Boston Post-Punks Love Their Lineage
by Andrew Clayman
Published in Knoxville Voice, October 2006
Twenty years ago, in those halcyon days before Hot Topic stores and Ben Affleck movies, the words “indie,” “alternative,” and “Boston” were nearly synonymous, rather than superfluous. The Beantown scene was a breeding ground for mavericks, as bands like Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr., and the Pixies rebuilt punk music from its dead remains, only to be killed off (reunions aside) by the very monster they’d created. If you think the story ends there, however, you have yet to meet The Beatings.
For the past seven years, this Boston quartet has toured the post-apocalyptic state of post-punk like vengeful children trying to restore their parents’ glory. The Beatings’ balance of melodicism and churning guitar noise sporadically conjures up the likes of Husker Du, Superchunk, and Guided By Voices, but most of the time, it’s those iconic Boston bands of yore that draw the loudest comparisons.
“It’s actually flattering,” says guitarist Tony Skalicky, who is also one of three distinct vocalists in the band. “Boston has such a huge, influential lineage. It’s silly to distance yourself from it or feel like you’re being pigeonholed. I mean, who doesn’t love those bands?”
Since their 2001 debut EP 6 Hz, The Beatings have remained a poster-child for the original indie work ethic-- and that’s “indie” in the literal, truly independent sense. They have released three EPs all together and two acclaimed full lengths (2002’s Italiano and 2006’s Holding On to Hand Grenades) all on their own Midriff label. Finished in the fall of 2004, Holding On to Hand Grenades actually sat on the shelf for well over a year, as Skalicky, singer/guitarist E.R., singer/bassist Erin Dalbec, and drummer Dennis Grabowski tested the waters-- talking with larger indie labels that might be interested in distributing the album. In the end, however, the band came to the conclusion that the DIY way was still the way that suited them best.
“It was two things really,” Skalicky explains. “Yes, nobody was willing to handle the record in the way we wanted them to. But also, when you release your own stuff, you have total control and you don’t have to answer to anybody. It’s stressful in the amount of added work you have to do, but ultimately, it’s very satisfying.”
Satisfying or not, The Beatings are well aware that playing by their own rules is not likely to take them into a higher tax bracket. This is not to say that their music is unmarketable or inaccessible, however. In fact, when you consider the success of current indie darlings like Interpol and The Arcade Fire, Holding On to Hand Grenades is a very current sounding record, despite the 80’s influences (the fact that E.R. sounds a bit like Ian Curtis is clearly a good thing these days). Ferocious pop songs like “A Responsible Person,” “Feel Good Ending,” and “Pennsyltuckey” stand up to anything coming out of Merge or Matador at the moment, and the band is at its peak after seven years together. So, why not make a run at the big-time?
“We’ve seen a lot of things go on in the music business,” Skalicky says with a hint of a laugh, “and I’m just not sure if any of the big trends in music really apply to us. If there’s a sure fire way to get your band on television, or sold, or to get lots of money and press, it just hasn’t applied to our vision. We just keep our heads down and keep trying to make the music we want to make. Maybe we’re obstinate or ignorant, I don’t know. But that’s how we approach things.”
Meet The Beatings: Rapid Fire Q & A
AC:Who and how are The Beatings?
BEAT: The Beatings are Dennis, Erin, E.R. and Tony. And aside from the rickets and typhoid, we’re doing just great, thanks for asking.
AC: You’ve been compared to the Pixies, Husker Du & GBV, among others. But what band in history would you say has had the LEAST influence on your sound?
BEAT: See the first two words to the next question.
AC: Lenny Kravitz told us “rock n’ roll is dead.” Why have you chosen to defy him?
BEAT: He said that while gakked out of his spleen and fellating a Les Paul Special on a dare. Plus, he wears leather pants. We feel his credibility is dubious.
AC: How do you feel about your positioning between Beat Happening and The Beatles on that college kid’s iPod?
BEAT: Pretty sweet, right? High five.
AC: What is a question you have always wanted to be asked by an interviewer?
BEAT: Am I the only one here who just f------g loves anchovies on his pizza?
AC: Am I the only who here who just f#%*ing loves anchovies on his pizza?
BEAT: Solidarity, dude!
AC: A talented lady bass player pretty much guarantees a band legendary rock n’ roll status for all eternity (see Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, Pixies). Is Miss Dalbec aware of her powers?
BEAT: Yes. She is referred to as “The Product” (see Beatings’ third album title). That name was created and assigned to Miss Dalbec by Miss Dalbec.
AC: If the Beatings could permanently replace a fellow Boston export in the national consciousness, who would it be (excluding the obvious Ben Affleck)?
BEAT: Ben won our hearts back when he hired Gilbert Gottfried to do the duck quack in his commercials. So regardless, we’d have to choose…Aerosmith. Giggy giggy gow, bitches!
AC: Assign the Beatings an. . .
Animal mascot: North Atlantic Right Whale
Brand of beer: O’Douls
1980’s Movie: Tron. No, wait. Tron 2.
Ideal opening act: Ralph Nader
Catch phrase: “Stay alive, no matter what occurs. I will find you.”
Morrissey song: “Hairdresser on Fire.” Duh. Next!
Arch nemesis: That guy with the mustache from the Hold Steady
AC: Is Knoxville ready for The Beatings? If not, what can be done?
BEAT: You are not ready. You must sacrifice that guy with the mustache from the Hold Steady to the Golden Sphere. Then, and only then, will you will be ready.