Just the Ax, Man

The Atomic Bitchwax and Nebula are among a new breed of bands putting the wank back into guitar rock.

As it turned out, Monster Magnet's tour schedule was near inhuman, so the Atomic Bitchwax sessions were few and far between. Nevertheless, the threesome managed to play the occasional show, including a few brief East Coast stints supporting Baltimore's kings of eccentro-metal boogie, Clutch. For the most part, these outings were met with overwhelming indifference by crowds who were more interested in discovering the next Hole or Pearl Jam than the next Beck, Bogart and Appice. Mundell and company remained undeterred, however, and continued to dig deeper into their record collections for musical inspiration. Today the guitarist cites everybody from Robin Trower and the MC5 to Captain Beyond and Mahogany Rush as influences. "Nobody these days knows who [Mahogany Rush's] Frank Marino is, because he never got any respect when he was still playing," Mundell says, sounding genuinely forlorn. "At the time, everybody just thought he was biting the Hendrix thing hard. But what a fantastic player! And a musical mind? Give me a fucking break. This guy was fucking awesome. It's too bad people couldn't get over a stupid little press clip."

Mundell's biggest props, though, go out to guitar slinger Tommy Bolin, the one-time Boulder resident and Deep Purple axman. Bolin died of a drug overdose in 1976, but Mundell says he still feels a deep spiritual kinship with the guitarist. So much so that he and the Bitchwax covered Bolin's "Fandango" on their disc. They also bypassed a chance to play Boulder's Fox Theatre in favor of performing at the much smaller Tulagi next door because, as Mundell puts it, "I've got a bunch of bootlegs of Tommy playing there. When we came through with Monster Magnet in January, we took a tour though Tulagi's while it was being renovated, and it was totally bizarre and amazing to hear all the old stories about Tommy playing there with Energy in front of, like, four people.

"I've been getting involved with the Tommy Bolin archives, and a lot of really cool stuff that I've had on tape for years now will be coming out on CD. And I hope that if anything comes out of the whole Atomic Bitchwax thing, it's that kids will see 'Fandango' on our record and go back and check out the original version instead of wasting their money on Limp Bizkit or the new Live record. There's a lot of crap out there right now, so I love it when kids actually make an effort to search out some of this really great music."

Boy, can they play guitar: The Atomic Bitchwax.
Boy, can they play guitar: The Atomic Bitchwax.

That's not to say that Mundell's head is stuck strictly in the past. On the contrary, the thirty-year-old guitarist is equally enthused about several of the newer, less-recognized acts involved in today's scene, such as Solace, Nebula, Drag Pack and tour mates Core. "The new Core record is insane," he interjects. "These guys are only 22, but they've been playing together since they were, like, eight years old."

As for the stoner-rock tag hoisted upon these upstarts, not to mention his own band, Mundell is non-plussed. "I think the whole stoner-rock thing is just a bunch of kids hanging out on a computer," he says. "But it's kind of cool, because it's a scene for a bunch of misfits -- guys who just kind of hang out and listen to records all night and don't want to go out in the day. And I'm definitely part of that. It's just kind of a scene for a bunch of bands that normally wouldn't get heard. So in that way, it's sort of a good thing."

Nebula's Eddie Glass, on the other hand, isn't quite so sure. "I like a lot of the bands who are considered stoner rock," says Glass. "I just think it's a stupid title for a type of music. You know, it's like 'stoooooonerrrrrr rock, dude.' When I was growing up, stoner rock was heavy metal. People who listened to Sabbath and Judas Priest -- that's who we used to call 'stoners.' It had nothing to do with what we're doing now. When I was in high school in the Eighties, I was into punk and skateboarding and all that, and being a stoner wasn't really a good thing to be. But in a lot of people's minds -- especially in Europe, where they came up with the name -- that's who we are. But in my mind it's just rock."

It's easy to see why Glass and his mates (bassist Mark Abshire and drummer Ruben Romano) might take issue with the label. Since Nebula first broke onto the scene in 1996, the threesome had all but become poster children for the movement -- even that hippest of hip music mags, Gentleman's Quarterly, ran an article on the genre featuring Glass and company in the lead photo. In addition, all three members of Nebula were formerly associated with -- and later split from -- Fu Manchu, arguably the progenitors of modern stoner music. But for Nebula, perhaps the worst part of being associated with the stoner-rock phenomena is that their skills and songwriters are often overlooked in the wake of all the hype. And for the record, ladies and gentlemen, these cats can play. To the Center, the band's upcoming album on Sub Pop, finds the band incorporating everything from keyboards and acoustic guitars to sitars and backward gong samples into their riff-driven mélange. And lest it be forgotten, there's lots and lots of Mr. Glass's extraordinary guitar playing on hand, too. Glass's style at times recalls the smoky overdrive of a young Jimmy Page, at others the acid-drenched psychedelia of Hendrix. Many listeners will also notice a striking similarity between Glass's fretwork and Mundell's -- an observation that hasn't been lost on either guitarist.

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