White Heat gave its debut performance six months ago at the Honey Factory, following the B-Side Project's farewell set. "We finished the set and told people that our friends were coming out to play in a couple of seconds," says singer/guitarist Chris Branca. "`We` went backstage, changed clothes, and came back out as White Heat." The newly defunct/immediately reformed band played a three-song set of its new brand of punk rock 'n' roll.
"It was a great way to end B-Side and start something new," recalls guitarist Mark Fleming. "There was a line coming out of the place. We sold all of our merchandise." Moniker modification is a common occurrence for the members of the band known once upon a time as Slobber. "We changed our name from Slobber to B-Side because we wanted to signify Chris joining the band," explains drummer (and brother to Mark) Adam Fleming. "It had always been me, Mark, and Matt `Hoopengardner, who plays bass`." (Chris initially joined Slobber as a guest high-hat player: "I'd wear a fake mustache and dance around while playing a spare high-hat. I didn't play on any of the recordings — just the shows.") "Changing to White Heat was more about us wanting to do something different in a different style."
"We were going to break up and `instead` decided to do this for fun," says Mark. "It turned out to be a little more than that."
"The name is spontaneous," says Chris. "We came up with it at a bar one night." With a penchant for '70s punk rock, the trio's name is a little less "spontaneous" than inspired, a direct reference to the Velvet Underground record's title song, "White Light/White Heat": "Awww sputter mutter everybody gonna go kill their mother" (which in itself is a reference to the 1949 quintessential gangster film of the same name, starring James Cagney as Cody Jarrett, the psychopathic, mother-obsessed gunman).
In the fickle business of rock 'n' roll, fan bases don't come easy, and White Heat works hard to have a home in the San Antonio scene. Their eight-song, self-titled debut album is high-energy proto punk that borrows more from the Buzzcocks and the Ramones than the Velvet Underground. Chris' vocals are layered in the mix, and at times are reminiscent of Mark Arm and Iggy Pop. Fuzz guitars drive along with the full-tilt rocksteady beat and break off more for sweeping riffs than solos. The full-power punk sound does retain some of the sonic endearments that made the Slobber so good; and the band sounds a bit more modern than their '70s' influences, with a sound that has traces of Steal Pole Bathtub and Cop Shoot Cop. For the most part, the album is good-time-tip-your-bartender rock with a little extra volume and a lot of extra energy.
The band's sound gives a resounding nod to fellow San Antonio garage rockers, the Sons of Hercules. White Heat's timing is tight and aggressive, yet still feels more organic than slick. All in all it's a solid, strong release, but comes in a little short (under 30 minutes). The telling truth of the band's DIY ingenuity is going to be the album's availability at most San Antonio music stores — including a listening station at one Warehouse Music location. (The album hits the streets on Tuesday, August 6.)
The band has been working diligently on the disc for the past few months, and looks forward to focusing on a future tour. "We got a great response opening for Fugazi," says Chris. "There were like 1,400 people there. After the show, they asked us for a CD, and we didn't have one. And when Fugazi asks you for a CD, you try hard to make one. Other people were asking, too, so we really had no choice." The enthusiasm comes across as clearly on the new CD as it does at live White Heat performances, which tend to climax in a storm of smashed equipment.
"My guitar's in the shop right now," says Mark. "We couldn't be a band if it weren't for Krazy Kat music. Not that it doesn't work both ways — sometimes I bring them cookies."
WHITE HEAD CD RELEASE
WITH MECHANICAL WALKING ROBOT BOY, DJ JESTER, & DJ KLASSEN
Saturday, August 3
$5, $10 with CD