They climb on the stage like acrobats tiptoeing onto high wires. Their moves are poised, exact; their balance and dexterity are honed to surgical precision. Their confidence is almost overbearing, an arrogant mix of savvy and narcissism bolstered by the knowledge that, in the eyes of their fawning audience, they can do no wrong. After a few tentative steps and gingerly strummed chords, they're leaping, prancing, writhing and pouting in the spotlight, locked in a violent ballet that may seem spontaneous and impulsive, but is instead meticulously choreographed down to the last sneer and gob of spit. With skintight britches and manicured songs, they fly above the crowd like superheroes or demigods.
Go see a Top 40, punk-light band like Good Charlotte or New Found Glory, and such going-through-the-motions stage shtick is exactly what you'll get. The performance aesthetic of punk rock -- just like its music and fashion -- has been gutted, studied and quantified, transformed from ritual into dance routine, from catharsis into athletics. Smashing a guitar is like hitting a grand slam. Stage diving is a gymnastic event. Fuck, it probably won't be long before high school jocks will be able to letter in varsity moshing.
And then there are the bands that founder a little bit closer to Earth -- the ones that take lumps, break bones, chip their teeth and rip their pants. The bands that prefer passion over glamour, danger over grace. Bands like Stuntdoubles.
"I moved here from New Orleans; I had done music down there for a number of years, and it just ended up being a fashion show," says Kevin Lomax, vocalist of the Boulder-based punk band. With his long hair, scruffy jaw and flannel shirt, he looks like the kind of guy you might find on a construction site. As it turns out, he builds and maintains pools in the affluent Boulder hills. The rest of the guys -- guitarist Darryl Dailey, bassist Mike Matney and drummer Seth Bennett -- are just as dressed down and unpretentious. Dailey and Matney work at the West End Tavern on Pearl Street, and Bennett devotes all his time to musical pursuits, including deejaying. The quartet -- after an aborted first lineup consisting of Matney, Dailey, his cousin Scott on drums and Dan Neal (now of Thruster) on vocals -- came together in the usual ways: meeting at parties, talking in bars and, in Lomax's case, answering a "Singer Wanted" ad hanging in Wax Trax.
"When I first called up Darryl, he said, ŒWe're practicing tonight. Why don't you come hang out?' So I went to practice with them, and we had to crawl through this hole in this beaten-up little shack," Lomax recalls. "The door didn't work, so you had to crawl in under it. Then they started playing, and fifteen seconds into it, I just grabbed the mike and went off. That was it.
"When I left New Orleans, I was at the point when I was starting to find my own identity, musically," he continues. "I wanted to check out something different -- climate-wise and social-wise -- from Louisiana. I just moved out here on a whim. Colorado was where the dart landed on the map, literally. I threw a dart at a map of the U.S., and it landed near Grand Junction. So I blew up a map of Colorado and threw it again, and it landed in Boulder. I figured if it was where Mork and Mindy were from, then it's good enough for me."
Bennett is the only Colorado native in the group, but all its members were raised in the province of music. Bennett's father was a pianist, and Bennett himself played piano and trumpet as a kid before becoming, as he puts it, "an old-school speed-metal head." Matney grew up in Baltimore, where as a teenager he was exposed to the corrosive strains of Bad Religion and Metallica. Lomax's childhood tastes leaned more toward Guns N' Roses and the Sex Pistols, though nowadays he'd rather cozy up with some Johnny Cash or Thin Lizzy.
Dailey, however, was brought up in perhaps the richest musical environment of all four: Hermosa Beach, California, the spawning ground of such punk forefathers as Black Flag, Circle Jerks and the Descendents. "I grew up in a town where punk rock was really big," he remembers. "In middle school and high school, that was all I did. Music, especially old heavy metal and punk, was a really big part of my life. So I started becoming friends with some bands and decided to start playing the guitar."
Some of the home-town friends Dailey made in Hermosa Beach were the members of Pennywise, one of the most successful indie acts of the '90s punk boom. So when it came time for Stuntdoubles to record its debut full-length, Dailey looked up his old buddies for some assistance. As a result, the group was granted recording time at Stall #2, a renowned Redondo Beach studio run in part by Pennywise's Fletcher Dragge and Byron McMackin. Stuntdoubles trekked to L.A.'s South Bay last summer to record with Pennywise producer Darian Rundall, who has also worked on albums by everyone from Suicidal Tendencies and TSOL to chartbusters like Kottonmouth Kings and Veruca Salt.
"We're a do-it-yourself band, so we didn't have much money," Dailey admits. "But I called up my friends out there, and they said they'd give us a super deal. We got a better recording than we probably could've gotten in Colorado, and for way less."
Frugality and production values aside, the new Stuntdoubles disc -- aptly titled Perfection Through Destruction -- is a ragged, gaping gash of an album. Its fourteen raw cuts jut menacingly out of the speakers, and the beats tear sharply through muscled guitars like compound fractures. Lomax's lacerating snarl is barbed wire stretched tight across the songs, cutting deep into topics such as corruption, nationalism and conformity. As pissed and vicious as the music is, though, there is an intricacy to the lyrics and arrangements that hints at a cold cunning behind all the hot splashes of gore and outrage. "I Am Dwelling" is a grinding, dirge-like five minutes of apocalyptic bleakness that surges and shifts underneath Lomax's skin-peeling confession, "The hand on the knife in my back feels like mine."
Despite the band's ties to the West Coast, its blunt-force trauma bears a distinct East Coast influence: Traces of Bad Brains and Minor Threat, as well as the more metallic edge of the Cro-Mags and Liberty and Justice-era Agnostic Front, can be heard in Perfection's pulverization of hardcore and thrash. Stuntdoubles haven't gotten it all out of history books, though; over the last two years, the band has soaked up inspiration firsthand by sharing the stage with Circle Jerks, the Misfits, Henry Rollins's semi-resurrected Black Flag and Bad Brains -- with whom Lomax and crew unexpectedly wound up doing a four-date tour earlier this year.
"We played with them at the Boulder Theater and kind of instantly made a connection with them," says Matney of the Gotham-based, rasta-punk legend. "So they invited us on the rest of their tour. That was like my dream come true, 'cause those were the guys that I idolized growing up."
"That was the highlight of the band," Dailey agrees. "Every show was almost sold out, just people going crazy. Everyone in the band told us that we pushed H.R. to sing a lot harder those nights than he'd sang in a long time."
It's easy to understand why the explosive frontman of Bad Brains would be blown away by seeing Stuntdoubles live. Matney and Dailey nail down the riffs with workmanlike cool, while Bennett rips methodically into his kit. Lomax, though, is the crux. Like a hurricane in reverse, he's the eye of chaos at the center of the calm, raging across the stage like an unbuckled, ticked-off force of nature. Amid gusts of hair and spit and screams, his voice shoots out with enough force to split tree trunks. He twists and contorts his body in mad abandon, falling to the floor and reaching up as if to summon the sky down upon himself.
"I'm the lightning rod, but these guys give me the energy. They hit me with all of it," Lomax explains. "I can't control shit. I'm just hanging onto the rails, hoping this bitch doesn't come off. It's a chore to even remember the words sometimes."
"It's not premeditated," Dailey adds. "It's just what flows through our music."
Besides drawing sustenance from each other, the members of Stuntdoubles are plugged into a tight network of bands from Denver and Boulder -- though they prefer the term "brotherhood."
"Thruster is probably my favorite local band to play with," says Bennett.
"And Dr. Neptune, too," offers Dailey. "That's something we definitely all agree on: Every time we play a show, especially with local bands, we try to make friends with them, no matter what."
"The first local band we played with that I really liked was Double-Barreled Slingshots. They blew me away," Lomax comments. "The Hacks kick my ass, too. And the Emmas. There are so many cool local bands that I get bummed when people only come out for the big bands. They don't understand they're spending like thirty dollars to see a band that won't have a beer with you or talk to you. Or they'll just be like, 'Thanks a lot. Thanks for coming. Thanks for your money.'
"I'm like a kid in a candy store when I see these local bands that are just so into what they're doing," he goes on. "It inspires you; it makes you want to put your beer down and practice immediately. It's so great when these people are cool musically, and then they're cool personally, too."
This spirit of solidarity is embodied in Undead in Denver, the local punk compilation whose second volume -- which includes two new Stuntdoubles tracks -- was just released. A sampler of underexposed Front Range bands, it showcases the fringe groups that opt for a more traditional, down-to-earth approach to punk, eschewing trend-hopping and crass careerism in favor of some good, old-fashioned scene unity. "Unity -- it's like freedom," says Lomax. "It's a crazy idea. It's pretty hard to accomplish. You just have to do your own little part and hope that it bridges the gap."
With two new releases under its belt, the next gap that Stuntdoubles hopes to bridge is the one between part-time and full-time band.
"This is what we want to do for the rest of our lives," Dailey asserts. "We don't want to get rich or anything. We just want to get by doing what we love. And we want to keep moving. One thing that me and Mike have been talking about lately is that the better we get technically, the more toward heavy metal we want to go. Pretty much all most of us listen to right now is Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, Megadeth."
"Punk rock used to be all we could play," discloses Matney. "I think now we're starting to expand, starting to get more technical and having bigger goals and aspirations with what our music could be."
But one thing you won't have to worry about Stuntdoubles dabbling in is the punk-by-numbers pop that's smeared all over MTV and the Billboard charts these days.
"It makes me mad when I hear that stuff," Dailey says. "But it's a good influence. It's good to be influenced by bands that you don't want to sound like."
"I don't really consider those bands to be punk rock at all," remarks Bennett. "I like to call them 'blink-blink' -- you've got your bling-bling rap and your blink-blink punk."
Matney, however, sees the bright side of Blink-182 and its ilk: "It's almost good that that shit's mainstream. A resurgence of more hardcore stuff is kind of inevitable now."
But for Lomax, who would just as soon listen to the Stooges as he would any retro hardcore band, the first and most important goal of Stuntdoubles is to stay true to its roots: four friends with different tastes and ideas who come together to tear shit apart.
"We're four different heads. We're four different brains. We're four different lifestyles," he points out. "It's just so fucking cool to sit there and pound out these songs with these guys. I just like creating music that totally kicks our ass. When we write a song at practice and we all know it's real good, we stop and look at each other and go, 'Oh, shit.' Every one of us is sweating real bad and breathing real heavy. That's when it feels good, when we know we're pushing, and it's so close to being destruction and the wheels are falling off and the whole thing's collapsing. I can either hate myself every day or go out there and destroy myself every night. I picked the latter.
"This is just what we want to do," he sums up with a shrug. "It's synergy; it's symbiotic in nature. We're out there to do it. We don't have a backup plan."
Or, apparently, even a safety net.
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