Maybe Feed Them a Few Beers...
For Atlanta's Cogburns, it's all about simplicity
Retro-rockers SSM go to Venus, via Detroit
by Kevin Crowe
There's a devil, sporting a dapper moustache. His hair's slicked back, and he's got an arm around an impossibly svelte and alarmingly buxom she-devil, who appears to be missing her pants. That's the cover of Pay Up, Sucker , the most recent album from one of Atlanta's grittiest gang of garagistas, The Cogburns. The cover art is the product of the sick minds of Fastner and Larson; these two have, ever since 1976, been at the forefront of fantasy babe art. Yes, friends, this is rock'n'roll, and we still like it, cranked out of fuzzy amplifiers, turning debauchery into decadence. Still challenging everything that is decent and moral.
The '60s are gone , activist Abbie Hoffman once said, dope will never be as cheap, sex never as free, and the rock and roll never as great . But the range of sounds--as well as the intensity of emotions--is never exhausted, no matter what decade it is, no matter how old and grizzled activists may become. The Cogburns, like many throwbacks, refuse to let the pathos of garage rock die. At the same time, they refuse to be slaves to a bygone era. This is their show, after all.
A simple idea brought The Cogburns to life back in 2002. They wanted to rock, nothing more. Kind of like the bargain-brand of rock, the stuff that takes a while to digest. There's nothing unexpected in this music, which means that the tunes are loud and unapologetically coarse.
"When you take all that away," guitarist Glen Cogburn (née Glen Kuras) explains, "you don't have rock'n'roll anymore. When you get it to sound too good, it loses its feel."
There was something raging in the heart of Atlanta, when bands like The Woggles and The Forty-Fives were reviving rotgut music, sacrificing experiment in favor of heady strife, all of it set to straight-up 4/4 beats. That's when Glen finally found the right direction to take his band. "Believe it or not," he says, "we started out as a Southern rock band. We changed the focus of the band, and started doing garage rock."
Joining Glen onstage are DD Cogburn (bass), Doug Cogburn (guitar), and Tony Cogburn (drums). The so-called family affair, like most things with this band, happened by accident. For an early show, a former bassist, dubbed Vid Cogburn, drew up a flyer that depicted the band as siblings. He did so on a lark, and it stuck, not for any reason. The Cogburns, the wanton siblings of dirty rock, were born.
Today, when he takes the stage, Glen sings with all the energy of a backwoods preacher, filled with venom and hellfire, always playing the part of the boorish yahoo. But for now, he seems to be in a subdued mood, the polar opposite of his hell-raising stage persona. Could it be, is this balls-to-the-wall rocker acting... nice?
"Things are very solid," Glen goes on, his voice easygoing. "We had some lineup changes, and now we're planning on going to Europe again in October.... Our music translates extremely well. We probably have a bigger fan base over there."
That's because their brand of aggressive proto-punk rawness never gets old no matter which side of the pond they play. Wherever they go, there are always audiences ready to turn off their brains and just wear it out all night.
Say you want it!/ Say you care!/ Say you want it! they sing on "You Want It, You Got It." Want it?/ You got it! ... Spend all your money/ You don't care!
"It's insane," Glen says of life on the road. "You kind of wonder why you're doing it, being on stages only one hour of the day, staying up all night. But something always happens to make it go further. Something cool always comes along."
Before they once again head to Europe, The Cogburns plan to release a 7-inch of new material. As Glen said, something always comes along to keep the energy alive, to keep that primal, raw, rock'n'roll free of studio magic. When The Cogburns play, rock is allowed to breathe. It's not the most virtuosic music out there, but it does exactly what it's supposed to do. That's what keeps Glen moving forward.
"It's made up of so many different kinds of music," he explains. "It just moves you. It's got soul. It's got blues. It's really timeless. It's always different. It's not just the same old shit or the same three fucking chords.
"Watching the reactions of the people in the audience," he goes on, his voice finally jibing with the devil we always knew was lurking just under the surface. "When you get people running around and dancing, you know you got 'em."
Who: The Cogburns w/ Sodajerk
Our Favorite Era, Now
by Andrew Clayman
Though the Roger Dean-style cover art casts them as naked space-women with cockatiel heads, the three guys of SSM are, in reality, John Szymanski, Dave Shettler, and Marty Morris--the Motor City's latest and greatest neo-garagists.
A supergroup in the original sense of the word, this trio has its roots in three reputable Detroit rock outfits. Szymanski (vocals/keyboards) was a member of the Hentchmen; Shettler (drums) kept time for The Sights; and Morris (vocals/guitar) played with the Cyril Lords. The mildly unholy alliance formed by these gentlemen in 2005 didn't attract quite the same publicity as that of fellow Detroiters Jack White and Brendan Benson the same year, but unlike the Raconteurs, SSM has convincingly created a new dish superior to its ingredients.
"With this band, the idea was to have three completely different influences at work," explains Szymanski, who originally invited Shettler and Morris to join him for a demo being produced by his friend Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. "That's what got the ball rolling. All we wanted to do was make a demo first, and if we liked the demo, then we'd become, you know, a real band. So, that's what we did, and as it turned out, we definitely liked the demo."
To add to the trio's good fortunes, Auerbach offered his new pals an opening slot on the West Coast swing of The Black Keys' 2005 fall tour. Solidifying their sound and signing to Alive Records, SSM soon reconvened in the studio, combining elements from the Auerbach sessions with some high energy, new tunes about Venusian vixens, dinosaurs and Vikings. By the spring of 2006, their self-titled, full-length debut had been unleashed, complete with the aforementioned bird-ladies on the cover.
The reviews were almost universally positive, but Szymanski and company couldn't help but be amused at the random, wide-ranging ways in which critics were attempting to describe their, um, psychedelic garage punk retro revivalist future sex love sound.
"People definitely have a hard time categorizing us," says Szymanski, speaking above the road noise outside a tour stop in New York City. "A paper here today said we sound like Sparks meets Sonic Youth [laughs]. That's fine with me. Our influences are all over the map, so anything kind of falls into place."
Not surprisingly, SSM's Detroit origins also draw them unavoidable comparisons to the rest of that city's rock lineage, from the organ-inflected rock of Mitch Ryder to the punk energy of The Stooges.
"It doesn't really bother me," says Szymanski. "The Detroit sound--they usually want to call it garage--but I don't think we're a garage band, per se. People will say psychedelic, or garage, or punk. We're even getting electro a lot, which I think is kind of funny."
If anything, Szymanski's previous band, The Hentchmen, could have fit the bill as straight-up '60s garage-rock revivalists--led by Szymanski's own "96 Tears"-style organ playing. With SSM, however, the influx of new influences has built a pretty considerable extension onto that particular garage.
"Yeah, I think it (SSM) has become its own entity now," Szymanski agrees. "The traces of the other bands are kind of lost. Personally, I'm still in love with the '60s garage band sound. But lately I've been more inspired by the later '60s and the more psychedelic sound, as far as song structures go. And you know, you add a disco beat on top of that, and it turns out completely different."
Szymanski still plays the same antique pop organ he purchased back in his teenage, ska band days. It captures the charm of a mid-'60's Nuggets compilation, because it's a genuine relic of the era, but Szymanski has also adapted that distinct sound to suit SSM's enthusiastic forays into '70's glam and Devo-esque New Wave.
"I tend to play up more of a low end, fuzzy sort of sound with this band. So I really use the organ more as a bass instrument in a lot of ways, which gives Marty more freedom to do what he does."
Last November, SSM unveiled a new EP, entitled simply EP-1, on which they pound out six more ferocious tunes, transitioning quite seamlessly from thunder punk to synth pop to dub. The disc is a stopgap of sorts, as the group will be joining forces with Dan Auerbach again this spring to set to work on what will supposedly be a more polished, if not slicker, studio album.
Regardless of how refined their sound may become, however, the men of SSM have no intention of abandoning the feral aesthetic of their '60's garage-rock ancestry-- right down to the strobe lights and oil projections.
"They had it all figured out back then," Szymanski says. "They had the visual, they had the fashion, they had the music. It's definitely my favorite era."
Who: SSM w/The Cheat