The Dirty Works want you to put it in your system
by Kevin Crowe
"Knoxville hates us, man,” Dirty Works’ drummer
“I’ve done a lot of bad things in this town,” Christopher Scum responds after a brief pause, calmly smoking a cigarette.
Scum (a.k.a. Chris Andrews) has been raising hell in this town for more than a decade. He got his name from a Longbranch bartender after a couple troublemakers caused the toilets to overflow onto the hardwood saloon floors. The barkeep screamed, “You’re no better than that scum Chris Andrews. Christopher Scum!”
Those were the days when Scum lived at the infamous Hippie House, at 13th and Laurel, where out of control parties were expected on a daily basis. “I had two choices,” Scum says. “I could either go up to my room and lock the door or join the party.... All I did was stay sober enough to stay in a band.”
It was the hippest house in town, an ideal breeding ground for music and sin. Back then, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to wake up and see The Replacements sleeping on the floor. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for residents to have their brains blitzed in alcohol, 24/7. For Scum, this was Fantasyland. He’d finally found people who drank like he did. And his legendary partying is still part of underground Knoxville lore.
When he left, rumors began, including the story of a Catholic priest who performed an exorcism at Hippie House to erase Scum’s presence, and to appease a pantheon of upset deities. One haunting reminder did, in fact, remain after the alleged spiritual cleansing, words scribbled on the wall with Scum’s own blood: Attaboy Enjoy.
But those days are over. After a fall from the Hippie House roof, followed by severe DTs and withdrawal hallucinations, Scum has been able to find peace. With seven years of sobriety under his belt, he’ll tell you that music is the only thing that gets him high, as his raw lyrics take fans on an agnostic tour through Knoxville’s dirty underbelly.
Scum, if nothing else, delivers a mature form of punk rock; the spirit remains, constantly attacking established social norms with fetid onstage antics, but the man’s mind is sober, clean and ready to bleed, ever since the Dirty Works came together during the summer of 2004, with Shaggy on bass and Steven Crime on guitar. But those weren’t always their instruments of choice.
“[Shaggy] sounded a little too much like Stevie Ray Vaughn on the guitar,” B. Riot says. “So, one day we were all drunk, me, Steve and Shaggy, and Steve was like, ‘Why don’t I play guitar and Shag play bass.’ And we’re like, ‘Alright, we’ll try it.’ Steve had never played guitar before. It worked, the first time a drunken idea actually worked out right.”
The sound is pure ’70s punk, a little bit unpolished—a southern kind of punk, with an ever-present resonant twang.
“It’s the self-sufficient attitude of the southerner,” B. Riot explains. “You’re more likely to find a guy in the south to build his own house, clear his own lot, grow his own food.... We just kinda got stuck in the ’70s, I guess. It’s the music that influenced us growing up. It just comes out.”
That DIY attitude is non-negotiable with the Dirty Works. Both Scum and Riot say that they would’ve self-recorded their album, Biscuits and Liquor , if they had better microphones. They walked away from three indie labels who wouldn’t give them complete creative control.
“Why not go play in a cover band?” Scum muses. If the finished product isn’t totally what the band has envisioned, he wonders, “What’s the point?”
They don’t compromise because they believe their music has a message, reminding people that this isn’t a free America anymore. “I saw the last of free America in my lifetime,” Scum says. “People don’t remember what real freedom was like.”
“Ben Franklin,” B. Riot adds, “said that every 100 years, in order for our government to work, there should be a violent revolt. We’ve become so complacent and instant gratification-oriented.”
“Sheep! Sheep!” Scum yells. Then, after lighting another cigarette, he says, “I saw this the other night: Someone went down pretty hard when they were dancing, and two people just scooped him right back up. So I’d like to think [the music is] bringing back more of the old-school punk. You fall down and I’ll help you get up and we’ll walk out of here feeling better. Get a little something off their chests, even if they’re not resolving anything.”
Who: The Dirty Works w/ The Disobedients and The Orange Julians