Shock rock

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To set things straight, perhaps, ...Rocks Your Lame Ass contains six songs from Buick Men (including the first single, "Stamp"). Retooled for a major-label album, they are bigger and better than their original counterparts, faster and cleaner, quicker to get in and out. No song on the album is longer than two-and-a-half minutes, with two ("Minit Maid" and "Crater") clocking in at less than 90 seconds and another ("White Food") at 52 seconds.

And each song is indeed a short contained burst--not the insane sound of suburban rage that fueled the Descendants' best music, but more like the quick surge of hormones (which the Descendants always seemed to feel guilty for). It's the sound of lust and disgust, love and hate, the first flush of attraction and that final moment of wrenching disdain. One minute Reagan's telling a girl she's his "Happiness"; the next, he's giving her the self-deprecating kiss-off ("I'm just like you/You're boring, too); the next, she's just an "irritating bitch" who's looking for attention and won't stop calling.

And in between, they're boys who want to eat "it" while they work, smooth-talking one woman ("You're so beautiful"..."I want to wash your dirty feet") even as they roll over and kiss another. The one "statement" song--"White Food," about a racist who doesn't dig "soul food"--seems almost the throwaway; it's short like an outburst, the words almost incomprehensible in the sprint toward the finish line.

If Hagfish is indeed perceived by the outside world--that is, the one outside the four-block area of Deep Ellum--as a mere knock-off of success stories like Green Day and Offspring, whose platinum-selling albums launched a laughable "punk rock revival," it is unfortunate. Where two years ago the band was pulling the cart, now they are open to accusation of having jumped on the bandwagon.

And so the four bandmates find themselves in the middle of an ongoing, overlapping dialogue in which they worry how--or if--to categorize themselves: Are we punk? Are we pop? And why do we care? And in their search to define themselves to the outside world, they also are struggling to define themselves to each other.

"Once [the album] gets released, it gets automatically categorized," Zach says, to his bandmates as much as his interviewer. "You're not just a rock and roll band anymore. You're a whatever, and that's why I use the [punk-pop] term because I know the MTV generation hears the hooks and the aggressive guitars and they go, 'Oh'..."

"We are a pop band," Barsotti interrupts.
"That's what we try to be," Zach insists.
"Everybody in this band loves punk, we love being cynical--we love all that stuff," Barsotti says. "We love AC/DC, we love Van Halen, we love all those bands that have nothing really to do with punk rock. But we also love punk rock..."

"If you listen to the Buzzcocks or the Ramones, you don't just listen to them for punk effect," Zach says. "You listen to them because you can sing along with the songs."

"The thing about bands like the Ramones that I love so much is just Joey Ramone's stardom," says Reagan, who sits up from his position on the floor to make his point. "It wasn't the music, really, it wasn't much of anything except seeing him and going, 'Fuck'..."

"It's like an animated thing," Barsotti offers.
"They were cartoon characters," Zach says.
"That was what got me to thinking about those bands," Reagan says. "That's probably the most punk aspect about our band--just that we appreciated everything about what [Joey] was."

"It's almost like people ask you what kind of music you make, and you just tell them, 'We're loud,'" Zach offers by way of final explanation. "We're just a loud band."

"I don't think it's an issue anymore," Reagan says, trying to cut short the discussion. "It's an issue with the music world, but it's not an issue with me."

"Even my saying 'pop-punk' and that whole fuckin' shit is because I'm categorizing bands like Green Day and Offspring because that's what Rolling Stone is calling it," Zach says.

"Our band's really not that good at talking about all this because we're always just joking around about it," Barsotti says. "But this one guy--what's his name? David something?--from Polygram said one thing. He was talkin' about Green Day and the Offspring, and he said...'There's not a punk thing happening. There's a song thing happening.' Green Day had a bunch of good songs and an album, and they looked like carbon-copy '77 rockers, and so everybody puts the identity with the sound and thinks that's what our band sounds like. The Circle Jerks say Green Day ripped them off. No way."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky