By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Free-jazz legend Albert Ayler's body was found floating in New York's East River in November 1970, a victim of either suicide or murder (ostensibly due to his association with the Black Panthers), depending on who you ask.
So why then, nearly 40 years later, would the 15-piece Athens, Georgia, rock collective Dark Meat dedicate its debut album to him?
"I grew up in a town where used record stores were hugely prevalent and really cheap," says Jim McHugh, the band's lead singer and songwriter. "You could basically find all this stuff—insane jazz records, punk rock records, noise records—all for like three bucks a piece. So I just ravenously scooped up everything, and when I first heard Ayler it stood out as the most important and intense music I've ever heard as far as someone laying himself out on the line...if you want music that's about annihilation, that's it.
"Black Flag sounds like the fucking Monkees compared to Albert Ayler. He basically stands as a totem for complete dedication and complete conviction musically 'cause his music was his sense of being, his sense of religion, his sense of everything he put into it. And I can't think of a better role model for how to live and play."
Like Ayler, whose music was known for straddling the line between the far-out and the traditional—combining Salvation Army-style brass band marches with imaginative free-jazz explorations (or as McHugh puts it, "It's not all just pterodactyl screams")—Dark Meat takes traditional rock song craft and turns it inside out, sounding something like CCR jamming with Sun Ra or a tribe of nomads playing "Gimme Shelter" around a bonfire.
True to form, McHugh would just as soon mention his love for Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music ensemble as say, the Stooges, whose Fun House album the band has covered on three occasions.
"Every time we've done it, something fucked up has happened," says McHugh. "There was a huge brawl the time we did it at an outdoor festival in Athens. It was supposed to be this family event, and the coordinator asked us to cover Fun House. We were like 'Are you kidding me? All right, man, if you want to see it...' Of course, there were flying beer bottles; I threw a tiki torch almost into a window. It was completely insane."
The band includes 15-odd pieces whilst inciting riots on any given night, with each part of the group sporting its own unique moniker, from the free-wheeling Lynyrd Skynyrd-style back-up singers (the Sub-tweeters) to the massive, screeching horn section, The Vomit Lasers.
"People think it's a really outlandish name, but if you think about it, it's pretty apt as far as a horn's function," says McHugh. "We just did that because a) it's fun and b) it's easier to coordinate when you don't have to say, 'We're gonna have horn sectional today.' We just say, 'Vomit Lasers practice today at 4.'
"Typically, you can't be a surviving band without paring things down to their most functional level. As ludicrous as that seems from a coordinator of a 15-piece band, it's really true. Everything's gotta serve a function or get the fuck off the bus."
But it's obvious from listening to the band's debut, the recently re-issued Universal Indians, that everyone in the band is pulling their weight with every guitar lick, screamed vocal and blaring horn part adding to the joy of the cacophonous whole. Hell, even the band members' kids have to put in their fair share, as the giddy voices of violinist John Fernandez's children kick off the exuberant kiss-off "Well, Fuck You Then."
Oh, and before you go there, put those Polyphonic Spree comparisons in the back of your mind. There are no matching robes in this ensemble.
"We get compared to [the Polyphonic Spree] all the time, but I've never heard their music," says McHugh. "It's just the cultish thing that people associate with us I suppose...and the fact that there's a million motherfuckers in our band."