This article was originally published in the Worcester Phoenix back in 1999.
White lines, white trash, and White Knuckle Sobriety
by John O'Neill
It was the best of punk, it was the worst of funk; it was everything an album should be: sonic bluster meets brains, stoner goof-off meets smart-ass tongue-in-cheek. There were big hooks, harmonies, dumb-dumb lyrics, power-pop sweetness, indie-rock sweatiness, grade-school rhymes, high-school pranks, old radio ads, chanting, ranting, celebration, and decerebration. A rocket ride into the heart of rock and roll that took a sharp turn and ricocheted around the brain pan of dementia before finally exiting (and the disc does have a preoccupation with bum-function so we'll pass on the easy orifice reference) to crash land as a heaping testament to fun. It's a Good, God Damn Time, which is just what White Knuckle Sobriety promise on their opening track disclaimer/modus operandi "In the Beginning" from their debut, Fat End First (ECAE).
And don't be confused, the title means exactly what you think it does. "Those three words together are really hilarious. You know, `Shut-up,' `No you shut-up, or I'll take this bottle and stick it up your ass fat end first.' And it was our first album, so it kinda made sense," says Doug Wedge between sips of his drink before finally coming clean. "Okay, it definitely has to do with shoving things up your ass." Wedge, guitarist Rich Maliska, and bassist Mick Lawless may be best remembered as three-fourths of the Missionaries, the early '90s alt-phenom known for their willingness to play anywhere, as well as for a hot-looking singer who would come unglued at a moment's notice. After the band spun completely out of control -- in direct correlation to their growing popularity -- the trio joined Black Rose Garden castoff Terri O'Toole and her sister Traci in the short-lived Tripstick. Then, in rehearsal, the seeds of foolishness that would bloom into the genius of WKS were sown. "Yeah, we came out of the whole Tripstick thing, we would jam together while waiting for Terri and Traci," says Wedge (who, by day, is a Worcester Phoenix designer). "We started having separate practice for ourselves and decided to only do one [band]. We were happy doing White Knuckle Sobriety so we went right off into the studio." But it took a bit longer than expected.
Wedge split for more than a year to attend college, while Lawless and Maliska went into post-production armed with raw tracks culled from sessions in December 1996 and March of 1997 at the not-so-famed Toad Hall Studios in East Douglas (also responsible for recording the should-have-been-legendary Roy Hinkley Trio's Jesus Ray). With a little help from producer John D'Orto's studio, the band began throwing everything they could find into the kettle and sorted it out from there. Disco whistles, backwards loops, groupies talking, mix tapes, friends pretending to be pirates, distortion, haunted keyboard embellishments, Big '80s Jan Hammer-style synth, and celestial backing vocals are added to basic pop and punk tracks creating the total Knuckle sandwich.
Owing as much to the Monkees as it does Zappa, Fat End First is one of those rare repeat-listening projects that takes a half-dozen spins through to get to the bottom of it. The plus is, unlike most complicated albums, this one doesn't have that nasty side-effect of wanting to pitch yourself out of the second-floor window. And that's because their "deepness" is actually simple: Fat End doesn't labor to be either different or cool. Smart enough to realize that music has all been done before, the Knuckleheads are fine spray painting their own twisted vision across everything the Pixies, Big Black, Cheap Trick, Pavement, Neil Young, and Sonic Youth have done. "We all have wide influences, and we've all played different styles. We're open minded to listening, and we'll try anything once," explains Wedge. "I really didn't think it would come together at all, we kept adding and adding. But once we took segments, and faded songs into one another, it became a whole alcohol concept album." Which explains "Schaefer" (currently on the WAAF Sunday-night charts), a loving rehash of the old "when you're having more than one" campaign. It's also a natural fit alongside "Big Brown Cow," the old school-yard rhyme. (Think back -- "milk, milk, lemonade, turn the corner fudge is made . . .") Not to be outdone, there's a slew of brilliant, though screwy, original thought: "Chick Singers (The Lilith Syndrome)," a less-than-PC take on the state of commercial music; "Hammer Head," which is an accurate picture of Friday nights along small-town Main Street filled with booze, burning rubber, cop ditching, and dope smoking; and there's "Special Chair," which is about a, uh, chair that's special. ("This guy really into porno showed us this movie. He said it would change our lives. It was disgusting and we were laughing at the same time. It was about unloading in [someone's] face. We wrote that song a week after that. It came out in five minutes!")
The album ends with the countrified rocker "Far from the Tree," one final curve ball for the listener, and the equivalent of Sha Na Na singing that semi-sad song at their show's end just to let you know it's all over. "There's something in [the album] for everyone, unless you've been locked in a closet your whole life," says Wedge. "I still get goose bumps and sometimes I can't believe it. It's the type of album I'd want to hear and pay good money for! I'd feel pretty lucky if we can do another one as good." -end