Would Plastic Jesus Do?
What makes these Waterford-based punk-rockers tick? Read
me Plastic Jesus: (l-r) Josh Welf, Frankie Levittown,
Johnny Riott. Photo: Joe Putrock
the 1950s, rock & roll became a force for integration,
a commingling of race, of blues and gospel, of rich and poor.
Since then the style has been oft-manipulated, its might fired
in the country kiln, stuffed in flat alt-tires or shot up
with Botox as it were, but remains sacred for those who understand
the cans and can’ts of its simple, honest measures. Enter
local punks Plastic Jesus with So You Think Rock &
Roll’s a Sin, an infusion of ’50s-style guitar hooks into
song structures either duly representative of that era or
straight from the gullet of early American punk. Guitarist
and founder Frankie Levittown explains how the band’s first
full-length release is able to convey the spirit of rock’s
golden era without falling too much into the confederacy of
rockabilly, swing or any other complementary genre.
have always been a fan of old-school rock, particularly of
the ’50s, ’60s, and Motown as well,” the Long Island native
says. “A lot of that music is so simple, yet has so much energy
and such a terrific feel to it. Incorporating it into some
of our songs just seems to come naturally.”
Drummer Johnny Riott agrees. “I grew up on Buddy Holly, Elvis,
all that,” he says. “Man, it just feels right.”
don’t fall into the rockabilly thing because I suck
at bass and there is no way I could play stand-up,” says Josh
Welf, a lifelong Waterford resident whose cohorts constantly
remind him of that fact. “I think maybe we fall into the New
York Dolls way of incorporating punk and old-school rock.”
Dolls!” Levittown exclaims.
and ruthless baby,” Welf replies.
One gets the sense that running with this crew is like being
caught in a turf war between the Outsiders and the Young Ones.
The entire history of the band is conveyed in a caustic barrage
of sarcastic, good-natured banter that seems to have attracted
them to each other in the first place. Welf and Levittown
met on an upstate hunting trip. In addition to joining forces
in Plastic Jesus, the two now work together at F.A. Levittown
and Sons, the guitarist’s housecleaning service.
met in Utica, it was one of those days where they bring the
kids up from Long Island and [New York] City and scare them
with animals like deer and woods and shit,” says Welf.
people from Waterford,” Levittown adds.
tell them to get their shit together,” the bassist continues,
“or they’ll become fat rednecks. And by the way, Frank doesn’t
pay me for shit. I gotta get this out in the open. Frank is
a horrible boss. Always cracking the whip.”
Riott, also from Long Island, had just been downsized out
of an upstate programming gig when he answered an ad in Metroland
for a skinsman.
said ‘F-You! No talent punk band seeks drummer,’ ” he recalls.
“And then it said something like ‘F-Timmi is about as punk
as your mother. Their fans need not apply. Their mothers,
however, are welcome.’ I had to answer it because it was the
funniest ad I ever saw.”
Weary of radio-formula punk and the latest batch of emo rockers
that fill the concert halls these days, Plastic Jesus wanted
to revisit not only rock’s roots and riffage, but also address
their frustration with punk rock’s trajectory over the last
10 years. The idea was to put the roots of the Ramones and
Black Flag back into the equation.
Rancid,” says Welf. “I love Rancid, sue me.”
Wasting no time, the band hammered out a three-track demo
and got onstage, whether it was in someone’s basement, at
small beer joints or opening for the likes of the Undead and
Murphy’s Law in larger venues. Another EP and a single on
Robot Racket Records’ A Far Away Place compilation
followed, until enough chub was in the kitty to lay down a
full-length missive at Long Island’s famed Sabella Studios—where
rap legends Public Enemy and the surprise sensation Marcy
Playground produced chart-topping albums. “So You Think
. . .” was recorded with owner Jim Sabella’s unique blend
of analog and digital equipment, giving the CD a consistent,
vibrant, vinyl feel that the band believe only boosts their
commitment to the days of yore. They celebrate the official
release of the new disc this Sunday at Valentine’s in Albany,
with tentative plans to hit the road in 2004.
think we’re gonna do a couple weeks in the spring followed
by a more extensive summer tour,” says Welf. “The only thing
about the road is that being relatively unknown, it’s hard
to get people to book us, so if anyone can help, look us up
and get in touch. It’s tough. We’re not Ian MacKaye (Minor
Threat, Fugazi). We don’t have a reputation to fall back on
to try and promote. We are relatively new to the business,
so we have a limited budget and contacts, so we rely on the
help of others.”
When asked how the Capital Region became the choice place
to set up camp when one of the country’s largest industry
meccas sits two hours downstate, Riott shrugs.
is from Waterford,” he says. “He can’t leave the PCBs.”
are my drug of choice,” Welf responds.
there’s too many people [in New York City],” Riott adds. “I’m
not a big fan of people.”
“NYC is dead unless you’re some shitty Strokes-wannabe
band,” Welf says.
risin’ up!” Levittown cries.
risin’ up!” Riott adds.
says Welf, “they are in the sediment and to dredge would make
them rise up.”
Riott doesn’t want to get started on dredging.
guys are retards.”
The Plastic Jesus CD-release party will take place at Valentines
(17 New Scotland Ave., Albany), with Rel-X and the Sleez,
on Sunday (Dec. 7th). Admission for the 8 PM show is $5. For
more information, call the club, 432-6572.