Even Brutal Juice’s frontman has difficulty describing the band. But sitting out back at Dan’s Silver Leaf in Denton, Craig Welch tries anyway, calling it “an acid-fueled excuse to turn amps to 11 and play with feedback loops.”
It’s a fairly close approximation. The band’s post-punk music was known to roar, thrash and seethe at the Fry Street Fair, backyard parties, pizza shops and art galleries in Denton throughout the ’90s. It was outlandish but also soulful, violent and hypnotic — like taking psychedelics at church camp. Their live shows were the stuff of local legend, with Welch channeling Iggy Pop and Sid Vicious on stage.
More than two decades have passed since Welch joined Brutal Juice, first as a dancer then later as a vocalist. Welch, hair now peppered by age, has become a fixture at Dan’s Silver Leaf where he’s spent the last eight years mopping the floor, setting up tables and barstools and doing other odd jobs. Now he’s soft spoken, almost mild-mannered, quite unlike the crazed frontman known to soar into the crowd and do handstands on stage.
But on Feb. 10, he plans to shed his mild-mannered barkeep image and take the stage at Dan’s with his Brutal Juice companions: Gordon Gibson, Ted Wood, Ben Burt and Sam McCall. They’re celebrating the vinyl release of Welcome to the Panopticon, a concept album that touches upon politics, reptilian mythology and conspiracy and blends it with old-school metal, gothic psychedelia, Southern boogie rock and their signature post-punk rock sound.
“It’s my bandmates,” Welch says. “They inspire me. … Well, them and Slayer.”
Like most bands, Brutal Juice was the result of a few buddies just hanging out.
They weren’t very good at first, says Gordon Gibson, the band’s founder, but they got better when they replaced the bass player and added a jazz-trained guitarist, Ted Wood, to the band. They hit the Denton scene when it had a Grateful Dead, Texas hippie vibe. Denton was a cheap place for musicians and artists to live, and Fry Street channeled this creativity both aesthetically and musically.
“Lots of good bands,” Gibson recalls, adding that a lot of the best music came from alumni and dropouts from University of North Texas’ jazz school. “Everybody was really messed up. It was fun.”
Brutal Juice recorded three albums before they called it quits in 1997: How Tasty Was My Little Timmy in 1991; I Love the Way They Scream When They Die in 1994; and Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult in 1995. They also toured the U.S. and Europe with Gwar, Neurosis, Toadies, the Meatmen, Fear and others.
They reformed in 2012 with their original lineup and began playing occasional local shows, ultimately deciding to record new material.
Welcome to the Panopticon was recorded by Grammy winner John Congleton at Elmwood Recording in Oak Cliff and released last year. On the album, Brutal Juice head in a new direction from the jammy, collaborative music they used to make, where they’d start with a riff and build the song from there.
Gibson spent a year or so writing the songs using a drum machine and sent them to the other band members so they could add their parts. He says it was hard for them to write the album organically since some of the members live in other parts of the state and country.
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The album was inspired by the writings of author and conspiracy theorist David Icke, who is best known for his belief that reptile-human hybrids known as the Babylonian Brotherhood genetically manipulated humans, and their descendants now control the world under the guise of the Illuminati.
In his writings, Icke also describes modern day society as a sort of panopticon, a prison where guards watch our every move. Gibson agrees with this assessment, pointing to overreach in the form of mass surveillance and police brutality.
“I’ve been a 911 truther and conspiracy freakazoid since forever,” he says. “I had an idea of an album, kind of a ‘red pill’ protest record.”
Brutal Juice’s vinyl release party takes place 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, at Dan’s Silver Leaf (103 Industrial St., Denton). Tickets are $12 via Prekindle. Their latest record can be found at Mad World Records in Denton; or at Dallas’ Josey Records, Good Records and Spinster Records.