation, back into the abdominal cavity to pal around with the vas deferens. Nothing new there, but along with the prerequisite wash of sleaze and grease comes an unprecedented attention to detail perennially understated in previous releases. The addition of Blasé Debris’ Rachel Toxic into the fold (who was present at our meeting but sat content to let the others talk business) adds a critical new dimension, incorporating soaring double-guitar harmonies a la Thin Lizzy’s Roberston/Gorham into the attack. And finally, Trash himself showcases his true diversity and talent as a guitarist. “Your Mommy Is a Monster” begins with a flawless flamenco-style acoustic flourish, while swampy slide guitars throughout “Baby Rock Out” practically puke Southern-fried petulance. “My reputation causes people to overlook that I can play guitar like a motherfucker,” Trash says, after giving it some thought.

Perhaps the most unexpected chestnut of all, however, is the bittersweet “Sunshine,” a stirring and introspective farewell to the singer’s mother. Is this the era of a kinder, gentler Trash? “I was a little worried about that one,” he admits, and as we listen to the track, it is clear that while the ballad signals a dive into rather uncharted waters for a man accustomed to describing life in complete B-movie metaphor, beauty dwells inside the belly of this mascara-smudged beast. Later, Belaire confides that the singer cut the vocals for that track alone, without notifying anyone. “He knows how to express these things,” he says. “It was something he needed to do, and it’s interesting because he’s not the most outgoing guy on the planet, but it came from his heart. And the rest of the material is just incredible as well, arguably the best he’s ever written.”

“People have heard the previews and we get an incredible response from them,” says Riott. “You wouldn’t believe how many people, both in person and via cyberspace, have been asking about it. And we have all these young kids coming to all our shows now.”

“There’s a whole pack of them that come from Guilderland High with Motley Crüe shirts on and shit,” Trash says. “There’s been a resurgence in hard rock, and the only ones doing it properly are us old fucks, which is why the kids dig it. They know we’re for real. . . . They’re all sick of radio and MTV trying to spoon-feed them garbage.”

“Plus, there are still pockets of older guys in a lot of these blue-collar cities we play, like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. . . . they see what we’re doing and they salute it,” Belaire adds. “It makes it worth it for us. Like us, they love Godzilla, Chuck Norris and Ritchie Blackmore.”

Trash’s face lights up as he recalls reading an interview where the former Rainbow guitarist claims the band’s infamous malfunctioning “electric rainbow”—which dominated the stage during the Ronnie James Dio era—is stored along with Blackmore’s wall of Marshall amps somewhere at the Port of Albany. This has become somewhat of an obsession with the singer, who resolves to get to the bottom of the legend before he dies. I ask which he would rather have—the rainbow or the Marshalls—and without hesitation he replies, “I want the rainbow. That would be insane wouldn’t it? Where would it fit? I’d have to put it on my roof. You could see it from miles away. But people get the wrong impression when you see a rainbow nowadays.”

So is it perhaps a bit of poetic justice that the quartet’s tunes will now be featured on Fred Olen Ray’s The Liar, a homoerotic vampire soap opera on HearTV, the world’s first all-gay television network? “You can laugh if you want, but they have about three million viewers right now,” says Trash.

This would not be the first time Ray, a B-movie director extraordinaire, tapped the band for soundtrack services. The Erotics’ stamp of approval can be heard on late-night HBO/Cinemax favorites like Haunting Desires and Bikini Escort Company as well. “Bikini Escort still runs all the time, like 12 times a month,” Trash says. “We get nice royalties through BMI like clockwork for that. It totally financed the new CD.”

“And besides, those movies are perfect for us,” Belaire says with a big-ass grin. “Who else would they call? We’re not going to be featured in some Spielberg movie any time soon. I mean, we’re still 13 years old in a lot of ways, so it works out famously. We just don’t know any better.”

The foursome also take full advantage of digital download avenues like CD Baby that liberate artists from dependence on sales through standard retail distribution deals by offering their music worldwide via iTunes, Yahoo Music, Best Buy, Rhapsody and even Wal-Mart, which seems odd given Trash’s penchant for pleasant little ditties like “Date Rape” and “Drink, Fight and Fuck.”

“The funniest part is that we do quite a bit of sales through Wal-Mart,” he says. “I guess they missed out on the part of our single where I tell everyone to ‘rock out with their cock out.’”

Perhaps the Erotics are no longer born to destroy, but they won’t be covering Joni Mitchell songs any time soon. And what could be more decadent than living long enough to confound your enemies, rubbing it in their faces with shameless ploys like Erotics ringtones and keychains? “Next will be the Erotics casket,” says Riott. “And the Erotics urn. For your loved one’s ashes. Don’t forget that, that’s a big one.”

The Erotics will perform at Savannah’s (1 South Pearl St., Albany, 426-9647) tonight (Thursday, March 8). For more information on new releases, merchandise and other upcoming dates, visit www.eroticrock nroll.com or www.myspace.com/theerotics.


ROUGH MIX

Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at klurie@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 143.



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