‘The first punk band’ – Washington’s The Sonics – are revered by all your favourite rockers, but they wouldn’t have reformed if it wasn’t right.
The Sonics were pioneers of garage punk in the ‘60s and have had their songs immortalised by the Black Keys (‘Have Love, Will Travel’), The Cramps and The Flaming Lips (‘Strychnine’), as well as being a favourite of Kurt Cobain, The Hives, and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Members of Mudhoney, R.E.M. and Screaming Trees even formed a tribute band. These guys are seriously influential.
In 2007 The Sonics returned to the stage for the first time since their ‘60s heyday (barring a one-off 1972 show) and will be visiting Australia for the first time ever on the Hoodoo Gurus’ ‘Dig It Up’ festival.
We spoke to saxophonist Rob Lind of the band about their triumphant return.
Lind is amused by the idea of them being ‘the first punk band’ (“There’s no argument there”, he laughs) but insists that they were merely a rock n’ roll band. This is despite their deliciously primitive sound and nasty lyrics (like ‘Strychnine’s “Some folks like water, some folks like wine/ I like the taste of strychnine”).
“We never really knew what the words were,” Lind notes, saying about ‘Strychnine’, “It’s probably the crowd’s favourite song. We did ‘Strychnine’ on the album and never played it live once, same with ‘Sinderella’. We just did it and got it on the album.” He used to lie to fans who would request the songs, saying they’d play them, but “we didn’t know how to play them and we never knew what words [singer] Gerry [Roslie] was singing.”
“We never consciously set out [to have dark lyrics],” he says, “It was just Gerry not wanting to be like everyone else. He didn’t want to do love songs.”
And they’re well aware of their influence. “One band that has flat out told us that was The Hives from Stockholm,” he recalls, and they’ve since become close with the nouveau rockers. He says The Cramps and The Stooges both performed Sonics songs, and with the Mudhoney/R.E.M./Screaming Trees tribute band, Lind laughs, “If that doesn’t make you feel like an old guy, nothing will.”
“It always makes you feel a little proud, in a way, that people like your music enough to want to incorporate it into their own sets,” he admits.
He’s flattered that bands have covered their songs because they were also a cover band, often having to play three sets a night. “It’s really nice, it’s a nice feeling. It’s an honour, actually,” he says.
And how does it feel being back? “At this point in our lives we’re just completely relaxed and it’s so much fun to do this. If it wasn’t fun we wouldn’t do it.”
Can they still hit it as hard as they did back in the day? Lind assures us they can. Upon returning in 2007, they ensured that they would only play if they could do it properly, leaving some nervous promoters in their wake.
“We were getting offers prior to that to play and we turned all of them down,” he says, “We put this particular promoter off two years in a row. Once we decided to give it a shot, the three of us – Gerry, [guitarist] Larry [Parypa], and I – we knew we had a pretty good reputation and we didn’t want to be one of those older acts that comes out and destroys their reputation.”
They practiced for 18 months and pledged to each other that if it wasn’t right, they wouldn’t play the show. Lind says wryly “We kept stringing this promoter along right up until the last minute”. Right up until a week before the show, they finally said “’Y’know, this is going to work, this is going to be good enough to work. Let’s do it’” Lind recalls, “If it hadn’t have been, we would’ve walked away.”
So be prepared, garage rock diehards. Lind and the band are ready. “We start the first song with as much power as we possibly can. We want people to have to take two steps back once we start playing. I don’t mean in volume, I’m talking about strength.”
Check out the whole chat below.