A couple of years ago, the Fatal Flying Guilloteens were at the top of their game. Not only was their punk-garage music synonymous with what was hot, but they had started to accrete band folklore. Tales -- not all of them untrue -- were spreading in the bars about the four guys who dressed up in Lone Ranger-style masks and cowboy suits and went apeshit on stage. Drummer Mike Guilloteen is alleged to have kicked his counterpart from Rainer Maria in the head. Singer Shawn Guilloteen was led from the Aerial Theater stage in cuffs after a beery brawl with a stagehand at the 2001 Press Music Awards Showcase. The band was said to have touched off a full-scale riot at the final show at Austin dive the Bates Motel.
And unlike most local bands, the Guilloteens had even managed to maintain a steady fan base. It's true that most of these people were their friends, but the band had a lot of them and they came to every show.
Then, just as it seemed things couldn't get much better for the band, they gained an influential fan in Tim Kerr, the punk rock legend. Kerr, who called them "the garage rock Gang of Four," got the band signed to Seattle's Estrus Records, and the label put out The Now Hustle for New Diaboliks, one of the best albums of 2000. It seemed that at last a Houston band would break out nationally, at least on a small scale. The record received rave reviews, Estrus was happy, Kerr was happy, the Houston scene was happy, and the Fatal Flying Guilloteens were breaking up? What?
The Fatal Flying Guilloteens release Get Knifed
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Welcome to the Houston underground, where no one makes it out alive. Get together, kick ass, break up and leave a pretty legacy. In this city, all the best bands seem to implode before their time. How could the Guilloteens expect things to be different for them?
The band -- which includes Shawn, Mike and bassist Roy Guilloteen, and guitarist Brian, who goes by the surname McGuilloteen -- was coming apart at the seams in grand Behind the Music style. The chaos that riddled every show, the very disorder that the band had once courted, now threatened to end the spectacle forever. Shawn left the band (for reasons he won't discuss), and it looked like Houston's band graveyard had another prominent tombstone.
John Adams had other plans. Adams -- not to be confused with his namesake president or the recent contestant on American Idol -- is a local drummer with stints in Jessica 6 and the White Papers on his résumé. A close friend and fan of the band's, Adams wanted to resurrect the Guilloteens with himself behind the drum kit and Mike promoted to front man.
Everyone agreed that this was a great idea -- everyone except Mike. Shawn's antics and songs were the stuff of Guilloteens myth, and to replace him would be a sacrilege akin to bringing the Doors back from the dead sans Jim Morrison, albeit with John Densmore at the helm instead of Ian Astbury.
"Honestly, I really wasn't confident about it until the fourth or fifth song was written," Mike says. "I was at every practice helping put this song together or that song together, which was really difficult for me because I wasn't playing an instrument, and I certainly didn't want to be that guy that's always saying, 'No, no, no.' [But] by the time we finished the record I was pretty enthused."
The new album is called Get Knifed, and as you might expect from the violent title, it's a lot harder than the band's previous release. Most of the cowboy references have been herded off into the sunset, and the Guilloteens have disproved the notion that they are nothing more than a crazy garage act. In fact, the arrangements are so much tighter on this album that "garage" is the last word that comes to mind.
But despite the change in lineup and the diversity of their solo projects -- Brian's soul/hip-hop-based Filthy McNasty and Roy's metal/hardcore act Defend the Ghetto -- the sound of the Guilloteens isn't that different on the new album.
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"All of us know pretty much what the Guilloteens sound like," Mike says. "The only person that had to get used to our erratic writing process -- the fact that we don't practice for months, and then have to write a record in a week -- is John, and I think he fell in line pretty quickly."
But not long after the completion of Get Knifed came the latest shocker: Shawn decided to rejoin the band. Shawn and Mike now trade off on vocals, John and Shawn switch out on second guitar, and Mike and John take turns on the drums.
But whether the quintet can avoid another meltdown remains to be seen. Guilloteens: Act II could be more like Guilloteens: The Epilogue.
"Well, the first thing I would say to that is 'epilogue' is a huge word and I don't know what that means," says Brian. "But we've always been friends, even when Shawn was out of the band, and we've already starting booking tour dates. We're even thinking about touring Europe and Japan, so if it's gonna be a brief thing, it's also gonna be well traveled."