Listen carefully to Flu Shot, the latest offering by Tucson's Weird Lovemakers, and you'll discover that bandmembers Greg Petix, Hector Jaime, Jason Willis and Gerard Schumacher have included a "super secret" bonus track that in the liner notes is attributed to an obscure new-wave outfit known as the Clone Rays. The copyright date on the song is 1979, but record collectors needn't waste their time trying to track down the original--because it doesn't exist.
"That's actually a cover of one of the songs on the album--Jason and Gerard doing a Devo-y version of 'Trailer Anne,'" confesses Petix, the guitarist and vocalist for these punk-rock picadors. "But you can barely tell, because it doesn't even sound like it. We just made it up and called the group the Clone Rays because it sounded like the name of some great new-wave band from back then."
Devious? Maybe. Clever? Absolutely. But then, anyone familiar with the work of Petix and his mates knows they're a resourceful bunch. The act's first record, Electric Chump, is the rock-and-roll equivalent of a blind rat in a paint-shaker: In addition to the usual punk savoir faire, the record includes crudely entertaining stabs at everything from doo-wop to thrash to nortena. Flu Shot, its second long-player, is every bit as fidgety and idiosyncratic: Think Stink!-era Replacements updated for the end of the century. The disc opens with the forty-weight scorchers "Jetboy Helena" and "Gotta Gotta Get Some" before veering into "Peach Crush," a power-pop bleeder inspired by the baroque poets of medieval Spain. Other odd turns include "Nueva York," which finds Jaime slagging New York City in Spanish; "The Lumbering Sailor," a creeping, Schumacher-composed instrumental that's reminiscent of the Archers of Loaf; and "Test Tube Tina," the tale of a baby raised by metronomes that's highlighted by Petix's ranting and guitar-raking. Petix also delivers "Silly Rabbit," a hilarious manifesto in defense of the Trix cereal cartoon symbol. According to Petix, the floppy-eared bunny is one of the more doleful figures in television history.
"I've always empathized with that rabbit," he concedes in a somewhat dismayed tone. "I thought it was mean the way all those kids would laugh at him and tell him, 'Oh, you can't get any Trix--ever.' I always thought that was kind of annoying and even kind of tragic. I mean, why couldn't they just let that rabbit eat some Trix for once?"
Flu Shot is anything but calculated: If the folks behind the Grammy awards ever decide to add a "Best Punk Album for the ADD Set" category, it'll be a shoo-in. Petix attributes this quality to an agreement that's been in effect since the combo's 1994 inception. "I've been in a lot of bands where there was just one guy who was always saying, 'Oh, we can't play that song because it's not our sound,' or something," he notes. "So we enacted the 'no veto' policy. If someone writes a song, we have to play it even if everyone else thinks it sucks. Personally, I think the frustration of writing a song you don't like is better than the frustration of not ever getting to play a song you do like. I mean, that way, if Jason or somebody has a song he really likes, and everybody else hates it, at least he gets to get his rocks off a little.
"Besides, I think it's going to end up better for us in the long run," he continues. "With all these guys writing all this different stuff, I think it's going to keep things interesting longer. Interesting to us, at least."
Seattle's eMpTy Records, a small but influential imprint that at one time or another has harbored such revered punk acts as Gas Huffer, Supersuckers and Fumes, seems to share Petix's sentiments. After hearing preliminary mixes of Flu Shot, the label's chieftain offered to release the recording before he'd even seen the band--a tremendous boon for the foursome. Also in the Lovemakers' corner is producer Jim Waters, a man best known for his work with Sonic Youth and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Most of the CD was cut at Waterworks West, Waters's Tucson studio, and Petix says the experience was memorable for reasons that didn't always have much to do with music.
"Jim is a great guy," he insists. "He's kind of rude. When we were recording Flu Shot, I had my beard cut this weird way for a while, and so for the whole session, he kept calling me 'cunt face.' But that's just the way he is. He's not trying to be mean--well, maybe a little bit mean. But that's cool. That's just the kind of relationship we have."
Shortly after Flu Shot was deemed ready for injection, the Lovemakers embarked on their first major tour--one with stops in California, the Pacific Northwest and a respectable chunk of the Rocky Mountain region. Petix says that everyone in the band is anxiously awaiting the chance to expose their four-man smorgasbord to new audiences--everyone except him, that is. "I don't much like going out on the road," he reveals. "It's fun and all, and I have a good time for a while, but then I start having this mental backlash where I wig out and get all crazy. I need time alone to recharge. I'm like a hobbit, I guess. I just like to stay in my house and hang out with my girlfriend."
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Will the Clone Rays be making a cameo appearance? "Nah," Petix says. "We don't play a lot of our more goofy stuff live. We've always had a lot of different songs, but they usually don't get much time in our set, because it's easier to stick with standard rock songs. People just want to rock."
Maybe they're not that weird after all...
The Murder City Devils, with the Weird Lovemakers and Hell's Half Acre. 9 p.m. Monday, July 27, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $5, 572-0822.