Boston's Alternative Source!

Redneck showdown
Scissorfight and Cracktorch


"Weed, guns, and axes/We don’t pay our taxes/Because we don’t exist/On any government list!" yelled Scissorfight frontman Ironlung at the beginning of the band’s third album, New Hampshire (Tortuga). The year was ’99, the song was "Granite State Destroyer," and Portsmouth’s hardest-rockin’ sons were offering the kind of righteous heavy-metal anthem their home state had always deserved. Ted Nugent himself couldn’t have dreamed up a more sinister crew of roughnecks than these guys, starting with Ironlung, an imposing, flannel-clad figure with a long, thick black beard and a threatening rasp of a voice. "We’re Scissorfight . . . from Mt. Washington, New Hampshire!" he’d cheerfully announce from the stage, as his baseball-cap-wearing posse unleashed their skronked-up barrage of ’70s-metal histrionics.

On their fourth and latest disc, Mantrapping for Sport and Profit (Tortuga), the band continue to deliver the killer tunes to back up the mythology. From the tongue-in-cheek hilarity of the album title to the gargantuan chorus of the opening track, "Acid for Blood" ("More of those pills!"), Mantrapping finds the group once again taking their idiosyncratic brand of rebel rock to the next level. And they’ve got a hefty new supply of colorful hicktown in-jokes, too, which pop up regularly in songs like the local radio hit "Blizzards, Buzzards, and Bastards" and "New Hampshire’s All Right If You Like Fighting."

"We play every year at the Laconia [New Hampshire] Bike Rally, and the party’s called Buzzard Jam," says Ironlung. "A buzzard is like a fuckin’ backwoods freak. My friend is the singer from Suicide Contest, and he lives at the farm in Laconia where we play Buzzard Jam. He sent me this postcard that said, ‘Lake Winnipesaukee is a nice place to swim in the summertime.’ He had crossed out ‘swim’ and written ‘fight.’ That kind of represents our satirical sense of humor about it — sort of celebrating the fuckin’ primal form of communication."

Having grown up in Boston, Ironlung credits an ongoing case of city-kid curiosity for his lifelong fascination with the great outdoors. On one particularly vicious cut from the album, "Death in the Wilderness," he chants, "I want the spider bite/Break out the dynamite/I want to die tonight!" "A lot of the time, when I’m talking about the wilderness, there’s the physical and geographical landscape. But a lot of times, the term wilderness for me is more metaphysical — sort of a Jung sense of that sort of mythological landscape, or the landscape of the unconscious. ‘Death in the Wilderness’ is definitely about that sort of death/rebirth kind of thing."

Anyone who caught the Scissorfight feature that ran on MTV News earlier this year will be familiar with Ironlung’s most significant encounter with nature of late: working as a commercial fisherman off the shores of Wellfleet, on the outer Cape. He says it’s one of the coolest jobs he’s ever had, and he claims it had a profound impact on the making of Mantrapping. "A lot of the songs were written on the boat, or on the beach, or when I was out hiking. Also, it was the first time a lot of the material was written separately. Two of the guys are living in New Hampshire and I’m down here, so a lot of the songs had never been performed together until we went into the studio. When we do get together, I think the fact that we don’t see each other enhances the creative process, as well as the live performances."

Ironlung’s fishing experience manifests itself most prominently in the lyrics to the nautical epic "Hazard to Navigation." "The sun/Ocean," he repeats over a lazy slide-guitar lick, lulling you into a trance as a classic Scissorfight death-rock chorus creeps in: "I want the outermost grave!" At nearly six minutes, it’s one of the most ambitious pieces in the band’s catalogue. "The guy I was fishing with was talking about how if you run into something, you’re going to get hauled out because the boat would be a hazard to navigation. I thought of it as a metaphor — the various hazards to our own navigation as we go through our own fate. There’s almost a mantra-like repetition to it; I think to get it, you have to be out there with this panoramic view. It was completely meditative. All you have, basically, is sky and water. You definitely do a lot of thinking."

The song also carries on the fine Scissorfight tradition of writing about pirates, in the spirit of earlier odes to Captain Kidd and Edward Teach. This time, Ironlung found himself sitting right on top of a legend, that of Black Sam Bellamy, who crashed the Whyda off the Wellfleet shore in 1717 (the historic wreck was recovered in 1984). "Supposedly, Black Sam Bellamy was coming to see his woman, Goody Hallet, who was a witch who had been sort of kicked out of the community. Out here, on the backside of the Cape, there’s been like 5000 shipwrecks. It’s sort of a hazardous place to negotiate. Only two guys survived, and they had just sacked a ship containing tons of liquor. They were supposedly too hammered to operate, and that could have led to their demise. And the whole thing about him heading in to get some tail is sort of . . . interesting."

Ironlung is working on a master’s thesis on LSD through the American-studies program at UMass-Boston, and that also provided him with lyrical inspiration — for example, the free-associative rave-up "Go Cave!" "At the time, I was reading a book called Acid Dreams, by Martin A. Lee, about the political history of LSD. There was all this great LSD cultural stuff about people writing newsletters with a real absurdist sense of humor. When you put all the lines together, it just sort of does its own thing." The chorus, which sounds like "Cocaine!" to the unassuming ear, is less cerebral. "Growing up, some friends of mine used the term ‘go cave’ when they were partying. To go cave is to be a caveman — when you go cave, you’re getting balls deep, you’re fuckin’ putting the hammer down. That’s sort of my philosophy towards having a good time."

ONE OF SCISSORFIGHT’S LONG-TIME ACCOMPLICES in the Boston hard-rock underground are Quintaine Americana, who recently spent time in the studio with Godsmack producer Mudrock and are putting on their fifth annual Redneck Fest (21 bands in all) at several local clubs this weekend. Last month saw the release of the debut full-length from Cracktorch, with Quintaine bassist Marc Schleicher on guitar and vocals. (The three bands share a bill at the Linwood this Saturday for the final night of Redneck Fest.) The Cracktorch disc, Cracktorch . . . Is Not the Problem (Curve of the Earth), is a crackling testament to the band’s earth-shaking live shows, a hot string of which almost won them the Rumble six months back.

"It was interesting, because we weren’t even supposed to be in it," says Schleicher about the Rumble. "They didn’t think we were ready for it. We got added because the Vigilantes canceled at the last minute. We just went out there and did the kind of rock that we do. We didn’t say, ‘Oh, we’re going to act crazy for this show.’ It’s what we do. When we play the Abbey Lounge, I’ll hang off the rafters and hope that the ceiling doesn’t cave in on us. The Rumble’s always fun to do because it definitely opens up doors to people who would not have ever gone to see the band."

Cracktorch first emerged on disc in ’97, releasing a split album with Los Conquistadors del Rock that pegged them as AmRep-style noise freaks. Then Schleicher rediscovered the music of his youth. "I started listening to a lot of Grand Funk Railroad and Thin Lizzy. My drummer, Nick [Zampiello], got me an old record player. I was tight on money, so I started going to In Your Ear and places like that. Actually, the first one I got was Nazareth, Hair of the Dog. I had listened to that when I was 15, and I remembered really liking these big heavy riffs and going over the top with the vocals and stuff."

Schleicher and guitarist/vocalist Chris Jackson also got into the MC5, and that led to more time on the mike for Jackson. "Originally, it was just me screaming and yelling," says Schleicher. "Then we would listen to Wayne Kramer screaming out the vocals along with Rob Tyner on Kick Out the Jams and I encouraged it more. If the whole band looks excited to be playing, people seem to dig it a lot more."

From the driving "Peter Gunn" riff that opens "Roll" to the twin-guitar high jinks of the Grand Funk–quotin’ "Are You Ready?", . . . Is Not the Problem is an expert synthesis of the band’s protopunk demeanor and their ’70s cock-rock side. It also has a hard-swingin’ ode to the Baseball Tavern, a Red Sox bar around the corner from Fenway Park that puts the Towne in Olde Towne Team. "I went in there one Sunday night at quarter of eight and the guy was like, ‘Last call!’ " says Schleicher. "I was like, ‘Last call?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, we never stay open this late.’ It was just the craziest bunch of people in the bar. That song is just talking about that place — and pretty much any kind of neighborhood bar — where you run into people that are barflies, and they’ve got bigger dreams than they can hold onto."

Quintaine Americana, Scissorfight, Cracktorch, Give, and Cash Monies & the Jet-Setter perform this Saturday, November 10, at the Linwood Grille. Call (617) 267-8444.

Issue Date: November 8 - 15, 2001

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