By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
Blood isn't supposed to be pink. But it was that night as it dripped down, thinned by soapy water, and flowed into a bathtub drain. Aside from a bit of shock, I was okay. After all, the blood wasn't even mine. It belonged to Zach Brooks, singer/guitarist of Call Sign Cobra. Just a few hours and swigs of whiskey earlier, I would never have guessed that the band's debut performance would end in projectile hemorrhaging.
"I could see my tendon," Brooks recalls three years later, pointing at a sizeable scar just below his wrist. "At the hospital, I was, like, 'Is that my bone?' They said, 'No, that's your tendon.' Then they asked me if I was doing any drugs, and I said, 'No, I've just been drinking.' And they said, 'Yeah, we know.'"
Sitting with his bandmates on plush couches at Lounge, Brooks looks a lot less pale and crazed than he did on that cool fall night a few years back. It was a warehouse party down the alley from Monkey Mania, and Call Sign took the stage late. Brooks's other band, Scott Baio Army, was notorious for its pranks and hardcore insanity, but nothing quite prepared the crowd for his new group's mix of shitty rock and raw violence. After drunkenly punching through a pane of glass with his bare fist, Brooks took one look at his spurting arm and started waving it at the audience, splattering everyone with gore -- which all of us at first assumed was fake.
"Everyone was covered in blood," remembers Mike Howard, Brooks's accomplice in Scott Baio Army and the current bassist of Call Sign -- though at that inaugural show, he was just a horrified onlooker like the rest of us. "There was a trail of blood. That's how we found him in the waiting room at the hospital, by following his blood."
Likewise, a scalding pulse of visceral force is splashed across the act's sophomore full-length, aptly dubbed Call Sign Cobra II. Although conceived as a trio, by the time of II's recording, Call Sign had swelled to a full octet: Brooks, Howard, drummer Chuck Coffey, guitarist Don Bersell, trumpeter Mike Taylor, saxophonist Nick Krier and backup singers Lauren Shugrue and Jenn Callaway. But what should have been a sloppy clusterfuck turned out to be a sweaty, soulful orgy. Bristling with energy and anger, the disc blows away the act's eponymous 2003 debut -- a disc long on fun but short on fidelity.
That's not to imply that IIis some kind of polished jewel; in fact, it's as jagged as broken glass. But refracted through its sharp edges is a whole spectrum of rock and roll, both arena-dwelling and subterranean. After thirty seconds of Shugrue singing an operatic, note-perfect aria, "Stillwater" kicks the album off with a blunt thump of drums and growls that resurrects the lost greatness of early Rocket from the Crypt. "The Tundra" sounds like Mountain gargling a lava flow of vomit. Then, adding insult to injury, Brooks confesses to pilfering riffs from Australian punk legend Radio Birdman in the shamelessly self-referential "8 Piece Band."
The Aussie fixation doesn't end there. Throughout II, the horn-slashed savagery of the Saints's Prehistoric Soundsis clearly evident -- especially on "Doo-Wop," in which mutilated R&B meshes with messy intensity and brassy punctuation. But Call Sign's retroactivity is most plainly spelled out in "Do the Cobra," a venomous cut that swipes liberally from the Stooges's anthem, "1970."
"I just wanted to be in a band that sounded like '70s rock, like Deep Purple," Howard admits. "That's what we grew up on, '70s rock shit."
"It all started with this song called 'WWJD' -- 'We Want Jack Daniels,' Brooks elaborates. "Scott Baio Army played it one time. It was like a '70s punk, rock-and-roll type song. No one liked it, so I decided to start a classic rock band, just for the amusement of being in a band like that."
Many diehard fans of Scott Baio Army's thrash-heavy hardcore were not as amused. "At first they didn't get the music," Howard recounts. "I think most people didn't. It's sad, because as much as everyone likes to think they're open-minded, something has to be kind of safe for them to get into it and get behind it."
The irony of oldies-inspired rock being seen as somehow radical isn't lost on Howard. "Kids wearing hot pink blazers and shit will hear us and be, like, 'What the fuck is this? What are these people doing?'" he relates. "Our music is something their parents would have been into. Just because it's not like Hot Hot Heat, and there's not a keyboard player and some guy making weird noises, it's not cool."
No keyboard, true, but Call Sign makes plenty of weird noises of its own. With brass horns and backup singers on stage, the outfit's berserk live show is a melee of skronks, shouts and rattled tambourines. The components of that sound evolved with the band's membership. After a revolving lineup finally solidified with Brooks, Howard, Coffey and Bersell, the horn section was brought on board -- but not without a few reservations. "We were really scared about having all that stuff in the band," Howard confesses. "When Chuck first said he wanted horns, me and Zach said, 'No. Fuck, no. We don't want to be associated with ska music whatsoever.' So we brought a Sonics record and an Ike and Tina Turner record to practice, and we were, like, ŒThis is how the horns have to sound.'"