Timmy Merz of long-running Denver punk outfit Red Stinger was doing what pretty much everyone else was at the start of the pandemic: drinking beer on the couch and attempting to watch all of Netflix.
It was, and is, a crazy time. A lethal respiratory virus ran unchecked through the United States. A would-be fascist president egged on conspiracy theories about the election, and a significant portion of the population believed Satan-worshipping child molesters controlled the government. Everyone gained forty pounds...and lost live music. In short, it sucked.
“I don’t think most people are equipped to deal with situations like this,” Merz says. “I don’t know if I am, either, but I made the decision that I was going to sink or swim.”
About three months into the lockdown, Merz, who performs as Timmy Flips and Timmy Stinger, decided that there were more constructive ways to spend his time, so he sobered up and started writing along with guitarist and fellow Red Stinger founding member Fredman. Merz hit a massive creative streak — he says he’s also written an entire hip-hop album and two dance musicals over the past year — and the future of the band seemed bright, even with the ongoing pandemic.
“I just couldn’t stop writing,” Merz says. “Between me and Fred, we wrote thirty-plus songs, and it just doesn’t die.”
Prior to that, the two had considered hanging up Red Stinger and moving on to other projects. The band, which plays metal-tinged melodic hardcore that is both humorous and political, hadn’t played in nine months and had cycled through nearly a dozen drummer/bass player combinations over its sixteen years in existence. (These days, Koji and Pistol Shrimp round out the lineup on bass and drums, respectively.)
Red Stinger did manage to gig a handful of times in the past year. In mid-March, the band played an outdoor show at a bar. It was a great feeling, Merz says, even though the neighbors called the police because of the noise and the set was cut short.
“I was like ‘Come on, man. It’s been a year, and you’re already going to start complaining,'” he recalls. “‘Come on, people.’”
Undeterred by angry neighbors, Red Stinger will take the stage at the Oriental Theater on April 8. The show is part of the Oriental’s Safe Sound Series, so social distancing guidelines are in place to keep everyone safe. That means no slam dancing, no moshing, none of the jostling and piling up on one another that make up the usual punk show.
“Our music is made specifically for people to smash their bodies into each other,” Merz confirms. “[But] if we can’t do that, then I’m going to put on a show, and it’s going to be something above and beyond.”
That something is titled "The Scriptures Dawning" and centers around seven albums the band plans to release throughout the next year. The albums function as chapters in a series called the Stinger Scriptures. The show includes eight actors and filmed scenes played on a large screen. Luke Schmaltz of King Rat will perform an acoustic set and narrate the whole affair.
The band will also premiere a video for one of its new songs, "Yeehaw Jihad." The video spotlights Merz, "America's Cowboy," in chaps and American flag pants.
Merz likens the entire live spectacle to a nativity-story plays performed at a church during the Christmas season. (Of course, the church productions don't include songs with titles like “Jizz Mustache,” so the comparison is not super direct.)
“It’s a punk-rock opera and punk-rock theater,” he adds, with songs detailing everything from his upbringing in a fundamentalist religious household to Denver venues past and present to the story behind the name Red Stinger.
That last one is a doozy.
As Merz tells it, he and Fredman were framing a garage in a Denver neighborhood when Merz befriended a dog in an adjacent yard. He's convinced that the dog, whom he came to know as Lil Dude, was being trained to fight. The musician would hop the fence to feed Lil Dude and spend time with him.
“It was obvious he had seen no affection or love or whatever,” Merz recalls. “So when he saw me and he saw I was bringing food, he would just spaz out, flip over, and his dick would come out...his Red Stinger.”
Merz pitched Lil Dude as a name early on, in part because he felt a connection to the dog. The name was soundly rejected, but the band settled on Red Stinger.
“Yeah, we're named after a dog's dick,” Merz admits.
The band has already recorded at least two chapters of The Scriptures Dawning, and Merz sees Red Stinger really making things happen in 2021.
“We’re poised,” he says. “We're going to hit the road. We're going to go on tour this summer. We’re going big. It’s time, and I think the world is poised. I think the world needs Red Stinger.”
Not bad for a band that was considering ending it all a few years back..
Red Stinger plays the Oriental Theater on Thursday, April 8. Tickets are $15 and available at the Oriental Theater website. The show will be livestreamed on Red Stinger's Facebook page. The video for “Yeehaw Jihad” premieres the same day on all streaming platforms. The Stinger Scriptures will be released through Salty Cock Records.