George Orwell’s 1984, with its dark vision of a voyeuristic government based on thought control, makes no mention of a dynamic foursome of teenagers who would base their existence on actively shunning suburban life, the mall and anything else remotely related to consumerist culture.
Yet, since that very year, the New York City-based Wallmen (now in their 30s) have traveled long and hard distances, experimenting widely and expanding through strange, electric sounds not typically known to earthly beings. Their current repertoire ranges from psycho surf-pop to psychedelic blues — always riding myriad waves at once. (As Boston Rock magazine put it, “Wallmen are the Beach Boys shot up with LSD and sent on a scavenger hunt in Disneyland.”)
Partly due to their spastic, Devo-inspired stage antics and downtown attitude, Wallmen have earned a reputation as a stellar live band. With fabulous front man Norm (no last name known) leading the way — he of the thousand spazzed-out facial contortions — the group not only packs a wallop with its singular sound, but offers the best visual stimulation this side of Marilyn Manson hopped up on Nyquil.
Wallmen, according to guitarist/vocalist Sean Curley, got their start when he and Norm, both aged 15, began recording on a four-track in Norm’s basement in Syracuse, N.Y. Norm’s brother, Jethro Deluxe, a monster bass man, was added soon after — when he finished touring with an Elvis impersonator.
“It all started as a gag,” confesses Curley. “We started turning out experimental music … and next thing we knew, we were getting press about our tapes.” They went on to record nine full-length cassettes in one basement or another.
Through the Cassette Underground Revolution, a tape-trading network in the 1980s, Wallmen’s efforts began creating a buzz as they circulated among a seemingly endless and interconnected web of counterculture heroes that included poets Alan Ginsberg and John Giorno. The appeal of the underground tape-trading industry, Curley recalls, was that Wallmen could remain true to their music, not having to answer to the demands of a record company. And with the support of Devo’s video director, Ivan Stang — the author of The Church of the Subgenius (a satirical cult opposing government and work and promoting the pursuit of personal bliss) and High Weirdness by Mail — Wallmen received an integrated welcome into the world of subcultural expression.
In 1991, however, national record companies began taking notice, and by 1994, Bar/None Records had offered the band its first commercial recording contract (along with a guarantee of creative control). Two well-received CDs — Not Too Long Time Sound and Variety Showcase — followed in quick succession.
After shuffling a series of drummers through their ranks, Wallmen enlisted “Nubby” (a.k.a. Andy Walton) in 1995 and soon began working on a new CD. Three years later, Electronic Home Entertainment System (Wild Pitch Records, 1998) has finally been released. Home Entertainment is a trippy journey through quirkily diverse territory that includes a twangy, country-tinged pop song about homosexuality in the conventional family (“The Gauge”) and a cacophonous punk tribute to Bacetracin ointment (“Ointment”).
Curley remembers his teenage years as a baby Wallman, when he says the group was most influenced by the weirdest music they could possibly find (like the Residents). “And we wonder, to this day, why we should make the music of mortals,” he adds.
When asked if Wallmen were influenced by the esteemed New York alternative band Pavement — whose echoes seem to weave through the new CD — Curley assents. “We love Pavement,” he says, “but we’re much more entertaining.” Curley himself is happily unapologetic about his colorful stage personas — such as “Kimmy,” the eccentric SoHo artist.
But be warned. Wallmen, according to Curley, was created for those who love electronic music in its purest form, stage personas aside — which is why, he says, the band is not dead-set on commercial success. “We don’t want people liking us simply because they’re told by the media and the charts that they should,” he asserts. Curley says Wallmen are after just enough success to fuel further music ventures.
And operating on Miles Davis’ popular adage, “There are no wrong notes,” Wallmen will no doubt continue their quest to, among other things, create the perfect two-minute, slightly skewed ditty.