93.7 FM • KXXR®
Social Distortion and Flogging Molly with special guests The Devil Makes Three and Le Butcherettes
Doors at 5:00pm // Show at 6:30pm
Here’s how you know you’ve made it in the music business: You’ve stayed strong for three decades on your own terms, on your own time, by your own rules, and over that time your influence has only grown. Each of your albums has been stronger than your last. You’ve been brought onstage by Bruce Springsteen, because he wanted to play one of your songs. You’ve seen high times and low ones, good days and tragic days, but every night you give 100%, and every morning you wake up still swinging.
This is the short version of the Social Distortion bio — the long version could be a 10-part mini-series. But over the past 30 years, the punk godfathers in the band have all but trademarked their sound, a brand of hard rockabilly/punk that’s cut with the melodic, road-tested lyrics of frontman Mike Ness. Their searing guitars and a locomotive rhythm section sound as alive today as they did in ’82, as do Ness’ hard-luck tales of love, loss and lessons learned. “The most common thing I hear is, ‘Man, your music got me through some hard times,'” Ness says. “And I just say, ‘Me too.'”
Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes (produced, for the first time, by Ness himself) is the band’s first record since 2004, but the break hasn’t changed them much. It maintains Social Distortion’s key components — an all-but-perfected mix of punk, bluesy rock n’ roll and outlaw country — but it also finds them stretching the boundaries of their signature sound. “I didn’t want any one style of writing,” Ness says. “I didn’t want it to be all heavy, like “White Light, White Heat, White Trash.” I wanted some heavy and some light. I wanted some fiction and some nonfiction. I wanted versatility.”
That’s evident right away. The record’s first vocal track, “California (Hustle and Flow),” finds Ness and the band not roaring out of the gate so much as swaggering behind a chunky Stones-style locomotive groove. “This record has a lot of my influences,” Ness says, “But how far you go with those influences is up to you. With this record I wanted to go a little farther. I wanted people to hear that second track and realize, ‘Wow, this is not just another Social Distortion record.'” (For good measure the track has hints of “Ball and Chain” and the Stones’ “All Down The Line” and, for the first time, female backing vocals. “I’ve been listening to records for years with (backing vocals), and I was like, “Hey, why don’t I do that?” Ness laughs.)
Not that the band’s punk foundations have eroded; the first single “Machine Gun Blues,” a piece of gangland fiction set in 1934, could hail from “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.” But the record is evidence of the band’s ability to evolve. “Bakersfield,” a setlist staple in recent years, is a waking-on-the-railroad-tracks story of wrecked love, forgiveness and Buck Owens; it closes with a spoken-word verse to make Merle Haggard smile. “Can’t Take It With You” sports a Jerry Lee-style piano solo that scorches paint. And set closer “Still Alive” is a soaring carpe diem with an added emotional weight that can’t be described or duplicated.
“The album is reminiscent to me of “Somewhere,” but it also has some of the darkness that “White Light” had. It has some of the flavor of “Mommy’s Little Monster,” Ness said. “I think it’s very signature. We’ve never been afraid to evolve and show people what we can do.”
Now in their fourth decade, Ness and Social Distortion have officially done one of the most non-punk things possible: They’ve failed to burn out.
Mixing Springsteen’s factory-overalls ethic with Southern California punk energy and black leather, Social Distortion formed with Ness and high school buddy, the late Dennis Danell, in the late 1970s; the group broke in 1983 with the thrashing plate of punk and displeasure “Mommy’s Little Monster.” Their 1988 follow-up, “Prison Bound,” hinted at a sonic change to come, and by the band’s self-titled 1990 record and 1992’s “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell,” their sound had solidified into the instantly recognizable brand of rock n’ roll that’s defined them since.
For Hard Times, Social Distortion consists of Ness and longtime guitarist Jonny Wickersham, along with bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo, Jr.
These days the band is rarely off the road for long, and continues to grip fans who have been around since “Mommy’s Little Monster” while drawing new ones who discover the band through hand-shot YouTube clips. “I see people bringing their kids to shows,” Ness says. “And I see kids bringing their parents.”
Social Distortion is a mix of potent power, appeal across all age brackets and a genuine satisfaction at reaching as many people as they have. “I write songs for myself, and I hope that other people will like them too,” Ness says. “I think every record you make is showing people what you’ve learned over the past few years. It’s showing people, ‘This is what I know.’ “
Flogging Molly were started with a one man’s passion to switch gear and introduce something new to the music scenes. Dave King was a rock metal vocalist who joined the Fastway in early ’90s but soon found himself in two other bands that eventually disbanded. When his deal with Epic Records requested him to join as the vocalist of The Jeff Beck Group, King declined the offer to start his own venture. The Dublin-born musician then dug his Irish root and experimented with its native sound. However, King refused to stick by one sound so he blended the Irish traditional music with contemporary punk vibe. This distinct result unfortunately failed to impress Epic and King was later forced to go independent. He eventually met musicians who had the same vision with him. Bridget Regan who played fiddle, tin whistle, and the Irish native bagpipes, the uillean pipes soon found a match in King and joined him in the band, so did guitarist Ted Hutt and bassist Jeff Peters. Together the foursome were the founding members of Flogging Molly which name was taken from a pub called Molly Malone’s where they used to play frequently. “We used to play there every Monday night and we felt like we were flogging it to death, so we called the band Flogging Molly,” King explained.
They started writing materials like “Black Friday Rule” and “Devils Dance Floor” but Hutt and Peters eventually decided to quit the band. Hutt would later on serve as the producer of the band while Peters returned to his prior commitment. While serving gigs in the Los Angeles pub, the band slowly recruit more members until they made up a seven-piece. Beside bassist Nathan Maxwell and guitarist Dennis Casey, accordion player Matt Hensley was added along with mandolin player Bob Schmidt and drummer Georg Schwindt. They recorded one live album “Alive Behind the Green Door” before being signed to SideOneDummy Records that distributed their first studio album, “Swagger“. With Steve Albini in production panel, the album was released in 2000 as breakthrough in music industry although reception was still mild. They followed the release with two others, “Drunken Lullabies” and “Within a Mile of Home” in 2002 and 2004 respectively. The former was bubbling under 100 in Billboard Albums chart but the later made a dramatic rise in their career when it peaked at #20 on the same chart two years later.
Shortly before the group served a U.S. tour in 2007 Hensley announced his departure, citing that he needed more time with his family. It was the fourth full-length album, “Float” (2008) that really put them into the spotlight among the mainstream. The album reached the top ten position in the Billboard 200 chart by entering at #4 after selling 48,000 copies in the first week. At the same week, it also reached #1 on the Billboard Independent Charts and #2 on the Billboard Alternative charts. On reaching the new level, King commented, “When we first started, we were ignored by the radio, TV stations. But they are playing our stuff now which is great. We’re probably one of the biggest independent acts in the U.S. at the moment, but we’ve done it the hard way.”
The power of words isn’t lost on longstanding Americana triumvirate The Devil Makes Three— Pete Bernhard, Lucia Turino, and Cooper McBean. For as much as they remain rooted in troubadour traditions of wandering folk, Delta blues, whiskey-soaked ragtime, and reckless rock ‘n’ roll, the band nods to the revolutionary unrest of author James Baldwin, the no-holds barred disillusionment of Ernest Hemingway, and Southern Gothic malaise of Flannery O’Connor.
“I always want our songs to unfold like short stories,” affirms Bernhard. “You could think of them like the chapters of a book. Of course, they’re shorter and maybe more poetic. This was a much more personal album about what it takes to be an artist or writer of any kind—and what you have to do to make your dream possible. It was really the headspace I was in. It might have something to do with getting older. You start reflecting on life and the people around you. I was doing that in these songs. That’s what makes the record more personal. I’m pulling from these things. Some of it is about drug addiction. Some of it is about the things you sacrifice. Some of it is about the detrimental things we do for inspiration. Nevertheless, they all have some sort of narrative.”
The Devil Makes Three’s journey up to this point could be deemed worthy of a novel. Their self-titled 2002 debut yielded the now-classic “Old Number Seven,” “Graveyard,” “The Plank,” and more as they organically attracted a diehard following through constant touring. Longjohns, Boots and a Belt arrived in 2003 followed by 2009’s Do Wrong Write between a pair of live recordings, namely A Little Bit Faster and a Little Bit Worse and Stomp and Smash.
2014’s I’m a Stranger Here marked their first debut on the Billboard Top 200 as the 2016 “hero worship homage” Redemption & Ruin heralded the group’s second #1 bow on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums Chart and fourth consecutive top five debut on the respective chart. The latter garnered widespread acclaim from the likes of Entertainment Weekly, American Songwriter, The Boston Globe, and more. Over the years, they casted an unbreakable spell on audiences everywhere from Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Hangout Fest, and Shaky Knees.
As the band began writing ideas for Chains Are Broken, they veered off the proverbial path creatively. Instead of their typical revolving cast of collaborators, The Devil Makes Threestuck to its signature power trio—with one addition. This time, they invited touring drummer Stefan Amidon to power the bulk of the percussion. The presence of a drummer remains most amplified as the band seamlessly translated the spirit of the live show into a studio recording and busted the rules even more. And for the first time, they retreated to Sonic Ranch Studios in El Paso, TX a stone’s throw from the Mexican border to record with producer Ted Hutt [Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys].
“We broke a lot of rules in making this record,” smiles Bernhard. “We’ve always done whatever we wanted to, but there were still some things we wouldn’t try. Those fears went out the window. Ted was a big part of that. He stayed with us throughout the whole process from pre-production until the final moment of recording. He pushed us outside of our comfort zone. We’ve never had this experience. So, we got really creative under pressure, which ended up being super fun.”
These songs harness a spirit of freedom. “Pray For Rain” gallops along on a propulsive beat punctuated by a bluesy twang, before a chorus that’s akin to a spiritual uprising singing “I’m praying for some rain tonight.”
“It’s a song about the state of the world now,” says the frontman. “It hopes for some sort of positive change, which I think is totally possible. At the same time, it considers the past and how we got here. You want to wash away what’s there.”
Elsewhere, “Deep In My Heart” hinges on a menacingly melodic admission, “Deep in my heart, I know I’m a terrible man.”
“We see it in the news all the time,” he continues. “People’s public personae fall apart, and everybody sees who they really are. We have an ability to choose to be good and evil at any time.”
The simmering groove and hummable hook of “Bad Idea” recounts how “sometimes we know we’re doing something stupid, but we just can’t control ourselves.” Elsewhere, “I Can’t Stop” offers up an elegiac memoriam to a handful of friends who left too soon.
Nodding to a favorite author James Baldwin, “I Can’t Stop” represents an emotional climax for the album. The author’s quote—”Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it. Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead”—hangs heavy over it.
The tune itself centers on a heart-wrenching plea to on old buddy, “I don’t know why you would do what you were doing…”
“It’s mostly about a friend of mine who overdosed and died,” sighs Bernhard. “When we were teenagers, we’d get together, get high, and play guitar. I learned so much from him, because he was naturally talented, but he got so deep into doing all kinds of drugs and died. In some ways, it’s what he ultimately wanted, but I miss him so much. He was the primary motivation. It’s also dedicated to our friend Dave from Brown Bird who died of cancer. He and his wife were among our closest touring companions. It’s strange how we all don’t make it or survive to meet up in old age. People die. We keep going. There’s nothing else to do.”
Fitting snug like a ceremonial death mask, the cinematic expanse of “Paint My Face” underscores an oddly uplifting message—there may be something after all of this.
“‘Paint My Face’ talks reincarnation and unlived lives,” he states. “It partially discusses being a musician or an artist. It’s like a letter written to a child I don’t know saying death is not the end, as I believe, it’s the beginning of another life.”
In the end, the words and music on the album leave a long-lasting imprint. “I’d love for people to feel inspired,” Bernard leaves off. “Some of the songs might be sad, down, or depressing, but they inspire me. I feel better through the process. I hope you do too.”
There’s a moment in all of our lives where we learn of the great injustices around us and decide what we’re going to do about it on a personal level, you could sum it up as, to conform or not to conform. Le Butcherettes—Teri Gender Bender [vocals/guitar/piano], Chris Common [drums], and Jamie Aaron [bass]—examine that push-and-pull on their third full-length album, A Raw Youth [Ipecac Recordings]. For Teri, you can either embrace that youthful spirit of individual rebellion or be crushed under the gears of society’s oppressors.
“We can all be free if we want to,” she declares. “You take those transmissions and become A Raw Youth or a part of that oppressive society. Youth doesn’t mean young. It’s the essence of being resilient against so many of life’s struggles. In every decade or era, there’s always a rebel who gives inspiration for the poets to write about. That person holds the light. These songs tell those tales.”
If anyone’s fit to relay these stories, it’s Teri. Since first releasing Le Butcherettes’ Sin, Sin, Sin, in 2011, the Guadalajara-born and now El Paso-based punk prophet songstress has sent shockwaves throughout the music world at large. Childhood heroes like Garbage singer Shirley Manson and Henry Rollins have been eager collaborators with Rollins dubbing her “a star” in a Los Angeles Times’ article and routinely playing the band on his KCRW show. With 2014’s Cry Is For The Flies, the group elevated their game once again, with NPR saying the album is “as gorgeous as it is restless, dense and dark” and saying of Teri, “She’s always been a remarkable musician and vocalist, but she reaches new heights here.”
On the road, Le Butcherettes have proven immediately unforgettable, uncontainable, and untethered. At Coachella, Teri climbed the scaffolding mid-set and dangled upside down by her legs without missing a beat, during a recent outing with Faith No More she shimmied across the club floor on her belly without interruption, and alongside the Melvins, she seamlessly climbed a nearby bar, dancing over patrons’ drinks as she danced her way through Le Butcherettes’ set. Her enthralling and utterly captivating stage presence is a throwback to the early days of punk rock, where there were no rules and no playbook.
It’s no wonder Le Butcherettes’ fans are often some of music’s biggest names. The band’s performances at Lollapalooza, Fun Fun Fun Fest and the aforementioned Coachella have left onlookers stunned and enthralled and become those of legend, as an LA Weekly writer said, “There was a moment we locked eyes. I was genuinely frightened.” The Los Angeles Times said “the reckless antics would be just that if the music wasn’t also incendiary, where every rant or tear shed is amplified for its maximum emotional venom.” SF Weekly proclaimed Teri “a feral tour de force” and WXPN extolled her as “one of music’s most singular presences.”
Following the initial whirlwind of touring behind Cry Is For The Flies, Teri experienced an epiphany while in Japan. After her first tour in the country, she spent a month there, immersing herself within the culture and its idiosyncrasies. It felt worlds away from her native Mexico as well as her sometime home of Los Angeles. “I got really inspired,” she admits. “It’s such a beautiful country. You don’t fear for your life. Everything’s on time. Nothing is ever late. If you lose your wallet on the street, you go back to the police station, and they most likely have it there. There’s an incredible sense of community. It completely works, and you feel safe. It’s the opposite of Latin culture where everything is last minute.”
With that idea of community weighing heavy on her mind, she entered RLP Studios (The Morgue Portable Disaster Unit) in El Paso, Texas with longtime producer Omar Rodriguez Lopez. After two frenetic weeks, the band emerged with the wildly energetic, nefariously catchy, and cinematically warped A Raw Youth. Album opener ‘Shave The Pride’ teeters between a kinetic guitar buzz and a sizzling call-to-arms chorus. “It’s about how sometimes it’s better to just put away your inner ego to serve a higher purpose,” explains Teri. “If everyone here would stop being so vicious, rotten, envious, and swallow their pride, the world we be so much better. We all need to tame ourselves for the common good.”
Later on the album, ‘They Fuck You Over’ brings things full circle for Teri who penned the initial framework of the song at only 16-years-old. “It’s really the story of the band,” she goes on. “Back in Guadalajara, there was so much corruption and jealousy in the music scene. We got stabbed in the back so many times. It was about how hard it is to start a band and keep true to your vision with everyone trying to hold you back.” The record continues a tradition of collaboration with iconic guitarist John Frusciante adding a psychedelic swoon to record closer ‘My Half.’ She smiles, “We had a nice hang session at his house, listening to records, playing music, drinking tea, and watching Amy Schumer after.”
Meanwhile, previous tour mate Iggy Pop adds a gritty sense of savoir faire to the gnashing vaudevillian stomp of ‘La Uva.’ Teri adds, “Music is a portal. It opens up people’s hearts to where you can become friends. After a show, Iggy invited us backstage, and we started speaking Spanish. He encouraged me to keep doing things outside of music. Then, he showed us around South Beach. He blessed the track with something special.”
Le Butcherettes certainly represent that spirit of A Raw Youth as Teri defines it. So, when she’s most free on stage, what does she see? “Every once in a while, I’ll hear my father’s voice,” she says. “He passed away a long time ago, but I can feel like he’s there. It’s this intense freedom that allows for that. I hope everyone can share in it as a community any time we play.”