Pretty much from the start, I was disqualified from ever interviewing the Shanks for The Reader.
When the Shanks released their first single, 2007’s Cut Me, Boom Chick Records asked me to write up a little blurb to be sent out with the record. Thankfully, the internet has saved that short paragraph. Here it is courtesy of ptrashrecords.com:
“Remember all that supposedly angry punk music you listened to when you were feeling the pangs of rebellious adolescence? Imagine if the music actually was angry. Imagine if it was served with aside dish of crude and blown-out.Well, the facts in the landmark case of the Shanks’ Cut Me 7″ are clear. There’s a knife on the front and there’s a girlie. The knife is at her throat. And it says the Shanks on it. You haven’t bought this record yet? What more do you want? It doesn’t take August Stringberg to figure out that this is the good stuff.”
I’m still proud of that awkward Stringberg reference. The Shanks have always had a weird commonality with damaged art like that. Maybe it’s all in the misogyny. I mean that single had a song on it called “Ike Turner Blues.” By the way, it still slays.
Now the Shanks are rising again at O’Leaver’s for shows Friday and Saturday, I will be there to pay some final respect.
The three Shanks singles were all tied to the same trashy recording aesthetic. Though the two recording in Lincoln with Brooks Hitt are less wall-of-noise then the Backstabber single recorded by ex-Shanks guitarist Steve Sampley. In all the singles, guitars cut through the boom-boom-boom of the drums has if they are bodies dive-bombing off the side of a skyscraper.
The Shanks songs always stood out to me thanks to the unlikely collision of garage rock, post-punk and 80’s alternative noise rock. Todd VonStup’s songs grabbed me most, especially “Nika Riot” and “Idaho”. If the slack-rockers had gone to venomous hate, instead of flannel-clad grunge pacification, then the possible future shock of the Shanks would have long be dulled.
There’s plenty that has been said about the Shanks’ antics, though they were less of a stage show than what bands like the Black Lips were doing at the same time. Fights, bodily fluids and the occasional exposed flaccid penis never came off as played for shock value, instead they were just things that some seriously weird, angry and uninhibited people did while playing.
But apparently, a little piss in the mouth invalidates art.
The funny thing is despite the limited touring the Shanks did, people asked about them. It was always a mix of appreciation for the singles, questions about stories they had heard and wondering about what the shows I had seen were like. I had a club booker in Texas tell me a story about the Shanks, wherein the band ripped and ran with door money from a house show in the upper Midwest. The band they supposedly shorted was Brimstone Howl. Was it true? Shanks have never confirmed it. But there it is, another story of the Shanks has the ultimate ne’er-do-wells. Too punk for punk. The miscreants that other miscreants disassociate from, if only to not get lumped in with tales of vile misdeeds.
But the tale is hardly ever the truth. And it always a cover for people to dismiss what they don’t get. Those sort of stories are what “Throw Away Girls” is a sly reference too.
My favorite Shanks pissing story has been when the band closed down a downtown comedy club that had taken to booking bands in its dying days. Unfortunately one of its last nights featuring the Shanks. They played their set with breaks to piss along the back of the stage. Hey, if the place was closing anyway, why waste time respectfully ducking into the restroom.
The Shanks music was never nice, an apt reflection of the the image ascribed to the band itself. The I’d F**k Me cassette compilation, released by local imprint Rainy Road Records, is a testament to the sea of bad feelings that the Shanks committed to the permanent record. But within the Wipers-vibing garage strut came a sense that it was an exorcism, albeit a tiny one, for all involved.
For more on the Shanks reunion shows, check out thereader.com/index.php/site/comments/darker_days_the_return_of_the_shanks