An elusive gang of misanthropic, beer-swilling noisemongers, the True Sons of Thunder are arguably one of Memphis’s best-kept secrets. Equal parts supergroup, support group, and secret society, the band is made up of men-about-town Joe Simpson (Rat Traps, Sharp Balloons), Eric Friedl (Oblivians, Goner Records), Abe White (Oscars, Manatees), Richard Martin (Four Johns), and Sambeaux (Mangina). They play a wry, anarchic mess of heavy garage slop and deep-fried sludge that remains noticeably free of pretension. Though they're rude and crude, you just can't help but root for these knuckleheads. Even at their most frustrated, the fellas sound like they’re having a ball; it’s infectious. (photo by Don Perry)
Life Stinks | Tonight | Nate The Rat
The sporadic, casual nature of the band, though, has kept recorded output at virtually nil and shows quartered mostly in Memphis. This year, however, the band released a split single (with Alabama’s Wizard Sleeve) and the LP Spoonful of Seedy Dudes. Loud and dumb in the best and most…um...intelligent way, the album pays homage to local wrestling hero Nate the Rat and swamp rocker Tony Joe White, tips the cap to Flipper and Rocket from the Tombs, and muses on subjects such as Ebola and the Albino Bowler.
I interviewed Sam and Eric (Sam answered unless otherwise marked) via e-mail on the tao of the TSOT—read the text below the fold...
The band seems to assemble rather randomly. Is there a Bat signal that goes out over the Memphis sky and suddenly the True Sons of Thunder come together?
Basically, Abe (our drummer) gets wasted and books a show at a club and we don’t know about it (Abe included) until it’s publicized in the Memphis Flyer—Memphis’s version of the Village Voice, without all the “theatre reviews.” By the way, our chat-line ads have really been tamed; are the Voice’s ads still “stroke-worthy”? Just wondering if this was a Bible Belt thing or if there was some national moratorium on them. All we get now is the occasional creepy American Apparel ad.
Walk us through a basic TSOT practice. What's the approach, if any, to songwriting?
We'll drink beer in the back of the Goner store and look at each other, like a Mexican standoff, waiting for somebody to come up with a riff that doesn’t suck. Then we play the riff over and over and over again.
But we started out as a cover band. Richard, although a virtuoso on the banjitar, knows next to dick about any other instrument. He could only communicate the songs he wanted to cover to the rest of us through the vocals he remembered from the song—kind of like trying to learn a song from the Paska version of it. I don’t know if that makes a song a cover, really—“Death Walks Behind You” is based off of such an interpretation of an Atomic Rooster song.
As we evolved, we would cover songs, take out most of the parts we didn’t know or that weren’t any good, change the songs until they were completely unrecognizable. It’s all the same to Richard anyways—we’ll cover shit and he won’t ever pick up on the original. It doesn’t matter, though; lyrically he’s a genius. And sometimes he just guesses right.
What's in the TSOT essential listening pile?
(Sam) You should really ask Richard, he has a shrine to the Everly Brothers in his house (no shit). And he loves Deep Purple, the Scissor Sisters, and Secret Hate equally. But I’ll keep it limited to 5, off the top of my head:
Chain Gang’s “Perfumed”—Completely excuses any and all the crap Matador ever put out. Eric has an answering machine message from the lead guy that he keeps promising to play me.
Stretchheads' “Pish In Your Sleazebag”—I bought the Blast First “23 Skinner” 12” when I was tripping on acid based on the cover art alone, I didn’t get to listen to it until I had straightened up.
Camper Van Beethoven's “Key Lime Pie”—The first CD I bought back in junior high and vital to my formative “college rock years.” All the songs are perfect and “Flowers”and “All Her Favorite Fruit” have some excellent imagery.
Blue Oyster Cult’s “Fire of Unknown Origin”—Not their best but their most well-rounded? I never get tired of listening to this one. Abe wrote a song about Mommy Dearest before he had ever heard “Joan Crawford.”
Snivelling Shits' “Bring Me the Head of Yukio Mishima”—One of the greatest songs ever written, “still hot to trot for that Joan of Arc . . .” The rest of the posthumous comp is good, but really not as important.
(Eric) Yeah, we would ask Richard but we don't have all week. We all like different stuff but all our refined tastes goes out the window when we get together and Richard convinces us of the glory of Classix Nouveau, Black Oak Arkansas, and Duran Duran, which we then accidentally pummel into mush.
Our influences obviously aren't very good ones.
In what is perhaps the greatest synopsis of a band ever, you guys once described your sound as such: "If Einsturzende Neubauten is the sound of buildings collapsing, we're like the sound of the clamor at the town meeting between the local politicians and the concerned citizens arguing over having the derelict buildings torn down. On drugs.” With that in mind, if TSOT were a political party what would be the key points of their platform?
Key points. That's essential right there. Keys. Points. Points. Keys. Pointing. Keying.You know what I mean?
You generate quite a misanthropic noise; what's bugging you all?
(Sam) Life isn’t bugging you? We live in Memphis, what is there that doesn’t bug us? It’s like a raw sore, or a hangnail, that you keep accidentally bumping on something. Memphis seems doomed to ruin any opportunity it gets by pulling some horseshit that fucks it up for everybody. You know how the world is shitty right now? Imagine that all the time.
(Eric) Yeah, except that I think we're a dance band. We've got 4 or 5 dance songs—"Beluga," "Ebola," "Tony Joe White," "C-U-P," "Walk Around" ... Life stinks, dance around. Sounds about right to me. We like people sorta. At least Richard does.
What is the recommended mood for listening to Spoonful of Seedy Dudes?
One that would help you forget that you were listening to an album named Spoonful of Seedy Dudes. I think I speak for everyone in the band when I say that that is a terrible album name. But honestly, think of how many “staggering works of genius” have really stupid names: Pet Sounds, the films of Hal Hartley, Catcher in the Rye, a bunch of other mediocre crap that idiots like. The work must outshine the stupidity of the name—which I think we did a great job of doing. Plus, it’s a drug reference . . . But I’m not sure which ones.
How crucial is it that one be seedy to appreciate this record?
More important to be crucial than seedy.
How essential is it that one be a dude?
Ah, I see what you're doing. Not much. Ladies Love Cool TSOT.
Will those of us outside of Memphis ever get to experience a TSOT town meeting?
Ahh, naïve New Yorkers (Ed note: WFMU is of course proudly located in Jersey City, New Jersey), we HAVE played outside of Memphis: I think like three times in New Orleans. One time with the Dirtbombs (for some reason we didn’t open for them the night before in Memphis), one time at the Spellcaster with Thomas Function (who were awesome) and that shitty two-piece from Israel that bitched that they deserved more money than us, and another time at the Hi-Ho (I walked out pissed before we played because some stupid emo band jumped ahead of us on the bill). Anyways, we only play in cities we like because it isn’t worth our time to play in cities that suck. Touring should be like a vacation, not a job. We leave that kind of touring to the Black Lips and the Fleetwood Mac.
Finally, who would win in a fight, TSOT or TSOL?
I read an interview with Jack Grisham in a recent issue of Razorcake. He’s a life coach now. Those who can do, those who used to sing for an O.C. punk band become life coaches. Grisham’s all into Jesus now, which is funny because we started out as Sons of Thunder, a name Richard picked up in bible study. Apparently, Jesus called two of the disciples the “sons of thunder” because they were really loud and annoying and fought a lot. Well, there are a lot of shitty Christian metal bands called Sons of Thunder so we decided to let them know what’s up. They pose, we are “true.”
And speaking of true, my wife used to date some guy from Social Distortion and he kept up this lie that he was in TSOL. He came home from practice and played her a song they were working on, she replied that “that sounds a lot like Social Distortion…” BUSTED! TSOL—“the band guys in Social Distortion lie to their girlfriends about being in to cover for the fact that they’re really in Social Distortion.” Anyways, all those TSOL dudes have bigger necks than ours. I think they would win.
How about in a pick-up basketball game?
Dude, I told you, basketball is dumb.