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More than twenty years in, the Warlock Pinchers are still playing devil's advocate to the Denver music scene

They were always the band I thought should have been really big," declares Dale Crover of the Warlock Pinchers. "Certainly they were doing metal mixed with rap before it became popular, and they were also a lot better than a lot of those later bands. More like if rap was really good, mixed with a heavy-metal version of the Butthole Surfers."

Crover has a basis for his opinion. Twenty or so years ago, his band, the Melvins, played with the Pinchers at Ground Zero in Boulder, and it was then that he offered to play drums for them sometime. Last fall, Andrew Novick, aka K.C. Kasum, phoned Crover up and asked him to make good on his offer, and thus he agreed to be the "drummer machine" for the then secret reunion shows.

Few Denver bands have garnered the same level of enduring notoriety, affection and loyalty as the Warlock Pinchers. Formed in 1987 under the name "Warlock Pinchers Or-kee-stra" by Dan Wanush and Mark Brooks, students at Heritage High School, the band began as a kind of rap group fueled by Run DMC, Schoolly D, Swans and Big Black. "Originally, it was just me and Dan," recalls Brooks. "So I would program drums and put them on a ghetto blaster, and I would play guitar, and he would rap. We would literally play in front of Wax Trax at three in the afternoon and make fun of people as they walked by."

With a rotating cast of five vocalists plus Wanush, Warlock Pinchers Or-kee-stra performed in public places with the goal of having fun and pissing people off — pastimes that became the core of what the Pinchers were all about.

In the fall of '87, Wanush and Brooks moved to Boulder to attend CU and continued performing as a duo on the Pearl Street Mall. The two met Andrew Novick in the dorms. "I joined as a percussionist, if you can believe that," Novick recalls, but his lack of rhythm meant he ended up being a backing vocalist and lyricist alongside Wanush. "Which is good," he points out, "because I never would have made it as a percussionist."

Eric Erickson saw the early band at a house party, and soon after, he asked to join on second bass (Brian Murphy was already on board as the other bassist), because he had always wanted to be in a band with two bass players. By that time, the Pinchers had already recorded a seven-inch single with the song "James Dean Is an Overrated Asshole." But it was the lineup with Erickson that went on to record the outfit's debut album, Pinch a Loaf.

During recording sessions with Bob Ferbrache, Erickson was dubbed EERok. Wanush was already going by the name King Scratchie, Novick had the moniker Schoolly Bob, Brian Murphy was known as the Pope of Rock, and Brooks was called the Three Chord King. Like a gang of pranksters, each of the Pinchers had an absurd name to use on stage and on their records.

With youthful contempt for authority and for the dull cultural milieu that was the CU campus in the late 1980s, the Warlock Pinchers always had disappointing shows at Quigley's, the venue that became Club 156, in the basement of the UMC. So one day, the Pinchers set out to get banned from ever playing the club again.

"We just never had any fun there, as much as we tried," recalls Wanush, "so we did this show with the Haters." They told the Program Council that the Haters were a great experimental band from Stockholm, Sweden, but didn't reveal that its membership sometimes included Bob Ferbrache.

They also neglected to mention that the whole deal with the Haters was that they would come in and destroy furniture and set off smoke bombs while playing loud static. The resulting show was a chaotic fiasco. The Pinchers played their set as normal, but when the Haters started cutting up furniture and setting off smoke bombs, tables got knocked over and pitchers of beer were thrown. It was pure mayhem from which both bands escaped through the back door.

"Then we started this letter-writing campaign to the Colorado Daily," Wanush relates, "talking about how we did this show and the promoters wouldn't pay us."

"I wrote some letters," adds Novick, "complaining about how I couldn't believe they would let these kinds of things happen on our campus." This kind of creative pranking became part of the Warlock Pinchers legend. Not knowing how else to get press, the Pinchers set about creating imaginative controversy.

After Pinch a Loaf came out, a fabricated controversy over the song "I Think We're Tiffany" garnered local press before the threatened lawsuit by Tiffany's managers was revealed to be fraudulent. That same year, the band had a show opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in which the crowd showed its disdain for the Pinchers by throwing change and spitting on them. Wanush relentlessly antagonized the audience, ensuring that no one there forgot the Warlock Pinchers.

"If you can gain 5 percent of a crowd by pissing off 95 percent of the crowd, those are pretty good odds," Novick points out. "As opposed to being some band that played when people are out in the lobby, not even watching." Part of the fun for the band was being obnoxious but memorable.

Derek van Westrum had already been living with Novick and Brooks when he was asked to join on second guitar. Having seen a show right before Christmas in which the Pinchers gave away pancakes with red and green sprinkles, he realized that this was not a typical band.

After joining the Pinchers' ranks, Westrum didn't just get to see the Butthole Surfers; he and his bandmates got to plays shows with the acid-damaged Austin rockers. With D-Rok in place and Brian Murphy having moved on to a respectable life, the Pinchers soon signed to Boner Records with the help of their friends in Steel Pole Bathtub. Two more records were released — 1989's Deadly Kung Fu Action and 1991's Circusized Peanuts. The former included two of the group's best-known songs, "Where the Hell Is Crispin Glover" and "Morrissey Rides a Cockhorse."

"It wasn't even so much that we hated Morrissey," Wanush explains, "just the devotion of his fans. It was more to piss off his fans than anything else."

During this same period, the Pinchers' already impressive array of T-shirts for sale was joined by a plethora of band merchandise that included golf tees, skateboard designs, yo-yos, lighters, water bottles and even a watch bearing the words "The Official Time of Satan," all of which capitalized on the band's tongue-in-cheek embrace of the horned one to scandalize those lacking a healthy sense of humor. "It ended up being what people would talk about," says Novick about the merchandise.

After 1991, though, pressures within and without the band contributed to a quandary the Pinchers found themselves grappling with: whether to continue or to just quit while things were going well. Brooks was already working on a side project called Foreskin 500 that went on to tour farther than the Pinchers ever did; van Westrum was poised to go into a Ph.D. program for nuclear physics; and the momentum to write new music to keep the band viable was more of a priority for some bandmembers than others at times.

But instead of letting internal tensions come to a head, the Pinchers played one final show and sold T-shirts that read "I Saw Warlock Pinchers' last show" on the front and "Now I'm going to kill myself" on the back. Then the band more or less went its separate ways.

In 2009, Wanush — until then having denounced being a former Warlock Pincher — hatched the idea of asking Novick if he wanted to join Murder Ranks on stage to do some Pinchers songs as a way of gauging any interest in the material. The show was a resounding success, and events were set in motion to bring the other former members on board for two reunion shows at the venue the band considered home, the same place it left off in 1992: the Gothic Theatre.

"I realized I'm never going to get away from it," concludes Wanush. "I went back to being King Scratchie, and I'm just going to accept that that's part of my history and live with it."

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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