The monsters of schlock

The Monsters of Japan lament the lackof showmanship in today's rock shows.
Scare tactics: The Monsters of Japan lament the lackof showmanship in today’s rock shows.

“We’re an anomaly,” says the man who calls himself Roast. “In this town, no one knows what to do with us.”

I could ask the Monsters of Japan front man to elaborate this point, but I don’t. Frankly, it’s pretty easy to stand out when a major part of your act involves drinking blood from the netherholes of plastic baby dolls, only to spray it out into the waiting crowd. The kabuki make-up, Confederate flags and exotic dancing probably have something to do with the enigma as well. (The Monsters emphasize that it’s the Southern “rebel” in the flag that

inspires them, and not the hate some associate with the symbol.)

Then there’s the music. Imagine full-on Southern guitar-rock mixed with a Van Halen bootleg, or perhaps the rough listening equivalent of having your eardrums beaten out from the inside by your own basal ganglia. For old-school metal fans, nothing could be finer.

“I grew up watching KISS and Alice Cooper,” says Roast — not that it shows. “These were people that put on a show. Bands today have lost that whole mentality of showmanship.” But not the Monsters, says Roast. They’re all about a good performance. “You can listen to an album at home; we put on a hellacious show.”

It was in a previous incarnation, while working as a jazz musician in New York City, that the man who would become Roast decided something was very wrong with music. He discovered that jazz players were, as he puts it “a bunch of boring f••ks,” and that all the real fun was in rock. So, he ditched NYC and came back to his hometown of Asheville, and together with long-time collaborator Skeet R. the pair began a series of musical mutations that would eventually become the Monsters of Japan. It was going to be real rock music — rough and raw. Their songs would level whole cities, send the masses running into the streets, and make legendary monsters like Godzilla, Rodan and David Lee Roth proud.

It seems to have worked — at least locally. Their chord-churning, blood-and-booty style has served the Monsters well since they stepped onto the regional club circuit in 2000. Their first album, The Other Pink Meat, garnered several positive reviews, and their live show has netted them a fair amount of ink. Together with their like-minded (if considerably less ironic) rock compatriots The Crank County Daredevils, they’ve managed to carve out something of a hard-rock niche in the rocky face of the Asheville music scene.

While a lot of this attention comes from their rocking ever so hard, some of it can be credited to a dancer in a demon-schoolgirl outfit. Enter Devilicious.

“Sex sells, without a doubt,” says Devilicious, a ballet dancer by training. She should know — being professionally sexy is her role in the Monsters. Devilicious’ contribution to the show goes beyond the merits of a mere skin show, scratching the realm of theater.

But isn’t it a little misogynistic that the only female in the band has the job of being the token sex symbol?

“Most of the women I’ve met think it’s cool as s••t,” says Devilicious. “They don’t get offended, because we’re tongue-in-cheek. If you can’t have a sense of humor about yourself, you might as well hang it up.”

Even if you think the idea of scantily clad eye candy is skirting dangerously close to sexist, you’ve got to admit there’s a certain charm to Roast’s promotional logic. While many bands are concerned with booking paying gigs and finding decent management, Roast was worried about bigger problems. Among the band’s first priorities: a torture rack, whips and fake blood.

Say what you will, but the formula works. Usually.

As the sole female in a group like the Monsters of Japan, Devilicious has also had to endure her fair share of problems. At a show in Knoxville, her dancing was deemed too lewd by the club owner. Her strap-on phallus confiscated, she was ejected from the club.

But while they’ve had their share of local booking issues and other problems (don’t even get them started on their troubles keeping drummers), the Monsters have earned a loyal base of fans in the past five years, and with new drummer Bacon finally filling out the group, they plan to be touring again very soon. The Monsters are also planning to begin work on their second album, tentatively titled Monsterbation, sometime in the next few months.

But the big news is much closer than that. If everything goes according to plan, their first live concert DVD, filmed at their Orange Peel debut last year, should be available for their triumphant return to the venue this week. And what could be better for a group of Japanese monsters than their very own movie?

So, if they are so very un-Asheville, why should the local jam-band-loving masses come out to see a no-niche band like the Monsters of Japan?

Roast gets right to the point: “If people are sick of today’s music, if people want to rock, then they should come …”

[Freelance writer Steve Shanafelt is based in Asheville.]

The Monsters of Japan’s DVD-release show happens at The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 19. $8. 225-5851.


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