Attack of the 50-Foot Band
Veteran punk group Antiseen has been described as ugly, revolting, and obscene. (Hey, thanks for the compliments!) Since 1983 the North Carolina quartet has been performing what they call destructo rock: straight-ahead punk loaded with chain-saw guitars that's delivered with a woolly sense of humor in a Southern twang. During its thirteen years, the band -- whose current lineup consists of vocalist Jeff Clayton, guitarist Joe Young, bassist Tripp McNeill, and drummer Barry Hannibal -- has remained fiercely independent, releasing records on a host of tiny labels and crisscrossing the nation on low-budget, self-financed tours.
"We always deal with small, independent labels," Clayton says during a telephone interview from his home in Charlotte. "They can't do what major labels do, but that's fine with me because they let us do what we want, when we want. Our look, the views we express, and the way we do things are not major-label friendly. If [not signing to a major label] means staying with people who are friendly to what we do, we'll stay with them."
Somewhat surprisingly, Clayton exudes a soft-spoken charm that sharply contrasts with his on-stage persona. Bearded, tattooed, and very large, he's been known to smash bottles on his head as he growls out songs larded with references to horror and science fiction films. "The effect horror movies had on us as kids was not just to be four guys stumbling through songs, but to be entertainment," he explains. "That's what it comes down to -- basically about coming out and having a good time. So many groups take themselves too seriously. I think it's just laughable."
Antiseen is currently on the road to promote its forthcoming album, Here to Ruin Your Groove, due out this summer, as well as this past year's One Live Sonofabitch, issued on the band's own Death Train label. Recorded at Churchill's Hideaway in June during the band's most recent Miami visit, One Live Sonofabitch masterfully captures Clayton's commanding, virulent snarl and Joe Young's swirling, revved-up guitars. It also serves as an energetic, over-the-top retrospective of the band's work, featuring songs from as far back as the 1984 EP Drastic.
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In those early days, Antiseen soaked up seminal punk bands such as the Ramones and the Anti-Nowhere League, as well as Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Country, bluegrass, and Southern rock were an important part of our growing up," Clayton points out. Things haven't changed too drastically. These days, he adds, "we listen to a lot of country and soul, take what we like best, and put it into what Antiseen does. There are a lot of cowpunk bands, but I don't think they're hitting on the same thing we are."
Hitting, for sure. Antiseen's notoriously rowdy shows have included wrapping stages in barbed wire, blowing up their instruments, and seeing band members dispatched to the hospital with battle injuries. Fights have broken out both on- and off-stage; the band has been banned in various locations in Florida (including the University of Miami campus), Georgia (Masquerade in Atlanta, for one), South Carolina, and Tennessee (mainly, the entire city of Knoxville). "People hear stories about things that happened thirteen years ago and they want to see the same thing today, but we've done all that," Clayton notes. "We're kind of at a point now that we don't have anything to prove. When we first started, we felt we had to do something because we thought the music didn't stand on its own. But our audience has remained pretty dedicated. We don't change and go off into different types of music, and I think that's one of the things that's helped our fan base get bigger. It's like that with groups like AC/DC and the Ramones: There isn't a big variance from album to album."
And yet Antiseen has drawn criticism from fans and fanzine writers alike for recording a track by the neo-Nazi band Skrewdriver for Hell, its all-covers album. Clayton contends that these detractors fail to notice that the same album also contains songs by legendary soul singer Curtis Mayfield and jazz great Sun Ra. "Whatever they believe, Skrewdriver was a good band," Clayton asserts. "I don't agree with what they say, but then I don't agree with everything that anybody says. If people are too weak to listen to someone who they don't agree with and shrug off their opinions, and it just throws their whole lifestyle off, that's their problem.
"Look, I don't like rap," he continues. "I think some of it is racist, but they have the right to say what they want to say and their fans have a right to listen to it. I police myself; I don't need some coalition. I know how to steer clear of things I don't want to listen to. If you don't like something, turn it off. If people get mixed messages from our music, that's their own fault. If they can't deal with it, fine, just don't try to silence it. We have the right to say what we want to just like everyone else does."
Still, Clayton quickly adds, "We don't care to be known as spokesmen. We just want to be a band that puts on a good show, and make sure the fans don't see the same show each time." With that in mind, Antiseen has tapped into that mother lode of contemporary vaudeville known as professional wrestling. "Every single member of the band watched mid-Atlantic wrestling every week [growing up]," Clayton recalls. "That has stayed with us in our performing, in the stage entrance and exit. The setup of good versus bad and making the audience believe it A that taught us to be good showmen, to see ourselves as entertainers. Like the wrestlers, we know that what we're doing is making the smallest thing look like a big deal, making it seem like if you miss the show, you're missing the most important thing this year, and you will be hearing about it for the next six months."
Antiseen performs with N.I.L.8, the Jive Step Bunch, and Load on Saturday, April 20, at Cheers, 2490 SW 17th Ave; 857-0041. Doors open at 8:00. Admission is $5.
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