"People are still mystified by free improvising," says Weasel Walter of the Flying Luttenbachers. "I think they think it's some sort of esoteric craft that should be worshiped regardless of whether or not it's good music. If you have to think about whether or not you're liking the music, chances are you aren't."
In the tradition of the late 70s/early 80s New York-based no-wave movement, the Luttenbachers' noisy, chaotic assault combines the seemingly disparate elements of free jazz and punk rock. Their instrumentation varies, but it usually features saxaphone in the midst of a guitar and drum squall. "I grew up listening to both [punk and free jazz] concurrently and seeing a similar aesthetic in both," Walter explains . "Now I listen to a lot of death metal and I see a lot of things in free jazz that I see in death metal. They're different styles, but to me a lot of the characteristics are very similar."
The band's stage show is partly derived from an even more surprising source: Motley Crue "We toy around with this sort of quasi-satanic image," Walter says. Flyers for their shows have included phrases like "Hail Satan" and the menacing face they use as a logo. (It looks like a robot's, but it could also be a lucho libre wrestler's.) The band also owns a pentagram banner left from one of Walter's other groups. "A few years ago I was in a Motley Crue tribute band called 2 Fast 4 Love," he admits. But don't take these intimations of a dark side too seriously--Walter says it's mostly for image. "There's so many bands and it's such a mundane fucking thing, making music--everybody does it."
Of the original three Luttenbachers, Walter is the only remaining member. The late saxophonist Hal Russell. who was in the lineup when they formed in December 1991, was partly responsible for the band's name. "He was sort of a crazy old coot and we used to joke around a lot," Walter recalls. "We kind of sat there at one practice saying 'What are we going to call this group? He said, 'My real [last] name's Luttenbacher so let's uhhhhhhh'--he used to stutter 'call it the Luttenbachers!'" Walter suggested adding the word "flying" as a nod to the circuslike atmosphere around the band. "It's unpronounceable, unspellable, and we're stuck with it. But I guess we don't mind."
The band underwent the first of several personnel changes eight months after it formed. "Hal kind of lost interest when I started asserting myself, writing tunes and stuff, Walter says. "It became less fun to him and more like work, so he ditched us." With only a week to prepare for the recording of the Luttenbachers' first EP, 546 Seconds of Noise, Walter called saxophonist Ken Vandermark, whom he'd met a few months earlier and who would eventually replace Russell in NRG Ensemble. Vandermark came aboard and is also heard on 1389 Seconds of Noise (a title that's about 780 seconds too long) and Constructive Destruction.
The Luttenbachers' ranks once swelled to five and in 1994 dwindled to one. "For a while it a solo act with just me playing with tapes of 3 myself. I was playing guitar and bass clarinet," Walter recalls. "It started out normal and then it got really weird and fucked-up as it went along.
The band has been a trio since May 1995, when Walter enlisted two friends, guitarist Chuck Falzone and bass player Bill Pisarri. Together, they recorded the new album Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers on the local label Skin Graft. Walter has known Falzone since their kindergarten years in Rockford, and he calls Pisarri "the first intelligent person I met when I moved to Chicago." Walter finds the band's current music to be its most extreme; on the new record, recorded almost entirely without horns, they play loud and fast like always, but the new sound is surprisingly dense and tight. And, according to Walter, it's on the way out. I do think Revenge is a real rock record. Now that we've done that, we don't have to do that again," he says. The group is currently recording another album, Gods of Chaos. "It's going to be really chaotic and really insane, " says Walter. "I've been joking to people that each track is going to be recorded on a different planet."
The Flying Luttenbachers will give a free in-store performance at 7 PM Wednesday at Reckless Records, 3751 N. Broadway. Call 279-9571 for more information.