Cover photo (also presumably by James Bland)
Words and pictures ©1993 by the publishers of Buddy, Collen Bradford, and James Bland, as appropriate.
Notes: both photos are scans of reduced photocopies of images that were originally on newsprint; that's all I had to work with. Also, some of the history below doesn't sound right (for example, Ian didn't play on "Snatch Rap"), but I left it as it was printed.
THE BUCK PETS HAVE SHED THEIR PERHAPS unjustly-pegged bad-boy image, thank God, or rather, thank the natural maturation process. Virtually every press clipping I had saved from the late '80s had the same adjectives, "bad boys, teenage angst, Plano suicide" ... blah, blah, blah. The first really hard rocking band to be signed out of what was then a promising local scene have grown up, and forward, and the future is wide open, full of positively [sic] and excitement.
Their story may be described as a great example of dreams that come true turned into nightmares. For, when the band were a bunch of young lads, they had just about everything a rock band could want, then had it turn out wrong. For most bands that would have been a sign to quit the music biz and, say, go to college or join the Marines. But the Buck Pets have proved the theory that the music is the most important thing, and their perseverance and level-headedness have paid off.
Here's a brief history. In 1984 guitarist Andy Thompson and vocalist/guitarist Chris Savage went to school together in Plano, dubbed by the press as "the teen suicide capitol of the world." Apparently, instead of killing themselves, they formed a band, along with drummer Tony Alba. Bassist Ian Beach joined in 1987, and the band did a few demos to get gigs.
"Nineteen Eighty-Seven was like the Deep Ellum Summer of Love," said Savage. "All the bands were playing festivals in the streets, and that's when a bunch of record companies started coming around. Island Records did the Sounds of Deep Ellum compilation, on which the Buck Pets did "Snatch Rap," which led up to signing to Island in 1988.
The Buck Pets, released in 1989, showed people that a loud noise could come out of Dallas as compared to the mellow hit cacophony produced by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. The Pets hit the road for incessant touring. Home crowds packed venues whenever the group would return to their turf, and things looked really good.
But problems doing the second LP, Mercurotones, such as three months of Hollywood hell during recording, bad direction, and no label support, made the Buck Pets hate everything when things should have been beautiful. "It's like you have your whole life to write your first record, and then six months to do the next one," commented Savage.
Pressure of being on a major label, the incessant touring (180 days on the road in one year, 89 shows in 111 days), and just the general bullshit that goes along with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle wore on the then-youngsters (average age at the time was 18) enough to scare off any hopeful musician looking to score the big contract. The Buck Pets have many a horror story to tell. Maybe the coolest thing to happen during that period was a tour with Neil Young.
A buyout of Island Records by Polygram in 1991 was the out that was needed to break free of the "corporate rock monster," and the Pets took a breather after returning home to Dallas. Tony Alba left the group. "We came home, and that's when we became human again. We started writing songs and playing music for ourselves ... the pressure was off," said Beach. Enter drummer Ricky Pearson.
Pearson had been the guitarist in Wake Up Screaming, a hard-rocking band that were members of the friends and family of the Dallas scene.
After a promising demo the band soon split with their singer and became Rooster, basically playing the same songs but with different words and Pearson fronting. And it just so happened that when the Buck Pets came back to Dallas, Pearson and Savage became roommates. "We needed someone to keep time," remembers Savage, "so we were like, 'Ricky, c'mon man, you can do it.'"
Which is cool thing, actually an amazing thing, as Pearson had virtually no drumming experience. "My dad bought me a plastic drum set from Toys R Us one time, and I broke them in one weekend," is how Pearson explained his extremely brief drumming experience during childhood. "Bobby Cox (of the instrumental trio Three Men and a Baby Jesus) let me borrow his set, pretty much let me learn on his set." It soon got to the point there was no need to look any further for a drummer.
Back during the Neil Young tour, a lot of labels were paying attention to the Buck Pets. But a buzz throughout the Restless Records camp became louder and louder, and although there were many major labels expressing interest in signing the band, they decided to go with more independent outfit. "Restless, man, God...." enthused Beach.
"Our president, Joe Regis, is totally young. He was wearing thrift store clothes!'' Savage interjected. "l was going 'who is that guy? Oh, the president? Cool!'" Regis had a lot to do with the punk rock days of Enigma Records, and promised the band almost free reign to do everything from the music to the mixing to the artwork their way. So, in October of 1992, the ink was put to the paper.
"We were kids when we signed with a major label, and maybe our organization was not as good as it should have been, but now, we know exactly what we want. Restless knows that, and they want a certain thing. It took us one meeting to get everything straight. These people give us a little faith. We don't have the money, or the massive manpower, but we have people who are pretty into doing their jobs," said Beach.
"When we had the money, the people didn't really do shit," added Savage, "l really think the people at the label are really into letting us do what we want to do."
The Buck Pets went to Baltimore last winter to record with Ted Nicely, the only man Fugazi lets turn the knobs for them. "We knew Ted Nicely did punk rock records, good punk rock records, so we decided to go with him," said Beach. "We wanted to get away from the slick aspects of production."
But don't misunderstand, To the Quick is a step above and beyond The Buck Pets and Mercurotones, a much less thrashing violent guitar thing, a much more introspective, thoughtful and melodic effort.
"Maybe we just grew up a little bit, not so much that we sat down and went, 'Okay, I want to take our songs in this direction,'" said Thompson.
"You don't write the same songs at 23 that you wrote at 18," added Savage. But when I tried to get them to explain about some of the songs on the new effort, they politely declined to give me a blow by blow, preferring that the listener to take it and make his/her own through interpretation.
"Looking at it from a fan point of view, a lot of times I've read about a song and I go, 'I didn't want to hear it, I don't care if I know the facts of what it's about,'" said Thompson. "Some of the stuff is meant to be ambiguous, so people can put different translations on it, to make it more personal for them."
The possible singles to look out for are the opening cut "Living Is the Biggest Thing," a really positive celebration song, and "Shave," which seems to be relaying feelings about new beginnings, maybe their new beginnings. Okay, here I go interpreting them as I see them:
"Walk it To the Payphone" is an insecure falling-in-love song. Traces of the first Buck Pets album are definitely evident on the title song "To The Quick," in the fast-paced drumming and dizzying guitar hooks. The line, "If I could change anything, I'd change everything," assures Buck Pets longtimers that the poetry and plays on words are still an integral part of the songwriting that made us love these guys in the first place.
"Nothing's Ever Gonna Be Alright Again" must be one of the saddest straight-ahead rockers I've ever heard. "The Smiler with a Knife" has a sinister feel, and suspicious relationship thoughts.
"C'mon Baby" is a hopeful love song, full of worry and anxious expectations. "Crutch" seems to be about excuses for not getting along anymore. "Rocket to You" must have been written on a lovelorn road trip: "You can catch depression through the telephone/the lonesome wire that stretches across 17 area codes."
"Car Chase" psychos out on the guitar and melts into "Worldwide Smile." "Manatee" rounds out the effort, with swirling guitarplay and just the right touch of feedback to end the whole disc. Nothing has been decided for sure about which will be the video release.
"Maybe we'll do one long video for the whole record," says Savage.
"Or, just a bunch of footage and we'll put any song over it," added Thompson.
The Buck Pets played at South by Southwest on Friday, March 20, at the Acropolis, and it was so packed that the line was a half-block long outside the club, which was the reason I couldn't get in. However, Exene Cervenka (of X) was asking for songs from the band, and Bob Mould and Mike Mills of R.E.M. showed up specifically to see them.
But their heads aren't big for it. "We'll always be the same dicks that we are now," promised Savage.