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Spreading their CDs: (l-r) Donnelly, Adams, Carlton and Smith of the 1234’s. Photo by Eileen Clynes

Rough Edges

You won’t hear any Jimmy Buffet covers from Saratoga’s newest garage band, the 1234’s

By Kirsten Ferguson

Once August hits in downtown Saratoga Springs, music wafts from nearly every outdoor bar patio in town. Unfortunately, Saratoga nightlife tends to cater to heavy-drinking types who don’t demand very much from their music. Want to hear an odious version of “Disco Inferno” inflicted on a crowd of people too drunk to know the difference? Head to Saratoga in August. One night you’ll hear an insipid new-agey organ trio pumping out the Elton John songbook; the next night a Jimmy Buffet cover band will assault you with “Margaritaville” as you walk down Caroline Street.

Now imagine this, though: a nighttime stroll down Caroline Street, a band visible through the windows of Club Caroline, frenzied strains of the Ramones tune “Beat on the Brat” and the Jam’s “In the City” drifting out onto the street. That would be something, wouldn’t it?

Thanks to the 1234’s, a newly minted quartet of Saratoga rockers, such a scenario is now possible. In fact, it has already happened. At a Club Caroline show in July, the 1234’s bashed out scrappy versions of the aforementioned songs during a set filled predominantly with well-chosen ’60s garage and ’70s punk tunes. The crowd dug it. The band next up on the bill, however, were young New Jersey kids with a stable of polished, angst-ridden emo songs. They sat next to their equipment looking extremely dejected.

“We confounded our following act—left them looking stunned,” says Phil Donnelly, the 1234’s drummer. Singer, guitarist and harmonica-wailer Robin Adams remembers a point during the show when the band baffled the audience as well. “We do a killer version of ‘Paint It, Black’, ” he says. “But I guess it pissed off everyone in the audience. So I turned up the feedback.”

The audience could be forgiven for seeming a little confused. “Have you seen this guy?” bassist Steve Smith says, nodding at Adams. “He looks like a mild- mannered accountant type you’d want to bring home to mother. Until he gets on stage and starts screaming his head off.”

The band’s set definitely provided evidence that musical taste counts for a lot more than musical proficiency. Ask anyone who’d rather hear a sloppy version of Chuck Berry’s “Don’t Lie to Me” than a musically adept cover of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” The 1234’s had the rough-around-the-edges feel of a band whose members spend more time listening to their record collections than practicing their instruments.

“Never a lesson—that’s our motto,” says Smith. “We’re bashing out three-chord rock.”

The four members of the 1234’s share a fondness for ’60s-era British Invasion rock (“We all really like the Who and the Kinks,” says Adams) as well as the American garage rock that emerged in its wake. With a rawer, less sophisticated take on the British Invasion sound, American bands like the Sonics, the Remains and the Standells played off their youthful energy and amateurishness by riffing on the same three chords with loud, fuzzed-out guitars.

“The album that brought us all together was A Session With the Remains,” Smith says, referring to an infamous live-in-the-studio demo of the Boston garage band that was recorded in 1966 and released 30 years later by Coxsackie’s Sundazed record label. “That’s our dream—to be put out by Sundazed,” Smith adds.

“To be reissued by Sundazed,” Donnelly corrects.

“The box set,” Smith continues.

“With stereo and mono remixes,” Adams chimes in.

Adams, Smith and Bob Carlton (who was in indie-punk trio Dryer at the time and now heads-up the Sixfifteens) first thought about putting together a garage band a few years ago, around the time when all three were working together at Saratoga’s Last Vestige record store. They named the new band the 1234’s (since all their songs have a 4/4 beat, Adams says). Carlton, like so many guitarists do, had visions of playing drums.

At the time, Adams was a Skidmore College student who played in a college band called the Short Order Crooks. The day after graduating from Skidmore, Adams packed his bags and moved to New York City. Exactly one year later, however, he moved back, and the current 1234’s lineup started to take shape.

“One day I was hanging out at Last Vestige,” Carlton says. “And Steve told me that Phil had agreed to play drums [in the 1234’s]. I was like ‘alright!’ ” Carlton adds, with great enthusiasm.

Donnelly, whose brother Pete is the bassist for the Figgs, played drums previously in the Spa City Rockers, a onetime Saratoga band that he moved with to Portland, Ore., for a spell. In the late ’80s, Donnelly had played in the well-monikered Human Slug along with his brothers Steve and Pete, former Figgs guitarist Guy Lyons and Guy’s brother Reed. Donnelly also hosts the long-running King Loser’s Cut Out Bin on WSPN 91.1 Skidmore College (“Phil’s got the biggest record collection [of all of us],” Smith says).

“I didn’t expect Phil to say yes,” Smith says of his offer for Donnelly to join the band. “Once he did, we were relieved that Bob wasn’t playing drums. And Phil actually had a drum set.”

Smith, currently the assistant manager of Saratoga’s Last Vestige record store, also plays in an art-rock trio called Bible Study, but he explains that the 1234’s allow him to fulfill his “rock & roll ambitions.”

“Yeah, you can’t dance to Bible Study,” Adams quips.

“That’s our aim [in the 1234’s],” Smith says. “People have stopped dancing. We want people to get up and dance.”

“Our audience ideally is 16-year-old punk asses, college kids and your average 50-year-old husband and wife who remember the good old days,” Adams adds.

Of course, like any garage band worth their salt, the 1234’s have got the false-bravado thing down cold. Throughout the course of the interview, they assess their ability to beat up a variety of other bands, until jokingly deciding that the ADs (Last Vestige owner Jim Furlong’s former punk band) are their biggest imaginary rivals.

“We challenge any band with fewer than four people to a fistfight,” Adams jokes. “We’ll challenge any band to a rock-off.”

“Yeah, but they’ve got to book it,” Carlton retorts.

“And if I could borrow their amp, that would be good,” Adams laughs.


WHERE HAVE ALL THE CLAY PEOPLE GONE? The members of the dearly departed Clay People have been keeping themselves busy since the breakup, with Dan Neet’s joint venture with Acumen Nation’s Jason Novak, Iron Lung Corp., releasing their second album, Ditch the Attitude, Pally. The album was recorded and mastered in Chicago at the studios of Neet’s and Novak’s label, Crack Nation/Caroline Records. Scarlet East’s John Delehanty is involved in the project, as is Neet’s former bandmate Dan Dinsmore and many other friends and family. According to Neet, the album’s sound is one step removed from the Clay People—as abrasive, but a bit more on the electronic side. “It’s a dark-metal-techno record with a few pop jammies thrown in,” says Neet. The band will perform a CD-release show at Northern Lights on Oct. 26.

LONG TIME PASSING: Onetime Clayperson Dan Dinsmore has news of his own. His new project, the soon-to-be-renamed Black Inc., just returned from recording in Los Angeles and Philadelphia with Mike Clink (of Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith fame) and up-and-comer James Michael (who’s producing the new Orgy record). The band will be performing showcases, shooting a video and getting themselves heard on the radio with the aid of Frank Chakler—who got the Clay People their deal, and is crazy about Dinsmore’s new venture.

I WAS BORN IN A SMALL TOWN: Johnstown-based punk-rock band the Flying Bobbz, made up of brother-sister team Sarah Orloff and Skip Leo and drummer Rick Little, just released Small Town Chronicles—a six-song EP that features the handiwork of Scarlet East’s John Delehanty. They’ll play a show at Saratoga Winners on Sept. 6, so you can hear the new songs there, or go to www.flyingbob to listen to some MP3s.

AND I LIVE IN A SMALL TOWN: John Delehanty has his hands in everything in this column, and the recording whiz is working on a demo with new band the Arrow Down ProjectJamie Rice, Dan Taylor, Dan Carre, Jay Manley and Ian Manning—which offers up dirty hard-rock with healthy heapings of metal. Neet and Dinsmore will produce the release, and if you’re looking for a sneak preview, head out to Valentine’s tomorrow (Friday), when the Project will open the Diecast show.

I’VE SEEN IT ALL IN A SMALL TOWN: F-Timmi are going back into the studio to record a full-length follow-up to their Sucker EP.

HAD MYSELF A BALL IN A SMALL TOWN: The Erotics hosted a Poison/Faster Pussycat aftershow gig last week, and they had some very welcome guests. The Faster Pussycat folks guided their tour bus down Pearl Street and hopped on the Mad River stage to play a few Ramones songs and their own “Bathroom Wall,” to Erotics accompaniment. In more Erotics news: Fastlane Records has agreed to release the band from their contract, a welcome gesture since frontman Mike Trash is on the verge of starting his own label.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Scotty Mac is still nursing himself back to health (for those of you not paying attention, the rock & roller suffered an arm injury that has left him unable to play guitar), and is still not completely mended. His Rockin’ Bonnevilles have decided to go it alone, and the band can be seen in area venues.

 Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kate Sipher at 463-2500, ext. 145 or

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