FOREWORD: Some of the best things in life just crash and burn. San Francisco’s frighteningly belligerent Coachwhips were probably destined to fast burnout due to the mayhem and friction they evoked in everyone who experienced them. Before they fell apart at the seams, Coachwhips left us a great ’05 album that’d puncture indie rock’s sleazy womb with queasy spume. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Bringing their energetic living room celebration directly to the club, terrorizing San Francisco freakozoids the Coachwhips would rather perform vigorously bludgeoned rants off-stage in an unconstrained free-for-all frenzied fans could experience firsthand.
A scuzzy, yet heedlessly ambitious threesome, these mangy, feedback-fueled, Californicating experimentalists evoke the Butthole Surfers primordial mind-bending scum-pop contentiousness and Zen Guerrilla’s muffled blues-scraped unconventionality. The Coachwhips mutinously tear apart customary indie rock resplendence with a raging existential ire on ’05 breakthrough, Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge (its snickering title’s an ambiguous bloodied vagina allusion).
Following an out-of-print debut, Handle The Controls, plus ’03s 18-minute Bangers & Fuckers EP and the remoter Get Yer Body Next ta Mine, original architect John Dwyer (a Providence native) split with fellow conceptualist John Harlowe, but retained the unbridled distortion-laden intensity belying the Coachwhips finest whiplash implosions. Newcomers Val-Tronic’s spastic keys and Matt Von Hartman’s crushing percussion now suffuse guitarist Dwyer’s belligerently muzzled vocals with more extreme fuzzy sonic recklessness, strangely curdled readymade hook lines, and marvelously mutilated mayhem.
“Generally, a kernel of an idea gets expanded upon,” Von Hartman casually indicates. “John may have wrote pieces top to bottom beforehand, but now our material comes about by working a riff in practice or I’ll be screwing around with a drumbeat and whip out a song.”
Von Hartman grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, moved to the Bay Area in ’93, joined disjointed noise-pop outfit Henry’s Dress (“a blip on the radar”), provided alto sax in hardcore deconstructionists Total Shutdown, settled in loose Jazz improv offshoot Murder Murder, and briefly backed Chan Marshall’s provocative Cat Power. An impressionable pre-teen Kiss fan, he learned guitar to emulate those cartoonish face-painted travesties.
“At six, I’d go to local department store, Labelles, with my mother. They had a small record section,” he recalls. “I began poking through my father’s Big Band Era records, but I didn’t get much out of that. Meanwhile, my mom had a cassette collection of Neil Diamond, Carly Simon, Anne Murray, and Roberta Flack. I bought a sound affect record, Sounds Of Terror, which had a cartoon dracula with blood dripping out of its teeth. Its craziness appealed to my childhood horror fascination. On a subsequent trip to find something similar, I came across Kiss’ Love Gun, with its monster-mashed superheroes and women at their feet. When I got home I was surprised to see it was loud rock and roll. I’d put on Kiss Alive, break out tennis rackets, and jam. From there, I got into British new wave metal and picked up guitar at age eleven. I thought I’d replace Randy Rhodes in Ozzy’s band.”
Ultimately, the scrappy lo-fi garage angle taken by late ‘80s mavens the Gories and Pussy Galore would “scratch a soar itch” Von Hartman chafes on the Coachwhips 10-song, 21-minute clusterfuck, Ginger Minge. His beaten floor toms, whacked snares, and slashing cymbals anchor the messily scorched cacophony. Organ-pierced adrenaline rush “Did You Cum?,” grumbled three-chord scree “Ya Know Ya Wanna,” and contemptuously searing medical indictment “Letter 2 London” ferociously tear at the gut. Scampered apocalyptic bluster “Oops Uh Uh” perforates a festering guitar buzz while emboweled vagrant homage “What Do They Eat?” scathingly blurts ‘eat the blood and guts/ the meat of my memories.’
“We’re only gonna get noisier and dirtier,” Von Hartman concludes. “I can’t see us playing 6-minute DIY opuses. We want to keep the party atmosphere going, whether it’s a Who-Kinks vibe or another fucked up garage idiom.”