Armed (with beer) and dangerous
Southern California’s Guttermouth to free punk kids at the Brick Works
It is Tuesday, July 10, 12:30 p.m. in St. Louis, Mo. The blazing midday sun is scorching audience and musicians alike at this stop on this year’s Vans Warped Tour.
The tour combines extreme-sports exhibitions (motocross, skateboarding and snowboarding) with hardcore music, from metal and hip-hop to reggae and punk rock. Such bands as 311, Rollins Band, Kool Keith, Morgan Heritage, Less Than Jake and Guttermouth are on this year’s bill, and kids have packed the Riverboat Amphitheatre on the banks of the Mississippi River to check out the scene.
Guttermouth front man Mark Adkins steps out of the security of the shade of the cavalcade of tour buses huddled in the parking lot behind the stage to get better cell phone reception. I can hear only bits and pieces of Adkins trying to get several people to quit bugging him. His defense is cordial but stern, and things promptly settle down.
“Sorry about that,” the 34-year-old continues politely while still chuckling. “That’s just some of the guys from The Vandals, and they wouldn’t leave me alone!”
Apparently, while Adkins is standing on the blacktop under the sweltering sun, he is holding his cell phone in one hand and a case of Busch beer curled up in his other arm. He nonchalantly snatched the case as he walked out into a clearing so as the others wouldn’t get to it before he was done with the interview.
“Yeah, y’know,” he sheepishly explains, “just a couple before we go on. We go on at 2:00 p.m. today. We try to save the real drinking for after the show because we try to be responsible [he laughs]. … It’s like flipping a switch once I hit that stage. And besides, we refuse to grow up, so we’d better make this work!”
Adkins says he believes punk music helps youths build self-esteem and release the pent-up emotions stemming from growing up in hypocritical suburban America. The intense vibes help kids see through the fog of alcoholic parents, mental and physical abuse and divorce, among common middle-American adolescent problems. Fostering independent thought is why punk rock is important, says Adkins, and it helped him grow up at an early age.
“Maaan. I just want to do everything 180 degrees from my parents,” he admits. “I don’t want to become an alcoholic. I don’t want to get trapped in a monotonous job, and I don’t want to get married and divorced. I don’t want to do any of those negatives that they did. So when my parents got divorced when I was 15, the first thing I discovered was freedom. And the music thing eventually just fell into place.”
Sure, he says, when young people gain the awareness that they can make decisions on their own, they oftentimes make irresponsible, immature or even hurtful decisions. It’s the main reason why punk rock is linked to irresponsible behavior and cursed by parents nationwide. And it has gotten the band members collectively arrested, shot at, threatened, burned and banned from Canada over their 12 years and now seven albums of storied punk rock history.
“Their divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me,” surmises the singer as he struggles to seek shade. “It gave me a chance to really live life at an early age. And I learned a lot. I learned how to be responsible by getting out and living.”
“We really didn’t have the idea of punk rock or being successful in mind,” he explains. “My buddy Wayne and I used to hang out. We’d sit in my bedroom, and he had his guitar and an amp. I’d flip over my skateboard, hit the rails and make a snare drum beat. Then we would just scream at the neighbors. We’d sing songs about this evil lady next door. She was a real bitch. She raised three kids with red hair, so we called them the ‘Roach family’ and all kinds of other horrible things. And that’s how this whole music thing for me started.”
With the release of Covered With Ants, the band’s seventh album but its first for Epitaph Records, the band seems to be hitting a confident stride.
“It’s been a whole year in the making. Epitaph just seemed like a good place to be. We fulfilled our contract with Nitro [the label of Dexter Holland, lead singer of fellow southern California punk rock band The Offspring] and wanted to check out something different. We couldn’t be more pleased with the way Covered With Ants turned out, though. My favorite song is either ‘Can I Borrow Some Ambition’ or ‘Chug-A-Lug Night.’ We try to make every show a chug-a-lug night.” (More chuckles.)Another popular song from the album is the bluntly titled “Cram It up Your Ass,” with its insistent refrain repeating the title line and alternating with “I just creamed my jeans.” It goes to show that Guttermouth’s brand of punk is spit-coated, not sugar-coated.
“For some strange reason the kids really like that one,” Adkins says sardonically. “They really seem to go apeshit for it.”
All sarcasm aside, this band wouldn’t have made it this far if they weren’t able to keep the partying in check, he insists. The musicians know that there is plenty of room to have fun while on tour without becoming self-destructive alcoholics.
Off tour, they are reserved, fitness-oriented and businesslike, he claims, and it’s this balance that has helped them survive in an industry founded upon hell-raising debauchery. The image of the band is different from how we are off stage, Adkins adds, but image is important to the music. Doors open at 8:00 p.m., show starts at 8:30 with opening act Deviates. Ages 18 and up. Tickets are $9 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information call 895-7700 or visit www.thebrickworks.com.