On April 20, SLUG Localized will showcase some of Salt Lake City’s finest: the black-and-blue rock n’ roll of Brain Bagz, the high-energy heroin-psych of Hot Vodka and the pagan, psychedelic stylings of The Season of the Witch. Sponsored by High West Distillery, Uinta Brewing, KRCL 90.9FM and Spilt Ink SLC, this show is 21-plus and free—so come out and play.
Out of the ashes of Swamp Ravens are a force to be reckoned with: Brain Bagz. They are Mikey Blackhurst on vox/guitar, Kristin Maloney on bass, Elisar Soueidi also on guitar (formerly on drums) and new member Jeremy Devine on drums. “Swamp Ravens fizzled out, and me and Kristin wanted to start something fresh,” says Blackhurst. Soon after getting together, Max Wilson also joined their ranks on the saxophone, keyboard and guitar. Wilson worked at the same smoke shop as Maloney and Soueidi. He expressed interest in Brain Bagz and asked if he could visit their practice session and make some noise with his saxophone. Wilson soon became a staple in the band. Blackhurst says, “He was just our guy. He could play saxophone, guitar, keyboards—anything else we could have given him, he would have played.”
The members of Brain Bagz bring a wide range of influences to the band, most notably Midwest and Southern punk, black rock n’ roll and the blues. Both Maloney and Blackhurst have made pilgrimages to the renowned garage-punk Goner Fest in Memphis, Tennessee, and they intend to go again this year. Brain Bagz are a tightknit group: They often play music together or listen to records while enjoying a few cold drinks. Soueidi says, “We’re family, and we all care about each other.” They have even suffered through films like SLC Punk 2 in a great show of solidarity. Blackhurst says, “We stuck with it, and we finished it, and that’s another thing you can say about this band—even if it fucking sucks, we will finish what we started.”
Unfortunately, Wilson departed the band in late 2016 with the intention of moving to Japan. “It was little hard when he took off,” says Blackhurst. “How the fuck are you going to find a saxophone player who wants to play shitty punk rock?” With Wilson’s absence, Soueidi moved from drums to guitar. “I think it sounds wonderful with [Soueidi] on guitar,” says Maloney, who also notes that Soueidi offers a distinct, bluesy, distorted, screechy effect to her style of playing. Brain Bagz’s sound hasn’t really changed due to Wilson’s departure—they still maintain their heavily reverberated, garage punk noise. While Wilson’s presence is greatly missed, Brain Bagz were able to enjoy two successful tours with their former bandmate, the first to the West Coast in the spring of 2016 in support of The Hemingers, the other during a Midwest tour in the fall.
During their West Coast tour, Brain Bagz endured some challenges on the road. Their Oakland gig was rough for the band. They competed with Iggy Pop and a metal show in the venue next door—the result being that no one attended their concert. “Whatever could go wrong that night, did,” says Maloney. However, when Brain Bagz played in L.A., they met Stacy Ellen Rich and Eric Bigarm (Die Group). Stacy was about to launch Sex Tape Records and was intrigued by Brain Bagz’s performance. She approached Brain Bagz and expressed interest in putting out the band’s record. Though the band was initially skeptical over the offer, they went out to breakfast the next morning with Rich to seal the deal.
Brain Bagz returned to L.A. in June 2016 to record their upcoming 7” record. At Bigarm’s studio, Brain Bagz recorded four out of five songs in one take. “We had 15 minutes left on the reel-to-reel tape,” says Blackhurst. “We got all the songs, minus the vocals, in one take—except for one.” This adventure was not without a little snafu. As they took a break from the recording process, the band got locked out of the studio. After almost an hour in the scorching California heat, Bigarm managed to break down the door with a crowbar and get Brain Bagz back into the studio and to their gear. The rest of the recording process went smoothly, and Brain Bagz are now expecting their three-song 7” record to release in late spring 2017.
Throughout their career, Brain Bagz have shared the stage with notable acts like GO!Zilla, Quintron and Miss Pussy Cat, Die Group and Nots. In 2017, Brain Bagz played with hometown heroes Red Bennies—a show that saw a brief return of saxman Wilson—and a stacked Not My President’s Day Show, which included Dream Slut and Strong Words and raised money for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. Admittedly, Brain Bagz like to keep rock n’ roll separate from politics. “There’s horrible shit going on all the time, but rock n’ roll should be fun,” says Blackhurst. But given the current climate, they agree on one thing: their clear opposition to Trump. “He’s a huge shithead,” says Blackhurst.
Brain Bagz intend to tour more throughout the year and record another record. Until then and before their 7” drops, check out Brain Bagz as they headline SLUG Localized on April 20 at Urban Lounge with Hot Vodka and The Season of the Witch. For more on Brain Bagz, visit facebook.com/brainbagz and brainbagz.bandcamp.com.