A PREVIEW in which so-called punk expert Ged Babey tells us about a band he’d never heard ‘til a month ago and instead of interviewing them chats to a mutual friend.
“We’re a cross between The Pogues and The Ramones” *
Amongst the Never Mind the Bollocks season of gigs at Talking Heads is a show by one of America’s lesser-known punk bands in the Green Day, NOFX, Rancid mould, the $wingin’ Utter$. Despite having a 23-year history they’re not a band I knew much about, so I consulted my internet pen-pal and compadre Kenny Helwig (formerly of Northern Californian band the Forgotten) a friend and fan of the Utters to fill me in …
“There are precious few American bands post 1982 that I give a shit about“, he said, “but they are one of them…because their music is top notch and they are good people. They have a big skinhead contingent in Santa Cruz but they’re more part of the scooter scene if anything. The music scene where I come from (Santa Cruz) is full of very cool folks. (The Utters latest LP) Here Under Protest is an amazing album… Funny story; they played in Santa Cruz last month opening for Reverend Horton Heat. This older lady (in her late 60′s), moved next to the barrier to watch the guitar player in front of us. I had a feeling that she was related to Darius (lead guitar player) and I said to her, “Oh, are you here to watch your grandson?” Forgetting I guess that we’re now all in our 40′s…….talk about foot in mouth. It was his mom….doh!
We’ve all done it Ken, well I have, with one of Girlschools mums. I asked Ken for a brief history of the band:
“Born in the sleepy coastal town 70 miles south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz’ own Swingin Utters have been going at it since around 1988. After playing many house parties in and around the city, the band found its way to playing 924 GIlman St. (famous all ages, not for profit, collectively run, music / performance club and community space in Berkeley CA) and gaining a small but loyal following. Their debut album Scared came out in 1992 under the name Johnny Peebucks and the Swingin’ Utters. And included a cover of the Rezillos song ‘No’ under the title Extra Special Mystery Rezillos Track”.
A few years later the band would see itself moving to San Francisco and signing with UK Subs Nicky Garrett’s label New Red Archives. Their second LP, 1995’s Streets of San Francisco, was produced by Rancid’s Lars Fredrikson. The band would be tour support for a slew of Rancid’s tours. These tours raised the Swingin Utters profile as Rancid was breaking big time with The Year Punk Broke, in The USA.
As the years have gone on, the band signed with Fat Wreck Chords who they still record for this day. Constant comparisons to Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Social Distortion and The Pogues are relevant but this does not make The Swingin Utters copyists. They are their own band and I use those bands as a reference point. Their new album, their seventh, Here Under Protest was released earlier this year to rave reviews. Adding to the Utters sound is Jack Dalrymple who used to play in San Francisco band One Man Army. The Swingin Utters newest long player displays dark poppish punk, and many trademark Swingin Utters tracks. To my ears, this is their best album since 1998’s 5 Lessons Learned, a varied effort with many rewards”.
The Utters songs revolve around drinking, relationships and personal politics, small victories and everyday drama’s. Described as “the West Coast’s most dependable purveyors of gimmick-free punk” the best interview with the band online is at http://www.shitenonions.com/blog/?p=2242 in which the labels slapped on them are discussed at length. To summarise, they like a bit of Oi!, love the Pogues, but have no Irish blood. The “cross between the Ramones and the Pogues” line, although simplistic is perhaps the most accurate. Their latest stuff does have the maturity and strength of Social Distortion later material.
Sometimes doing research on a band you know little about can be a chore – but with the Swingin ’Utters is been a total pleasure, hearing how they progressed from spunky but average sounding street-punks (1988-96) to become a mighty band (from 1998’s Five Lessons Learned onwards). Kennys recommendation too I trust implicitly and look forward to see them tearing it up at the ‘Heads.
The support acts incidentally will give them a run for their money; London three-piece politico-punks Moral Dilemma (imagine a slimmed down Conflict at their most raging) and Portsmouth’s The Exposed (ska-tinged singalong-punk Clash/ Rancid fans developing their own sound).
*** the quote “We’re a cross between The Pogues and The Ramones – You come up with a title” – Johnny Bonnel (Pastepunk.com interview) comes from http://www.shitenonions.com/blog/?p=2242