Music to sin by: Sleazeadelic rockers the Malamondos go big on third album
It only takes a few minutes spent watching the Malamondos perform live and the unsettling sense that you’re an extra in a Russ Meyer flick starts to creep in. The agitated cadence of vocalist Hunny Goodnight, the jagged clamor of the sleazy characters backing her, the random prop pistols as material non sequiters and the go-go dancers in knee-highs flailing about in time with the music all feel jerked straight from the seedy reels of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Valley of the Dolls. There’s a method to the madness, says Malamondos guitarist Van Serpico, an unabashed devotee to Meyer’s and David Friedman’s exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s.
“I pride ourselves on the fact that you can take anyone of our songs and stick it in some mid-’70s movie and it would fit,” Serpico, also known as Troy Martin, said. “We’re the band playing in the background that you never really find out the name of.”
Like the band’s cinematic muse, they’ve operated on a shoestring budget since forming in 2002. Their first two albums were self-produced affairs recorded in the Chapel Hill studio of Southern Culture on the Skids frontman Rick Miller, played straight-ahead with little to no embellishment. With the idea of spending 2010 working out new music and touring less, their plans worked out less fortuitously than expected when bassist ReX Diablo face-planted during a bike ride, requiring 160 stitches and extended recuperation time.
The band was all but absent from the stage in 2010, but when they went into the studio late in the year, they were equipped with some of their strongest material and for the first time, a well-appointed producer in Heavy Trash’s Matt Verta-Ray. Drummer Max Diablo first met Verta- Ray during Heavy Trash show in Chapel Hill in late 2009 and upon discovering he was a producer, asked him to take on their next album.
“He was the missing piece,” said Diablo, otherwise known as local filmmaker Jaysen Buterin. “He could do all the things that Rick didn’t have time to do.”
The band has never liked to be typecast as rockabilly, though they admit they’re often booked alongside bands more befitting the description.
With Verta-Ray’s impact in the studio, the Malamondos’ sound on the yet-untitled album comes ever closer to that of Heavy Trash. There will heavy doubling and slapback on Goodnight’s vocals, almost approaching that of a ’60s girl group, while guitars and bass were treated with touches of heavy fuzz.
“It’s not really psychedelic, but there’s lots of really fried out sounds,” said Martin. “Something you’d definitely expect from someone who was in Speedball Baby and Heavy Trash.”
Buterin credits Verta-Ray for his patience and proactive input in the studio. He always listened, but never hesitated in offering alternate arrangements for the drum kit and going as far as to take away his cymbals, obliging him to play pieces in ways he’d never thought of.
The new album will maintain the same kind of campy humor they have had in the past — one track entitled “Brock” is an homage to the Venture Bros. character — but much of the album is strikingly darker. There are several songs with strong themes of feminine revenge that Buterin said were inspired by the film I Spit On Your Grave, while guitarist Dexter Romweber laid down a hauntingly beautiful guitar track on the argumentative instrumental “Squabble.”
“It was toward the end of overdubs, so I was the only one that was there,” said Buterin. “I wish everyone else could have seen it. It was classic snarling Dex.”
Romweber’s not the only big name to surface on the album. The Dirtbombs’ Mick Collins provides a classic Meyer-esque intro and outro to the album: overly serious and completely bombastic, recorded to the sound of the entire band thumb-snapping into a separate mic. Their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” also includes a chilling harmonica piece performed by Col. JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers, whom the band will also share an upcoming split 45 to be released on Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets’ label Spinout Records.
Ultimately, it was the influence of Verta-Ray that the band says sets this album apart from their previous work. So much, in fact, that they considered for a moment re-recording some older material using their newfound studio discipline before Verta-Ray offered yet another piece of advice.
“He just said, ‘No, you have to remember that was a time, and that’s what you had at that time,’” Buterin said.
The Malamondos will perform at the Garage on Thursday, March 24 in a benefit for Mad Ones Films.