FOREWORD: The Paybacks are just another solid-bodied garage band from Detroit. Jarring lead singer, Wendy Case, battling back from years of drug abuse, became the hardest rockin’ chick in the midwest. By ’02, her bands’ rough ‘n ready Knock Loud zoomed forward in overdrive. Since then, ‘04s arena rockin’ Harder And Harder and ‘06s Love, Not Reason, came to the fore. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Born in Akron, Ohio, raised in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and now a resident of Detroit, singer-guitarist Wendy Case grew up listening to American hillbilly folk before discovering Led Zeppelin as a Michigan teen. Deciding to become a full-blown rocker, she got involved with San Francisco’s radical ‘80s punk scene then retreated to her home state to get clean.
“I had a bad heroin problem in San Francisco. I didn’t have anywhere to go to clean up so I went to an ex-boyfriend in Ann Arbor. He tried to help me get back on my feet and offered a home.” She then snickers, “I wasn’t planning on being a rock star.”
Now a hard workin’ 41-year-old road dog whose early heroes were bluegrass legends Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs, Case is the amazingly gruff-throated leader of the Paybacks. Determinedly resurrecting herself after a 13-year battle with drug abuse, Case has become one of Motor City’s most formidable talents. Her uncannily masculine raspy bark has the soulful scruff of early Rod Stewart and Steve Marriott. Like those two famous singers ‘70s-related bands, Faces and Humble Pie, the Paybacks loose boozy temperament rules the roost.
Living on the West Coast from ’82 to ’88, Case hung out with deviant outré rockers such as Flipper’s Will Shatter, Crime’s Frankie Stix, and her then-boyfriend, Jack Weird of Seizure. She was part of the hugely influential punk party scene while it was winding down due to substance abuse and under-exposure.
“I was like the kid and they were the older rock guys. Everyone was on drugs so that became my introduction,” she offers. “I went down the hard drug road for a considerable time.”
Case soon found sobriety in the multi-cultural melting pot college town she lived in as a teen. But that bucolic “hippieville” was full of addicts. In fact, Case says during the late ‘60s, people busted with weed would only have to pay a meager $5 fine.
“Ann Arbor is a Big 10 community with lots of art and culture. The Stooges and MC5 were from there at their apex. So it has significant music history. It’s where John Sinclair started the White Panther political movement.” She contends, “Great music doesn’t have to be made where hardened destroyed ghettos exist. It’s what happens in peoples’ minds and hearts. We had an ideal advantage over others because there was enlightenment, knowledge sharing, and spiritual empowerment.”
In high school Case hung out with the Cult Heroes and Destroy All Monsters at the end of the Sonic Rendezvous era. Her band, Ten High, along with the Rationals and the Ups, were pretty significant in terms of modern garage punk.
“Before it started happening in Detroit, where little bastions of manicured lawns go right into Crack Central, Ann Arbor was all over it. That was ten years prior to the Paybacks,” she informs. “We were doing obscure covers by Mark Martin and the Haunted, real garage pioneers. Then, bands like the Detroit Cobras began doing similar things. They were doing more of a garage-soul version. We had an entire little scene that migrated to Detroit.”
Along with Ten High, regional outfits the Hentchmen and Fortune & Maltese gained exposure in the early ‘90s. Soon, the Gories took hold, spawning the Demolition Doll Rods, whose primitive 3-chord rock minimalism was sufficiently crazed.
“I liked the novel sounding garage bands. I was into (‘60s psych-garage legends) the Sonics, Seeds, Standells, and Chocolate Watch Band. The Paybacks get lumped into this whole garage scene, but everything is called that now. So we were appalled. We were an arena rock band, so get it straight,” Case demands. “But fuck it! As long as they’re talking about us, we’ll go along with it.”
No doubt about it, the Paybacks revved up debut, Knock Loud, was one of 2002’s greatest finds. Shotgun opener “Just You Wait” sets the tone for an explosive set of balls-out ballistic blasts. Fans of Muffs’ singer-guitarist Kim Shattucks will eat up Case’s demanding screamer “Thin Air.” AC/DC buffs should give the abrasive eruption “Tie Me A Knot” and forceful “Hot Shot” a try. “Hollywood” works as a reliably super-bashed take on Chuck Berry’s durably efficient ‘50s fare.
Though she enjoyed making Knock Loud, Case avows sophomore effort Harder And Harder is more cohesive. Skull-smashing cigarette-stained growls and scowled grunts hurl out of Case’s pretty mouth on the scalding vindication “When I’m Gone,” the slovenly liquor-doused double entendre “Scotch Love,” and the bitchy calamity “Me.” Rough hewn boogie stomp “You And Your Friends” drips sludgy feedback gunk into the proverbial street corner gutter while the snippy “Jumpy” is built atop a familiar Elmore James/ Muddy Waters-styled Chicago blues riff given plenty of horse-squealing shrieks. Intended as a formidable B-side Case thought would “be amusing while everyone else was doing Christmas music,” the carousing T. Rex-borrowed “Celebrate Summer” closes the disc on a fittingly ceremonial note.
“Our band sounds more established these days and the songs are more aggressive, but not by design. It just turned out that way. It’s a tighter sounding record without the big, shiny pop elements of the first one – which was a cruder recording with a different guitarist who was into lots of riffs,” she maintains.
That guitarist was Paybacks founder Marco Delicato, whose replacement (due to touring restraints), Danny Methric, was in estimable Detroit bluesrock trio, the Muggs. Also onboard are two celebrated local garage progenitors from the Hentchmen, bassist John Szymanski and drummer Mike Latulippe. They provide a ceaselessly crunchy rhythmic grind metal heads and punks alike could dig. Together or apart, these proud misfits have logged tons of hours playing scurvy Detroit dives such as the oldest, best known Magic Six, and the now-defunct Gold Dollar, which Case describes as “a hole in the wall that had transvestite shows and was located in the Majestic Theatre.”
Admirably, Case’s gritty tunes, charred shouts, and gutbucket guitar befit the grungy shit holes lining many crowded beer-drenched midwest cities the Paybacks often frequent. She composes her best brash trash whilst pissed off.
“The best ones happen in a rush in about five minutes. Lyrics and music come together at once. It’s pretty awesome when that happens,” she cautiously insists. “I just wish it happened all the time. Sometimes I’ll start with nothing but a song title and build on that. I only really write anything decent when I’m in chaos. So I wait around for the other shoe to drop ‘cause when I’m happy I write retarded cute happy songs. There’s got to be genuine passion.”
That lustful enthusiasm gets put to the test in every sweaty club the corrosive quartet regularly performs at. Luckily, exhaustingly extensive touring for three-quarters of the year hasn’t taken its toll on the Paybacks yet.
“The road agrees with me. It’s a cooperative effort – us against the world. We understand each other well and are respectful of each other. Plus, we were all friends, liked the same music, and had the same sense of humor before becoming band mates,” Case closes.