The Lost Years
Culturcide's implosion at the tail end of the '80s might have been more of an event if the band hadn't been so uneventful in the first place. Rather than self-destructing in a fist-clenched blaze of glory, Houston's seminal underground deviants suffered an anonymous meltdown, their various personal, legal and financial woes slicing the group to ribbons with inconspicuous precision.
"We just sort of went out with a whimper," says Perry Webb, the band's good-natured, somewhat evasive lead vocalist.
Still, you get the feeling he wouldn't have had it any other way. A low-key eccentric, Webb has been engaged in a subtle and mysterious form of subversion for what seems like forever; only he knows what he's rebelling against -- and he'll never tell.
Chilling at his Montrose apartment with Culturcide guitarist and co-founder Dan Workman, the band's lyricist and self-appointed loon looks disheveled in ratty jeans and a worn T-shirt, the latter's silk-screened image faded beyond recognition. He's barefoot, and his brown hair has that snarled, just-out-of-bed quality. Webb doesn't own an answering machine, so reaching him directly can be an exercise in futility; usually it's best just to call one of Culturcide's more accessible band members and have him relay the message.
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The sparsely furnished Webb homestead has the scattershot, oddly cozy aura of an artist's loft, but Webb is no artist, and you'd be a fool to contend otherwise in front of the man himself. Webb is vague when prodded about his work outside the realm of Culturcide's twisted noise/punk stratum, finally offering that he works as a curator at a prominent local art museum -- the name of which he'd rather not mention. But he now sees his on-and-off stint with Culturcide over the last 18 years as something less than aesthetically profound.
"It was too many years of being called an art rocker, I guess," cracks Webb with typically aloof sarcasm.
Webb's marginal appearance and rotund midriff speak to lifestyle habits he may or may not be endorsing on "A Day at My Job," one of the more bracing and succinct tracks from Culturcide's new CD, Home-Made Authority. "I've got to eat a lot of sugar and a big pile of grease," he blathers semi-coherently over Workman's reverbed metal leads, which suggest Eddie Van Halen on nitrous.
Webb is that rarest of lead vocalists who sings just as he speaks -- in a slurred delivery that implies either a state of semi-drunkenness or mild brain damage. But as the bluntly articulated disgust on Home-Made Authority attests, Webb is no bungling half-wit, and he's still as fed-up as he ever was; his current Culturcide output is downright lethal. With such unnerving titles as "Ten Orgasms a Day," "Feeling/Die" and "Tunnel of Blood," the 16 songs on Authority are not for the emotionally queasy or the easily offended. On the requisite hidden bonus track, Webb admonishes the weak-willed to find sympathy and understanding elsewhere: "Run away from your feelings / Run away from your problems / But don't come here." Throughout the droning diatribe, Webb sounds like a weary visitor from another dimension transmitting through a broken speaker phone.
From a musical standpoint, Culturcide's voracious appetite for disassembled noise and found sounds, not to mention its steadfast adherence to the punk ethos, is more pronounced than ever on Home-Made Authority, as is the band's erratic attention span. Authority tackles heavy metal, hard-core, keyed-up trucker country, white-trash psychedelia and more, contaminating the mix with random profanity and a sick undercurrent of self-parody.
Meanwhile, Culturcide's latest configuration is more kick-ass than ever, with Truth Decay's Scott Ayers, Ralf Armin and Frank Garymartin on guitar, bass and drums, respectively. In addition to Webb and Workman, early Culturcide bassist John Ramos has also returned to the fold (yep, that makes two bassists).
But will an outrageous new album and a solid lineup be enough to reclaim credibility within Texas's DIY underbelly? Workman thinks so. "We knew a lot of bands and we played with a lot of bands in their formative stages," he says. "I think that we influenced other bands."
"Like who?" Webb mockingly inquires, summing up Culturcide's appeal in this way: "They're freaks, we're freaks; they hear it."
On this muggy late-spring evening, Perry Webb's chosen stimulant is THC. At some point during our shoddy excuse for an interview, he fires up a half-smoked joint, periodically and halfheartedly drawing on its crumpled tip. Directly to his right is an ancient television, its screen caked in dust and looking like it hasn't been illuminated in months -- maybe years. A rickety antenna is perched atop the set; there's not a cable box or remote control in sight. More signs, one would assume, of Webb's unwillingness to conform to the norm -- or, at the very least, to the American consumer mentality.
Seated across the tiny living room from Webb in an old armchair, Dan Workman sips a soda and observes his band mate's antics with a bemused grin and the occasional cackle. Trim and immaculately (if casually) dressed, Workman seems the polar opposite of Webb, choosing his words carefully and addressing questions more directly -- though with far less color -- than his old pal. Workman has come a long way since Culturcide's original dissolution almost a decade ago. Today, he is a respected producer and co-owner of Houston's Sugar Hill Studios, which begs the question: Why dredge up the past?
Workman contends the reason is simple: Culturcide's is a history devoid of closure. "We had this huge volume of all this original stuff that we'd been playing."
Adds Webb, "We disintegrated before we could even record our best songs."
That disintegration began with Culturcide's thieving 1986 epic, Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America. A blatantly illegal work of manic-dub genius, the album (now unavailable) ransacked 14 of the 1980s' most vapid radio hits -- everything from "We Are the World" to "Ebony and Ivory." In keeping with its lo-fi, anti-technology stance, Culturcide simply rerecorded the tracks, changing the titles (for example, "We Aren't the World") and superimposing nasty, disparaging vocals, jarring cut-and-paste clatter and dizzying loop effects over the original versions -- all, of course, without authorization.
Despite the band's haphazard distribution methods, Tacky Souvenirs managed to find its way to a number of critics, several of whom commended the band for brazenly going where no other indie outfit had gone before. (Some of those same writers commented on the album's one-off feel -- funny, considering the album took the band five years to complete.)
Though Tacky Souvenirs wasn't always easy for the layman to track down, it did earn Culturcide a kind of cult celebrity. But the costs far outweighed the benefits: Representatives for three artists whose work was desecrated on Tacky Souvenirs threatened legal action, and subsequent settlements emptied the band's already piddling coffers. The ensuing lull in Culturcide's spirits, combined with various creative conflicts and substance abuse issues, eventually led to the group's calling it quits in 1990. Naturally, Tacky Souvenirs is now a collector's item.
"We knew that it was going to happen, but we didn't know how far it would go," Workman says.
Adds Webb, "That record sounds more outrageous now than it did then. But it just fucked the band up to make that record. Then, it was successful, and we had this huge burst of energy. But creatively, we were already fucked."
From the start, Culturcide was never meant to be a full-time gig for its membership. Assembled in 1980 by Webb and record-store clerk Jim Craine out of a mutual admiration for punk rock and preindustrial noise auteurs Throbbing Gristle, the group released its first single, "Consider Museums as Concentration Camps/Another Miracle," with no intention of playing to support it. Workman, a longtime jazz freak and recent convert to new wave, was brought in to play guitar on the track. Soon enough, local demand dictated that the trio perform live. They ditched the beat box for a human drummer and began playing around town, their sound evolving into something resembling rock and roll, albeit a dissonant variation.
"We were not a punk-rock band at all," says Workman. "We were doing something that was more influenced by British and European noise bands."
"Mixed in with rock," says Webb. "But God, I hate to go back to the early period; it sounds so bad to describe it."
Culturcide's debut LP, Year One, was released in 1982 and composed solely of live performances. The band's draconian sampling techniques involved mounds of portable tape recorders playing prerecorded cassettes. The results were often startling -- perhaps too startling for Craine, who left soon after the album was released. "We've destroyed a lot of lives -- I mean, we've had a lot of band members," Webb quips.
Despite the band's internal turmoil, Culturcide's popularity continued to snowball in underground circles as the decade wore on, a streak capped by a brief West Coast tour in 1985. Though the band did record on the tiny punk imprint CIA, labels with any aboveground connections wouldn't go near Culturcide. The release of Tacky Souvenirs only sealed the band's unsavory commercial status. Yet, the group continued to perform into the late 1980s -- even touring Europe -- before eventually packing it in.
Attempts to resurrect Culturcide were all for naught until 1993, when Workman and Webb began work on the material that would fill Home-Made Authority "We decided it was time to start documenting this music," Workman says.
In some sense, Authority is an album 18 years in the making, and much like the band that recorded it, it's still very much a work in progress. More and more, it's apparent that Culturcide is a project best left perpetually unfinished.
"People with time tables, I think are stupid," says Webb. "It's like, well, we're going to make an album a year -- like a well-regulated digestive system. And the albums all suck. I feel like I have a maximum of six albums in me, so I figure I'm about halfway done."
Culturcide performs on Friday, July 17, at Mary Jane's, 4216 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 9 p.m. Cover is $5. Rusted Shut and 23 open. For info, call 869-
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