Here Comes the Night: Garage Punk and Weirdness from Behind the Zion Curtain

The UVU Students Behind Weird You Out Vol. 1 (L-R): Jeff Pedersen, Johnny Keating, Cade Thalman and Clint Lantz. Photo: Trevor Christensen

About fifty or sixty rock n’ rollers, kids with sunglasses and dirty tennis shoes, are packed into a nervous coffee shop or the swarming living room of a crumbling Provo party house. They’re dancing like animals, twisting and kicking, whipped into a vicious frenzy by sloppy surf riffs, vicious primal howls and the brutish beat of floor tom and snare. Soaked in PBR and with minds deteriorated by fuzzed-out reverb gamma rays, they climb over each other, dog-piling like cannibals in an orgiastic punk rock feeding frenzy. Great God Almighty, it’s the heat of the beat.

Evolved from the leftovers of the Cunningham House, a once famous Provo punk and hardcore Mecca that fell apart about three or four years ago, it’s a scene that has festered for some time now, wallowing in its own chaotic mess and attracting fistfuls of pious disciples. These aren’t just any mohawked, permafried, stud-and-back-patch-covered punks either. Believe it or not, Provo is a college town, and these are scholars educated by the prestigious garage record label universities of Norton, Boomchick, Goner, Estrus, In the Red and Killed by Death. The music is loud, fast and dirty. Bands like Bummerwolf, Big Trub and LadyBoy rule the downtown streets, drifting in and out of the scene’s informal HQ house venue, The Compound.
I sat down to dinner with Joey Mayes, Jesse Tucker and his wife Charlie Tucker, who collectively make up the band Neighborhood Zero and also form parts of other Provo-based, garage punk legends Burnt Reynolds and His Hot Bones, The Broken Spells, Onan Spurtz OMB and The Clear Coats. Mayes and Tucker are the Compound’s founding fathers, and though Tucker has moved out with his wife Charlie into his grandparents’ Springville basement (“Like real neighborhood zeros,” they point out), Mayes still inhabits the cinderblock building, books most of the shows and does the majority of the heavy drinking.

These shows aren’t all about staggering drunkenness, however. More than anything it’s the music and energy that lures an eccentric mix of UVU and BYU students and a handful of faithful Salt Lake commuters out of their hiding spots. To many, it’s refreshing to finally have a spring of cool, fresh rock n’ roll in a town that has always been sucked dry of pretty much anything of interest, despite having upwards of 60,000 college students wandering around with nothing to do.

“For years, no good bands came through Provo,” says Mayes. “I’d have to go to Salt Lake to catch them. There was just nothing happening, and I got sick of it. That’s why I started doing it. I was bored out of my head.” While somewhat overlooked in the rest of Utah, and even by most of the population of Utah County, the scene has attracted a substantial amount of national attention. Vivian Girls, Brimstone Howl, Nobunny and Thee Oh Sees are just some of the highly reputable bands that have toured through Provo in the past couple of years, undoubtedly drawn by the music, art and mystique of the small city resting in the shadow of the savage beauty of Mount Timpanogos.

Mrs. Tucker explains Provo’s strange magnetism: “You go to a venue and there’s a separation between the people who are watching and the bands that are playing. [At the Compound] they’re all just hanging out. You sit on the couch and chat with them and then go get Mexican food afterwards or something.”

This summer marks the Compound’s fourth anniversary.  “It’s the longest running house venue in the history of Utah house venues,” says Mayes. Although occasionally invaded by Provo’s finest, typically acting on complaints of general noise and drunkenness, the beloved Compound has endured, lasting a miraculously long time. Its longevity largely owes thanks to rules regarding keeping the door closed as to not blast out any neighbors and staying civil and non-aggressive during confrontations with the police. Mayes continues, “I don’t have any expectations. I’ve never had expectations. If it keeps going then it keeps going, but if it doesn’t then who cares? Somebody else will do one. There’ll always be bored kids.”

Tucker adds, “We all like what we’re doing enough that I think wherever we were we’d try to find a spot.”
Johnny Keating, Clint Lantz, Cade Thalman, and Jeff Pedersen—compound devotees and UVU students studying digital media with an emphasis in audio engineering—set out to document this degenerate spectacle before it disappears, collapsing in a cloud of self-destruction. Killing two birds with one hefty stone, they are fulfilling the requirements for a senior year class project by recording a compilation LP of the Provo punk bands. The exclusively vinyl and MP3 release, Weird You Out! Vol. 1, is due for release on Junk Drawer Records on July 3. The compilation contains 13 tracks by ten Provo-based bands like  Steve and the Ohs and Crumpler. All of which have played shows at the Compound. 

Keating, who had the initial idea to record and release Weird You Out! Vol. 1 and plays in a grand total of four of the bands featured on the LP, stresses the importance of recording this unique period in the history of Provo’s music: “I don’t think anyone’s been planning ahead at all. I think Joey [Mayes] always thinks that every show will be the last one—that it’ll get shut down.” They didn’t only record the bands for the sake of documentation—they want to spread the holy word of Provo garage rock like the returned missionaries they are.

Keating says, “There’s a bunch of kids that want to get involved now, and that’s what’s really exciting.”

The UVU group’s faculty advisors were initially hesitant because senior projects are traditionally supposed to be service-oriented. The advisors didn’t think that the service provided to the bands (free recording) helped the community quite as much as they would have liked.  Inspired by another group in their class who was redesigning KRCL’s website, Keating, Thalman, Lantz and Pedersen suggested that they give copies of the record to the bands and then hand over the remainder of the 300 copies being pressed to KRCL to hand out to the kind folks that donate to public radio. The advisors jumped on it like a pack of wild dogs. Not only will donors get the genuine good feeling of knowing that they helped save the best public radio station to ever grace the face of this fine state, but they’ll also get a bitchin’ LP and the mp3 downloads that accompany it. 
According to the UVU group, KRCL has been very involved and excited throughout the entire process. In fact, Jared Soper, the DJ of Tuesday night’s What We Do is Secret, plays bass for The Clear Coats. “KRCL’s also planning on having the bands coming into the studio and playing the songs live,” says project manager Lantz. The exact dates of the broadcast haven’t been officially announced, so during the months of May and June listeners will have to pay special attention to Live at Five, which happens about once a week on the afternoon show with Bad Brad Wheeler.
Everyone agrees that the record will be a big added incentive for people to donate to KRCL, but there has been some worry that a few of the folks who are most involved in the scene won’t be able to afford the donation required to get their grubby student-loan paying mitts on it. At the time of writing, KRCL hadn’t decided on how much of a donation it would take to get the LP out the door, but folks ought to keep in mind that donating to public radio isn’t really the big, painful ordeal that it’s made out to be. KRCL can break up listeners’ pledges into installments of as low as ten dollars a month. Painless.

Thalman noted that the MP3s would probably get leaked sooner or later. “It’s inevitable. We’re not telling anybody to do that, but we know it’s going to happen.” Surely, having the record sleeve adorned with the weirdo-surreal art of Bryan Gomm, former bassist for Burnt Reynolds and the fellow who does all of the Compound’s famous flyers, will make almost any price worth paying.

Speaking of high prices, making a record isn’t cheap. Not only does it require endless amounts of time and dedication, but pressing and printing (provided by Pirates Press in San Francisco) sure aren’t free. Luckily, the United States government decided it was about time to support punk rock, and gave the boys a $6000 CEL grant with the stipulation that they wade through oceans of bureaucratic paperwork.  Advised by Travis Low and Torben Bernhard, former recipients of a (Center for Engaged Learning) grant and the local filmmakers responsible for The Sonosopher, the group had a vague idea of how to apply for and work with the grant. However, it was so hard to keep track of everything that Thalman got accused of misusing funds by Utah Valley University’s red-faced lawyers. “I wanted to get an A, not go to jail,” he says. They sorted out that particular impediment but had to deal with some heated arguments with a couple of band members and each other before they could get the tracks sounding the way they wanted and get the records ready for manufacturing.  The group was working hard and shooting for a release date of June 3, but due to unexpected complications and communication problems, the release got pushed back a month to July 3.

“We learned some pretty crappy lessons about deadlines,” says Keating. “There’s going to be a real record, there’s real money involved and there are real deadlines.”

Although there is no official record release party in Utah County, on July 3 there will be an all-ages show at Kilby Court in Salt Lake starring all of the bands featured on the compilation. LPs and MP3 downloads will be available for purchase through KRCL, and all door money will go toward supporting the radio station. Any of the records that don’t get gobbled up by swarms of eager rock n’ rollers will later be given away to KRCL-listeners as thanks for pledging their support. Anyone who thinks they’re tough enough to get their pea-sized brains blown out their ears ought to show up and let the music wash over them like a murky, polluted wave lapping on the shores of Utah Lake.

The UVU Students Behind Weird You Out Vol. 1 (L-R):   Jeff Pedersen, Johnny Keating, Cade Thalman and Clint Lantz. Photo: Trevor Christensen Members of Neighborhood Zero and the brains behind Provo's longest running house venue, The Compound (L-R): Jesse Tucker, Joey Mayes and Charlie Tucker. Photo: Trevor Christensen Cover art for Weird You Out Vol. 1 by Bryan Gomm