Posted by: Necci – Apr 25, 2012
You’d have to be suffering from severe brain damage to be a punk fan in Richmond and not know that notorious local hardcore band Government Warning have finally called it quits. They played their last show on October 15, 2011, at Strange Matter, signaling what many saw as the end of an era for underground 80s revival punk shows and D.I.Y. culture. However, Kenny Ball, former singer of Government Warning, is far from calling it quits. Southside Stranglers, his new band, is in full force, playing shows, recording, and carrying the Richmond punk torch with pride. Although they share a similar straightforward aesthetic with Government Warning, their sound is rawer, more old-school, but also much more original-sounding than most straightforward punk, incorporating influences from archaic rock n’ roll to gritty, screaming hardcore. Recently, I caught up with Kenny and guitarist Kevin Guild (the band also includes guitarist Sam Richardson, bassist JP Olivos, and drummer Hash). They gave me the lowdown on how they are evolving, what inspires them, and their views on Skrillex.
Kenny, Government Warning is officially over. Any final remarks on that era and how it led you to work with Southside Stranglers before we put the past behind us?
Kenny: It was a good time, Government Warning days. We had some fun. I'm not sad it's over, though. Time happens. We started the Stranglers toward the tail end of it, because we knew the end was near, and I have been singing hardcore for so long. I started to feel like doing some [melodic] singing a few years back, even when GW was young, and I finally found my motivation. This is something that's much more fun in a lot of ways, and less fun in others. It's sick though. This band is really fun to sing in.
Talk about what the Stranglers have done to date. What have you recorded, and what is in the works? How have these things gone so far?
Kenny: We've done a 7” EP called Too Much TV, [which was] first released as a tape out of necessity and time constraints. Then we did a single called "Strangle You," which we no longer play live, since it was Mikey's song, and he no longer plays with us. We are most of the way through an eleven-song 12” we're recording with Bob Quirk, of Dry Spell fame. It'll be around whenever I get off my ass and finish the vocals. I think I want to call it Finger On The Pulse. It's about two years overdue.
Kevin: We've just had a hard time keeping a solid line-up together, so we've been long overdue on some new recordings. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy this new shit as much as we do.
Tell us about your experience working with Vinyl Conflict and other local businesses and venues to help promote your music. Have you run into any frustrations, or have things been pretty positive?
Kenny: That's a funny way to put it, when you say “working with...” We don't really work with anyone. If some fool wants to hype our shit we're like, “OK, thanks nerd.” It doesn't happen often. As for Vinyl Conflict, you gotta hype your own shit right? Brandon [Ferrell, former Southside Stranglers drummer and owner of Vinyl Conflict] actually just quit though, so now it's all out of the goodness of his own sweet, sweet heart.
You all have been around for a while, but you don't play shows that often. Any plans to start playing out more, or are you trying to avoid the "I don't care about that band because they play here twice a week" thing?
Kevin: I don't think it's really much of a conscious decision to play or not play that much. We have a drummer who lives in Hopewell with no car and [we’re] a bunch of busy assholes who can't be in the same place at the same time, so playing shows is kind of hard. Also, it's pretty depressing when after playing for three years, you play to a crowd of eight people at McCormack’s who don't give a shit if you are there or not.
Kenny: Yeah, plus we can't seem to teach these nerds how to dance without mosh-fucking each other in a hardcore kinda way. We're trying to be musicians and shit!
Kenny, I know that you listen to a lot of old-school rock n' roll and scuzzy-sounding, gritty punk rock, and I definitely see this in the Stranglers’ sound. Do you think the Richmond scene is ready for something that strays from the whole D-beat/crusty aesthetic that’s big around here?
Kenny: Naw, man, they aren't into it. It's either not fast enough or it's not slow enough. Rock n’ roll ain’t vibing with the small world of Richmond punk. Everyone is all, “Hey man, this shit's cool," but then they go smoke while we play. Then they're all, “Hey man, great set," and I'm all, “Hey man, nice shoes." We're mostly a joke without a punchline.
Kevin: I play bass in a D-beat band [Syndrome], but I still get annoyed with the way that the scenes don't really mesh. The way I see it, punk is punk and there should be a little more unity to the whole thing. But maybe I've just been listening to too much Uniform Choice.
Who are some of your biggest influences? Who would be your ideal bands to tour or play with?
Kenny: We just played a show with The Left in West Virginia. That was sweet, even though it sucked. It was fun. I wanna play with some new old bands, like sweet ass punk from the days of old, only played by people that aren't old and boring. I mean, I'm pretty old and boring but for real, these old guys forgot how to rock, dude. Anyone who's good would be good to play with, but we have standards, bro.
Kevin: We have a lot of crazy influences. I have the weirdest taste in music and I try to bring all of it into the songs that I write. I don't really have any bands in mind that I'd want to play with or tour with, but it would be nice to play with bands that don't completely suck on tour. We've had a lot of that.
What are your plans for the band over the next few years? What can we expect from the Stranglers in the future?
Kenny: An organ. We need an organ/piano player. Any takers? I wanna make actual rock n’ roll at some point. In the immortal words of an old friend, “Fuck this punk shit, I'm a real scumbag.”
Kevin: Hopefully, doing more than we've been doing. “Plans” are sort of foreign to all of us collectively, so we will just have to see what happens. Yeah, and that organ thing. We won't ever be as cool as The Mummies without an organ player.
How do you feel about the Richmond punk scene today? How have you seen it change over the years, and what negative and positive trends have you noticed?
Kenny: Well, as a child, when I hit the scene, it was a lot of weird art school nonsense and a lot of tough-guy jerkoff shit. I watched a cool crowd develop into what was later coined “80's revival” or some stupid shit. That's where my old band fit in, and it ruled. It was more fun than a barrel of drunk, horny monkeys. Now it's kinda on the way out, and that's OK. We play different shit now, too, and it’s fun, but now it just looks like the revolving door is letting ‘em out faster than it's bringing ‘em in. I think Richmond punk is due for another decade or so of crappy pop-punk and indie garbage, because we need a solid ten years of shit inbetween people having fun. It's an ebb and flow sort of thing, ya know?
Kevin: There's no control over the scene, really. I've been going to shows a long time and sometimes more people come out, and sometimes more people sit at home and get drunk. Like Kenny was saying, it's all pretty cyclical.
Your name comes from an actual murderer who killed in Richmond. Where did the inspiration for that come from, and have you gotten any negative or offended reactions to it?
Kenny: My mom says if we don't change the name I'm gonna go to hell. I believe her. Timmy Spencer was a genius. Well, actually he was borderline retarded, but he was black, and killed outside his race. I think that's more fair than most of those nerds. I admire that in a serial killer. I'm a fan of choking too, so I'm with it. Also, all them ladies he murdered were around where we started playing and spent a lot of time growing up... sort of our own backyard. He's our mascot, so to speak. It also just sounds cooler than “the flying squirrels.”
Kevin: I don't think people get offended by it, because they don't know enough local history to know where the name comes from. I think if more people knew, then they might be more offended. Especially if we refer to him as our mascot.
Who are some of your favorite bands to play with, and places to play around Richmond?
Kenny: Kev's house. Except the stupid police don't like pot, so that's over. I also like to play the Bonezone and Nara Sushi. Oh, and Twisters, too.
Kevin: Yeah, the Bonezone is pretty cool.
Name a favorite experience or hilarious, sordid story from your time playing together.
Kenny: Naw man, we don't have fun. We're pretty uptight and we never get drunk. Ever.
Kevin: I can't even remember half of the things that have happened.
Talk about some of your lyrics to date. Where do you get inspiration and ideas, and what can we expect from lyrics in the future?
Kenny: Well, mostly I write dumb songs, you know, to match the wit of my preferred audience. I do, however, have a couple of songs that are actually about stuff on the upcoming record. Alongside brilliant stuff like "You Make Me Wanna Fuck” and "We Got Pills!" I sing about girls too. Everyone with a girlfriend knows about that crap. Once we get an organ and write some decent tunes, I might write some halfway thought-out lyrics. Until then, I'm gonna stick with what I know, that being drugs, sex, pussy, and stabbin’ motherfuckers. Shit is real as hell, too.
How do you feel about the punk scene at large? It’s more underground than ever now that trends are leaning more towards electronic-type music, and people have been saying punk rock is dead since the 1970s, but there always seem to be new and exciting bands emerging. Where do you think punk is headed?
Kevin: I hope everyone sounds more like Skrillex.
Kenny: I dig the internet. I made $18 from iTunes sales. Keep downloadin', nerds.
Any final thoughts or comments?
Kenny: Buy our records, they're kinda sweet. Also, next time one of you nerds throws a bottle at me, aim it better. What were all those years of baseball camp for, anyways?
Words by Addison Herron-Wheeler
Images by Jake Cunningham