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June 27, 1996 * Vol. 6, No. 26

Pop-Punk Fusion

Armed with nothing more than crazy grins and pummeling, bubble-gum punk, Facedown is on a mission to knock sensitive ponytail men right out of their Birkenstocks

by Mike Gibson

The Magic Bean is a ramshackle little coffee house on the outskirts of Cookeville, a converted residence and part-time club where quiet little combos play sensitive strains for sandal-shod Tennessee Tech students.

Needless to say, when spike-haired Facedown guitarist Tom Appleton walked in one Saturday evening lugging a massive Marshall amp and a flame-red Ibanez guitar, he drew lots of mortified stares.

"'The last band played so loud I couldn't get the cappuccino machine to work,'" Appleton squeaks, mimicking the Bean's diminutive Deadhead proprietor. "I looked over at the rest of the guys and said, 'We're going to put the fear of God in this little hippie.' They thought they were getting Hector Qirko or something, and we whacked them upside the head."

It's not hard to see how Appleton, a former Golden Gloves fighter, U.S. Army Ranger, and part-time kickboxer, might intimidate gentle residents of the Birkenstock nation. Manic and saucer-eyed, his pugilistic predilections are reflected in his spastic manner and run-on speech.

They're also evident in his band's music. Influenced as much by Jackie Chan chop-socky flicks as by his punk-rock heroes—All and Bad Religion—Appleton is a six-string dervish, whipping out stuttering, speed-bag rhythms and haymaker fills. With Dustin West's relentless drumming providing rock-in-the-glove reinforcement, Facedown tunes pack a potent, punkish wallop.

Facedown was born over the 1994 Christmas holiday when West and his cousin, bassist Scott West, met Appleton at an Oak Ridge movie theater. Appleton (formerly of Bad Reality) was the only member with experience in the club scene trenches, so the trio tapped veteran belter Mike Walls to man the microphone.

A year and a half later, Facedown might just be Knoxville's best-kept secret. Shackled by conflicting schedules, the band can only play shows on Saturday nights.

But if they ever solve their day-job puzzle, watch out, because theirs is perhaps the most infectious spring-loaded garage rock to rattle roachy Fort Sanders tenements since that little band with the Supername headlined its first backyard triple-kegger. Beyond its shiv-to-the-temple impact, Facedown's music boasts an adhesive melodicism, an insistent hummability that leaves songs like "Quality Time" or the effervescent "Train Song" bouncing around your cranium for hours—sometimes days—after the revelatory first listen.

"We like intense, high-energy music that's still melodic and in tune," says singer Mike Walls. "You walk away and you're singing the songs even though you just got smacked."

That hyper-melodic punch comes in part from bassist West. An exceptionally tuneful four-stringer, he roams the instrument's upper register, weaving concise, ear-pleasing melodies beneath Appleton's bruising onslaught.

But most of Facedown's monster hooks come courtesy of Walls, former voxman for HyperTribe and El Smarto. That might come as a surprise to local music fans. A raw-throated barker during his thrashy, flashy tribal years, Walls was never regarded as a singer so much as a frontman—a raucous embellishment to the pounding complexity of his bandmates' virtuoso grooves.

Not so in Facedown. Like a schoolboy at recess, Walls tears through Appleton's crackling changes with gleeful abandon, laying down sugar-coated melodies and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics that might seem precious if set to music that didn't pack such a mulish kick.

On "Quality Time," a driving rocker with a syrupy red herring of an intro, Walls manages to sound at once wistful and bouncy, building an earnest tension that he fairly explodes in the chorus, an exuberant wraparound vocal duet with Appleton.

"I'm finally in a situation where I feel like I have some say-so in the songs," Walls explains. "I don't feel like I have to structure my vocals around the rest of the band."

"When I write a song, I do it with vocals in mind," Appleton adds. "We try to give Mike lots of room for vocal hooks, and he almost always comes up with something that's better than what I had envisioned."

But with gigs few and far between, not too many people have been exposed to Facedown's particular brand of bubble-gum pummel. The band plans to release a tape sometime this summer in hopes of remedying that problem. They're also trying to rearrange schedules so they can play shows at new venues on something other than a Saturday night.

"We want to terrify the Amsterdam crowd," Appleton enthuses, his eyes growing wide and his head twitching. "No more of that hipped-out crap they've been listening to—we're going to rattle the tables."

When that happens, it's a sure bet there'll be lots more Facedown fans in Knoxville, because no matter how much the music roughs you up and knocks you down, you're bound to dust yourself off and come back for more. Just ask the folks at the Magic Bean. Facedown plays Cookeville again next week, and this time even the tie-dyes are ready to rumble.

© Metro Pulse