When Evil Presly and Willy B. formed the Independents in 1992, Presly set up his band’s national tours from a rigged pay phone where he could make long distance calls for free.
The Independents, who play Amos’ Thursday, combined their love of punk, ska, horror and sci-fi movies, inadvertently tapping into the pop-punk, ska and horror-punk booms of the later ’90s – a time when the Misfits and Operation Ivy were long gone, and Green Day was a long, long way from the mainstream.
“We wanted to set ourselves apart,” explains Presly, who took his stage name from another influence. “I loved Alice Cooper and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – not just horror punk. I grew up with two older brothers in the ’80s, where the bands all had flash pots and fire (on stage).”
The Independents mixed the theatricality and showmanship of ’70s and ’80s arena metal with fast-paced punk and ska and nods to horror movies and Elvis.
“We’d come out with this huge intro music, big flash pots, our drummer spitting green pea soup, the guitar player spitting blood,” Presly remembers.
“We toned our show way back after Great White,” he adds of the 2003 Rhode Island club fire that killed 100 people. “We let the music do the talking. We still spit blood. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek.”
What’s not as tongue-in-cheek is the band’s new album, “Into the Light.”
“Most of our records are fun party records. It’s more of an emotional record. Our guitar player lost his brother and father and I lost my mom. A lot of that is in the writing,” says Presly.
The Independents enjoyed a career bump when punk legends the Ramones took a shine to the band. Joey Ramone managed it from 1995 to his death in 2001. With ska and pop-punk booming and Ramone in its corner, the group drew attention from labels who wanted to capitalize on its sound, but not necessarily its look.
“One label wanted us to get pompadours,” Presly recalls with a laugh.
Label interest subsided after Ramone’s death, but the group learned a lot from its friendship with the singer.
“He came in and said, ‘You don’t want to put everything in this one thing.’ That’s what Sire Records did with (the Ramones) and punk got a bad name because of the Sex Pistols and no one wanted to touch it. It became new wave. We were lucky enough to play more than one type of music. We had the horror phase, pop punk and ska,” Presly says.
Ramone noted the diversity of the band’s fans.
“He would fly out to Texas (for instance) to watch a show and do a couple songs with us. He would say, ‘Your fan base is so varied. You’ve got college kids in one town, preppies in another town, rockabilly guys, skinheads, punk kids ... You’ve got to focus on getting exposure,’ ” Presly says. Ramone talked them up to Conan O’Brien and Howard Stern on the air.
The Ramones also advised the band to retain the rights to its T-shirts and merchandise, which led Willy B. to open a screen-printing business.
“We build everything. Joey loved that about us,” says Presly of staying afloat in a fickle industry.
“I’ve got friends who sold a million records that are working day jobs now. They may draw 30 to 40 people a night, when they used to draw 5,000.”
Courtney’s blog: cltsoundbites.blogspot.com