The Showcase Showdown
Appetite of Kings (Elevator Music)
An interview with Ping Pong, Tom, Victoria, and Chez Nips
by Scott Hefflon
live photo by Dya Khalsa
In a day and age when being called the best punk band in Boston means more than that the other band is going to be mad at you, The Showcase Showdown are surprisingly lucid and accessible. With a tongue (hopefully their own) so far in cheek it threatens to poke through, the SS tear up the topics of punk politics, media, L.A., the police, the FBI, religion, and lots of stuff I don’t really understand but enjoying singing along to. Oi oi oi! “Roller-girl” is sung in French – impressive, huh? While my immediate impression was Dead Kennedys-era Cali punk, mostly because of the frantic not-distorted-to-fuzz guitar sound and wacky jabberings of the singer, the overall effect is more snotty Sloppy Seconds. (That’s before they sadly became the sloppy seconds of mid-tempo Ramone-drone.) Appetite of Kings is the Showcase Showdown’s first full-length, and sounds crisper (without copping that stadium mega-sound) than anything they’ve yet recorded. 16 songs of peppy punk pleasure crammed into 23 minutes.
Thanks to the members of the Showcase Showdown for rescheduling their Spin and Rolling Stone interviews to arrange this one in time for deadline.
I saw you guys open for Rancid on their last tour; how did that come about?
Tom: Somebody called us.
Ping Pong: We don’t usually play Monday night shows, so we were available.
It was also a way to see the show for free. Would you have paid to get into that show?
Victoria: At least, not on Lansdowne Street. In fact, we thought we were never going to play on Lansdowne Street.
Was it a goal to one day play on Lansdowne Street?
Victoria: It was probably more of a goal to avoid playing there.
So no aspirations to open for Vince Neil cover bands on Axis’ heavy metal Wednesday?
Tom: I have to say we’ve done worse. I mean, we’ve played Club 3 in Somerville. We also played the Midway Cafe, and that was a nightmare. Or perhaps we were the nightmare for everyone in the bar. They even apologized for us.
Ping Pong: They chased after people who were leaving and said, “I’m really sorry, come back another night when the music isn’t so bad.”
Victoria: And those were our friends.
Tom: We also played at Sir Morgan’s Cove, in Worcester. That was a mistake. We were there for only about 20 minutes. We pulled up about three hours late, and loaded directly onto stage to play for one person. Then we loaded back up again and left.
Ping Pong: And to top it off, we were bad.
Chez Nips: I think we’re still owed money for that show.
So what are your eating/drinking habits?
Ping Pong: We all do imbibe liquids occasionally. Some of us snack more than we drink, and some of us drink more than we snack.
What’s the surprising food of choice?
Ping Pong: Surprising? TetraMin tropical fish food. It tastes quite good, actually. It’s kind of a flaky fish meal, that, well, comes in these flakes…
Victoria: He ate an entire box when I had fish.
Ping Pong: It was not the whole box. I left some.
Victoria: It’s expensive…
Ping Pong: It’s a delicacy. It’s not like I go to the pet store, you understand, to buy TetraMin. But if, by chance, I’m visiting a friend who has fish, I may partake of some. It’s like Chez Nips with the crack.
Are any of you, like, vegans or anything?
Ping Pong: I have a tattoo that says Carnivore.
The concept or the New York band with the super-schlonged singer?
Ping Pong: The concept. Where have you been hanging out?
I was in a club in DC and Peter Steele, the singer, came in and took a leak in the sink. I was impressed.
Ping Pong: Really? Hmmm. We don’t pee in the sink. That’s a little too punk.
You are all very well-mannered for punk rockers, I must say.
Ping Pong: We’ll get you on the way out, don’t worry.
So, ah, howzabout that new album, Appetite of Kings, you guys have out?
Victoria: Buy it from us, then we get the money.
Tom: Basically, we knew The Pist, who’d done a record for Fernando (Pinto – Elevator Music label manager), and they’d mentioned us. He wanted to put out another punk band and he asked us and we said, ya know, OK.
You seem like California punk rock circa 1979, like Dead Kennedys perhaps… Why are you looking at me funny?
Tom: Well, that’s alright. I can see the similarities with the shaking vocal stuff…
Ping Pong: What shaking vocal stuff? People compare us to them all the time, and while I like what Jello (DK singer) does, I don’t think I sound anything like him.
Tom: Their music is weirder than ours. We play straight-forward, like a fast Sham 69ish kinda thing.
Victoria: They’re more talented than we are.
Tom: We listen to a lot of old Oi!, but not the brutal skinhead stuff. More of the early stuff. We also listen to a lot of the bands that kept playing punk when no one cared.
Victoria: Cocksparrer, Toy Dolls – that’s not to say we sound like them, but we like them
Tom: Like every band, we try to steal from a million forms to make our sound. For someone who doesn’t listen to punk rock, it’s easy to say every punk band in the world stole from the Sex Pistols, but that’s just the starting place. We definitely all like the Sex Pistols, but there’re so many bands after that. Most people have the Sex Pistols CD next to their Sonic Youth CDs and Soundgarden CDs. We all listen to weird stuff, and I’m sure it all filters in somehow. Ping listens to ’60s French pop – that’s where “Roller-girl” comes from.
What bands play ’60s French pop?
Ping Pong: I’d imagine bands that were there at that time.
Chez Nips: And they’re often French.
Ping Pong: It’s a whole genre we don’t deal with a lot over here. People should just listen to all kinds of different stuff, and then decide what they like. The way to have a variety of influences is to buy a lot of different records.
Any other interesting influences?
Tom: We wrote the last song after filling a room with ammonia and bleach.
Victoria: We found out later that’s basically nerve gas, but we did write a good song. And we’ve all been great friends since then. We might have to do that on a regular basis.
How is it being on a real label now?
Ping Pong: We wouldn’t really know.
Chez Nips: We have an ad in your magazine.
Victoria: I wasn’t even aware we were doing ads.
Tom: Ah, Fernando. He’s been cool; we don’t get any money, but we get all the product we need.
Ping Pong: And all the girls and pretzels we want.
Chez Nips: I never get any.
Tom: Well, we don’t let you in on everything.
You guys have great song titles, how about a song by song? Who does the lyrics?
Tom: We all throw in some stuff, but Ping writes most of the words.
Ping Pong: The ideas are very much a group effort.
Tom: Ping may pick a chord and write a song, then I’ll add my own guitar line with my own frills. We all do that.
Victoria: We’re a band with a lot of frills.
Chez Nips: A lot of what?
So the release has 16 songs, roughly 23 minutes…
Ping Pong: Yup, they go quickly so if you don’t like one, it’ll be over soon and there’ll be another following shortly.
This is your first full-length CD, right?
Ping Pong: We’ve been on compilations, but this is our first, all us CD. We’ve done 7”s, but no splits. I want to do splits.
Tom: The problem we have with releases is that our songs are so short. Non-punk bands can be lazier and write, like, five songs and have an EP; we had to write 16 songs to get one.
Do you do much with solos?
Tom: If that’s what you want to call them…
Ping Pong: He does special solos. He plays slightly differently, and it’s very good. And they’re short. They pack a punch, and then we move on.
Tom: They’re kind of all the same thing, but I like them.
Victoria: I think they’re excellent. I’m really proud – there are nice little leads and intricacies, for us at least – I think we’re entering a new realm here.
What other bands in this area do you like?
Victoria: August Spies. They’re the best band in Boston. The Unseen are a good band, so are the Freaks. They come over here and they throw up on our porch, they say “Anarchy!”…
Ping Pong: Everything is smash the state with those guys.
Victoria: There are a lot of good bands around here right now. And in New Jersey, too. That’s like the new punk rock capital.
Do you have any social or political agenda that you work into your songs?
Ping Pong: Oh yes. We are all very much for.
Very affirmative. Are you for anything in particular, or don’t you like to get bogged down in petty specifics?
Chez Nips: We are for beer.
Tom: We are for dogs’ rights to vote. One dog one vote.
Ping Pong: I don’t have a CD player, so let me see what songs are on this thing. We are for anti-discrimination against people who don’t have CD players. Let’s see… “The Pool of Condemnation” shows that we’re all for (cough) Barbara Cartland. “Police, Police” is not that we’re against the police, we’re just for the police of yesterday.
Ah, subtle – hence the nostalgic, hand-wringing repetition of the word Police. Brilliant.
Ping Pong: Yes. It expresses a dichotomy, and yet, in the end, the message in positive. “Bark the Vote,” as mentioned before, is our professed belief that dogs should be able to vote. But truthfully, it goes deeper than that in that we are for America.
Is there nothing, then, that you’re actually against?
Ping Pong: We’re actually against Los Angeles. But we’re in favor of the destruction of L.A., so we are for its destruction.
Is it specifically the 213 area code, as is cleverly hidden in the title “213,” or could that be generalized to the whole of California?
Ping Pong: I feel 213 is representative, but they can all go to hell. I look at it this way, the area code is one area, but there are streets and telephone lines that connect to other areas. They can all just fall into the ocean as far as I’m concerned.
OK, so how about a different song you enjoy.
Ping Pong: I like “The Anointed Comb.” It’s about a religious barbershop we encountered in North Carolina called The Anointed Comb. I would have to say that we are in favor of, for, if you will, religious barbershops. And yet the song is broader, and very positive, by saying, “Only in America can you have your hair cut religiously, if you choose, or you can have it cut non-religiously – and that’s alright, too.”
Tom: We are also for portly actors. And yet, we are wary of their using their additional bigness in the wrong ways.
Ping Pong: I would really have to say that we aren’t against anything; we just may be cryptic and critical at times, but it truly is a loving support that we give to the nations of the world and all people everywhere.
Tom: We are somewhat critical of people who don’t acknowledge and share in these things with us. Like the Walk for Hunger…
Ping Pong: I think there should be a Drive for Hunger, where you get in your car and drive somewhere far away. And what about the Jet for Hunger – people pledge money so you can fly somewhere.
Chez Nips: When we do the Ten Day Tour this summer, why don’t we all go out and get pledges? We’ll Tour for Hunger.
Victoria: I’m not really convinced about the hunger component.
Tom: Those people are trying to bring civilization back to the barbarians, and we’re living in the future. Some people have called us retro, but we’re really not; we’re post-now.
Ping Pong: It’s difficult to live life this way, because sometimes people just don’t understand. We know undisclosable things about the future, and yet hot plates give us a hell of time. In the future there are no hot plates.
Chez Nips: But there are vending machines.
Ping Pong: Oh, are there ever vending machines. I’ll tell you this: As soon as dogs vote, dogs will be allowed to use vending machines, then once dogs use vending machines then dogs can make demands. They can then say what they want and don’t want in vending machines. They can say where they want and don’t want vending machines. And what they want in vending machines is everything. And where do they want them? Everywhere. So in the future, there is everything in vending machines, and vending machines are everywhere.
Ah, yes, so… Any other songs you want to talk about?
Ping Pong: Actually, I don’t really like to reveal everything about the songs. I’d like to have people hear the songs, and try to figure them out for themselves. Funny thing is, most often people are terribly wrong. But that’s only because most people are stupid.
You are for stupidity, I would imagine?
Ping Pong: Oh, very much so. We’re very pro-stupidity.
Chez Nips: That’s why they have me in the band.
Ping Pong: I have a theory. There are a lot of bands out there that are entirely stupid, but if we had an affirmative action plan where every band of non-stupid people takes on a band member that is stupid, all the stupid bands would go away. Then you’d have all bands that are three-quarters, or one-half, not stupid. As a result, music would improve tremendously.
Chez Nips: Can you explain that again?
Ping Pong: I never said he was the stupid one in the band.
Chez Nips: He doesn’t realize I’ve been sniffing nail polish during this entire interview.