Just the Ax, Man

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

"A few years back, we sat down and jammed together at this rehearsal place in New Jersey," Glass recalls. "We started jamming on a riff and trading off leads, and after a while, the whole thing started to get really strange. It felt like we were playing the exact same leads. We were like, 'Holy shit! Is that you or is that me?' We tend to use the same blues-influenced scales and the same types of leads, and our bends are basically the same. It all pretty much stems from that Jimi Hendrix type of guitar playing.

"I'd say our songwriting styles are different, though," he continues. "Atomic's songs are a little bit more jammy than ours. I mean, if people think we tend to jam a lot, then they haven't heard Bitchwax yet. They go off completely, which is great. I love that. But they make us look like major singer-songwriters by comparison."

That Glass plays lead at all seems a minor miracle, considering his pedigree. Originally a drummer for San Diego grungesters Olivelawn, Glass didn't even play guitar in a band until 1993. It was then that he joined forces with the Seventies retro fetishists in Fu Manchu, a band known as much for its love of vans and bongs as for its Black Sabbath-style riffing. Still, compared to the endless stream of alternative acts being paraded before record buyers in the early Nineties, the Fu experience seemed entirely new to Glass. "I was diggin' the whole thing at the time," he remembers. "It was a little bit heavier and sludgier than all the grunge music that was happening around then."

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

Glass recorded three notable LPs with Fu Manchu: No One Rides for Free, In Search Of...and Daredevil. None of the LPs sold well, but thanks to a relentless touring schedule, the combo garnered substantial support both here and overseas. Unfortunately, the tours -- not to mention a spate of musical and personal differences -- ultimately led to the departure of Glass and Romano. "Me and Ruben started getting tired of the whole scene," recalls Glass. "We toured a lot after Daredevil came out -- for an eternity, it seemed like -- and after a while, personalities started getting in the way. The two of us were roommates, and we had been doing our own thing. We were writing new songs and trying to bring them to the band, but Scott and Brad just seemed content playing the same old thing record after record after record. Even their new record sounds the same as it always did. So we thought, 'They have a formula. Let 'em stick to it.' We felt like branching out a little."

The pair did just that on Let It Burn, Nebula's five-song bow for Tee Pee Records. Featuring former Fu member Mark Abshire on bass, Burn bares all the heavy grooviness of Daredevil and In Search Of..., but with a number of interesting new wrinkles, including "Raga in the Bloodshot Pyramid," an all-sitar instrumental performed by Romano. Recording-wise, the EP left something to be desired, but the toughness and originality of the songs were undeniable. The first 5,000 pressings of Burn sold out in just a few months, and subsequent pressings on New York's Relapse imprint moved just as quickly. Meanwhile, the band toured incessantly, first with Italian rockers That's All Folks! ("That was our first tour," Glass reveals. "We were like, 'Holy shit! We can't even fill a place in our hometown, and here we are, playing in Bari.'"), and later with Nashville Pussy, Roadsaw and Seattle kingpins Mudhoney. By the time the band's second EP, Sun Creature, hit the streets a year later, the hype surrounding Nebula -- and the stoner-rock genre -- was in full swing, receiving footnotes in the likes of Spin and Preview and in a swell of e-zines and metal mags. Now, with the November release of Center looming, Glass is hoping to quash any preconceptions folks might have about the record. "I have a lot of influences," says the guitarist. "I mean, I listen to a lot of stuff. Like in the last week, I've been listening to a lot of Captain Beefheart, and the Deviants, too. And Pink Floyd's Relics is on my turntable right now. But I'm also really into the new Hellacopters record.

"I hope the press can somehow get over this whole retro, stoner-rock thing. You should just call it rock by the fifth generation, because that's what it is. It all started with the Yardbirds, and then later on came Hendrix and the Stooges and the MC5. And then you go into punk rock, followed by Black Flag and the punks of the Eighties and grunge in the Nineties. And now we're all here, doing what we do.

"I mean, how many more years is rock going to be around?" he adds. "After a while, you guys are going to run out of names to call it."

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