Talking Columbus Blues

The irony here is that Scared Straight doesn't suck at all. While it may lack some of the live-wire emotion of Destroy, and takes a few sonic steps away from the raw production of the band's early singles, Scared Straight, as Davidson puts it, isn't exactly a "Meatloaf album with tons of strings, or a lushly orchestrated Yes album." Indeed the swagger of "Jukebox Lean" and "Wrest Your Hands" isn't much different from the squalling power-chord wallop of older songs such as "I'm Weak" and "Grounded Ex-Patriot." And Davidson can still turn a phrase better than anyone currently lauded in the pages of Maximumrocknroll.

"It's not that radically different," says Davidson of the new album. "This is the record we wanted to make. We had an engineer who pretty much did what we told him to and we did exactly what we wanted. It's more our record than any of the three."

Certainly the album marks the progress the band has made since their first few singles, recorded just after the Turks were formed about five years ago. Inspired by the primal early punk of such groups as the Saints, the Pagans, and Radio Birdman, Davidson and Weber met fellow Ohio State students Randt and Reber and soon started writing songs within the framework of the quartet's limitations. "When we started, Jim had been playing guitar less than a year, and I had never been in a band," Davidson recalls. "So we just hashed out some three- and four-chord songs just to see what would happen. And at that time Jim and I had been listening to a lot of the Stooges and the Saints, so what we were doing grew out of that."

Early songs such as "Tail Crush" and "Cryin' in the Beer of a Drunk Man" were rooted in both the old-school punk of the mid-Seventies and the crude garage-rock of the Sixties. Where too many late-era punk groups have roots that go no deeper than Black Flag or Minor Threat, the New Bomb Turks showed the extent of their knowledge through heated versions of lost nuggets by obscure groups such as the Nervous Eaters ("Just Head"), the Queers ("This Place Sucks"), and Radio Birdman ("Do the Pop"). Their penchant for peculiar covers has also brought them to sources both likely (the New York Dolls' "Bad Girl") and unlikely (Darlene Love's "Christmas [Baby Please Come Home]" and Hawkwind's "Ejection").

"I think it's important to find the connections between anyone from a Little Richard to a Sonic Youth," Davidson says of the band's eclectic tastes. "You have to find something in all those sorts of music that captures you, and not try to stick it down to decades and genres and trends.

"Kids talk about punk dying -- well, that's what kills off the genre," he continues on another impassioned roll. "When you set up these parameters and this exact definition of the music, that's when people move on to something else, because it gets so boring. When we got together, nobody was dropping names like the Saints or the Angry Samoans that much. And as a band, I don't really know or care about any influence we've had so far. That's not for me to say, and we are kind of a small band. But the most I can hope is that maybe in a small part of the garage-rock, single-buying public, we've maybe had people thinking back about more obscure stuff that has a lot of energy to it."

And that may be the best Davidson can expect, at least in Columbus, where the hometown press roundly ignores the New Bomb Turks and some of the city's other innovative noisemakers. "I'm very happy with our success," says Davidson, who is able to survive solely on the band's income. "To most people in Columbus, though, it's not real music because it's not on MTV all the time and there's no radio single. That's how people think here and it's really sad. They're all watching some Joe Blow bar-band fucks who get a $200,000 advance from a major label and get all this attention and then the album comes out and it doesn't do a thing and they get dropped a year later and everybody's saying, 'Why can't one of our bands get big?' Well, we've toured Europe four times, gone to Japan, we've put four albums out, I'm able to live off this band. Is that big enough for you? For Columbus, I'd say it is."

The New Bomb Turks perform Saturday, March 1, at Cheers, 2490 SW 17th Ave; 857-0041. Showtime is 8:00 p.m. Cover charge is $6.

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