Formed in 2000 from the remains of the Chemo Kids and the Geriatrix, The Gazelles! played their first gig on Groundhog Day 2001. And yes, the exclamation point is part of the name. Once you hear them play live, you'll understand.
The story of The Gazelles!' origins is fairly typical: A group of friends (vocalist Matt "The Jungle Cat" Wizinsky, guitarists Max Bender and Jim Covert, bassist Jonathan Blackburn and drummer Andy Jody) who'd known each other for years and all played music separately, finally decide to play together. But that's where being typical stops for them. Jody describes the group as, "Just some creepy drunk guys lookin' to play music."
The Gazelles! may not be alone in that opinion. "The local media has ignored us," Jody says.
"I don't think they wanna have anything to do with us."
Wizinsky spins it a bit. "We promote our shows pretty well among people that we know are gonna go," he says. "But we don't really go out of our way to get any kind of attention other than that."
Bender turns the conversation toward what is perhaps the real reason why some have overlooked the band.
"We haven't had good luck with venues," he says.
Wizinsky fesses up. "We've been banned from several different clubs, for various reasons. But almost every single one of them has allowed us back, whether because they let the issue go, or because we bring a solid local crowd to our shows."
So why such a delicate name as "The Gazelles!" for such a seemingly indelicate group of young men?
"It was just a funny, completely absurd name," Jody explains. "A lot of Rock bands are like, 'Oh, we're The Razor Blades. Tough Rock names. We're like, 'We're the Gazelles. We're beautiful, majestic animals.' "
"We played a show at Top Cats, and they had a book there on interpreting dreams," Wizinsky adds. "It said that a gazelle is symbolic of escaping reality. Which I think is what we do. We just get together, we get fucked up and we go nuts and play some loud music and hope that people enjoy themselves, getting fucked up and listening to loud music, going nuts for half an hour."
The crowds that gather every time The Gazelles! are on the bill prove people do enjoy themselves. The band's live shows are so loud you suspect your grandchildren will be deaf, but so energetic and powerful that you don't care.
"We ravage ourselves when we play," Jody says. "We're men of excess; we take everything to excess when we play."
"I have a lot of scars," Wizinsky notes.
What inspires The Gazelles! to this excess?
"Drinking," Wizinsky quips. "And we've got a good view of the train yard (from a practice space in Fairmount), so that helps."
Bender, more seriously, says, "Music-wise, The Electric Eels, The Mirrors (are influential). But we mix it with other bands and make it louder."
"Just Ohio bizarro Punk," Jody says, continuing on the influence train of thought.
Wizinsky elaborates. "We do take a lot of pride in the tradition of Midwestern Punk bands. They did things their own way. There are a lot bands we're into ... like The Gizmos and Dow Jones Industrials. They went unnoticed in their day, but were cool."
Though influenced by Punk, The Gazelles! can hardly be pigeonholed. Look at their Web site (gazelles.hyperquake.com) and you'll find the Gazelles!' self-description of "High Energy Art Smeared Rock 'n Roll."
"We can play with the Garage scene, the Punk bands, with the Indie Rock bands," Jody says. "We like to mix it up."
"It's good for us to have that kind of diversity," Wizinsky adds. "We've played coffee houses, bars, Southgate House, art openings."
The Gazelles! — who have recorded a 5-song demo with Steve Schmoll at TempoHouse, to be released soon, and are playing several regional and local gigs — are the perfect illustration of the variety of Cincinnati's music scene. But what do they think of that scene?
"I think Cincinnati has a great music scene right now," Jody says. "We've got the big guns, and we're pulling them out."
THE GAZELLES! play the Northside Tavern on Aug. 9 with the Sundresses and Dead Meadow from Washington, D.C.