I'll venture to say it. The band whose first single was “Bathroom Wall” (“I gooooot your number off the bathroom wall”)” is the greatest and most underrated band of the 1980s.
Taime Downe, the lead singer and only remaining member of the original band, is more modest.
“We were never a huge band,” he says by phone from Dallas this week before heading to Miami for Wednesday's show at Grand Central. “But we still get to go play every night – I'm pretty grateful for that.”
When Faster Pussycat came up during the late 1980s hair-metal explosion in Los Angeles, the band – named after the cult Russ Meyer film Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill! — was competing with contemporaries like Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses. Hairspray and leather pants were a prerequisite for getting noticed, but this association with much-derided glam rock often overshadows their musical abilities.
Whereas bands like the Crüe churned out anthemic but sonically boring 4/4 rock and Slash eked his effects out of a wah-wah pedal, Faster Pussycat guitarists Greg Steele and Brent Muscat were laying down more sophisticated grooves. While countless acts rose on looks alone, singer Taime Downe instead relied on an unapologetic punky attitude and his distinctively scratchy, love-it-or-hate-it voice, which could be grating yet addictive. Although the lyrics were sleazy, the band's ridiculously catchy songs reeked of fun and they were the welcome opposite of, say, a Whitesnake disc.
Sadly, this brilliance may have been missed by the masses who came to know Faster Pussycat (so, latchkey kids watching 1-800-DIAL-MTV at 4 p.m. every afternoon of 1989) for the wrong thing: “House of Pain.”
FPC had released its self-titled debut album in 1987, full of catchy tunes like “Don't Change That Song.” If you were, say, a 14-year-old who thought to dial that number in “Bathroom Wall” (“281-7668, oh baby I can't wait”) with a 213 Los Angeles area code (and this was in the days before voicemail existed), you might spend hours recording messages for the band, who would sometimes call back. (Thank you, Brent! Most exciting day of my life!)
The number, Downe remembers, “was there for a long time.” A private company ran it. Businesses with the same number in different area codes, “like a dog grooming company in Texas” used to get angry for having to field calls intended for the band.
But ever since Mötley Crüe released “Home Sweet Home,” a power ballad became necessary for any long-haired band looking to break into regular rotation on radio or MTV. So even though “House of Pain” was a perfectly good song, with heart-tugging lyrics about an abandoned child, it didn't really show off the band's musical chops, more evident on the bluesy “Tattoo,” the bouncy “Poison Ivy,” the big chorus of “Nonstop to Nowhere,” and the more Southwest-influenced “Arizona Indian Doll.”
In the scheme of things, House of Pain “wasn't that big of a hit,” Downe says. (He didn't earn enough off of it to retire, and later bartended and ran clubs for income.) But he still gets the occasional check in the mail. When that happens, “I'm like, 'Oh cool, I can pay rent!'” White Buffalo covered “House of Pain,” which aired on the show Californication — a version that Downe says was strange to hear but “really cool.”
It's also worth noting that FPC were key to the nightclub scene in Los Angeles that bred this generation of musicians. In 1986, Taime Downe's roommate Riki Rachtman opened the Cathouse on La Cienega Boulevard. Lita Ford puked in the bathroom on opening night and Guns N' Roses held its first-ever record release party there. Rachtman went on to host Headbanger's Ball on MTV.
After some lineup changes, and a third album, Whipped, Faster Pussycat split up in 1993. “I split and went to Chicago and played with Pigface,” he says. He formed a band called the Newlydeads and later restarted Faster Pussycat with guitarist Xristian Simon, bassist Danny Nordahl, and drummer Chad Stewart, taking the group in a more industrial direction for a 2006 album entitled The Power and the Glory Hole.
In 2007, Muscat tried putting together a version of Faster Pussycat that would be more old-school, and Downe threatened legal action.
“Brent tried to put his hands in my pockets and I had to put a stop to that,” Downe says.
According to a 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times:
Without Downe's knowledge, Muscat had trademarked the name in 2002, after it had lapsed, Downe says. Threatened with a lawsuit, Muscat settled out of court last summer. (He could not be reached for comment.)
Downe says because of the dispute he had to put off 60 or 70 potential shows in the U.S., Europe and Japan, at $3,000 to $5,000 a pop.
Downe, 43, says he rejected an overture from Muscat to share the band's name. "It's my company. Someone from Starbucks is not going to go out and form another company called Starbucks.”
Muscat had a different version; he said publicly that Downe had put out an “awful” remix CD, was “drunk and erratic,” and had been dismissive of his oral cancer.
But they've made up! (I'm so relieved!)
Downe says now: “I exiled him for a few years, but we're good now. I forgive him. I talk to Greg and Brent, to Greg more.” Muscat has since found success with his Las Vegas band, Sin City Sinners.
For his part, Downe says he's stoked to play Grand Central — and a Facebook event page promises appearances from special guests. “I think last time we were in Miami was like 1994,” Downe says.
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The band's webpage isn't updated frequently and they don't have a Facebook, so to keep up with them, check Downe's Twitter. “I don't, like, Google myself," he says. “But I tweet.”
Faster Pussycat. With Loveblast, War Machine, and Loaded Guns. 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-377-2277; grandcentralmiami.com. Tickets cost $18 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages.