Ghosts of Denton Past: Brutal Juice

Editor's Note: 

This is the first of our monthly Ghosts of Denton Past column. In this column, we will look at different Denton bands of yore. If you have a specific old band that you'd like for us to cover, send us an email. Also, if you have a great story on any band that we have covered, please tell us in the comments!

Brutal Juice

It’s sometime in the fall of 1996. I’m a junior in high school in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Dallas and Waco. I’ve really only been listening to decent music for about two years; I was way into … And Justice for All coming into my freshman year, mostly on the recommendation of my best friend, who was way into Lars Ulrich at the time. I also briefly fooled myself into believing that big band music held some intrinsic value in anticipation of joining the school jazz ensemble. Beyond that, I was as interested in grunge and the burgeoning ‘alternative rock’ scene as anyone else in the ’90s, but I was only beginning to explore music at large. 

Locally, my knowledge of area bands consisted of Pantera and the Toadies, who I only knew about thanks to sitting next to a faux-bisexual pothead skate rat in algebra who decorated his notebook with “Fuck the Toadies” stickers. They had just started to get some heat off of ‘Possum Kingdom’ on the radio, and before not too long, they were a big deal, even among people who didn’t abuse spray paint. I was invited by a friend who had an extra ticket to go see them in Dallas one night, and I was psyched like a mug-until we got there. 

Being sixteen, going on seventeen, I was fully immersed in my awful antisocial/misanthropic phase, and was super bummed to arrive at the venue to see the collected student councils of the greater North Texas area, people who were only there because their parents owned lakefront property name-checked in a song. My spleen went into overdrive. 

We arrived a little late, but just in time to see opener Brutal Juice take the stage, and I watched in a state of euphoria as they proceeded to hate-fuck this audience of shirt-tuckers for what seemed like an impossibly long set. Writhing and shrieking onstage, this was my first live taste of a truly dangerous band. Almost immediately after they finished and the house music came up, some intern from Interscope wove his way through the crowd of horrified children with a bag of cassette tapes and shoved one in my greedy little fist. It was a promo single of ‘Nationwide’ backed with ‘The Vulgarians’ aka ‘The Vaginals’. We went home after the show, I popped that tape into my stereo, and completely surrendered. Even at just two songs, it found its way into my regular car cassette rotation. If I ever gave you a ride in my ‘88 LeSabre, you listened to Brutal Juice.

Imagine, if you will, Denton twenty years ago. It bears little, if any resemblance to the city today. The universities were present, as well as the Pancho’s, but for the most part, that was it. If you got on Loop 288, you either wanted to go to Wal-Mart, or get drunk in a field. If you had any type of creative inclinations, restless energy, or simply had a low tolerance for boredom, your options were limited: make music, take drugs, or experiment with combining the two in varying quantities. From out of this pharmaceutical ennui came Brutal Juice. 

Coalescing in and around the University of North Texas in 1991, the band took their name from an incredibly prescient Hertz car rental commercial featuring O.J. Simpson and Arnold Palmer. Hitting the ground running, the band began writing songs and honing their sound. Bassist Sam McCall recorded the earliest demos before eventually joining up full-time, combining with drummer Ben Burt to form a crazy tight, muscular rhythm unit. Guitarists Gordon Gibson and Ted Wood lashed from prog-laced arena punk riffs to spaced out lysergic solos. And Craig Welch scared the shit out of everyone within arm’s reach, taking equal time to scream lyrics full of sex and violence as well as smash beer bottles against his head and put lit cigarettes out on his tongue. 

They quickly began documenting their perverse style of acid punk, releasing How Tasty Was My Little Timmy, followed by the Cannibal Holocaust and Black Moment of Panic singles, the latter put out by Alternative Tentacles. It’s on Black Moment of Panic that the first concrete signs of what was to come showed up. The A-side plays almost like a foreshadowing of where the band would eventually end up, with a heavily psychedelic front end bolstered by a chaotic and crushing bridge and coda. The B-side “Rock Town” is largely forgettable; a stiff mosh-funk tune contractually required of any band operating between 1989-1997.

Recorded at Emo’s in Austin in 1994, I Love the Way They Scream When They Die is essentially a live concert demo version of the band’s only proper full length. Most of the same songs appear on both releases, albeit in very different guises. Overall, the live album is naturally looser and more raw than the polished studio effort. It is obvious on the live album though, that the musicianship is already top-notch, and most of the puzzle pieces have already been placed.

In the wake of every band in America with access to a distortion pedal being signed by a major record label, Interscope Records released Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult in 1995. Originally conceived with the working title Everything’s Coming Up Toilets, the album was an uncompromising conglomeration of metal heaviness, punk riffs, pop vocal harmonies and general weirdness. Leading with the seasick lurch of “Kentucky Fuck Daddy,” all the way through to the best twenty minute Tool song Tool never wrote in “Whorehouse of Screams,” it manages the neat trick of sitting comfortably at the crossroads of noise rock and power pop, and remains an unfortunate casualty of a saturated alternative rock market. 

Brutal Juice toured relentlessly throughout the mid-’90s. Their final record, released with Man’s Ruin, was the All-American City single. Both a departure from the Mutilation album, and a totally logical endpoint to their music, “All-American City” is extremely psychedelic in comparison to the majority of other BJ songs, passing for straight-up hippie rock for the first minute until pedals and balls both get stomped at the chorus and atonal squeals begin issuing forth from the guitars. The B-side, “Bound for Glory,” is cast more in the classic Brutal Juice mold. A thrashy, melodic kiss-off, it’s the kind of song that you hum as your mugshot is taken.

Brutal Juice dissolved in 1997, though reunion shows have been plentiful and semi-regular in the years since. Gibson and Burt formed the Tommorrowpeople, which continued the more pop-oriented psychedelic sounds BJ was beginning to explore. Ted Wood went on to become a member of Hand of Onan, and later Magnum Octopus and with Welch, was a member of the Banes. Welch went on to be a member of International Sparkdome as well as the Fabulous Badasses, and currently performs as part of electro/hip-hop outfit NEEKS. McCall continues to produce and record other bands.

If you have any good Brutal Juice stories, please tell us in the comments!

Brutal Juice:

Ben Burt - drums

Gordon Gibson - lead vocals, guitar

Sam McCall - bass, vocals

Craig Welch - lead vocals, guitar

Ted Wood - guitar, vocals

Fry St. Fair 93

reunion show @ Dan’s:

-David Willerton


Answering invitations from music industry executives, Calhoun visited New York City last Thursday to play two shows – the first at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn and then Arlene's Grocery in Manhattan. I was able to speak with Tim Locke (lead vocals, guitar) and Jordan Roberts (keys, guitar) after their show at Arlene's Grocery in the Lower East Side.

 WDDI: What brings y'all to New York for these two shows? It's not part of a tour, it just the two shows at Knitting Factory and then Arlene's. What's the occasion?

Tim: We came to play for some people that liked the record. We sent it to one label and, we've only sent it to one label so far, and they liked it so we came up to play for them and a couple other people that liked the record too and we hadn't played New York in awhile and it just sounded like a good idea, fun.

Jordan: Ya, just to come up here and meet a few people and play for label types and various other industry types like booking agents and stuff like that so that's what these shows were about - just to come up and do that and then also to get out of town for a little bit as well. So it just kinda worked out.

Tim: Ya, you can't play Lola's every night.

WDDI: There was an article about a new entertainment law firm from Nashville opening a new location in Fort Worth and they mentioned y'all.

Tim: We played a show in Nashville a couple months ago and we got a great lawyer and he's been doing a great job for us, so he set up a lot of this stuff for us.

Jordan: We've been with him now, not officially with him, for I guess almost a month and he's really worked hard to hook us up with a lot of really cool things so we're just continuing to go where, we just do what he says, he says, “Go here. Do this.” and we say, 'Yessir. Aye, aye, captain.'

WDDI: How does it feel being scouted by label types, the booking types, the lawyers and all that? Does this change anything for y'all?

Tim: Not really, it's really nice to have people like the record because we haven't put it out yet.

WDDI: This is the new one, not “Falter Weave Cultivate.”

Tim: Right, this is the new album that nobody's heard yet, so it's good to have people like it because you get so far inside that you can't tell. I listen to it a lot and I like it, but you don't know if anybody else is. So people, industry-wise, have really responded to it really well and it's what we want to do for a living - we're looking for people who can help us perpetuate that.

WDDI: The new record. Is it more like Coma Rally and Dead City Radio or is it less like it?

Tim: I think it's the most focused record that I've ever done in my life. Jordan and I wrote all the songs in his apartment pretty much, we wrote everything together this time and it was just me and him. Toby and Nolan helped us produce it. And then, we didn't really have band because we quit and they were nice enough to come help us and now it's turned into a band. It's the most fun I've ever had, it really is.

WDDI: How is playing in New York different from Fort Worth? Is it more similar or more different?

Tim: New York is the ultimate destination of a nice place to visit. I love coming here and playing here, but everything you have to do to just get around the city and be on time or have an agenda here is very challenging. And I've never been happier to play than when I play here, when I get onstage that's when I can breathe.

Jordan: But all the leading up to it, getting here, getting your gear, making sure you have the right backline. Getting here is a whip.

Tim: That's the nice thing about here is they always have backline gear so you can fly up and do a show and not bring everything. No one in Texas really does that to where you have everything ready for you. So that's why you come here.

Jordan: Ya, a lot of clubs could learn a lesson from that all around the nation. Just having backline gear would be nice.

WDDI: My last question is, where from here? After New York? What's the plan going forward?

Jordan: Europe.

Tim: We're going to Europe and then put the record out and just see what happens. Play.

Jordan: We'll do a couple weeks in Europe and see what happens with the interest level of the people who came out, gauge that, and take it day by day - just see what happens from here.

-- by Drew Brown

Calhoun - Deal Breaker



It wasn't long ago that I was packed into a crowded house over on Ponder Street listening in on this band's first performance. Their potential was obvious even then, and though I still find myself crowding into sweaty houses to catch their shows, it is not the same band I heard two years ago. These five may have started as the Denton house show flavor of the week, but it is clear now, they have grown into truly professional musicians.

The Black Angels

(Part1 of 2) The Black Angels - Interview from WeDentonDoIt on Vimeo.

By Jordan Smith

The countercultural music of the 1960s was a direct response to an overwhelming, ambiguous strain caused by conventional norms of the 1950s. Psychedelic music was birthed out of this movement, and, before long, it became a centerpiece of the hippie generation.

Some 40 years later, though, Austin's The Black Angels have tapped into the same sounds that surrounded the formerly dominant subculture. Once again, though, it's a sound that comes across fresh, speaking to an audience searching for an anthem of social reform. This, and the Angels' inclusion in a 2009 History Channel documentary called Manson (which focused, as you might assume, on the stories of The Manson Family murders and the creation of pop culture icon Charles Manson) served as the bulk of our conversation with Angels players Christian Bland and Alex Maas, just before their recent performance at the Kessler Theater.

These two men are seeking what they call truth and, in their exploration, have found themselves in a position of influence. In our two part interview, the first part of which can be found above, and the second of which can be found after the jump, Bland and Maas discuss with us their positions on religion, politics and drugs. Enjoy.