Red Eyed Legends – October 2004

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“We’re the red-eyed legends from the night before, the TV babies from the media war.” – The Germs.

[Red Eyed Legends: “Red Eyed” doesn’t have a hypen, you grammar-purist assholes.]

Frontman and living legend Chris Thomson, Red Eyed Legend that is, lives in Chicago, where he says “It’s all right, some days, but it’s a battle every day to fight the forces of evil and negative energy.” In other words, he has a day job, and he’s like a protester on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention of 1968, where there was a serious turn against the war (Vietnam), and the tactics of street violence and bombings were born. So I exaggerate, but there was a riot goin’ on.

Who is Chris Thomson? You might know him better from his earlier bands: Circus Lupus (Wolfs influence?), who were on the Dischord label flagshipped by Fugazi in DC (Chris was also in Ignition on Dischord); the Monorchid, who were turning the art noize up to 11 on the broad-shouldered label Touch & Go (think Steve Albini or the Jesus Lizard) when they broke up; or Skull Control, purveyors of positronimous punk. He also played on the first couple of Unrest singles, and with the dudes who became Girls Against Boys.

Since he’s originally from DC, I asked Chris for his views on politics. “I feel like things are in a big mess right now, and we’re constantly being barraged, especially during the election, with all these messages that are just freaking everybody out. A lot of people I know are completely overwhelmed. The underlying problem for me is that nobody’s really coming out with any kind of answer, or any plan for getting through all this.”

When I told him that all Utah voters were Orrin’s hatchlings because of the Electoral College, he said, “That’s a really interesting development. They’re only campaigning in about a dozen states [and even fewer as the campaign progresses]. That’s pretty weird.”

Does he consider himself a proletariat art threat like Mark E. Smith of The Fall, with whom his bands have been compared? “I’ve heard that a lot, but I don’t really listen to The Fall that much. In terms of singing, what I’ve always enjoyed is the real, snotty delivery … even Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. In terms of hardcore, there are the Adolescents and, of course, the Germs. They’re who kind of got me started. Alec MacKaye (Ian’s younger brother who sang with Ignition) has been an influence as well.”

As far as Steve Albini [Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac, prolific producer] goes, Chris thinks he’s a really great guy: “I know he’s acerbic, but he has a very ‘no bullshit’ take on pretty much anything. [Monorchid, Skull Control guitarist] Andy Coronado is now in a group called the Wrangler Brutes that recorded in Chicago with him recently. I actually got to sing a little bit on the record a little bit, and it was fun being able to hang out with Steve Albini. The thing that people don’t realize is that he’s been around a long time and he has real knowledge of the history of things.”

The Red-Eyed Legends EP, The High I Feel When I’m Low, has a picture of a nekkid Asian woman on the cover art who looks like she could be the next SLUG Queen. Another EP is due to come out in November that features a line-up change: guitarist Steve Denekas has left the band and been replaced by Kiki Yablon, who also plays keyboards. THIFWIL rocks but it is a bit esoteric, as evidenced by the first two songs: “Hamilicus (indoor version)”, which sounds like a straight-ahead (not -edge) Skull Control song; and “Hamlicus (super indoor version)”, which is a tripped out low-dub concoction. Reviewers of the record seem to love it or hate it.

When I asked Chris how it felt to be a divider rather that a uniter with his music, he said, “I’m a polarizing influence. It’s hard because everybody has these ideas about what I should be doing, and it’s like ‘I loved your record that came out six years ago and I want you to sound like that forever.’ Because I’ve been in so many bands, I have that kind of relationship with a few fans.”

“Music to me keeps getting weirder and weirder every year,” said Chris, “People want to make it so bad that they start compromising from day one.” He hasn’t.

SLC is quite fortunate to have the Red Eyed Legends arrive, as they tour infrequently. He has been in the woodshed working on his guitar chops, and singing through a bullhorn. While there is no elaborate stage show, sonically it should be over the top. Chris didn’t disagree with the assessment of his (current) band by, “waved-out punk meets art damage in the parking lot of a heavy metal show with the treble cranked.”

Red Eyed Legends will play with Hot Snakes at Club Sound Nov.3.