If your idea of a good time involves tales of heartache and mass murder set to the same three chords that have served songwriters from Hank Williams Sr. to Jonathan Richman, the Claymores could be your kind of clan.
Formed in mid-1993, the Denver-based band does not take its name from a well-known type of multipurpose land mine, as many fans at first assume. Rather, vocalist/tattoo artist Donnie Stubbs says the appellation was chosen because the group wanted a "family" name--and Claymore happens to be a popular Appalachian one, as well as the moniker of a prominent Southeastern bootlegging concern.
Such associations notwithstanding, the group's players (Stubbs, bassist/bicycle mechanic "Shotgun" Shay Moss and drummer/recording engineer Randy Mark) have no illusions about their place in rock-and-roll history. At a recent gig at Cricket on the Hill, Stubbs agreed with a halfhearted heckler: "We fucking suck and we know it. In ten years we'll still suck."
Perhaps he overstated. On the whole, the Claymores do a stand-up job for a band that until recently almost never practiced together. As an instrumentalist, Stubbs picks a tasteful rhythm guitar when he so chooses, and what Moss lacks in chops, he more than makes up for in attitude and affable between-song banter. However, since no one in the group will be mistaken for Chet Atkins, the players are considering adding a lead guitarist, an old friend from the Denver area who presently prefers to remain nameless. "We're trying to keep it in the family," Moss deadpans.
New member or no, the Claymores' bare-bones approach keeps the band's songwriting in focus. "Basically, what we're trying to do is keep it simple," says Moss, citing groups such as the Velvet Underground and Stiff Little Fingers as inspirations.
Stubbs adds, "We try to write really pretty songs about pretty ugly stuff." His composition "Drive-By" bears out this comment. The song captures the finality of a pointless shooting with slice-of-death imagery as grim as the incident itself: "Boy in red/In a dark sedan/Boy in blue/Dies where he stands." Equally chilling is the band's contribution to the Charles Manson mystique, "Much Too Late (for Sharon Tate)," in which Stubbs delivers the lyric hook in a funereal croon reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot on lithium.
On the band's more rollicking numbers, Stubbs's throaty rumble--equal parts Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop and (perhaps unintentionally) Mojo Nixon--tends to get buried. By contrast, Moss's clearer but less polished pipes get a workout on a couple of heartbreak numbers that might pass for power pop on the order of a more modest Urge Overkill if not for the Claymores' rawness. The latter quality was exemplified during the Cricket set by the frequency with which Mark was forced to peer over his cymbals for transitional cues from his cohorts. Not that they could always provide them: More than once, Stubbs zigged while Moss zagged, leading to song endings that were obviously improvised.
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In the future the band's sound may lose some of its roughness, thanks largely to a new practice space that doubles as a 24-track studio (the group presently rehearses in Mark's basement). But even before this move, the Claymores completed their first recording, a self-titled, six-song cassette released in February. Explaining some last-minute overdubbing, Moss says, "We actually had it finished, but it still needed to be polished as much as we could polish a demo tape."
The Claymores plan to peddle the cassette to listeners at local clubs and the occasional record label prior to completing a full-length CD featuring existing recordings and four new songs, set for release this summer. "If people buy it, we'll be happy," Moss notes.
How many will is anyone's guess, but clearly the Claymores will never be some folks' cup of hemlock. Whether their music is intended to seem tongue-in-cheek or not (and it's nearly impossible to tell), their fixation on macabre subject matter isn't exactly the kind of thing apt to keep your average happy hour hopping.
Still, the bandmembers say they have high hopes for the Mile High music scene, and they support even those local acts that they don't particularly like. Stubbs, a longtime Capitol Hill denizen, says the Claymores are a cowtown band--and proud of it. "We've seen a lot of weirdness," he concedes, "and we wouldn't have it any other way.