Alt-Nation: Cretins, Kilgore, & Travel Light

This column, we are going to throw it back to the first column I ever wrote about Kilgore Smudge, for Providence College’s newspaper, The Cowl, in 1994. They published it but rejected me as a columnist, probably because I can’t hit a deadline with a cannon. The show review was from a house party and I got a lot of positive feedback except for a couple of girls who were upset I referred to the crowd as “cretins.” I intended it as the highest compliment, being obsessed with the Ramones at the time; it was a reference to the tune “Cretin Hop.” They looked it up in a dictionary, because that was Google in 1994, and told me it meant “a very stupid person.” I haven’t bothered to look it up to confirm that and maybe that justifies the Cowl’s decision — but I’m still here right, so fuck them. Once Kilgore made it out of the Green House, they electrified the world with the pounding backbeat of Bill Southerland, the manic riffs of Brian McKenzie, and the presence and howling of Jay Berndt. I don’t even like metal that much, but Kilgore was a different beast. Kilgore Smudge went on to sign with a major label, release two great records, and tour the world with the likes of Pantera and as a part of Ozzfest.

After reuniting last year to play a benefit for the family of Joe Moody, a patron saint in these parts, Kilgore wanted more. And why not? As Joe Strummer said, “The future is unwritten.” Kilgore is back with a new EP, One Day the War Will End. I’d love to go track by track through it because it blew me away from the opening of the hook ladder, “Death On the Installment Plan” to the scorched earth frustration of how hard is it to denounce a white supremacist in “Stalemate.” I was so blown away by this EP that I just had to ring up my old buddy Jay Berndt to talk about the record and the world at large.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): What was different between last year’s reunion and the 2007 reunion that made you say, “Let’s make another record.”

Jay Berndt: The vibe was better. When we did the 2007 reunions Smitty (Jason Smith) was with us. As much as we love Smitty — and he’s the greatest guy in the world — in the 10 years that he wasn’t with Kilgore he basically forgot how to play the bass. The last show we did with him at the Living Room was pretty much a train wreck. It left a really bad feeling with me and the others as well. I just washed my hands of the whole thing. Brian asked me pretty much every year, ‘Hey let’s do something,’ but I just wasn’t into it. I’m not that nostalgic. When Joe died it was like, ‘All right, if we are going to do this I want it to feel right.’ I wanted it to be members of Kilgore, whether they are original members or not. It needs to be professional. I pretty much said the only way we can do this and make it feel right is if Marty O’Brien will do it on bass. If he’ll do it, I’ll do it. We called Marty up and he was like, “Hell yeah.” It just went from there. We just really ended up having a good time and it felt right.

MC: Were these old unfinished songs or new material?

JB: No, not all of them. Originally it started that way. The idea came about from when Brian left in 1996, before we recorded A Search for Reason. We recorded five of his songs for the record, but he had like 10 or 12 songs from that era. There were like eight other songs that were never recorded or released. No disrespect to him, but Brian has been doing singer/ songwriter stuff for 20 years so me and Bill were very skeptical: “There is no way he’s going to be able to do this.” Brian ended up moving down to Nashville for a job that fell through. So he was staying at an apartment he rented for a month with no job and a guitar and was like, “I’m going to write some songs.” Okay. Then the first thing he sent us was the “Laws of God and Men” and we just flipped out! Really, this is the first thing in 20 years that you’ve written that is a heavy metal song and this is the first you came out with! So there are four songs on the record that are brand new songs and there are two songs from 1996. There is one of them that the guys always wanted to record and we never did — I was like, “Yeah, it is cool.” Then there was one I always wanted to do and they were like, “Yeah, it is cool.” So there was kind of a compromise, but we are all really psyched with how they came out. Those are the last two songs on the record, “Grinder” and “Stalemate.”

MC: The lyrics of “Stalemate” have to be new, right?

JB: Yeah, all the lyrics are actually brand new. I didn’t have any lyrics for the old songs back then, I never do. I always come up with the melody first and just kind of grumble, grumble to find the melody that I want. Then I basically come up with the lyrics. When we started this record and I had lyrics written for all of the songs that were very classic Kilgore about self-reflection and self-loathing and then Charlottesville happened. I just said, “Fuck that,” and redid all the lyrics. To me it was the right thing to do because the melodies I came up with were way more aggressive than the lyrics that I had written. So it just kind of made sense when I came to this place of anger and it all came out that way.

MC: There is a lyric in “Stalemate” asking how hard is it to denounce the actions of white supremacists. How did the climate of the country influence your writing? When we were kids, there were Nazi skinheads and then it seemed like that was the end of it.

JB: Right it was like “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and my favorite t-shirt was “Fuck racism” by Fishbone. There was all that, but I knew it was always there and Trump got elected and you knew it was only a matter of time for them to all come out of the woodwork. And they did, but never in a million years did I ever think a presidential administration would come out and say, “They are okay. There are some good ones there.” Really? I was angry from the moment he got elected, but that is where I just lost it. I never liked him to begin with. He represented everything I hated about the ’80s, like, “Greed is good” and the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” bullshit. You see these puppets on television going along with their Christian morals, but they denounce gay marriage and they denounce transgender and every good civil thing. But they love their guns and they love their God and they love their country. I was like, “Really, you are a Christian; did you actually ever read the bible? You say you are a Christian but you are probably the furthest thing from one.” Christians really should be the biggest hippies in the world. It is so perverted from what I believe it should be and I’m very unreligious, but from going to Catholic high school with all the guys from Kilgore I know enough about religion to know why I don’t like religion.

Kilgore, Thy Will Be Done, Birch Hill Dam, and On Your Deathbed bring the thunder to Fete to celebrate the release of One Day the War Will End on December 29.

Mark Cutler – Travel Light

On Travel Light everything is a little darker, from the tone of the guitars to the vocals; it isn’t overtly political so much as a songwriter trying to make sense of the world. Cutler’s voice retains a sense of leeriness on “Nothing from Nobody” as he sings “I don’t want nothing from nobody, don’t expect you to hand your soul to me” over a rollicking Chicago blues lick. “What About You” is a classic ballad that feels like it fell off of an expanded version of Tom Petty’s Wildflowers as Cutler croons, “I’m only a hobo when I’m not by your side.” “Gaslight” is a cool tune that reminds me of ’70s Neil Young set to a rhythm reminiscent of a stripped down version of Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979.” The starkness of “East of Eden” reminds me of a cross between Beggars Banquet era Stones and Time Out of Mind era Dylan. “Misfits” and the closing title track retain a youthful quality — hitting the road for the next adventure. If you’ve never seen Mark Cutler live, it is an all-night party as he and his band play non-stop for hours with one tune after another drawing from his expansive career and covers of anyone from Jonathan Richman to the Stones. It is not to be missed and pick up a copy of Travel Light while you are at it!

Mark Cutler and the Men of Great Courage will rock Nick-A-Nee’s on December 22.

RIP to Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens – one of the few cool bands on mainstream radio in my youth.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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