Music: Death Becomes Them

Death in Graceland waters the roots of Punk with their piss

Dale M. Johnson


Death in Graceland find common ground in Punk and pizza.



An old friend once related his version of Jimi Hendrix's final moments. "Yeah, he choked on his own puke, but Clapton was there making sure he stayed on his back, and Keith Richards was giving the ambulance driver bad directions. They couldn't keep up with the cat, so they had to off him."

This is the potential problem Death in Graceland (DiG) has created for themselves. Comparatively, their Punk peers are sissies, Metal bands seem flaccid and pretentious and Garage Rock is weeks-old white bread.

In an era when any boy band with the requisite amount of body mods and power chords can carry the mantle, what's missing is not so much the attitude, but the uncontrived catharsis that the originators enjoyed, expressing themselves without a marketing context. DiG appears to have tapped into this rich vein, and the resulting unique and infectious style is not a facade, but a direct connection between the band and listener.

The brunt of their appeal is the unpredictable range of styles they incorporate and the chaotic mix of reactions their music provokes. Hard Rock is their molten core, with a thick crust of '70s Proto-Punk supplied by the thundering, full-tilt rhythm section (bassist Kevin Warwick and drummer Patrick Walkenhorst) and Matt Ayers' vocals, which approximate what Iggy Pop's misanthropic take on Emo might sound like. Kane Kitchen and Greg Beale's huge guitars blend Post-Punk, Ska and thrashed-up, funky Blues riffs, using refined and competent interplay that most Hardcore bands lack.

DiG emerged in the winter of 2001 when Beale, Walkenhorst and Warwick, who had been the backbone of local Punk heroes Anti-Pro and Glam Rockers Frantic Romantic, found the perfect singer for their new project. Ayers, who also drums for Terrorcore outfit Noarmsnolegs, fit the bill perfectly with his unrefined Bono-meets-Joe Pesci bravado. Plus he worked at Pizza Hut too, so he met another key pre-requisite (Beale and Warwick are also Pizza Hut employees; Walkenhorst schleps at Dewey's Pizza). After a short stint as a four-piece, they recruited Kitchen, a fellow Westsider (and Papa John's deliveryman), formerly of UNX.

After playing a few live shows, they recorded a demo. Then in winter of 2002, their seven-song debut Come On, Touch Me, was born. Recorded by Jayson Hazelbaker (of DiG's local comrades Junior Revolution) at his house in about a month, the disc showcases the band's technical ability and loosely structured compositional style with remarkable clarity. Their buzz-saw sound is faithfully reproduced and mixed with great effect.

If the album is the bait, their bombastic live show is the hook. They rip through the intricate numbers while colliding onstage like bumper cars. Ayers' wit is apparent and not the least bit forced. He gives the distinct impression that, if there were any fakery or grandstanding, he'd be the first to call "bullshit."

DiG's lyrics and artwork are dark and demented, but through today's cynical filters, "perversely humorous" is a more likely description than "vulgar." The name also adds to the mystery of the band, but it has no special meaning according to Walkenhorst.

"Jerry, the singer from Noarmsnolegs came up with it," he says. "It was originally 'Graceland Toe Tag.' He knows all these weird things about serial killers and death. But it has no specific meaning."

Although their gritty sound and image draw comparisons to early Punk and its faithful latter-day descendants, DiG claims bands like Grand Funk Railroad, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin as influences.

"You can party to it, even though it's kind of depressing," says Warwick.

"Everybody wants to call us on the Murder City Devils thing," complains Ayers, referring to the late Pacific Northwest cult legends. "That was cool for a minute, but ..."

"We kind of broke free of that," continues Beale. "People say Fugazi now — it's more atmospheric and progressive."

In addition to shows in the Tristate, DiG has managed two full tours of the Eastern U.S., including an NXNE appearance in Toronto.

"Our first tour, we were really lucky. The second time was rough," recalls Warwick.

"We got fucked at the border both times," remembers Beale. "Windsor is the bad place to cross. We ended up having to pay 60 bucks a person to for a one-day work permit, even though we told them it was a free gig."

"But we got to hang out with A Simple Plan and bang 15-year-old girls," Ayers recalls wistfully. Always the optimist ...

DiG also has a semi-official sixth member, Ryan Thomas. Best known as the proprietor of the former all-ages Punk club, The Void, Thomas has been thick with the band after letting them take up residency at his venue, performing frequently and practicing there in the daytime. Now, according to Walkenhorst, he "drives the van, chips in money, loves The Damned and beats all of our Tetris scores."

Speaking of Tetris, with an album steeped in references to sex, drugs and violence, the issues of addiction and compulsive behavior seem like natural topics of conversation. But illicit activity takes a back seat to Gameboy in the DiG tour van.

And Ayers has his own monkey to feed: his record collection. "Touring is really just a way for me to buy more albums," he says. "I got a Ween first-pressing the last time out."

Can the guy who belts out believable self-destructive anthems with such gusto really be so tame?

"My favorite high is watching an employee at Shake It's eye's light up when I buy $150 worth of records," says Ayers.



DEATH IN GRACELAND (

Dale M. Johnson


Death in Graceland find common ground in Punk and pizza.



An old friend once related his version of Jimi Hendrix's final moments. "Yeah, he choked on his own puke, but Clapton was there making sure he stayed on his back, and Keith Richards was giving the ambulance driver bad directions. They couldn't keep up with the cat, so they had to off him."

This is the potential problem Death in Graceland (DiG) has created for themselves. Comparatively, their Punk peers are sissies, Metal bands seem flaccid and pretentious and Garage Rock is weeks-old white bread.

In an era when any boy band with the requisite amount of body mods and power chords can carry the mantle, what's missing is not so much the attitude, but the uncontrived catharsis that the originators enjoyed, expressing themselves without a marketing context. DiG appears to have tapped into this rich vein, and the resulting unique and infectious style is not a facade, but a direct connection between the band and listener.

The brunt of their appeal is the unpredictable range of styles they incorporate and the chaotic mix of reactions their music provokes. Hard Rock is their molten core, with a thick crust of '70s Proto-Punk supplied by the thundering, full-tilt rhythm section (bassist Kevin Warwick and drummer Patrick Walkenhorst) and Matt Ayers' vocals, which approximate what Iggy Pop's misanthropic take on Emo might sound like. Kane Kitchen and Greg Beale's huge guitars blend Post-Punk, Ska and thrashed-up, funky Blues riffs, using refined and competent interplay that most Hardcore bands lack.

DiG emerged in the winter of 2001 when Beale, Walkenhorst and Warwick, who had been the backbone of local Punk heroes Anti-Pro and Glam Rockers Frantic Romantic, found the perfect singer for their new project. Ayers, who also drums for Terrorcore outfit Noarmsnolegs, fit the bill perfectly with his unrefined Bono-meets-Joe Pesci bravado. Plus he worked at Pizza Hut too, so he met another key pre-requisite (Beale and Warwick are also Pizza Hut employees; Walkenhorst schleps at Dewey's Pizza). After a short stint as a four-piece, they recruited Kitchen, a fellow Westsider (and Papa John's deliveryman), formerly of UNX.

After playing a few live shows, they recorded a demo. Then in winter of 2002, their seven-song debut Come On, Touch Me, was born. Recorded by Jayson Hazelbaker (of DiG's local comrades Junior Revolution) at his house in about a month, the disc showcases the band's technical ability and loosely structured compositional style with remarkable clarity. Their buzz-saw sound is faithfully reproduced and mixed with great effect.

If the album is the bait, their bombastic live show is the hook. They rip through the intricate numbers while colliding onstage like bumper cars. Ayers' wit is apparent and not the least bit forced. He gives the distinct impression that, if there were any fakery or grandstanding, he'd be the first to call "bullshit."

DiG's lyrics and artwork are dark and demented, but through today's cynical filters, "perversely humorous" is a more likely description than "vulgar." The name also adds to the mystery of the band, but it has no special meaning according to Walkenhorst.

"Jerry, the singer from Noarmsnolegs came up with it," he says. "It was originally 'Graceland Toe Tag.' He knows all these weird things about serial killers and death. But it has no specific meaning."

Although their gritty sound and image draw comparisons to early Punk and its faithful latter-day descendants, DiG claims bands like Grand Funk Railroad, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin as influences.

"You can party to it, even though it's kind of depressing," says Warwick.

"Everybody wants to call us on the Murder City Devils thing," complains Ayers, referring to the late Pacific Northwest cult legends. "That was cool for a minute, but ..."

"We kind of broke free of that," continues Beale. "People say Fugazi now — it's more atmospheric and progressive."

In addition to shows in the Tristate, DiG has managed two full tours of the Eastern U.S., including an NXNE appearance in Toronto.

"Our first tour, we were really lucky. The second time was rough," recalls Warwick.

"We got fucked at the border both times," remembers Beale. "Windsor is the bad place to cross. We ended up having to pay 60 bucks a person to for a one-day work permit, even though we told them it was a free gig."

"But we got to hang out with A Simple Plan and bang 15-year-old girls," Ayers recalls wistfully. Always the optimist ...

DiG also has a semi-official sixth member, Ryan Thomas. Best known as the proprietor of the former all-ages Punk club, The Void, Thomas has been thick with the band after letting them take up residency at his venue, performing frequently and practicing there in the daytime. Now, according to Walkenhorst, he "drives the van, chips in money, loves The Damned and beats all of our Tetris scores."

Speaking of Tetris, with an album steeped in references to sex, drugs and violence, the issues of addiction and compulsive behavior seem like natural topics of conversation. But illicit activity takes a back seat to Gameboy in the DiG tour van.

And Ayers has his own monkey to feed: his record collection. "Touring is really just a way for me to buy more albums," he says. "I got a Ween first-pressing the last time out."

Can the guy who belts out believable self-destructive anthems with such gusto really be so tame?

"My favorite high is watching an employee at Shake It's eye's light up when I buy $150 worth of records," says Ayers.



DEATH IN GRACELAND (deathingraceland.com) perform Thursday at Radio Down with Caterpillar Tracks, Sadahar and Abigail.

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