Saturday, April 17, 2010

THE UNDEAD: Just a Modern Folk Band!

Text by Julia Masi, intro by Robert Barry Francos
Article & interview © 1982; RBF intro © 2010 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

The following article about New York-based hardcore metal band The Undead, led by ex-Misfits Bobby Steele, was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #9, in 1982. It was written by Julia Masi.

While I never saw the Undead play (nor the Misfits, for that matter), I did get to hang out with Lori Wedding (of the band Suburban Berlin, who was Bobby Steele’s girlfriend at the time) and Julia, while Julia photographed her for the front cover of the issue. The one thing I remember her saying was that she was not attracted to handsome men (and so I hoped she did not find me winsome).

Bobby Steele is often on social networks, going off on right wing rants against us liberals (though I wonder if he would consider himself more libertarian, but I’m not sure), and for that I respect him (and not). There are actually many right winger punkers (like Johnny Ramone, for example). Whatever his political affliation, Bobby made some fine pulse-pounding music, and still does to this day. – RBF, 2010

The Undead are an uncanny mixture of politics, personality, and high-volume, high-intensity rock’n’roll. Bobby Steele, vocals and guitar, Natz, bass, and Patrick Blank, drums, who have just released their first EP on Stiff Records, Nine Toes Later, are often inaccurately pigeon-holed into the hardcore category. But they prefer to describe their music, which often incorporates a twist of rockabilly or a flair for the satirical, as modern folk.

“We’re a modern folk band,” says Natz, who tries to convince interviewers that he’s Che Guevara: “We’re, like, puttin’ the word across music.”

“Folk music used to be acoustic because the world was a lot quieter,” Bobby adds. “Now you’re competing with a lot of things in the background. You’ve got trucks and heavy traffic. You’ve got jack hammering. You’ve got atomic bombs blowing up and everything. So, you’ve gotta sing your folk songs a little louder. You’ve gotta amplify them.

“Our music is our own kind of music. We can do a soul rock song, or we can do a rockabilly song if we want. We’re not locked into a certain category. A lot of bands make the mistake of categorizing themselves, then they’re locked into that category. Then they’re stuck in that category and it’s what the people expect, like George Reeves is Superman.”

Patrick, whose lanky body and horn-rimmed glasses recall the stereotype of the Science Club president, feels that the Undead “try to avoid the trends, because trends are just that – trends.

“We’re a rock’n’roll band with something to offer. There is politics and you have to talk politics; the point is you can’t get too serious.” He sees the band’s politics as a form of anarchy. “Not like writing an ‘A’ in the circle on the corners. Only in the ideas of no rules. That’s the problem. There are too many rules.” He further explains, “We can’t get put in any groups, because once you do that you become a trend. And if you become a trend, then once you get accepted, you’ll change. And if rules weren’t observed, if rules weren’t thought about, then nothing would ever get done. The rule there is a universal rule, to reach people through quality. Quality means giving your all – 150% towards quality.”

Their ability to abandon the rules is evident in the unorthodox way that the Undead presented themselves to Stiff Records. The band had been hanging out in a bar one night last March when they heard about a private party at Stiff. Immediately, Bobby started to cook up a scheme to con his way into their consciousness.

“We grabbed this wino off the street,” Bobby remembers, “and said, ‘You’re our manager tonight.’ And we just walked up to the door at the place and told them, ‘We’re the Undead and this is our manager.’ We just went in there and we graffitied and spray painted the whole place. And then a few days later we went down there and coated the whole building with posters, and made sure we never showed our faces again.”

For months the band teased the record company by sending flyers and press releases to their office, always careful to make sure that they arrived the day after an important gig. Stiff got so frustrated by this mysterious band that they sent an all-points bulletin into the streets to find them. But Bobby’s phone number is classified information and his friends wouldn’t tell Stiff where to find him. Finally, DJ Tim Sommers brought the Undead and Stiff together, and the band was signed.

Shortly afterward, they went into the studio to record their EP, which includes their own “1984” and “I Want You Dead.” But just as the recording sessions got underway, they had to be interrupted so that Bobby could have his toe amputated. “It was rotting away and stinking up everything,” he explains. Hence the title of the EP, Nine Toes Later.

Recently, the Undead completed a brief tour of the Midwest: Dayton, Detroit and Indianapolis. The audience reception was warmer than they expected and the band is anxious to get back on the road again. Patrick is hoping that he’ll eventually play Ireland, “Because the scene is so sporadic that the kids are starved for music over there.” Bobby’s goal is a little more patriotic: he’d like to play “El Salvador. It would be fun. Join the USA,” he grins.

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