By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
The sinewy young tough with the skull tattoo etched into his bicep is beating a hasty retreat from Washington Square. On his way to the door, he passes under the white board across which is scrawled, in multicolored lettering, "Wednesday, March 3, Worst Band in America!"
"What's the hurry?" someone standing outside inquires innocently. The edgy reply: "Scraping Teeth goin' on, man. Those cats are dangerous."
From inside the nightclub, a bizarre and frightening cacophony builds, a rhythmless, dissonant, bloodcurdling tidal wave of metallic angst, unfettered by the strictures of melody, harmony, or rhyming lyric.
"It all comes together as a sort of dense noise that if you mentally peel away the layers of distraction, contains surprisingly smart and compelling melodies (and, yes, hooks)." ,Greg Baker, New Times, November 14-20, 1990.
"Ten years from now, when this becomes pop, we'll be able to show people our tapes from ten years ago and say, 'See?'" - Frank Falestra, New Times, November 14-20, 1990.
Being judged the worst band in America might, for many musicians, be a dubious, if not embarrassing, distinction. But the members of Scraping Teeth are made of heartier stuff. For them the citation is a great thing. It means both national attention and confirmation that they have attained their primary goal of touching a nerve in their listeners. Frank Falestra (a.k.a. Rat Bastard), the founder, guitarist, and guiding light of Scraping Teeth, is particularly excited about the potential ramifications of such an "accolade." "First, it means we're doing something right," the Rat says. "We're affecting people. We're causing them to have a strong reaction to the music, which is what rock and roll was all about originally. Taking chances. Not playing the same old crap because it worked for Pearl Jam or Nirvana. Second, it means a possible tour. Exposure. Everybody's going to want to see the worst band in America."
"They definitely created a reaction," affirms Blackwell, the Spin honcho who dreamed up the Worst Band in America contest. A small mention in the "Flash" section of the magazine's August issue led to a veritable deluge of entries. Appropriately enough, the tapes were stuffed into seven king-size, extra-strength trash bags. Account manager Fred McIntyre and contributing editor Jonathan Bernstein joined Blackwell in sifting through the morass of hopeful losers, a task that, thanks to the overwhelming response, delayed publication of the results from autumn until the soon-out May issue.
"After a while, it became really horrible A white noise," confesses Blackwell. "We began asking ourselves, 'How did we get into this?' In the context of all this, Scraping Teeth stood out. About 40 percent to 50 percent of the entrants were obsessed with shit A literally, as in lots of scatological references. While Scraping Teeth have a little of that, like the song 'Blow Me While I Shit,' it's just one component of their awfulness. Then we had the jokey stuff, i.e., They Might Be Giants. There was a lot that was vulgar for its own sake, and there were bands that probably weren't really bands, but just a couple of kids getting together in someone's basement and making a tape for the purpose of entering the contest. But Scraping Teeth had all the elements, bad in all categories. They were by far the most well-rounded bad."
Physically, there's a vaguely rodential cut to Frank Falestra's features, but the Rat Bastard persona is based more on Falestra's state of mind than on his looks. Rats and bastards are unwanted creatures. Falestra identifies with them, and Scraping Teeth's sound is a direct reflection of that identification. Abrasive by design, their music erupts like magma roiling up from the darkest recesses of the id.
Falestra has a notoriously low bullshit tolerance. The man can play traditional cock-rock guitar fairly well when the spirit moves; he knows all the popular cliches. When he fills in on lead for a band like Myrin and the 2 Wotz, he plays more than competently. But a steady diet of rehashed Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix riffs would do for him what a bucket of water did for the Wicked Witch. If there's one thing it's safe to assume Falestra hates, it's repetition, which he equates with mediocrity. Better to burn out.
"Rat used to do Wednesday nights at the club on a regular basis," reminisces Kevin Cornish, Washington Square co-owner. "His idea of success is how many people leave the club while he's playing. One night they [Scraping Teeth] were so loud that everybody A bartenders included A went outside and waited for them to finish."
There are 32 patrons inside Washington Square when Scraping Teeth takes the stage at 3:00 a.m. Within the first ten minutes of the band's set, that number is down to 24 (a full 25 percent reduction). By Scraping Teeth standards, that's not bad.
Many of the listeners are seated at tables not far from the stage. They are either blessed with Kevlar eardrums or are already experiencing the advanced stages of tinnitus. Scraping Teeth are not afraid of volume.