Thunder Boogie (Traktor7)
An interview with singer/guitarist Pete Knipfing
by Scott Hefflon
photo by Pia Schachter
Whenever you interview a guy in a band you go drinking with, especially at a watering hole like The Model in Allston, what’s actually caught on tape rarely makes much sense. Too many friends/posers/gladhanders butting in, too many pauses to order more drinks, and, ya know, the interview is kinda secondary to drinking with your bud. Most of my questions, quite honestly, are simply repeats of something he just said. For instance, we were talking about how a couple members of Milligram were from Stompbox, and Pete commented that he was still living in Tennessee at that time. So I ask, “So Pete, where ya from originally?” and we both laugh. Cuz I did that a lot.
In a different era, Lamont would’ve played with bands like AC/DC, ZZ Top, maybe early Aerosmith. They would’ve sold a couple million records, had a greatest hits record, and be played at barbecues and beach parties while kegs were drained and hot rock chicks were hit on. Now they play to hairy, tough-looking, hard-drinking rockers who like AC/DC but keep current on underground bands. There’s no “neo-classic rock” scene, really, at least not one you’d wanna be a part of. Clueless suburban cover bands, the mainstream pop rock on the radio, with not much in-between. Lamont play songs with choruses you can remember and sing along with without sounding like a pussy. They write riffs that smoke, that make you wanna pick up a guitar and learn that lick. And you get the feeling that if you went to a show, they’d be hot chicks, rugged’n’grubby-looking dudes, and both are swilling Bud bottles and having a good time. Pretentious indie twerps and scenester posers will be elbowed in the face, so just hang out, rock out, and stop trying to be so fuckin’ cool, huh?
Thunder Boogie is your second full-length, did you do anything before Population 3?
We did a split EP with Rock City Crimewave on Curve of the Earth. That came out in ’99. Population 3 came out in 2000, and Thunder Boogie came out in late 2002.
Tell me the story of the cover of Population 3.
There’s a town in Wyoming called Lamont, with a population of three. And we’re a three-piece. Our drummer’s dad took that photo when driving through there. But we named the band after Lamont from Sanford & Son. I was going to drive out there when I drove my ex-girlfriend out to L.A., have her take a photo of me next to the sign, but it was like nine hours out of the way. And really, what’s going to be there, two backhoes and a trailer? But I want to play a show for those three people someday…
How did Population 3 do?
Sales-wise, I don’t know. We didn’t make a ton of money, but we got good exposure, distro in Europe, and a lot of people really liked the record. It was our first experience promoting and all that.
You guys played the Emissions fest on the strength of that CD, how’d that go?
It was great. We played Sunday, the last day, with Alabama Thunderpussy, Bottom, JJ Paradise’s Players Club, Milligram, The Rubes, and Orange Goblin. It was a good day. There was another band, from San Francisco, called Lost Goat, my favorite band there. Really weird, but really good. The drummer was great, not to mention gorgeous.
There’s a world of difference between Population 3, which is a good record, and Thunder Boogie, which is on par with, like, Clutch, and the best of the best.
Thanks. I think after a couple years of touring, we just got better. I really like the consistency of Thunder Boogie. Most of the songs are good, but not every performance was up to par on Population 3.
Did you listen to anything different between records that might’ve influenced the sound?
We used to be more rockabilly-esque. But we kinda got away from the psychobilly… I’d like to be somewhere between a heavy Country punk band and Slayer: Fast, thrashy garage rock. We get compared a lot to early Raging Slab, which is cool cuz I like that band.
You went with a brand new label, Traktor7, from here in Boston, but after all that touring, you must’ve met all the guys from Tee Pee, Underdogma, and Small Stone… Why?
Yeah, we met all those guys, and we get along with them and tour with their bands, but one of the things we really wanted to do was a digipack. And Jonas (Jenkins) had all that stuff, all the distro contacts and everything cuz he knows sooo many people from being in various bands (Only Living Witness, Miltown, Milligram). And as long as we got to do the artwork we wanted and he’d hire a publicist to do national college radio, we were in.
You’re not originally from Boston, are you?
I hail from Johnson City, Tennessee, and I’m a graduate of Daniel Boone High School. Our biggest rival was Davie Crockett High School. The opening game of football was The Musket Bowl. Swear to God.
When did you move to Boston?
Winter of ’95. Bad winter.
What was your first band here?
This one. I worked at Big Burrito for three years, got drunk, just was a loser cuz I couldn’t find anyone I wanted to play with.
Had you been in bands in Tennessee?
Yeah, but nothing that was going anywhere. I played in a couple bands in Knoxville and Nashville, and we played out a bit, not nothing compared to this… What’s funny is that the first band I was ever in opened for Superdrag. I used to live in the same house as those dudes before they got signed. They were the only band in town; that was the music scene. It’s retardsville, man. I grew up 20 minutes from where Deliverance was filmed. The elementary school I went to was Daniel Boone Elementary – cuz that’s supposedly where he’s from – and in this glass case, they have part of this tree stump, and in it is carved “D. Boone killed a bar,” meaning a bear, and so the schools are named after a dumb redneck who couldn’t spell bear. That’s what our team was called, The Bars. That shit wouldn’t fly in New England.
Were the band members the same then as now?
No, I’m the only original band member left. We had a girl drummer, Meaghan McLaughlin, who played with Andrew Schneider in Barbaro, and they got pretty big. The bass player moved to Austin, he’s still not rockin’. Todd (Bowman, drums) joined, and he’s still here, and Mike (Cosgrove, bass), who was with us until just recently.
Have you always been a three-piece?
We’ve thought about getting a singer or a guitarist so I don’t have to do both, but it’s just one more person to argue with.
How many band members have you gone through?
With Mike quitting recently, our next will be our fifth bass player. Todd’s been the drummer on everything we’ve ever recorded, but we have trouble finding bass players who are any good. The bass follows the guitar, and while I wouldn’t say it’s intricate, really, it’s not stupid… So it’s not Rush, but it’s not Black Sabbath.
What’s your musical background?
A lot of classic rock, punk rock, and thrash. I love early Metallica and Slayer and Motörhead and ZZ Top.
You just covered a ZZ Top song…
Yeah, we were in Toledo, Ohio, playing with Five Horse Johnson, and Scott (Hamilton) from Small Stone asked us to do a song for a ’70s tribute he was putting together (called Sucking the ’70s), but he told us we couldn’t do a Kiss song. He wanted us to do Cheap Trick, and I can’t imagine us doing a Cheap Trick song, so we talked him into letting us do a ZZ Top song. We’re the only band on the double-CD doing a ZZ Top song, and the tune we picked wasn’t a hit.
No one did “Tush.” That was always one of my faves.
Great song. That’s also on Fandango, which is half live and half studio. We did the first studio track on that record, “Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings.” It’s a hidden bonus track on Thunder Boogie.
Did you record it at the same time as your album, and with the same producer?
Different time, same producer. Andrew Schneider is the only producer we’ve ever really worked with. He also played bass in Lamont for a while. That guy is crazy busy. I begged him to play bass when Mike quit. (laughs) We recorded the cover in January, cuz Scott said he needed it February, so we rushed in when we got back from that tour, and then the record didn’t come out for almost a year… (laughs) We did another tour with Quintaine Americana in the Spring, then went into the studio and recorded these new songs. Quintaine had an EP called The Devil Went Down to Mississippi a couple years ago on Curve of the Earth, but that’s it since Decade of the Brain back in ’98. They have a new CD coming out in March, and us and Scissorfight are playing their record release party. We’re covering “Whiplash” by Metallica. Jonas is going to sing and Pete from Quintaine is going to play second guitar. It’s going to be sick! We’re probably going to be doing more thrashy stuff in the future, cuz we had so much fun working on that cover. Boogie thrash, yeah!
I never pegged you as a metal dood…
Yeah, I’m big into the early Metallica and Slayer shit, and the first time I heard Van Halen, it changed my life. When my dearly departed dad had his first heart attack, I was a senior in high school. And my parents, being the strict rednecks they were, would never let their derelict, skateboarding punk rock kid have the house to himself. So my dad had a heart attack, my mom had to spend a few nights in the hospital, and I had a party. I had a whole bunch of my white trash friends over, and my friend Keith came over with his brand new car stereo with the huge woofers in the back. He says “you gotta hear this guitar solo!” So we’re all standing around in my gravel driveway, he pops the trunk, opens the doors, and puts in Van Halen and “You Really Got Me” and “Eruption” just floored me. I went out the next day and bought a guitar. I knew right then that I wanted to play guitar, that I wanted to be able to play like that.
And you used to skate?
Yeah, a lot. I grew up with Matt Mahaffey, the singer of the band Self, and we used to skate at this place called The Backyard, and all the older kids’d play Metallica’s Master of Puppets, and I thought that was coolest music in the world. I didn’t realize they had other records out until my older sister – who was always too cool to hang out with me – started getting stoned with me on the way to school, playing Ride the Lightening and Kill ‘Em All. I smoked my first joint to Shout at the Devil. But I didn’t start playing guitar until my senior year.
You graduated in what year?
And the first Van Halen record was released in what year?
Master… was ’86, Shout… was ’84, and you were getting all this in ’91?
I mentioned I was in Tennessee, right? Daniel Boone High School? (laughs) But I got into Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss right when it came out, and I liked it better than Nevermind… [There are gasps from surrounding tables.] I liked Cowboys from Hell a lot, too. It was the perfect crossover between thrash and Van Halen. I was obsessed with Van Halen, by the way. And I’ve been into AC/DC since I was, like, eight… I still listen to them a lot. Let There Be Rock and the live one, If you Want Blood… Those guys used to play in bars… Can you even imagine that? We’d shit our pants if we ever saw anyone anywhere near that good now…
What about music now, so we don’t sound so old and nostalgic?
I think Zen Guerilla is great, hands down. They smoke the shit out of everyone. We did a tour down to Texas, and the only good band we played with was Five Horse Johnson, who I really like. When we got back, Zen Guerilla opened for Supersuckers and the Hellacopters at the Middle East. I like the other two bands a lot, but Zen Guerilla made them look ridiculous. I think the Cherry Valance are sick, too. I also love Throttlerod’s cover of “Black Betty” on the Sucking the ’70s comp, and Raging Slab’s cover of “We’re An American Band.” There are some good bands from here as well: Scissorfight, Quintaine, Cracktorch… There are other bands that are really good too, but I think they focus too much on the local scene. I love to play my hometown, don’t get me wrong, but I want to tour the country, I want to tour all the time…
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