Feature: Wednesday, July 18, 2002

You’ll believe the hype about garage rock when you hear the Sunday Drunks.


One of the more interesting developments in rock ’n’ roll over the past year has been the emergence of retro sounds. There’s ’60s garage, music made by suburban American teens in response to the likes of the early Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. (Fort Worth actually had a goodly number of practitioners back in the day — the original Cynics and Nomads, Larry & the Blue Notes, the Elite, the Jades ... go ask your grandpa or see your Back from the Grave compilations and Nuggets boxed sets.) And there’s also ’70s proto-punk, inspired by outfits like the MC5, Stooges, and New York Dolls, who were all dismissed as incompetents back when they were actually functional performers but who appear in retrospect to have intuitively understood the fundamentals of rock ’n’ roll better than any other group of bands since.

Indeed, much has been made lately of these types of bands. Guess we can thank the British music press — in whose wake the mainstream American press and its associated media machinery inevitably follow — for garage rock’s recent 15 minutes as flavor-of-the-month, following grunge lite a la Creed, metal/hip-hop a la Limp Bizkit, and pop-punk a la Blink-182. But it’s not as though the Strokes, White Stripes, or Hives are doing anything that hasn’t been done at least as well by lots of other folks over the years, including some from right here in our own backyard. Like the Sunday Drunks.

Dallas’ Drunks are my personal pick for “Most Improved Bowlers” among local practitioners of what their guitarist Lee Lazarine calls “real rock ’n’ roll.” The Drunks were originally a side project for Lazarine and drummer Rod Baird, two members of the Mullens, a Dallas band that made a lot more impact nationally than locally, what with three albums released on the Pittsburgh garage label Get Hip between 1997 and 2001 and several tours under their belts. They went full-time when Mullens mainman Matt Mayo decamped for Seattle.

Early exposure at Dallas’ Bar of Soap, where you can do your laundry while quaffing a brew and digging a band, led to opening slots with national touring bands. On their second-ever show in July 2000, opening for Australia’s obstreperous Onyas (who hold the worldwide post-Replacements record for onstage inebriation, having reputedly once played a set that only lasted 12 minutes before collapsing in a drunken heap), the Sunday Drunks sounded tentative but promising.

Within a couple of gigs, ex-Mullens Dana Williams replaced the Drunks’ original bass player. By the time they opened the March 2001 Dictators show at Club Clearview, the Drunks had gained loads of confidence and definitely earned their place on the bill with the Bronx-based “saviors of rock ’n’ roll.”

By March 2002, again opening for the Dictators at Clearview, they’d shed original guitarist-singer Dustin Bruckman, a guy whose performances perpetually begged the question, “Why on earth would a young man want to sound like Mick Jagger?” and whose physical appearance seemed more appropriate for, say, Weezer than a band like the Drunks. At the same time, they had tightened up and focused their attack considerably — Lazarine was handily filling the space formerly occupied by Bruckman’s guitar, and towering bassist Williams was ably handling the vocal chores.

This past April, the Drunks ripped the joint at Horizontal Action fanzine’s three-day “Rock ’n’ Roll Blackout” festival at the Beat Kitchen near Wrigley Field in Chicago, on a bill that also included the Compulsive Gamblers (no relation to Denton’s Riverboat Gamblers), New Bomb Turks, Los Sexareenos, Baseball Furies, Clone Defects, and Whiteouts. More recently, the Drunks brought their brand of mayhem to the Wreck Room, where they opened for their friends, the Gospel Swingers, who are fronted by Sub Oslo drummer Quincy Holloway. “It was our first time in nine months or a year that we played in Fort Worth,” said Williams, “and it seemed like the kids really liked it. We want to start playing over there once every month and a half or two months or so. Keep up appearances, ya know.” Later this summer, they plan to return to the studio to record their second full-length c.d., tentatively titled The Sunday Drunks Do the Getalong. After that, a swing through the South is planned.

“We might do a little four-song [session] and try to put it out on a couple of singles on a couple of smaller labels that want to do something and get ’em out quick,” Williams said. “Sometime this summer we will be in the studio doing a full-length. We definitely have enough material for it.”

Lazarine explained that, on their last c.d., a self-titled release on Dead Beat Records, the group recorded all the tracks in a single weekend and completed mixing and other chores by the end of the following week. “I think this time, we’re going to try to not do it in such a hurry. We’ve got probably 20 [songs] to choose from, and we’ll take the best 12,” he said. “We’re definitely shopping [for a label] now; we’re not going to put it out for ourselves. We’ll pay for the recording, then we’ll let someone else do it.”

Lazarine said the success of the Strokes/White Stripes/Hives et al, is fantastic. “At least it seems to me that some people are getting it, and that somebody out there is starting to see that real rock ’n’ roll can be marketed again.”

For years, garage rock has sustained itself, far below the radar of the “straight” media and most of the public — in sweaty clubs, not arenas or stadiums; by touring in vans, not buses; by releasing records on indie labels, not majors. It will be around long after the current buzz for the Strokes and others has died out. If you’re an aficionado of this kind of noise, or even a recent convert, the Drunks should be right up your alley. They appear poised to take that next big leap. Stay tuned.

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