THERE'S NOT MUCH crying in Detroit. Historically, the city's punk rock wails and flails and speeds along haphazardly. It overintoxicates itself and cuts itself on sharp objects and copious rock idolatry. But it doesn't get weepy. So when a guy called Timmy Vulgar gets depressed, it doesn't come out as a shimmery cry. As Mr. Vulgar himself puts it on "Low Fashion Lovers," the first track of the band's latest release, Shapes of Venus (In the Red), "High-energy creatures are always alone." Ain't it a bitch?
THE CLONE DEFECTS THE INTELLIGENCE Comet Tavern, 922 E. Pike St., 206- 323-9853, $5 9 p.m. Sat., June 28
It'd be so much easier if Detroit really were the party all the new garage-rock kids make it out to bean endless Whisky a Go Go where everyone arrives in a muscle car and a beat-up leather jacket. But, Jesus, have you seen that place? Miles and miles of abandoned hope, neutered warehouses, and grass that won't growbleak darkness, dark bleakness. I get sad just thinking about it. Out there, they get put out and pissed off, but by and large, they don't cry about it. Still, ask the Clone Defects' frontman what songwriting principles guide his band's raw and bombastic garage-punk trash, and he isn't afraid to use the S-word. Hell, he'll even use it twice.
"I want to write stuff that's loud, fast, and sad at the same time. A songwriting goal? The coolest, weirdest, catchiest, saddest song someone could ever lay ears on."
So hey, lay your ears on this: Shapes of Venus' "Procrastination Babys" [sic] sets itself up with a pummeling, old-school rock lead but quickly turns tail. "Dry my tears with this old dirty shirt," Vulgar sings. It's a loud bark followed by a bite where it really hurts. The deep drum sound is a heartbeat muffled by an old, stained mattress; the guitars, naturally, play the blues. Nearly every track is a balled-up fist in front of a teary-eyed face, but by the last track, the fist has unclenched: The instrumental "Dear John" is just plain old distress with a slide.
And then there's the Otis Redding cover. Clearly, the Clone Defects are not afraid of displaying their emotions; they just have their own way of making tragedy seem tough. Lest you get the impression that they think of life as one long lament, songs like "Ain't No New Buzz" (with its brief and violently contradictory guitar buzz intro) and "Rabid Animal Detector" (all biofeedback lab-rat blues and neoscientific blue-collar list ticking) provide a topical range uncommon in their little corner of the rock 'n' roll worldto their credit, there's not a single song about Camaros. Nevertheless, Vulgar and his teammatesbassist Chuck Foggs, drummer Fast Eddie, and guitarist Wild Mid Weswouldn't necessarily be offended if you sat them at the same table as the rest of the garage-rock revivalists.
Want proof? "I love aliens and science and insects and creatures and flying saucers and naked women and apes and rock 'n' roll," says Vulgar via e-mail. More proof? A partial list of Vulgar's influences: Mick Ronson, Keith Moon, Bruce Lee, Keith Richards, Helios Creed, Chrome, Crime, Electric Eels, Radio Birdman. "That's the most timeless music in the world," he says.
Timeless, tasteless, and trashedthe Clone Defects aspire to the same trajectory as their heroes. From the start, playing shows with friends in bands who would go on to be friends in glossy boldface type (the Go, the White Stripes, the Henchmen), they've subsisted on an underground existentialist aesthetic that truly doesn't give a fuck. They belong to a stratum of bands that don't necessarily get a lot of media attention, even in their hometowns. But the Defectsas well as bands like Seattle's Spits and A-Frames, with whom they recently shared a sold-out bill at Chicago's Blackoutcontinue to thrive right through to the present post-technology-spike slump.
Vulgar offers a slightly romanticized version of his band's history. "In April 1998, Clone Defects were built in a glass jar by a reactivation scientist in a musty, leaky, rotting, old basement in a rotting community of Detroit called Warrendale," he says. "The Rouge River cuts right through. We played our first show at that house; it was my rent party. We didn't make rent. I made 80 bucks and used it to buy more boozefuel to trash the place. I cut my head open on some glass [by] accident/on purpose, so I called an ambulance on myself and spent the night in St. Mary's Hospital. I still owe the billI got some great credit now!"
Since music doesn't always pay the rent, I asked what he thought would happen to him and his bandmates when and if the Clone Defects go tits up. "Keep playing music, get evicted, draw, make art, posters, play music, work in shithole factories, drink."
And maybe, every once in a while, Timmy Vulgar will treat himself to a good, hard cry.