By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
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Don't get him started on the latest trends. "Who would have thought that a band like Cake would make it?" he says, both incredulously and with disgust. "Or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones? Man, I hate all this ska shit. I got so tired of it that I got rid of all my Specials and Selecter records. You'll never see the American Fuse going ska!"
Wolfe has likewise seen trends come and go. In the late '80s he was part of Dallas-by-way-of-Memphis metal band Lord Tracy. They recorded for MCA, but big-hair metal was on its last leg. He downplays the fact, but he was also the bass player for the Cult for almost three years. He says that playing with friends is far more satisfying than playing in a professional band: "A band is about camaraderie and chemistry. I did like the life.Kinda miss it." He laughs sheepishly, looking at Fowler and Phillips.
"[But] those guys couldn't get along very well," he continues. "It was kind of a sinking ship. Ian Astbury is a really good guy, a little strange and eccentric. But he really didn't get along with [guitarist] Billy Duffy. There were two tour buses: the Billy bus and the Ian bus. I was in the Billy bus, because Ian was trying to quit drinking. I remember one time I went to soundcheck and they didn't like the way I was dressed. It was the fucking soundcheck! They said, 'You're in the Cult, you can't dress like this.' So they sent the wardrobe girl to get me new clothes for soundcheck," he laughs. "I remember when Pearl Jam first came out--they didn't like it. When Pearl Jam got big six months later, they liked it. I didn't really try to kiss their ass or anything.
"Maybe I'll do the reunion," he chuckles. "Just for the tour."
Wolfe jokingly compares his experience touring with the Cult and the American Fuse's first westward trek last April. It was the usual case of the old, unheated, cramped van that most struggling bands go through: "We almost died from the cold," Phillips recalls. "We got caught in a blizzard. I seriously almost started crying. We started in Kansas City, played Lawrence, Denver, Utah, Seattle, San Francisco, and Southern California. People liked us everywhere we went. Southern California really loved our stuff. It was our first tour, our test, and people felt the energy."
That energy is preserved in the powerful One Fell Swoop. The opener, "Texas Speedball," recalls Motsrhead at its basic 12-bar best. The two car songs that follow--"Drive My Motor" and "Don't Chingale My Chevrolet"--are live favorites, and deservedly so. "Beelzabubba" is like the Cramps basking under the Texas sun loaded on cheap tequila. "Silver City Sheriff" gallops above the speed limit, raising clouds of dust. After the final notes of "Redline" close the album with old-fashioned rock glory, you realize that there is not an ounce of pretension or artifice throughout One Fell Swoop (with the possible exception of an unnecessary cover of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer"). It's one of those albums that arrives viscerally, without giving the brain a chance to filter out anything.
"I can see us appealing to somebody who's looking for something honest, for a change," Fowler says. "We just do what we do. We never think in commercial terms, and we don't sound like anyone else. I think that's honorable, at least."
Wolfe agrees: "When people come to our shows, nothing is preconceived. But they like us. We're not gonna try to sound like somebody else, and we're not gonna decorate it or polish it. It's good that we don't have a box to put us in right now."
So far Q102 (102.1 KTXQ) has picked up on the band and plays the CD often on the local radio show. That's still a long way from national recognition. But, then again, most great music remains stubbornly underground, the privilege of the few who keep their ears open. These are the people the American Fuse play for. Phillips is confident: "I think we can find our own niche. I don't think it can be huge, but it means something--to us at least."
The American Fuse plays Saturday, October 4, at Club Dada.