Punchy, potent and deceptively straightforward

A cursory punk-rock encyclopedia confronts those who visit thespits.com. Its focus is explaining the history of the genre as it pertains to The Spits, a Seattle-based punk outfit with a decidedly old-school style and more than two decades in action.
There are sections entitled “Punk Music History” and “Essential Punk Albums” along with pages that more directly address the band. One blurb boils down The Spits’ influences to the early punk triumvirate of the Ramones, The Clash and the Sex Pistols, a reductive but not entirely off-base explanation of the group’s punchy, potent and deceptively straightforward style.

Funny thing, though: The Spits allowed the site’s domain name to lapse more than a year ago, and another individual won the rights. Drummer Wayne Draves says he takes no offense to the new site’s assessment of The Spits’ work, but he notes that its descriptions leave out key hallmarks of their sound.

One of our biggest influences would probably be Ted Nugent,” Draves says seemingly without humor, taking a break from some yard work to talk about his band’s history. “We’re all in our 40s now, and didn’t necessarily grow up listening to punk rock. Our first bands were like Black Sabbath, KISS, AC/DC, Bob Seger, as I mentioned Ted Nugent, later on Metallica in the ‘80s. You know, a little bit of Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, of course the Ramones, not so much Devo. A lot of people like to compare us to Devo. I liked Devo when I was a kid. ‘Whip It’ was probably my favorite song, but other than that I didn’t listen to too much Devo.”

It’s hard to know whether to take Draves seriously. After all, The Spits bluntly distorted songs follow driving rhythms and riff patterns remarkably similar to Devo, and singer Sean Wood often dips into a droning delivery that seems like a deranged take on the style of Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. But misleading answers and fake websites are appropriate for a quartet with a confounding history that’s largely bereft of conventionality.

Beginning in the early ‘90s, they assaulted street corners in the seedier parts of Seattle, often donning outlandish disguises to do so — Ronald Reagan masks, toilet-paper mummy outfits, full-on McDonaldland get-ups. The enterprise started with no ambition for a musical career. They simply wanted to get into people’s faces and play.

We would dress up in costume and play not really for spare change or anything but just to annoy people,” Draves recalls. “Then we graduated to open mic night. We got this idea that maybe if we showed up at bars and coffee houses, maybe we could just rip out a couple of songs with pig-nose amps and a Muppet drum set. That’s how we started. Then we eventually started playing parties and got our first gig at a club somehow, which we never thought we would be doing, let alone putting out records.”

They finally put out their first LP in 2002, and though they’re now highly regarded in underground punk circles with albums released on such respected imprints as Slovenly and In the Red, their style still lives up to the guerrilla tactics of those early days. Most recently captured on their fifth self-titled full-length — they have yet to release an album with any other official title than The Spits — they rush headlong in quick, even-tempered bursts that approach the f—k-all attitude of the aforementioned Pistols but also incorporate the Ramones' more potent rhythmic intensity. And true to the Energy Dome acolytes that Draves downplays, they accentuate their momentum with simplistic salvos of gripping and grimy synths.

It’s a hard formula to break out of and be too successful,” Draves says of The Spits’ time-tested style. “I think we just stick with what comes naturally, and if there is a progression, then that kind of veers off into another direction, which we’ve done with some songs. There’s some weirdo songs on some of our records and singles and stuff where we kind of branch out a little bit. But for the most part we just do what comes naturally, and if it’s a good song and it’s simple and easy for us to remember and it has a good hook, then we just stick with it.”

The constant self-titling is a reflection of that drive to keep things uncomplicated, but Draves admits that The Spits are also entertained by the misinformation it presents.

We thought self-titled would be cool because people would get confused,” he laughs. “They’d never know what record to buy. They hear about this one or that one, and it keeps people buying.”

Jordan Lawrence is music editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: The Spits, with The Treatment
where: Toy Boat Community Artspace, 101 Fairview Road
when: Friday, Sept. 7 (9 p.m. $8. https://www.facebook.com/events/513682635312624/

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