By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
By Britt Chester
By Noah Hubbell
The members of San Diego's Deadbolt have labeled their group "The World's Scariest Band," and their latest disc, Tijuana Hit Squad, shows why. On it, guitarist Harley Davidson, drummer Les Vegas and a shifting series of accomplices portray a team of greasers who kill for hire, and they do so with aplomb; a liner photo shows them finishing off a bloody, bullet-riddled victim in a motel bathtub. But before you decide that these guys are worthy of the contempt that's usually reserved for death-metallers, think again. Deadbolt proffers a wittier brand of terror. "Scary has a bunch of different levels," Davidson says. "There's John Wayne Gacy scary, there's Freddy Krueger scary, and then there's cheesy scary."
When it comes to this last category, Deadbolt rules. The performers slather their homicidal odes in a glorious Velveeta of bad-movie kitsch and switchblade-sharp gallows humor, causing songs such as "Prison Shank" and "A Hit Gone Wrong" to seem more diverting than threatening. The result has a lot in common with the rockabilly hybrid known as psychobilly; in fact, Deadbolt is coming to the area to headline the first night of an event labeled "The 1st Ever U.S. Psychobilly Weekender." But whereas most of the subgenre's practitioners employ blazing chops and barn-burning fury to get their point across, the Bolters opt for a serpentine sound distinguished by slow tempos, heavy reverb and drive-in theatrics that they deliver with their smoking .38-calibers buried firmly in their cheeks.
"We do concept albums, where I get a theme and work off it," Davidson notes. "For Tijuana Hit Squad, I'd been listening to Nick Cave's murder-ballads record, and I was thinking it was kind of wimpy--but I kind of liked the idea of him killing a bunch of people. So I thought a good album would be about a bunch of Tijuana assassins, and we just built off of that. We had some fun, tortured somebody live in the studio, dumped a body in the desert. A couple buckets of chicken, some Jim Beam, turn on the tape machine, and pretty much there it is."
Deadbolt's sound, a skin-and-bones blend that recalls the Cramps during their "Goo Goo Muck" period, is more concerned with mood than movement, which may leave blue-suede purists wishing for weightier riffs. But the other elements in "El Perversio," "Convict Man," "Dad, Why Did My Friends Explode?" and the rest of the tunes on Squad provide a fair tradeoff. The long-player is a virtual bloodbath of hilarious gun-for-hire yarns and pulp-fiction romps delivered by Davidson in a hard-boiled monotone that perfectly complements his back-alley lyrics. He says that his stylized narratives "give you something to write about. So many bands, when it comes time for them to do another album, are like, 'What do we sing about?' This takes the listener on kind of a mythical journey--a mental journey through our twisted minds, with a little story to boot."
Squad's title track should hit home with everyone from Matt Helm buffs to Quentin Tarantino aficionados. Its plot concerns the residents of a small Mexican town, who hire a pack of hitmen to off a pair of fez-wearing Shriners who violated a young villager. In exchange for a fee of 100,000 pesos and a case of El Presidente brandy, the gunmen perforate the Shriners at a parade back in the States, then slay a drummer friend of theirs, along with his entire band.
Shriners as vicious criminals? Any bellboy who's waited on a hotel filled with these business-community pillars will understand this casting. "That's why we used them--because of that creepiness," Davidson gleefully reveals. "Who knows the real Shriners? I mean, you see them at the parades on St. Paddy's Day and they're all kind of drunk. I had a friend whose grandfather was in them, and it's a really secretive society. My friend would ask his grandfather, 'Do you guys have any secret rituals?' and his grandfather would say, 'Ask me again and I'll tell you.' So my friend would ask him again, and he'd say, 'Ask me again and I'll tell you.' That was his answer." Davidson got the same response when he tried to quiz some Shriners, but he wasn't insulted. "Hey, it's okay to be a little seedy," he says.
He should know--he wears sideburns and a slicked-back 'do that makes him a dead ringer for Jethro Bodine. On the surface, Deadbolt's stripped-bare sonics are just as low-rent, but they have a noble ancestry. "You have the rockabilly that Elvis and Carl Perkins started," Davidson remarks. "And it developed into psychobilly, with bands like the Cramps and Reverend Horton Heat. Well, we coined the term 'voodoobilly,' which is a mix between psychobillly and rockabilly but over to the darker side. With rockabilly, some guy may be singing about his '57 Chevy and his baby and milkshakes. We're singing about killing people or something." Musically speaking, the group "is pretty simple, because we're not really good musicians," he admits. "If you took us all apart and put us with a bunch of good musicians, they'd laugh at us: 'You suck.' But being a good musician isn't up there on the list for Deadbolt members." Requirements include "a sick, warped sense of humor, and then a love of guns and cheap B movies--Blue Velvet, Russ Meyer films," Davidson says. "We were into that kind of stuff, and then we found out that there were a lot of people around the country who were, too. They were like, 'Finally a band comes along that has a soundtrack to my way of thinking.'"