"People are just really thirsty for straightforward fuck-you rock," says Rick Sims, former member of the Didjits and the Supersuckers. And with his new project, the Gaza Strippers, that's precisely what he delivers. He describes the group's previous headlining gig in Denver as "a borderline fucking riot," which was just the way he wanted it. According to him, "It was excellent--the best show of our tour."
Chicago's Strippers (guitarist/frontman Sims, bassist Darren Hooper, drummer Todd Marino and guitarist Mike Hodgkiss) aren't content with merely leading a resurgence of guitar rock. They also want to wipe the scum off the dance floor with their blistering attack--a sound that's made up of equal parts sweat and sin. "I love it when people's jaws drop when we play live," Sims admits. "I don't go to a club to see quote-unquote 'art.' I go to see a band fucking blow the roof off of the place."
The Didjits, who made some of the best Midwestern punk of the late Eighties and early Nineties, had a similar reputation. But the Gaza Strippers don't simply clone the approach of this late, lamented outfit. "I think we're a little more hooky than the Didjits were," Sims says. "The Didjits were sort of like Little Richard--a punk-rock Little Richard sort of vein. This is more of a T. Rex or New York Dolls." He adds that few Didjits junkies have been disappointed by the changes: "It takes people usually three or four songs to go, like, 'What is this?' And then they're totally into it. Most of the reaction has been, well, like a reaction that I had not thought would ever happen; it has been, 'Man, you guys are way better than the Didjits.' At first, I started to take offense at that. I'd be like, 'Fuck you, the Didjits were great.' But then I started going, 'Well, that's what you want. You want to be better than the last band you were in.'"
Upon leaving the Didjits, Sims signed up with the Supersuckers and contributed to the band's breakthrough record, The Sacrilicious Sounds of the Supersuckers. But his stint with the act proved short-lived. "It wasn't my bag," he confesses. "I wasn't really getting enough of an outlet. I sort of had to run my own ship. I just want to play all my own songs or at least be in a band that I collaborate with."
The luxury to do so came courtesy of another Didjits connection: The Offspring covered the combo's "Killboy Powerhead" on its multiplatinum long-player Smash. The royalty bonanza that resulted came as a complete surprise to Sims. "They didn't approach me about it," he remembers. "People were telling me, 'Hey, man, I heard your song's on an Offspring record,' and I was like, 'Oh really?' I didn't really give two shits about it. I had the punk-rock attitude of, oh, 'That's flattering,' or whatever. But then someone said, 'You better check into it--that thing sold, like, 50,000 copies.' So I started doing the addition, and it turned out to be $3,000--and I said, 'Well, fuck, I could use 3,000 bucks. I'll call them.' And then the record went gold, and the next thing you know, it's more millions. It's just bizarre."
With the profits from "Killboy Powerhead," Sims bought a house, built a studio and poured more money into both his label, Bam Bam Records (best known for issuing the first Didjits album, Fizzjob), and his new band, whose roots stretch back to his last tour with the Supersuckers. "Darren [Hooper] came up to me drunk in Nashville one night, and he was like, 'Hey, man, we should really start a band,'" Sims reveals. "I was like, I really need to get this guy away from me." He changed his mind after receiving a tape in the mail from Hooper's Evansville, Indiana-based group. Although he didn't like the type of music the musicians played, he was impressed by their skills and invited them to Chicago to jam. At first, Sims says, "they sounded like shit. But I worked with them for a good year and a half, and we got everybody up to speed." Today, he divulges, "I have higher expectations than maybe what some people have for their band."
The first 7-inch from the Strippers, Transistor, proved to be a promising beginning; it manages to merge the energy of the MC5 with melodic vocal strains and layered guitars that bastardize Boston, a band Sims was subjected to while growing up in a working-class Illinois town he describes as "the whole story of the Midwest--the red Camaro/Trans Am scene." But Sims dismisses the platter with an offhand comment ("I'm sick of it"), and he's just as critical of the group's second demo ("It shows a period of time, but it is also not necessarily where we're headed"). As for the act's upcoming full-length, Sims doesn't want to rush it into the marketplace. "We're very selective," he says. "We keep building this idea of putting something out and where to do it, but we just can't seem to make up our damn minds. It's our first record, and we want to make sure we are where we want to be."
Sims wouldn't mind releasing discs in association with other indies, but he hasn't found one that meets all his requirements yet: "Either they don't have enough rock, or they've got a lot of really good rock, but they don't push their records," he claims. Compounding this problem is what Sims perceives as an industry backlash against guitar-oriented music. "Labels try to fit you into a category, or you will be ignored. You've got to either have the emo-core thing or the Fat Wreck Chords-sounding thing. You can't just be unique in your own right; otherwise, people can't place you somewhere." One of the few imprints he'd consider is the Didjits former home, Touch and Go, but he says, "I'm not so sure what's going on over there. They don't seem to be putting out a lot of traditional rock. We couldn't be more different than Shellac. We're polar oppposites in the world of rock. They're very minmalist, and I'm like, 'Pile it on--pile on that extra guitar, put a distorted Fender Rhodes through there. You've got a studio, you've got 24 tracks. Well, they didn't make 24 tracks so you could use six."
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Despite different musical approaches, Shellac's boss, producer Steve Albini, pegged Sims to play guitar for the band that backed the B-52s' Fred Schneider on Just Fred, Schneider's 1996 solo disc. This unlikely collaboration provided Sims with an instructive lesson in how to balance humor with professionalism. "He's pretty damn genuine," Sims says of Schneider. "He's not goofy. 'Quiche Lorraine' is a song; it's not how Fred talks all the time--and he doesn't have a little pink dog. He's got a good sense of humor, but at the same time he takes what he does seriously."
Other heroes in the Sims pantheon include Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen ("Billy Corgan should be on his knees kissing Rick Nielsen's ass," he asserts) and the MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith ("The rest of us look silly compared to him"). Such influences come together in the Gaza Strippers, whose onstage attitude can be characterized as "excess is best." Sims promises nothing less for those bold enough to catch the band's return to Denver. "This show is going to be dangerous," he warns. "You better be ready for a supreme ass-kicking. I mean, those people who are putting this on, I hope they're prepared for some wild shit. They better get some security agency there, because this place is going to burn down to the ground."
The Gaza Strippers, with REO Speedealer and the LaDonnas. 9 p.m. Saturday, August 15, 15th St. Tavern, 623 15th Street, $5, 572-0822