Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe in. In the last few years, San Francisco has been overrun by computer geeks and Audi TTs, with the success of Silicon Valley overflowing into the Bay Area.
According to Slender vocalist Rob Damnit, it’s had a serious effect on the SF music scene. Developers have been buying up practice pads and long-standing clubs, turning them into dot-com condos. Even the remaining venues have stopped booking real bands, instead catering to the stock-option crowd, selling $15 martinis and belly-shots to sex-starved nerds.
“San Francisco has always been a Mecca of cool music and thought,” Damnit says. “It’s just a great environment. But all that’s changing. They’re making it too expensive for artists and musicians. Everything is catered to the dot-com workers. It really sucks.”
Damnit puts the blame squarely on SF’s mayor, one fedora-sporting Willy Brown. So when Slender got nominated for a Bammy, San Fran’s homegrown version of the Grammys, the group decided it was time to go public with their disdain. The quartet designed a logo—a hotdog with a fedora and a mustache—and pasted it on the back of white jumpsuits. Below it they had “Willy is a wiener.”
“We didn’t win, but at least we were the best-dressed band there,” Damnit says with a laugh.
It’s not like Damnit isn’t used to fighting. He and bassist Kent Carter tried for years to make Provo a hipper place, playing in the ska band Swim Hershel Swim in the early ’90s. But after they graduated from BYU, the band drifted apart, and Carter and Damnit relocated to California.
Once there, neither really scurried to form a new band. For five years they did the work-a-day life—Damnit writes ad copy for a living. But then No Doubt came to town. Now granted, Gwen Stefani probably hasn’t sparked many epiphanies in her life, but she did spur Carter and Damnit on. See, Swim Hershel Swim had opened for No Doubt at some rec center back in the day. And now here were Gwen & Co. playing a sold-out arena. “It kind of kicked us in the butt,” Damnit says. “But we didn’t want to do a ska band again. So much of that third wave was ridiculous. We just wanted to be in a rock band.”
But while Damnit and Carter were all ready to rev their rock engines, the group had a few early setbacks. After the duo had wrangled guitarist Clint Grubb and drummer Joe Martinez, Slender started working on a six-song demo of gritty garage rock. The band was just about ready to release the material when Carter’s house literally blew up. His next-door neighbor had a serious cache of illegal fireworks. After a wayward cig, Carter’s and his neighbor’s houses were gone.
“We were lucky,” Damnit says. “People donated money; they even held a benefit so we could get back in the studio.” The result turned into the band’s first EP, Damn House Blew Up. That disc got the attention of the Provo-based Guapo Records, who put out last year’s Haunted Radio.
The explosion was fitting, though. Slender is as combustible as they are crude. Like the Supersuckers without the cowboy hats, the band bangs out brilliant four-chord odes to sex, booze, chicks and Tastee Freeze. The whole thing comes off about as pretty as a set of British teeth. But that’s what makes it work. The guitars are simple and loud. Damnit’s gruff howl is steeped in the wisdom of Glenn Danzig and Mike Ness: tough, but still willing to settle into one hell of a hook. Example: You can’t help but shout along with Damnit as he’s screaming “Dirtnap Mama” over and over. Or his guttural blasts in “Plumber John.” There’s even a few “oh-ohs” in “Half-Assed,” a sort of Powerman 5000 version of a Beach Boys tune.
Yet what’s really gotten the band noticed in the last year is its take on Sunday hymns. Last fall the group got some serious airplay out of “CCYS,” Slender’s spastic version of the Mormon standard “Come Come Ye Saints.” While Damnit croons his way through some Big G shout-outs, the rest of the band is testing the threshold of their Marshall stacks. It’s enough to start a pit in the pews. Damnit says the song started as just a joke.
“Kent was out of town and the rest of us were in the studio getting stupid,” Damnit says. “Someone said ‘Let’s do a gospel tune’ and everyone was up for it. Now, Kent and I were raised LDS, so someone said, ‘What about a Mormon tune.’ I was like, ‘How about the granddaddy of all Mormon tunes, “Come Come Ye Saints.”’ It’s a good song, real hooky. By the time Kent got back, we had it down. It just worked.”
But after the song was done, Damnit says the group had some second thoughts. “We didn’t want to become the Mormon equivalent of some Christian rock band,” Damnit says. “We didn’t want to show up and have hundreds of kids from church with banners show up.”
It never happened—thankfully. It’s just not an image that Slender wants, especially considering that the band’s been toying with a new slogan for its current tour: “This band will get you laid.”
“What happened was we were at this club and someone was selling a CD to this young girl. Clint walked up to her and said, ‘That CD will get you laid.’ The lady next to him said, ‘Hey, that’s my daughter.’ We got a big laugh out of that one.”
Slender with SoundSend. Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South (467-JOES), Thursday May 31, 9:30 p.m.