Maybe there's nothing all that new about 30 Amp Fuse's particular brand of tuneful freneticism and overamped punk gnash. Maybe their antecedents are as plain as the nose ring on your face: Buzzcocks, Descendants, et. al. Maybe they're still recycling those same three chords, handed down over the decades from Link Wray to the Troggs to the Stooges to the Ramones to the Pistols.
But even if all of this is true, you still need to remember two things.
First, these guys are local punk icons, grizzled veteran scenesters whose collective resume reads like a Knoxville Hardcore Who's Who: Eat Crow, Teenage Love, Proud Flesh, Powertrash, Punchwagon, Plum Loco—no bandwagon jumpers here. These guys were playing the Greasy Dive Circuit for beer money long before the latest crop of bright-eyed, downy-cheeked goatee farmers had traded in their Keds for combat boots.
And second, innovation isn't much of an issue where punk is concerned; all that really matters is execution, and that's where the Fuse scores big. Every 30 Amp Fuse tune is a polished two-and-a-half-minute gem, concise and cathartic, a perfect blend of pop tunesmithery and punk rock abandon.
"I think what we're doing is comparable to what a lot of the bands coming out of San Francisco right now are doing—bands like Green Day and Jawbreaker," says Mike Smithers, 30 Amp Fuse's tow-headed guitarist and lead singer. "It's all part of the Knox Francisco sound."
"I was thinking Green Day before he even said it," says Sean Matthews, bassist and resident curmudgeon. "We have a lot in common with them, but we smoke 'em."
Smithers and Matthews are an unlikely pair of musical collaborators. They don't seem like they belong in the same room together, much less the same band. Mike is all blue eyes and blue jeans, with a boyishly earnest face and a clean-shaven buck-toothed smile. Swarthy Sean is manic, edgy, and a little freakish; he's got orange-dyed hair, a pair of embryonic mutton-chop sideburns, and a jovial sneer written indelibly across his stubbly mug. Where Mike is neat and presentable, Sean is loose and unkempt, with a massive thrift-store wardrobe—call it the fashionably unwashed look.
"It's kind of a cliché, but part of what keeps our band going is the fact that the three of us are coming from pretty different perspectives musically," says Smithers. "There's a certain amount of tension involved, and I think that tension comes across in the songs. It's like a tug-of-war between the three members."
"Mike and our drummer, Dale (Crowder), are into more melodic stuff, while I'd rather listen to something ugly, like the Crumbsuckers," says Matthews. "Those two are punks, but they're straight arrows—they both joined the military and cut their hair and went to school. I'm the weirdo drug addict that sleeps all day—the vampire. If the moon's not up, neither am I."
Matthews has things pretty well pegged—the contrasts he's talking about are largely responsible for the band's on-stage demeanor. Front-man Smithers is user-friendly, accessible, intent but not self-absorbed. He stands squarely in front of his microphone and churns through each buzz-saw tune with graceful energy. Matthews, on the other hand, stalks the stage like some ravenous carnivore, his bony frame sticking out at awkward angles from his low-slung bass. He's demonstrative yet inwardly directed, pausing periodically in mid-prowl to groove on his own propulsive rhythms.
Right now, you can't hear too much 30 Amp Fuse unless you catch them live (they play lots of those infamous Fort Sanders blow-outs in addition to their regular club gigs). The guys have a gaggle of catchy songs on tape, but they're not quite ready to present the recordings to the listening public. However, "Cixel Said," a thick 'n' creamy slice of power pop cheesecake, has found its way onto the WUTK playlist. It's a sharp, peppy little tune that features the inspired chorus, "Dyslexics of the world—untie!"
"We're not ready for people to hear our tape yet, because we're still not too happy with it," Matthews explains. "Personally, even though I think we're a good band, I think there's a lot of ways we need to improve. You have to hate your own band to a certain extent. The second you think your band rules, you might as well quit playing."