The Buck Pets - Growing Up In Public

By Dave Hall

From Music Players Magazine No. 28 (Feb. 28-Mar. 13, 1991; George Lynch cover), pp. 42-43.
Published by AM Publications Inc. (Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, FL)
© 1991 by AM Publications Inc.

Accompanying photo by Greg Allen.

Note: this interview was reprinted (via OCR) verbatim. In the 7th paragraph, perhaps the interviewer meant "brother" in the universal sense, rather than the fraternal sense.

     "I saw Tampa Bay win their first football game ever," boasts Chris Savage, singer and guitarist for The Buck Pets. Although Savage now calls Dallas his home, he has a nostalgic affection for The Buccaneers.

     "The game was against New Orleans in the Superdome," remembers Savage. "I was a Tampa Bay fan at that time, even though I lived in Louisiana. I even had a Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet lamp. I wish I still had it. Y'see, my dad was a high school football coach, and he knew Doug Williams because Williams had played high school football over there. I got to meet him at this sports banquet we went to. I'm just a huge Doug Williams fan, but man, they screwed him. MVP in the 1988 Super Bowl, and now nobody will sign him."

     Regardless of whom Williams plays quarterback for, recall that Savage plays for The Buck Pets - an unpretentious group of young rockers who not only shy away from "rock 'n' roll" lifestyle cliches but who also create brisk, aggressive music on their second LP, Mercurotones.

     Originally, The Buck Pets crept out of their hometown, Dallas, Texas, while most of the band's members were still in their late teens. The group was unaffected in its motivations.

     Explains Chris Savage, "We left Dallas because we saw a lot of people who were becoming local heroes, but national jokes. They were big in Dallas, but what does it mean? The same people will come to your gigs and clap and be into it, but we didn't want to play for the same people for the rest of our lives. Our main goal was just to get out of Dallas.

     "Also, we wanted to see the country, do the 'Hemmingway' thing. We've been all over the country a few times, and we've seen a lot more things than people our age who've been to college and are working in the same place all the time. That's a thing that's in our blood, just to keep ramblin', like Hank Williams."

     Together, they (Savage, brother vocalist/guitarist Andy Thompson, bassist Ian Beach, and drummer Tony Alba) released a self-titled debut album, The Buck Pets, to critical acclaim in 1989.

     "The frst record was like, the bones of what we could do," explains Savage. "Ian was eighteen and he'd never been in the studio before. It was just the beginnings, but I guess that's what the critics appreciated."

     The rock press hailed The Buck Pets' first record as a rebellion against hard-rock formula, and compared Chris Savage to The Replacements' Paul Westerberg.

     "I take that as a compliment," boasts Savage. "That comparison never pisses me off."

     Of The Replacements, he explains, "They're my favorite band of all time. Andy and I drove down to Austin to see them when we were seventeen, and I kind of nervously shook Paul's hand. Then we opened for them a couple of years later, and he bought us a case of beer. That was like, the best time I ever had. Then last time, I actually went up and talked to him. It's kind of nervy actually. He's one of the few people that I completely respect in music."

     Perhaps The Buck Pets' greatest appeal is their fresh attitude toward the music business in general. Savage isn't jaded or cynical about his work, instead, he comes across as a next-door kid from your neighborhood, someone who'd meet you at the fence and pass you one of his dad's cold Budweisers - provided that you promised not to tell anyone.

     "Hopefully, people can see that we're not talking down to them, that we're trying to talk straight, without a condescending attitude. We only started playing to please ourselves. We've never tried to do it for anybody else."

     Mercurotones was recorded in Los Angeles, but the attitudes the band encountered in California clashed with their care-free, unaffected personas.

     "We're not hip to the LA. 'scene' - all the rock people walking around like 'The Future Rock Stars of America,' y'know? I'm not into the whole 'Hollywood' vibe. I like to visit there, but I don't want to spend another four months doing a record there."

     Of his experiences in Los Angeles, Savage relates, "I saw Andrew Dice Clay drive by and he waved at me. I waved at him. We'd go to a couple of bars, and a Dodgers game, but we spent a lot of time in the studio. Flea was there because the guy that produced our record, Michael Beinhorn, had done work for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So Flea (the Peppers' bassist) came down to the studio. Sometimes we'd hang with some friends of ours in a band called 'The Big F' - but really, we didn't do a whole lot."

     Between the band's fresh attitudes and their youth (no one in The Buck Pets is over 24), the music on Mercurotones defies standard radio formula. There is no one musical theme or idea; instead, the album stretches all over the place.

     "We wanted to have a little more of a variety of sounds sonically," says Savage about the creation of Mercurotones. "Our first record's producer, Ron St. Germain said, 'You don't want it to sound like a compilation record,' and he wanted to homogenize it to where it was all one level. We wanted it to be totally different, drum-wise, getting different guitar sounds, stuff like that. It still isn't exactly what we wanted, but maybe next time. I hope we might get to do the next one ourselves."

     Occasionally, maybe because of their 'boys-next-door' demeanor, The Buck Pets are labeled as a 'garage band.' This is one comparison that annoys them.

     Says Savage, "We always shy away from the 'garage' thing because we hear it a lot. It seems that when people say that, they're insinuating that you're no good. We try not to let that 'garage' label keep us from progressing with our music like we want to. We've tried to be true to what we can do, but people have a hard time comprehending that idea."

     Finally, the band's age, or rather, the implied naivete of their youth, nags at the band as well.

     "It can be a hindrance when people don't take you seriously," explains Savage, 23. "They're better about it now, but when we were seventeen, eighteen and nineteen, industry people had a hard time taking us seriously about what we wanted to do or what we thought. They thought they could pull the wool over our eyes. Youth has a certain gullibility about it.

     "People expect you to be a little more mature when you get to this age. It's easier to be a screw-up when you're 21. Getting older has its problems, but it's all right. But I'd rather be young than old."

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