Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
As soon as the interview starts, I'm bombarded with stories of the tour the Sass Dragons and Prizzy Prizzy Please took together in early 2008 (which they gave the unwieldy name MTV's the Grind Presents: Slow Fucking Bongs, Gapes of Wrath, Weapons of Ass Destruction, Cum Chaw Tasty Waves 1994-2008). They tell me about chanting "ass 'n' titties" while driving through a blizzard, distracting themselves so badly they almost veered off the road—a fate they deem the "worst way to die ever." A crowd of seven people in Carmi, Illinois (population 5,000 or so), kept requesting AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." The lead singer of Monotonix "fucked [their] faces" with cups of beer at SXSW. At another show they played a venue that could hold 700 for an audience of one, and the guy still managed to crowd surf on the pinball machine.
The guys in Prizzy Prizzy Please—singer and saxophonist Marc. P, keyboardist Ted "Street Shark" Wells, bassist Bob Allen, and drummer Scottie McNiece—started the band in Bloomington about five years ago, when they lived in the Indiana University dorms. The Sass Dragons formed in Naperville nearly six years back, at which point Adamson had a crappy Guitar Center drum kit, Oberlin had never touched the bass, and lead singer and guitarist Jason "Master of Everything I Survey" Smith had a broken guitar. (His nickname, in case it's not obvious, was invented for the occasion of this interview.) Both bands got started by playing shows in basements and in each others' houses, as well as by using MySpace "marketing," which is how they first got acquainted.
"The first time we listened to the Prizzy demo," Adamson says, "I was like, 'This is the fucking the shit yo!' And then ever since we've been giving each other hand jobs." The first time the two bands hung out together, back in 2005, Smith "threw up all the fuck" over Prizzy's bathroom, he says because he was yelling too loud. The guys in Prizzy remember staying over after a show at the Sass Dragons' condemned former home in Naperville, where Adamson and Oberlin shared a bunk bed in a "bedroom" that was really just a corner separated from the dining room by a pirate flag and a Back to the Future poster. Smith says he "was naked for hours" that time. "I'm sure you guys came over and were like 'Show us your Slinky dick!' So I put a Slinky on my wiener and skateboarded around the house."
The Sass Dragons play simple, disheveled pop punk, and Prizzy Prizzy Please—with sax and keys but no guitar—sound something like a Bruce Springsteen-esque version of Lightning Bolt. Both bands like to extract ridiculous lyrics from pretty ordinary experiences. The Sass Dragons' "Too High to Drive" was inspired by the time Smith took Vicodin and got, well, too high to drive. Prizzy's "Supersized Hookup" owes its origin to a TV show in the vein of Ripley's Believe It or Not! (they can't remember the name) where they heard the announcer say, "Stay tuned to see Shaquille O'Neal's supersized hookup for the boy who wouldn't stop growing!"
"I'd say 99.999 percent of our songs have an equally futile stimulus," says McNiece.
At the first Sass Dragons show McNiece saw, Smith made an offensive remark about 9/11, apparently just to warm up. "Two minutes after that Jimmy's blowing snot like 20 feet," McNiece says, "and I saw at least two penises." When I first saw the Sass Dragons play three years ago, I witnessed general rowdiness, including beer throwing and crowd surfing, but only one penis. I asked Allen over the phone (he couldn't make it to the interview) if he had any special memories of the Sass Dragons, and he said, "Uh, I've seen Jimmy's penis a lot."
Both bands belong to a tight-knit and somewhat incestuous community that includes not just bands but labels: the Sass Dragons are on Johann's Face, and Prizzy is on Joyful Noise. "Marc [Ruvolo of Johann's Face] saw our band running around, throwing beer bottles at people, and me punching people in the front row who kept knocking the mike stand into my mouth. He leaned over and said that he had to put our records out," Smith says. "Originally, Pete Shaw of Let's Pretend was putting out all of our records, but he asked if Marc would be interested in split-label releasing our album Bonkaroo! in 2008. This time around, Johann's Face is putting out the CD [entitled New Kids on the Bong] and Let's Pretend is putting out the vinyl this summer."
"We weren't striving for anything new," Smith adds. "None of us have ever aimed to achieve a particular sound, but we aren't so pretentious to say that we're doing anything original. If a song sounds like it was influenced by another band, it probably was! Marc Ruvolo called some of our songs 'Paul McCartney bullshit.' So, it is what it is."
When Prizzy moved to Chicago recently, they'd been recording with Mike Bridavsky of Russian Recording in Bloomington for about two years without releasing anything. Since they couldn't find jobs here and were worried about having to break up the band and go home to live with their parents, they worked fast on the new Chroma Cannon, doing all the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering in two months. Let's Pretend also plans to release the album on cassette this summer.
McNiece would like to see Chroma Cannon sell millions of copies, then use the money to level the band's Roscoe Village house and build the "Chicago Space Needle," where he would "recline in an expensive antique chaise longue on the 200th floor, counting my billions while I watch action movies all the live long day." The Sass Dragons, says Smith, "just want the future of this band to be as fun as it has been for the last six. In the next five years, I'll probably be a dad. Or dead. Maybe in jail." Both bands agree on the pipe dream of a January tour in Japan called "Japanuary."
Whether or not that all comes true, I'm glad the Sass Dragons are still a band three years after I saw Jimmy's penis for the first time. And I'm happy that they and Prizzy Prizzy Please both have something worth celebrating at their dual album-release show this Friday at the Beat Kitchen. Das Kapital and the Brokedowns open.