On the go since 2014, Belfast’s Los Bloody Rackets are garage rock in the purest sense: dirty, scuzzy and without pretention. I caught up with the band, expecting one word answers and was presented with a state of the union address.
►Where did the inspiration come to form a band of despicable reprobates like yourselves?
Ryan Fitzsimons (guitar): Los Bloody Rackets has almost accidental origins and it’s all the fault of TB Chapman and Kid Congo Powers. I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and Chappy was kind enough to offer to help me with that and suggested it would be good for my development to do that in a “band in a rehearsal space environment” rather than noodling away at home. So me being me and always looking for the cheeky shortcut, inspired by Kid Congo Powers and The Gun Club I took a guitar, tuned it to open E tuning just as he had done at the advice of Jeffery Lee Pierce and bam, I could play every power chord on the fretboard with one finger pretty easily.
So every Tuesday for an hour or so myself and Chappy would get together in his practice room and he would teach me the fundamentals of how to play with a band from his drum kit before he rehearsed with his other band, The now defunct Peppermint Finks who were a surf outfit with Chappy on Drums, John McLaughlin on Bass, Paul Magill and Portuguese Fred on Guitar.
After a few months Chappy was happy with his Student and suggested that the others players sit in on out session and I could follow along with them. It was real sink or swim stuff but it helped me immeasurably.
Out of that we added a singer, Jamie who I knew from coming to gigs I organised and there you had it , some sort of Garage Franken-combo was born with 3 guitar players and we played a trial gig in Bangor, blagged our way onto The Cramps Tribute night and everything came organically from there when Fred and Paul stepped away to focus on other projects and leave us as a more basic , stripped down garage outfit with one guitar…which was a daunting enough prospect for me as a relatively inexperienced player , but again sink or swim !
And then finally after a few weeks rehearsing as our four piece I started to imagine certain harmonies that might have complimented Jaime’s very masculine vocal delivery and I knew Nuala from a few Burlesque shows I had DJ’d at and had heard her sing at a few of those shows in a lounge/ cabaret style and knew that If I could somehow convince her to take that talent and apply it to darker endeavours it would be great , so here we are , part education, part luck and part accident.
►What does garage rock mean to you, and what does it convey that other forms of music can’t?
For me it’s about inclusivity, it allows everyone who wants a platform to have one. It’s a very human form of music and it’s about attitude and spirit more than it is about ability. It’s about getting into a damp shitty room with your friends and creating something visceral and pure that you can call your own. You can take chances, you can take shortcuts you can have fun. For me it’s rock’n’roll in it’s purest form which is why it connects so strongly on an emotional level with both players and audience.
I’m not sure if I would be so bold as to say that other musical art forms cant achieve that but perhaps there’s more of an element of “honing your craft behind closed doors” but we don’t want to do that, as a band we want to develop in front of the audience we want to connect with for better or worse. We want you to see us play well, we want you to see us suck, we wan you to see us stumble, we want to have that experience live and in the moment.
►How do you differ from other groups in the country at the moment claiming to be garage rock?
I think there’s an honesty and a lack of inhibition in our band. I can barely play guitar and when I do I play in a very primitive way, Chappy had never played the Drums until about a year ago , Jaime’s first language is Spanish and we write our songs in English and Nuala was plucked by me and thrust into a world of lo-fi sixties Garage Punk influences that she didn’t know because she was never exposed to it ….But we don’t let that stop us creating our music and connecting with our audience in the most honest way possible, it doesn’t intimidate us that the potential for it all to fall apart on stage is always there, we embrace it.
►Los Bloody Rackets are a very male group in that you project a quintessential form of raw, unsuppressed male energy (Swans or the Bad Seeds do the same thing, but in different ways). Is this why Nuala was brought in?
I’m glad you asked that question Chris, because one of the major reasons for bringing Nuala in to the band was that I wanted to use the platform we had to highlight the fact that there are very few women involved with, promoting or making rock’n’roll music in this town. Yes indeed there is a very raw element to our band and we hope that it is visceral , aggressive and impacts but that should transcend Gender, believe me , Nuala’s got more suppressed emotion, fire and energy to get out of her than the rest of us combined. So we felt that we could use that to better express ourselves and as I say use our platform to highlight an imbalance here in this “scene” We had hoped to launch that manifesto in March when I was promoting the band Cruising in the Menagerie who are a great example of where Rock and Roll challenges bullshit gender imbalances but we had to pull out of the gig in the end. I’m glad we got to do it with Baby Shakes recently though.
Nuala Obscena (vocalist): There are many reasons I am in this band. I don’t think the defining one of them is the fact I have a vagina. Ryan asked me to join not only because he’s a dear friend but because he thought I had something to add, creatively, aesthetically and sassily. There aren’t enough women in the rock and roll scene at the minute but by fuck that’s changing and we’re making it happen in Belfast. I don’t believe in gender constructs. Our band projects quintessential raw energy of people. Not “male” or “female”
►Garage rock, as a term, is used to denote everything from The Seeds, Metal Urbain and The Strokes. Is it this flexibility that keeps you fascinated with it?
John McLaughlin (bass): If we name it we limited it , and if we limit it we’ll loose it , because by it’s very nature it is unlimited.
►Jamie’s banter with the audience and with the band itself has been the subject of a few conversations. He comes across as mix between the subject of Leader of the Pack and General Franco. Is this a way of putting the “danger” back into garage?
Ryan: Normally what I’d say here is “Jamie will speak for himself on that ” but he won’t because you will never meet someone who gives less of a fuck about other people’s perceptions of him . He likes to push people’s buttons , in fact he loves it . He’s Basque, he grew around what he seen as annoying political piety , so he will say the opposite of his and other peoples sensibilities just to challenge them . If he’s in a room of activists he will claim nihilism and vice versa . Some men just want to watch the world burn…
►There’s always been an intelligentsia element to garage: Lux and Ivy (The Cramps) were art school students while the likes of Tim Warren (Crypt Records) display an almost Bukowskiesque outlook on being into this style of music. Why do you think this is the case, and how does it relate to you?
Garage and trash rock ‘n’ roll has always been dumb sounding slop made by people who have read the odd book or two. There’s a knack to simplicity and simplicity in itself requires a certain intelligence, Bukowski kept it simple, as did Burroughs, Kerouac etc
For me I don’t have to write particularly expressive lyrics about how I feel about certain things , certain issues . I prefer a more visually expressive approach , like handling my guitar like I’d like to handle Lord Freud’s neck .
►What are you trying to achieve with the band? Are you filling a void or creating a niche?
I don’t think We are filling a void , nor do I think we are creating a niche . I feel we are just being ourselves , perhaps that is a niche given that most of our musical glitterati in this country either manufacture their personality or have none to begin with .
►Whenever you take to the stage, what is your mindset and how does that differ from going into the studio?
In terms of the flexibility that garage affords , there’s definitely something in that . For me it’s about whatever the song needs , the song is the master . If it needs a fuzzy backbeat it gets it , if it needs a male /female harmony it gets it, if it needs only one chord for the whole song it gets it. I picked up that attitude from Billy Childish’s music , he advocates that approach . I feel garage stylistically allows for that , you can take all of the building blocks of Rock and roll and arrange them To suit what the song needs you to do .
In terms of how we approach recording, that’s a difficult one because this current line up hasn’t done that together yet. From my own perspective as a new musician I had never experienced recording or gigging before so for me its been a steep learning curve . But I can say that of the two recording experiences I had , one was positive but it was someone else music (for a cramps tribute ep) and the other was an entirely negative experience for me in terms of the end product . However it was a positive experience going forward because I’ll Never let some jerk sitting at a mixing console make a creative decision about the composition of out Music again .
►In terms of the raw energy (both male and female) that makes up the group, does it translate into anger/pride of being an “outsider” (even though garage isn’t outsider in the sense of Consumer Electronics or Nocturnal Emissions)?
I’ve always found it curious that the mainstream music press have always considered garage rock and roll outsider music given that it’s the most simple , accessible , fun and easy to identify with music around . It has as much melody as anything around and as many hooks…it’s virtually bubblegum when compared to the sort of experimental and “musique concrete” bands you just referenced .
But we’re comfortable being outside looking in . I’m sure we could be accused of a passing flirtation with punk also, which I’d hasten to refute . We’re a little weird for most punks conservative tastes , now there’s a juxtaposition for you .
►Is the culture for garage healthy in this country?
There are a lot of garage bands around this Island . Some of whom have been doing it for a very long time such as the monotonous tone and some have been doing it only for a short while due to their relative youth , such as bands like Petty Youth . And when I’m djing I’m getting 18 year olds asking me for stuff like FIDLAR and TY SEGALL which is great. Then you look at a band like CRUISING from here (Belfast /Dublin ) they are enjoying a great profile at present and I’m sure , or at least hope there’s a bunch of people just like us exploring the three chord trick in some sketchy room Somewhere just waiting for a chance at a gig .
We do have a problem in Belfast though , we have allowed and permitted the cities nightlife to be sewn up by a bunch of cynical assholes obsessed by money , monopoly and position so there are virtually no gig spaces left for bands to get a show together and even fewer promoters willing to take risks on something.
But those are barriers that can be overcome, bands just have to do it for themselves and realise no one else is going to make it happen for them , whatever their ambitions .
►Anything else you’d like to add?
TB Chapman (drums): Me play drums. Me LIKE drums. And fuzzy guitars. Me LOVE fuzzy guitars. But if me had to get cerebral for one moment, Me love The Sonics.