Richard Haskins has been through the shit. For two years, he paid for attempted bank robbery with a jail sentence. Not everyone was there to help him when he needed. Haskins' own mother would sit in the bail bond room, telling people who tried to bail him out that he had already been bailed out.
But Haskins has gotten through it all and come out the other end. He's back and taking his music more seriously than ever. He's a changed man.
Or maybe he never changed. Maybe it was hard for people to see past the Richard Haskins who's known for his extreme performances, the one who performed in underwear, who bled onstage, who seemed ready to destroy himself at any turn. But while he was in jail, Haskins' burn to perform was never lost. Not long before he was released, he was writing the Observer press releases for his return with the Unmarked Graves.
Sitting down with us one afternoon at Banter in Denton, Haskins recalls telling the guards that they couldn't read his mail because the inmate rights protected it, since it was a letter to the press. He had thought about writing songs while he was in jail, but it was Joe Cripps, from the Grammy Award-Wining band Brave Combo, who really pushed him to do so. Cripps is with him today at Banter. Three of the songs Haskins wrote in jail for the Unmarked Graves are part of their new five track EP Ride, Boldly Ride, which he'll celebrate tomorrow night with a release party at Banter on Saturday.
Denton has long been Haskins' stomping ground, but the turns his life has taken in recent years are a far cry from where his love for music was first ignited. His grandmother taught him how to play the piano when he was five years old and he started playing guitar when he was 10, shortly after moving to Denton with his mom and stepdad. Haskins would lock himself in his room and play his guitar and by the time he turned 12 he began writing songs.
Haskins claims he mainly wrote to piss off his parents, because he said he was an "angry little dude." But it took him a long time to take himself seriously as a songwriter -- even after making a name for himself in Denton as the leader of the Wee Beasties. "With the Wee Beasties that music was fucking incidental. It was just about fucking the place up," Haskins recalls. Then, as though with some further reflection, he adds, "I've been a wild man on stage."
But with the Unmarked Graves it's different. Haskins refers to them as his "dream team." "It's like a Denton super group," he marvels. The seven-piece band consists of Haskins' favorite Denton musicians, including Ginny Mac, Robert Hokamp, Ronan Delisle, Joe Cripps, and Ben and Sam Jones.
Ride, Boldly Ride originally consisted of four tracks until Haskins decided to add a song he wrote about his troubled relationship with his mother, called, with characteristic cheekiness, "I Wish My Mom Would Smoke Pot With Me." "What inspires me to write?" Haskins asks himself, rhetorically. "Intense feelings of pain or intense feeling of joy."
Eight days after the attempted bank robbery, Haskins found himself out on bail. It was Christmas Eve, he was feeling sick, and while he sat on the motel floor of the Holiday Lodge he was staying at in Denton, he picked up his guitar and wrote the song "Doctor, Doctor." "I do good whenever I have something inspiring to write about," he says.
While the germination of the album may have been troubled and a long time in the making, all of the tracks were recorded in just two days. Haskins and the band recorded Ride, Boldly Ride at the Señor Fin House, where Sean McLellan mixed and mastered their tracks. "Lyric Maxey," "Bathroom Walls in Dirty Bars" and "Ride Boldly Ride" were the songs Haskins wrote while he has in jail.
The inspiration for the EP's title came from a John Wayne movie called El Dorado, which Haskins says was his favorite movie as a kid. "I thought Ride Boldly Ride was a good attitude for the band," he says. "No matter what fate throws in your path, till you die, ride boldly ride." Fans from Australia and Germany have already pre-ordered the EP that's going to be available on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon. Physical copies will be for sale for $7, or as Haskins likes to call it, "Cheap as fuck."
The new EP isn't the only thing Haskins has going for him these days. Now that he's a free man again, he's hellbent on opening as many doors for himself as her can. He's a mastering engineer at A-Dub Recording in Denton. He's also set the ambitious goal of releasing a new EP every three months. The next one is slated to come out in October and it will be named it Alexandra, so named after his wife who he married on July 4. "I fucking love this girl and she's a phenomenal singer/songwriter," Haskins beams. "Our kids will be beasts."
But then Haskins has always had a big heart, even if his wild antics have tended to be a distraction from that. There was once a Wee Beasties show, for instance, where Haskins encountered a group of 15-year olds sitting on the sidewalk who bummed that they couldn't see the show since the venue was a bar. Haskins of course snuck in as many of the young fans as he could that day. In fact, it was one boy's birthday, so Haskins gave him an instrument case to carry and told the bouncers that the boy was part of the band. He even fulfilled the boy's birthday wish of getting him to crowd surf that night.
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So of course Haskins wants to go all out for his fans with the Banter show this weekend, which will be free and all-ages. His shows often attract 200 to 300 people, but the capacity for the show is only 99, so "crowded" could be an understatement.
"A guy is camping out the night before so he can get in," Haskins brags. "When we play here it is going to be the fullest this place has ever been."
But it's Cripps who gets the last word: "Some of them can sleep at my house," he offers, perhaps joking but, knowing these guys, probably not.
RICHARD HASKINS AND THE UNMARKED GRAVES perform with Layer Cake and Voca from Tom Tom at 8 p.m. at Banter, Denton. Free. All ages.