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Punch Drunk

Thunderfist take the “Ass Circus” to the masses.



The etymology of “Thunderfist” is wonderfully puerile. It’s derived from a sexual technique known as the “donkey punch” or, in some circles, the “thunder punch.” It begins in the canine sexual position and ends in the dominant partner punching his submissive in the back of the head, thus intensifying the dominant’s orgasm (the blow to the head causes the receptive organ’s muscles to tighten). It’s a brutal practice that exists in the sordid world of deviants and porn scholars. Therefore, there can be no better appellation for the musical partnership of guitarist-vocalist Jeremy Cardenas, bassist-vocalist Mike “Mick” Mayo, guitarist Danny Even and drummer Erik Stevens. Except perhaps Ass Circus.

You see, “Thunderpunch” has been appropriated by Pokemon as character move, and “Thunderfist” has been assimilated into geek-speak as well. “‘Thunderfist’ on the Internet has now become a haven for repressed former Dungeons & Dragons-types who want to sound tough,” says Cardenas, joking that “Ass Circus” might do.

Neither chooses to explain why Ass Circus would succeed Thunderfist, but the various monikers make a good point: Thunderfist, while brand-able as “punk,” is a many-headed rock dildo. The breakneck-paced punk-metal of Motörhead and trashy elements of bands such as the B-Movie Rats and the Candy Snatchers serve as the basic structure and driving force, with Fu Manchu and Supersuckers rock & roll attachments. Over the years, it’s operated at various speeds and configurations.

Almost every year since forming in 1998, the band has undergone a personnel change. The band’s original vocalist split after they issued their debut release, Barefoot & Pregnant. Cardenas dropped his axe and stepped up front, donning a bunny suit and adopting a bloodletting (his own, natch) stage persona. Trash Culture came in 2000, after which Swamp Donkeys guitarist Jason Lamb slipped into the vacated guitar slot. Lamb departed, replaced by Jeff Kilpatrick and, upon winning a $2,500 grant from the B.E.A.M. Foundation (that’s Beam, as in whiskey corporation Jim; the acronym stands for Benefiting Emerging Artists in Music), T-Fist recorded Show Me Something. For those of you keeping score, that’s three albums and three lineups in three years.

“I’m a big fan of capturing the spirit of the current incarnation of the band while it’s still relevant,” says Cardenas. “Each personnel change brings a new sound and I like to get that sound down before it changes. It’s been hard to see certain folks go, but that’s the nature of the thing, I guess.”

And being 2002, it’s that time again. Mayo (ex-Wormdrive) joins as Kilpatrick and bassist Kris Patterson exit. Even and Cardenas say Mayo, whom they refer to as “Rock’s Chosen Warrior,” brings great songs, better bass skills and stage relief, in that Cardenas can conserve energy—he and Mayo trade off vocals—and a few pints of blood. As per the norm, the new lineup will release album No. 4, Daddy’s Been Drinkin,’ this summer. A privileged listen to an early mix reveals a band that has grown musically (early rave: it’s their best album yet), even if they’re still a bunch of sophomoric porn hounds. Mayo’s yowling, raspy vocals complement Cardenas’ clearer utterances. Musically, T-Fist is turgid and throbbing, with energy—and ambition—more focused. They even have an office in Sugar House.

“The sound is definitely fuller and bigger right now,” says Cardenas. “We’re almost as loud as the Allman Brothers and, at this rate, we’ll be deaf soon.” As for the office, Even says, “We can’t find distribution, no labels want us—what PR person would touch a bunch of nobodies? And we’re rapidly getting older. What else are we to do, but do it ourselves? We kind of needed a Thunderfist Central, somewhere to get things done. I’ve booked the whole summer tour all around America.”

“Thunderfist Penetrates the USA”? That’s gonna be a great T-shirt.