Accidents Will Happen
Crash 'n' Burn Punkaholics
"Everything has just happened by accident," Marsh recalls over afternoon coffee at Star Seeds Cafe, "and it's just dumb luck. It seems like a string of dumb luck that just hasn't ended, y'know? I was in this other band [Team USA, one of the earliest Blue Flamingo bands, who also featured current Cov'rs/Lower Class Brats bassist Rick Landmann], and we took ourselves so seriously, and no one wanted to hear it. And here's this band that's a joke! And everyone loves it! "
Marsh is laughing, but no one else is. And if they are, they're laughing with the Motards, named for a "stupid, derogatory kids' name" guitarist Dave Head picked up while growing up in San Antonio. (It's a collision of "moron" and "retard," although the band recently discovered it also means "biker" in Japan. Like any of these guys could ever give Sonny Barger pause....) Since forming out of a chance meeting between Head and vocalist John Wilson -- redubbed "Johnny Motard" early in the band's lifetime -- the band has issued several singles plus a recent album for Seattle's eMpTy records showcasing their rampaging din that sounds like 1964 Kinks 45s played at 78rpm. They've also gained a live reputation for sheer mayhem that precedes them wherever they play, mostly due to Johnny Motard's penchant for inebriated auto- and exo-destruction. Either they're the worst goddamned spectacle you've witnessed or audited, or they're the best. It really depends on how you were wired at the factory.
The accidents began in 1993. Not a one of the embryonic Motards had been in a band of any degree of seriousness: Head tooled around in a speed-metal band in his teens in Utah, scrubbing a Fender Jaguar his country blues-picking father had begifted him with, discovering punk rock through tapes his older sister began sending from Austin. Wilson, meanwhile, "tried to mess around in high school, do some Black Flag songs and shit," but not with much success.
"I met John at this really boring party on the East Side," recalls the quiet, bespectacled Head, who looks less like a punk guitar player than a serious engineering student. "Before we walked into the party, I looked in this apartment and saw John standing there, and I figured I'd rather be hanging out with them than at this lame party. Ended up drunk, started screwing around, talking about trying to start this band. I knew Suzanne [Bishop, the Motards' drummer and Marsh's longtime girlfriend] had just got some drums. I worked with Suzanne at Ruby's, and I'd been twisting her arm a while, trying to get her to start a band. I met John and I knew immediately John was the singer.
"I'd been playing guitar for ten years. Paul [Johnson, Motards Guitarist Number Two] had been playing a while, too. Toby had been a guitarist in a couple of bands. We all used to go see the Inhalants play all the time."
"The Inhalants were what did it for me," affirms Wilson. "I loved the Inhalants. Once I saw those guys, I thought, `Any schmuck can be in a band! It's only rock & roll!' They were great! They were obviously fans of punk music, doing their best to play pop music. So, that was great."
"Dave turned me on to Supercharger and the Mummies and stuff like that," says Marsh, "and earlier we had a much garage-ier sound. It was nothing intentional. I think we learned to play better or something and got louder. I guess that's what Dave had in mind when he started the band."
Meantime, it was a case of on-the-job training for Suzanne Bishop. She'd bought a drumkit with her tax return in July of 1993 and was a Motard a week later. They'd been rehearsing with a friend of Wilson's named Al, who ended up getting a girlfriend pregnant and moving to Longview to do the honorable thing with her. Since Marsh had been hanging around rehearsals to drink beer, he picked up an old Hofner knockoff bass for $75 at Cash America, and practiced that night with the band (although he suspects the Inhalants' Lisa Rickenberg, who was also hanging around, was planning to volunteer her services, too).
The band's impact, after debuting Marsh-less at a Halloween backyard party, was fairly immediate. The usual growing pains inherent from starting a punk band from scratch were apparent, but it was evident they were on to something. For all the cheap amp clang and Johnny Motard's throat-shredding vocal gymnastics, underneath it all lurked a collective songwriting genius best summed up by Marsh, who prefers writing "songs that are as catchy as any Ramones or Rezillos songs, and try to make `em short and sweet and something that people wanna listen to." There was also a rather off-center lyrical slant: how many punks do you know who'd pen paeans to Johnny Tremaine? (Although, to be fair, "Johnny Tremaine" actually honors not the classic children's literary hero, but Steve McDonald's sleazebag manager character in the trash cinema gem Desperate Teenage Lovedolls.) Then there's the, uh, human explosion known as Johnny Motard.
"At first, I was jumping on people and shit just to get over the stage fright," says Wilson. "Instead of fuckin' standing onstage and hoping people like me, I throw shit at 'em and spit on 'em and jump around. It makes no difference on the way I sing, anyway. I don't like singing if I'm not drunk. I hate being onstage sober. It sucks. It doesn't feel right."
"I think he was kinda waiting for a while for somebody to kick his ass," muses Head. "Then, once he realized nobody was gonna kick his ass, he got more obnoxious. I think somebody eventually will on tour sometime. When you go out there, and people don't know John, don't know he's a nice guy or whatever, people are actually a lot more scared of us. There's this weird mystique about being from Texas. People think you're packing a concealed handgun or something."
"It's the audience that trashes places!" Marsh insists. "Things get nuts. We played a party once at (somebody's) house where the walls kinda caved in on both sides. But Dave's roommate came over an plastered them up the very next day, y'know.
"Sometimes, it gets kinda crazy," he continues. "I like the shows to be spontaneous and feel like anything can happen. My favorite thing in the world is when somebody gets up and starts singing with the band, just grabs the mike and goes for it. That's my favorite, when you blur the distinction between the audience and the band as much as possible."
"I hear stories all the time about shit I did that I know I didn't do!" says Wilson. "(Someone) claims I came to their house and kicked their door down or some fuckin' crap. I know I didn't do that! People love to just talk shit. I just get drunk, go in people's bathrooms, take all their toilet paper. That's about as bad as it gets, really. [Though] on tour, we do a lotta stupid shit."
"When we go on tour, we lead a pretty wild life," says Head. "It's kinda weird. People that hear us get this idea of what we're like, and then weird stories go around that burst everyone's ideas about us. Like when we were in San Francisco, Suzanne and (Reclusives drummer) Mike Leggett got in a little argument at a party. Suzanne slapped Mike, and Mike slapped her back or something. By the time we got to the next town, somebody told us they'd heard Suzanne had pulled a knife on somebody! When we're being nice, people make up these stories. I think they just wanna have some weirdos, they wanna believe this whole crazy myth. I wonder about bands like the Dwarves. I wonder how much of the stories you hear about them are true. I think people just wanna believe crazy stories, whether they're true or not."
Across the Motards' growing discography, change has been evident. They've gone from a debut EP Head sees as "sound(ing) more like the Cramps" to playing "fast, slightly longer, balls-out punk songs." He also notes Paul Johnson's fondness for country music, which has manifested itself not only in the deathless thrashing the band gives Willie Nelson's "I Gotta Get Drunk" on their debut Rock Kids LP, but in Johnson "playing these country guitar things along with this weirdness." The band has also developed into a first-class touring machine of late. Head sees that development as the best part. "We're going out again in [a] month. People are saying, `Oh, you're gonna get sick of it, you're gonna get burned out.' No, we're sick of being here! That's the best thing."
"The last tour was a cakewalk compared to before," says Marsh of their third road trek. "Having the album out helps. I guess having Maximum Rock `N' Roll on your side helps a lot."
And the happy accidents keep happening: The day the band played an in-store at some mom-and-pop in Arizona, Rolling Stone called that very store to report for the next issue's Alternative Sales Chart. Due to the fiscal boost of the Motards' mini-gig, Rock Kids found itself in that week's Stone, nuzzling up to the likes of Oasis. When it was relayed to Marsh, he figured his pals were indulging in some chain-yanking.
"We outsold NOFX in Tucson!" Johnny Motard boasts, smirking. "My mom liked that." n