August 22, 1996 * Vol. 6, No. 34
None of your...
Noise is music to the ears of Beeswax, a laid-back trio out to prove there really is use for algebra after high school.
by Knees McReal
It's another August Saturday night at Gryphon's, swarming with regular barflies and scenesters too cool to let something like 100 percent humidity stop them from wearing their indie rock corduroys. The live music wing of the legendary Fort Sanders' spin-cycle dive is more than just a hotbed of local rock 'n' roll; it's a freakin' sauna. Even the red-as-Eddie-Van-Halen's-guitar walls seem to be dripping with sweat.
The band members look like they're about to pass out from heat exhaustion, stopping between songs to wring out their T-shirts and try in vain to quell the veins of perspiration trickling down their foreheads. But the dehydration that such unventilated passion brings marks a landmark evening for the loose-limbed trio on "stage." For the bottles upon bottles upon cans upon pitchers necessary to keep the crowd alive means that, after six shows played around town, Beeswax will see some monetary returns. And, after divvying the cash three ways, then doling out a cut to each member, vocalist/guitarist Todd Stapleton, bassist Scott Heiskell and drummer Scott Henshaw will stumble away with a grand total of $5.55 each.
"Of course, we really just play Gryphon's for the free beer," Henshaw reveals.
A basement band in the most literal sense of the term, Beeswax came together after Henshaw and Stapleton hooked up through posted flyers name-checking common favorites like Pavement and Archers of Loaf. After a couple of months of drum and guitar cacophony and working their way through a tragi-comedy of failed attempts at finding a bassist, they were about to give in and forgo the rumbling underbelly. In a fit of inspired desperation, Stapleton called up a former bandmate from his metal--no, wait, "trash rock"--past in the band-whose-name-shall-not-be-spoken. Heiskell was originally just lending a hand, filling in until they could find another bassist.
"I decided to stay because it was better than I expected," he says, only half-joking. "And I wanted a chance to redeem myself musically."
Redemption comes in the form of what the three casually refer to as noise, a spontaneous audio combustion of rock 'n' roll whiplash that is, as Dinky Doo frontman Stewart Pack has said, heavy without hitting you over the head with it.
But, if this is noise rock, how is it also so melodic... so listenable? The answer lies in Stapleton's definition of the genre, which is as atypical as his guitar tunings.
"To me, noise is chaotic, like Pussy Galore. There's some harmony," he reckons, "'cause we are, after all, interested in making songs. It's more than feedback and fuzz."
Or, as Henshaw sums it up, "Noise is playing a couple of songs so hard your guitar goes out of tune and you don't bother to fix it."
I thought that was called drunk rock.
And, if you're into the pretensions of Option magazine-speak, you could probably call what Beeswax does "math rock"--ironic considering Stapleton is in fact a math major. So are his tunings derived via the Pythagorean theorem?
"Yeah, we plug a calculator right into the amp," Stapleton says with the kind of smart-ass tone you don't really expect from a math major. "We even looked for a math-related name for a while." Some bands try opening the dictionary at random; Beeswax tried "flipping through the calculus book."
Make that "geek rock."
As has often been pointed out in the old faithful Metro Pulse calendar, Beeswax does bear a certain resemblance to geeks the likes of Pavement and Sebadoh. Stapleton's "slack-ass, devil-may-care" vocal style and guitar swagger/stagger are bent on the band's slanted and enchanted melodies, while the one-two rhythm punch of Heiskell and Henshaw stings like a pissed-off bee. And, somewhere in the midst of all that indie rock inspiration, white-hot traces of the Rolling Stones (you know--the founding fathers of trash rock) and Royal Trux can be heard in Stapleton's woozy guitar licks, especially in songs like "Fodder" and "Malfunction Junction."
The spiraling loops of loosely strung-together non-sequiturs that make up the songs' lyrics aren't anything that would come out of the mouth of Mick Jagger, though. Just try to imagine Mr. Sticky Fingers strutting around an arena stage, crowing about "receding coastal lines/ making everything sublime/ got caught shaving in the check-out line." Don't get it? Well, neither do Henshaw and Heiskell.
"You took that literally?," Stapleton queries.
"Yeah, man, I thought it meant shoplifting a Bic," Henshaw shrugs.
"You've never heard anyone talk about shaving money?"
"No, what the hell are you talking about?"
"So you guys don't understand these songs."
"What was your translation?" Stapleton asks Heiskell, no doubt hoping for some sort of validation.
"Actually," he drawls, "I didn't give a shit."
Long-winded titles the likes of "Anti-Acoustic Blues Groove In C" and "Thermal Bremmstrahlung" (yes, a math term) don't offer many clues or clarification.
"I just try to come up with stuff nobody else uses," Stapleton explains. "We're not going to write a 'Lightning Strikes' or anything with the word "love" in it.
So, no love, no angst...
"We've got nothing to bitch about, no political platform to take," he continues. "I guess what I'm trying to say is we've got nothing important to say. We just wanna..."
"...rock," says Henshaw, without a second of hesitation.
And rock they do on their recently recorded demo, the curiously-yet-intriguingly titled The Wrath and Fury of the Backslide Trash Heap Jive. Co-produced by local music conspirator Gray Comer (recently of the Family Jewels), the tape kicks in immediately with a drone of air-raid siren-gone-wrong guitar lash before settling into an infectious churn of rumbling noise.
And, even though they're not quitting their day jobs in spite of the Gryphon's windfall, the band has high hopes for their rock 'n' roll future.
"Hey, if they'll let Eddie Murphy make a record," Stapleton figures, "our chances have gotta be good."
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