- Facebook / Tommy Mager
While both formed in San Francisco during the late ’70s, they couldn’t have been any more different in approach. Flipper droned along at glacial pace, becoming a snark-fueled template for both grunge and sludge metal. The Avengers, featuring singer Penelope Houston, helped lay the groundwork for political punk while giving the nascent musical form one of its first dynamic frontwomen.
The pair end up in SA together as Flipper tours to celebrate its 40th anniversary with Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow filling in for original singers and lyricists Will Shatter and Bruce Lose — the first having died of an overdose and the latter retired from live performances. The Avengers landed on the gig as the group picked up dates on the way home from a tour with similarly influential punk outfit Stiff Little Fingers. We Are the Asteroid and Noogy will round out the bill.
The Current spoke by phone with Yow about his stint with Flipper and how Texas’ history of outrageous punk frontmen molded his stage persona.
Given the influence of Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard, seems like you’re a guy who could have a pretty full dance card. Why the decision to tour with Flipper, not just once but several times?
Well, early on — in 1980 and stuff, ’81 and ’82 — they were very important to me. In particular, I remember when the “Brainwashed” seven-inch came out. You’re familiar with that, right?
Yes, I am.
I was so taken by it. I was telling my friends it was the most significant recording since Abbey Road. It was art. It was like real art, but punk rock, aggressive art. I was really impressed with it, and there’s never been anybody like them. And when they asked me, sort of out of the blue, to sing with them, I could not say no. I didn’t know if they were going to pay me well or not well — or at all. It was just, “Yeah, please! Thanks!”
In the past, you’ve written and sung your own lyrics. What’s it like to be in the position where you’re now singing a couple of other guys’ songs?
That’s a really good question. Most of them I just pretty much do the lyrics as they were written, but some of them I’m just not willing to do. There are a couple of songs that say, “everyone knows,” and that’s just always bugged me in music, when someone says, “everyone knows” or “everyone does this” or “everyone that,” because there’s nothing everyone agrees on — at all. Then there’s also the song “Life Is Cheap.” That’s a bunch of bullshit. Like is not cheap. Life is something to be cherished. So, when we do that song, I change the chorus to “Life is not cheap.” And in “Shine” there’s this line, “I’ve got to strip this flesh from my bones.” I say “meat,” because “flesh” is a Nine Inch Toenails word. I don’t say “flesh” in songs. That’s stupid. [Laughs.] But some songs, like “Sacrifice” and “Love Canal,” I’ve told people I feel so powerful when we’re doing those songs, like a silverback gorilla. Like I could just rip your fucking leg off, you know.
On that note, you’re a very physical performer, someone with a very aggressive, sometimes outrageous stage presence. How much of that stems from coming up in Texas, where there’s no shortage of larger-than-life punk frontmen, like Biscuit of the Big Boys, Gary Floyd of the Dicks and Bobby Soxx of Stick Men with Ray Guns.
I think you absolutely nailed it. That’s exactly the deal.
Was there any specific performance you witnessed that made you realize couldn’t just be a stand around-type singer?
Particularly Gary Floyd and Gibby Haynes, and you mentioned Bobby Soxx. Bobby was just terrifying, although he looked like a complete dork. I remember being so impressed by the Dicks and just so intimidated by them, specifically Buxf. I just felt like, “Don’t get too close. He’ll kill ya.” I don’t remember specifics. It was just the cumulative something-ness of all those guys.
This incarnation of Flipper is made of folks who have been making music for an awful long time — and not necessarily with a lot of fame and financial reward. Do you have any advice for younger people who’d like to have that kind of longevity creating challenging music?
Golly, I don’t know, man. If it’s not fun, quit it. I’m going to sound like some hokey Norman Rockwell grandfather type, but do the best you can — the dead-level best you can — and give it all you’ve got. And if it’s not working and you’re not having fun, either try a different approach or give up.
Anything else on the horizon for you? Will there be any new recordings or new material coming out from this lineup of Flipper?
I don’t think we’re going to do any new original material with Flipper, but we did do an extremely limited seven-inch on Joyful Noise [Recordings], and I think we’re going to have at least one live album come out from these shows. We recorded at three different locations, maybe not with a mobile unit, but with … I don’t know, whatever nice equipment they use to make live recordings. And, tomorrow, I’m going to record backup vocals for five songs for the new Idles album. You know Idles?
It’s this English band from Bristol, and they’re really, really good. Really good. They played out here a few months ago and we became pals, and they asked if I’d be willing to sing on their next record and I would be honored to. Just backing vocals and stuff. They’re an amazing band, and I’m thrilled to do this.
How excited are you to be playing with the Avengers? I mean, these are two bands that helped define punk in San Francisco.
I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never seen them. It’ll be interesting to see what they’re like, you know, being old and everything. And my dear buddy Dave Bach is playing drums with them, so it will be really good to hang out with him and stuff.
Flipper with David Yow, The Avengers, We Are the Asteroid, Noogy
$18, 8 p.m. Friday, November 8, Paper Tiger, 2410 N. St. Mary’s St., papertigersatx.com.