"The Buck Pets -- Sniffing Out Success," by H P NewquistFrom Guitar magazine (November 1993), pages 15 and 164.
© 1993 by Cherry Lane Magazines, Inc.
Accompanying photo (re-scanned with proper aspect ratio!)by Katherine Davis/London Features
The same photo shoot yielded the main picture used in the Seventeen article
NOTE: My original "correction" of this article was actually an error on my part. The Boss DF-2 Super Distortion & Feedbacker pedal was introduced in 1984. It featured a distortion circuit identical to their DS-1 Distortion pedal, plus the ability to generate feedback at any volume when the footswitch is held down. After DiMarzio threatened to sue (they owned the name "Super Distortion" for a pickup), it was renamed "Super Feedbacker & Distortion" before being discontinued by 1995. I've now got one of the post-lawsuit models, and its crunch sounds more like the BPs than the SD-1 Super OverDrive. My apologies to anyone deceived by my error. The interview is now completely verbatim.
Sniffing Out Success
The music business is filled with Cinderella stories and horror stories. The Cinderella stories are the kind that Walt Disney would have been proud to film in his pre-deep freeze days: struggling young band makes good, signs a major label deal, becomes a big-time arena sensation. Band lives happily ever after in luxury, buys Ferraris and homes in the Hollywood hills and invests in condominiums and mutual funds. The horror stories, on the other hand, sound like Stephen King on cheap hallucinogens: struggling band makes good, almost gets just sort of kind of signed, gets jerked around by manager/label/lawyers (take your pick), is forced to wait until hell freezes over for a shot at the big time, and ends up disbanding in frustration. Suicides and full-time jobs at Auto-Lube follow. Story ends, curtain drops. No applause.
The majority of bands in the world have horror stories and the ones with Cinderella stories -- the happy minority -- are the ones that you read about in People magazine and see hanging out with celebrity fossils like Cher and Liz Taylor. But for sheer extremes in both the Cinderella and Stephen King categories, you've got to sit back and listen to the story of The Buck Pets.
Four kids, aged 16 to 17, form a band based in Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb known affectionately as the "Teen Suicide Capital of the United States." Calling themselves The Buck Pets -- for reasons having to do with an old joke about being young bucks -- this guitar band plays thrash pop day and night on the Texas and East Coast club circuit. Together little more than a year, the teenagers get signed by Island Records to a multi-record deal after being heard on a Dallas compilation album of local bands. Joining the label that boasts U2, The Buck Pets in 1988 are the freshest and youngest faces on Island, and they go out on tour with Jane's Addiction and Neil Young. Life is grand, and nothing is in their way. They are about to be young, rich, and famous musicians by their 20th birthdays.
Wrong. After two moderately successful albums -- The Buck Pets and Mercurotones -- Island gets bought out by PolyGram, which slices acts out of the Island roster with all the gentle delicacy of a machete. The Buck Pets get caught in the slashing and suddenly find themselves out of a label. Instead of giving up, the band carries on and moves back to Dallas, vowing to regain their rightful stature as a band with more to offer than the Top 40 glam-metal crap festering in Hollywood. The band's drummer, though, calls it quits. In a musical act of selflessness equivalent to laying down one's life for one's fellow man, another band's guitarist gives up the guitar to join The Buck Pets -- to play drums. The reorganized band finds life with Restless Records in 1992 and release their best album to date, To The Quick. This is where we find The Buck Pets today.
Serving up distorted electric and jangly acoustic guitars, The Buck Pets play rock in the tradition of The Velvet Underground, The Replacements, and Sonic Youth -- loud, dirty, experimental, moody, introspective, pulsing, and above all, grinding and catchy. It has not been an easy musical or personal evolution that has brought them to this point. The band's two founders and vocalists, lead guitarist Chris Savage and rhythm guitarist Andy Thompson, remember finding bassist Ian Beach working in a Pennsylvania gas station when they pulled in to ask for directions to a local club. When the Pets moved on to their next gig, Beach went as their new bassist. Then, after the original Island deal went south, so did the band's drummer. Savage's roommate, Ricky Pearson, was playing guitar with the Dallas band Rooster but switched to drums to help out the Pets.
"We were working on new songs and just asked him to keep a beat for us," says Savage. "After that he enjoyed doing it and saw no reason to go back to playing guitar. He's actually a pretty good guitar player, but I think he's more used to playing drums more now." Although his only prior experience on drums had been with a plastic Toys R Us drum kit, Pearson gave up his electric guitar to learn drums full-time. According to Savage, "I think having him play drums from the point of view of a guitarist really helps out on a lot of rhythm stuff."
Filming the first video for "To The Quick," Chris Savage took some time to discuss the Pets' approach to guitar and to talk about his admittedly humble beginnings. "My dad had a bunch of Beatles' song books laying around, with the chord diagrams on them, and I learned from those. But I was already trying to play along to the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks with Steve Jones playing guitar, and that was my first influence. I'd come home and play along with that album every day. Besides them, I really got into the first couple of Pretenders' albums with James Honeyman-Scott playing lead. He was my idol for a long time. He had this real chordy kind of lead playing that I really liked a lot better than the single, high note stuff."
While The Buck Pets' guitar sound little to do with "single, high note stuff," it has a lot to do with drone strings and open chords and generous use of electric and acoustic guitars with soaring effects, all displayed on songs such as "Rocket to You" and "C'mon Baby," both off the new album. "We laid down a lot of rhythm stuff down live and had a lot of time to experiment. A lot of the sounds I get from messing around on my own with a 4-track, like getting a bee swarm sound from a delay pedal by adjusting it with my hand."
"I'm still using the same black Les Paul Standard that I bought when I was 14. I bought it because I saw a picture of James Honeyman Scott holding one on the first Pretenders' albums. I didn't even know what it was but I knew I had to have one. For effects, I use mostly Boss floor pedals and not racks because I really like the feeling of stomping on the pedals. I guess I've already gone through about five Boss Super Distortion pedals. It's really good for getting up that big wall of sound." The band's amps of choice are Mesa/Boogie Mark III Coliseums. "They're so powerful that you only have to turn them up to about 2 1/2 in the studio to get a really good sound." Rhythm guitarist Andy Thompson also plays through Boogies but uses a Telecaster and Jazzmaster for his rhythm duties. "We like traditional guitars," says Savage. "I don't know if I could play most modern brands with all that trem-locking and floating whammy bar stuff."
So, there are no whammy bars or pyrotechnics for The Buck Pets in the immediate future. Just lots of touring, and hopefully an audience receptive to big, swirling guitar mayhem from a group of guys who've been wailing on their Gibsons and Fenders since they were in ninth grade. And now that The Buck Pets have seen the best and worst of the music business face-to-face and still manage to keep getting better, can guitar stardom and Cinderella success -- not to mention Cher and Elizabeth Taylor -- be far behind?