Indy's kings of punk drink Beam, talk smack
The Slurs, Indianapolis' reigning kings of punk music, are a late-night band. Their music is meant to be heard after 1 a.m. and before 3 a.m., when bars have to stop selling booze. The Slurs blossom in those two hours of drunken revelry, when the amps get turned up to 11 and the beer cups and ice fly through the air towards the band.
They're such a late-night band that, on the rare occasions when they do play an early show, it seems out of place, like the Letterman show coming on at 6 p.m. Even arranging an interview with the band before 10 p.m. is an ordeal; 10 p.m. for The Slurs is what 6 a.m. is to a single mom.
After almost literally taking over the Indianapolis music scene by sheer brute force in the spring of 2002, The Slurs have continued to play local and out-of-town shows, increasing their fan base.
But, for a band known for its spontaneity and wildness, capturing The Slurs' music to disc proved to be a difficult task. All through 2002 and 2003, rumors would crop up of an imminent album release from The Slurs only to be proven false time and again.
After several failed attempts at recording, the band has finally released its debut album, The Problem With Rock and Roll. It showcases the garage-punk sound that propelled them to local superstardom while also attempting to forge a new way for the band.
Interviewing The Slurs as a group is impossible unless there's a fifth of Jim Beam, the group's drink of choice, involved. So, as the band sat in a room at the home guitarist Jim Kuczkowski shares with his girlfriend, Shanna LeJeune, I passed around the bottle and let the questions fly.
The participants are Kuczkowski; lead singer Justin Allen; lead guitarist Nick Pryor; drummer Brad Wallace; bassist Kris Messer; and the interviewer. So, in typical punk-rock 'zine interview format, here are The Slurs.
STEVE HAMMER: So the album has come out - JUSTIN ALLEN: And now we're rich.
JIM KUCZKOWSKI: We're rich in plastic, CD plastic.
ALLEN: I own an Xbox. (Band laughs.)
HAMMER: Congratulations. So, I guess the first question to ask The Slurs would be, I mean, Jim's recorded entire albums for bands in two hours, so why did it take you guys almost three years to make one?
ALLEN: I knew this question was coming. It generally came down to being picky little bitches. I'll admit it. We are our own worst critics.
KUCZKOWSKI: Plus you had a cold. For two years. (Band laughs.)
ALLEN: No, let me answer this. Fuck off. It came down to, there was all this hype surrounding us and our live show, and we wanted to put out the best thing we could. In my opinion, we achieved that. It's a great record. And, judging by what we've been writing since, it was a great learning experience.
KUCZKOWSKI: It is like the first stage of the band has been captured. We're moving into newer and broader territories. One of the things that people don't understand about us is that they think we came out of the blocks running with a full album's worth of material, when people started noticing us through the Battle of the Bands. But, the truth is that Nick had only recently joined the band and at that point we only had 10 original songs. We didn't even have an album's worth of material. It took us a year to have the material ready.
And, at that point, the recording of the album took forever, for a variety of reasons. In the last year, the album has pretty much been done. I dicked around with it for a year, basically, because we didn't have a label. We'd go to labels and they'd say, "Yeah, we love it, but we don't have any money." Or, "Yeah, we love it, but maybe next year we'll have the money." There are a couple labels who held our hands for a good two or three months at a time, basically thinking about it and seeing if they could find the money. Then they'd admit they couldn't find the money.
ALLEN: It came down to, "Go fuck yourselves. It sucks."
HAMMER: So, could you guys have held on for another year with the same album, or would it have driven you nuts?
KUCZKOWSKI: Yeah, exactly. That's why we finally just had to put it out ourselves. People make a big deal about it, but I think it's funny. Maybe because I'm old. But you'd see a band and they'd come out with a
7-inch and then it'd be a good 18 months before they came out with a full album. That was commonplace. When a local band finally did put out a full-length album, it was a monumental achievement. I don't think that it's weird for us to take this long.
But that's just been the last year. The making of the record, yeah, we were picky as hell about a lot of things.
HAMMER: So it had to have been frustrating to go through all this waiting process.
KRIS MESSER: I got into other bands to keep myself occupied.
ALLEN: It didn't really get to me until people kept asking, "Where's the album? Where's the album?"
HAMMER: At the time, there were some rumors going around - KUCZKOWSKI: This guy (points at Kris) likes to go on the Internet and start rumors.
HAMMER: What I'd heard was that you guys recorded the album two or three times and that Jim just threw it out each time.
ALLEN: Two? We recorded it four or five times!
KUCZKOWSKI: We did record it twice. The first version, almost everything was played too fast. And we rewrote a lot of songs. And there are a few songs that didn't make the first round of recording, and we wanted to record the new material, so I was like, screw it. Let's record everything again. Justin recorded his vocals like 10 times.
ALLEN: I remember going home and bitching to various people about how long it took. But I think it came out right.
KUCZKOWSKI: I don't have a good judgment when it comes to my own band. That's a big reason why it took so long, and why I'll never be satisfied with it. Being a recording dude, it's my job to know what The Retreads are supposed to sound like when I bring them in the studio, and to know what Pizzle sounds like. I recorded those two bands the last few weekends. And I was adjusting the pickups on their guitars. I know about those nuances. But when it comes to our own guitars and our own music, I just get lost.
HAMMER: The power of the live show is evident to anyone who sees it. For you guys, what is the heart and soul of the band? Is it the guitars, the drumming, Justin or some combination?
KUCZKOWSKI: There is kind of a gestalt to the whole. To tell you the truth, I thought we sucked a few years ago. I finally feel like we're a good live band now, and we're actually making it through an entire set without it dying off partway through.
ALLEN: It's like I told Kris a year ago, "You don't want to fight falling down." But to answer your question, I feed off Brad. Then I look at Nick during his solos, and I see the cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and he's playing beautifully. It makes me want to bark like a dog and fall on my knees. I love the way Nick looks on stage. We're playing music at 90 mph and we're all going nuts and he's standing
there like Michaelangelo's "David." Totally calm. That's his thing. Me, I freak out. On a few occasions, I've seen him at the end of a show just throw his guitar at the drums and walk off stage. He wants no glory.
KUCZKOWSKI: It's all a matter of getting off. I don't understand bands that don't get off while they're playing. If you don't get off, why the fuck are you on stage? It's rock and roll. There is this whole sense of a rock and roll revival bullshit, or a debate on whether rock is dead. And you have these bands that want to get up there and preach about rock and roll, how should you rock. I prefer to lead by example.
ALLEN: Wayne Kramer of the MC5 said it best. "Kick out the jams and get the fuck off the stage."
HAMMER: It does seem like Jim and Justin get the majority of the attention and the spotlight, so I was wondering about the other three of you, whether it bothers you.
BRAD WALLACE: I just want to get my name in the article. I didn't get in the last time you wrote about us.
KUCZKOWSKI: Since they're the real players in the band, they get the player accolades. Justin and I don't get that. People talk about how Justin's a good lead singer, but they don't talk about his singing. People say I have a good stage presence but they don't talk about my playing. If I was as good a guitar player as Nick, this band would suck.
HAMMER: You guys obviously play as well as anyone else in town, and draw as well as any, but do you guys feel respected by the local music community?
ALLEN: I feel the respect but I also feel the haters' point of view.
KUCZKOWSKI: Really? I guess I have my head in the sand when it comes to that.
MESSER: I just concentrate on my basslines.
NICK PRYOR: The Slurs are only as good as your blood alcohol level.
ALLEN: No, The Slurs are only as good as our own alcohol level. I do feel a lot of love, but I also feel jealousy from bands who wish they were at the same level as us. Has your band even tried? When it really comes down to it, we're still local Indianapolis nobodies. Big fuckin' deal. You've made it in Indianapolis; good luck tomorrow.
When we get on stage, it's not to appeal to big masses of people. It's because we love to play. This band was around for three years before we ever played a show. And Kooch kept it alive. And I stuck around because I loved the way he writes songs. In the last year, I've finally started writing songs.
HAMMER: You guys sing a song called "The Problem With Rock and Roll." That assumes there's only one problem. What are the others?
KUCZKOWSKI: There is no problem with rock and roll. Come on.
HAMMER: OK, Jim, one of your buddies dared me to ask the following question. "Jim Kuczkowski: arrogant prick bastard perfectionist." True or false?
KUCZKOWSKI: I don't know, man, I guess so. It depends on the circumstances. With us, I got carried away. When I'm in my usual studio environment, I don't get so carried away.
HAMMER: So how did you get carried away this time? Was it the enormity of the task?
KUCZKOWSKI: No, just artistic blindness. Where you can't figure out what to do. I've never seen our live show; I don't know what we look like.
ALLEN: I want to answer this question, and I hope it makes print. Have you ever videotaped yourself fucking, Hammer? (Band laughs.)
HAMMER: Video? No.
ALLEN: You watch yourself and you go, wow, that's pretty cool. But then you go, if I'd held that a little longer, I had some more tricks up my sleeve. That's what Jim was talking about in recording us. The guy's a perfectionist; you can't fault him for that. But you look at that video of yourself and you go, "Man, that's never enough." It doesn't matter how good it was, or how loud it gets. It's never enough.
KUCZKOWSKI: Wondering how people were going to perceive our recording was not what held me back. It's always been to make a record that I like. The record I wanted to make. A record I would be proud of. Fuck everyone else. I don't even understand any other way to go about it.
HAMMER: But what if everyone trashed it? What if Lindquist came out with an article saying the album sucked?
KUCZKOWSKI: I would be like, wow. Cool. I see every flaw in our record. If he did point out the flaws in our record, I'd say he's on it. There is also the truth that I didn't make the album for the masses. It's not tailored for a pop audience. I'm going for the kind of dirty-ass record that we all love to listen to. If someone just doesn't get it, then fuck 'em. I didn't make this for the X103 crowd. I didn't make it for the radio crowd.
HAMMER: So who did you make the album for?
KUCZKOWSKI: Myself. I think I did hit the ballpark with what we were trying to do. But, being a perfectionist, I do see the flaws.
HAMMER: One of the interesting things about you guys is that, even without an album, you've not only kept your audience but doubled or tripled it, just by word of mouth.
ALLEN: I'm surprised we've sustained it this long. We're all juveniles when it comes to art.
KUCZKOWSKI: I'm surprised, too, because we put on a series of pretty bad, drunk-ass shows. We used to take our out-of-town shows seriously and just relax at the local shows. There have also been kids who just hit 21 and are only now getting to see us, too.
HAMMER: So do you think it's fair to say you are the kings of local music? 'Cause that's how I pitched the story to my bosses.
WALLACE: I think we're very proud of what we've been able to do.
ALLEN: Ask anyone at the Melody Inn. If I like a band, I'm buying them shots and bringing them to them on stage. Nobody's ever done that to me. Fuck you if you think I have an ego.
PRYOR: That's not what he's asking you. He's asking if you think we're better than anyone else.
ALLEN: No, I don't.
KUCZKOWSKI: When you talk about different bands around town, everyone's doing their own thing in different genres and try and hit the circuits around town. Some of them don't have circuits out of town, so they have to play shows only here. Luckily, we do have a circuit where we can get out-of-town gigs.
Niche bands have that ability. I don't see us as being in any competition with
any other acts in town. We're not going to get the kind of gigs that Rev. Peyton gets. We'd love to play Irish Fest, but they're probably not gonna take us. I don't see any band competition. I try to look at how we pair up with some of the bands that I like in the same genre. That's who I compare us to. When it comes to local bands, I have best wishes for all of them to make the most of what they can.
ALLEN: Remember that everyone in this band has been playing music for more than 10 years. And we have no illusions about what's going to come of it. We put out this record because we know that this is good rock and roll. Two of the guys have family obligations. We all have steady jobs. We all have bills and obligations. We're not doing this to fulfill some mundane fantasy. We're doing this because we love this music. We love punk rock.
KUCZKOWSKI: At this point, we put this out because we want to think about doing the next thing. We're sick of this album. Here it is. Enjoy. But the new stuff we're doing, I think, is going to really surprise people.
We've discovered that we can be as pop as we want to be, but we'll never be pop.
MESSER: Because Justin can't sing.
KUCZKOWSKI: And I can't play guitar. And he's too much of a ballerina on bass. And Nick is too beautiful to control. And Brad doesn't worry about keeping a steady beat for you to dance to, he just plays along to the vocals by himself because he loves the song. That's The Slurs. The Slurs are all about everyone just getting off, y'know? That's seriously what we are.
The Who were like that. The Who could not be subtracted down, and that's why it was bullshit when they went out with lesser versions of The Who. That band, when it was a real band, was like that. If you look at that band, individually, what they were doing was overplanned and stupid. But you put it all together and it's beautiful. And that's what rock and roll is all about.
ALLEN: This band comes down to a nice pair of legs, which is Brad and Kris. A nice pair of breasts, Nick and Kooch. And then you have the vagina, which is me.
PRYOR: Hey, why do you always get to be the vagina?
ALLEN: We are all the vagina in this band.