Comfort in being weird

The Shankers keep the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll alive in Chico

SMOKE UP, JOHNNY <br>The Shankers try and keep the flames to a minimum. The band is from left: Paul Shanker, Kerra Shanker and Johnny Shanker.

The Shankers try and keep the flames to a minimum. The band is from left: Paul Shanker, Kerra Shanker and Johnny Shanker.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

The Rubberneckers, The Riff Brokers and The Shankers play Off Limits on Tues., Aug. 1 at 9:30 p.m. $3.

Occupying Johnny Shanker’s knuckles are the letters “R-O-C-K” and “R-O-L-L.” Follow his right arm and you’ll find a tattoo of the Dead Milkmen’s grinning derelict cow logo peeking out from under his sleeve.

The ink in his skin offers one of the more obvious clues as to the importance of rock music in his life. Even more telling, perhaps, is the fact that he and the rest of The Shankers offer no convoluted explanations for why they do what they do.

"[Music] is one of the biggest influences in my life,” said drummer Paul Shanker, who also shares time in Chico bands Fingers of Passion and Dirty Jim & the Violators.

Finding relief from the sweltering Chico heat in cold cans of PBR, vocalist-guitarist Johnny; his girlfriend, bassist Kerra Shanker; and Paul Shanker talked about the importance of music in an almost therapeutic context.

“It helps me come to terms with being insecure and being a weirdo,” said the freshly pompadoured Johnny, taking a drag from his cigarette. “The best rock ‘n’ roll has always been the weirdest shit.”

At a time when many too many bands in Chico tend to over-think their music, The Shankers keep it simple—playing raw and dirty rock ‘n’ roll that gives an equal nod to the squeaky-clean rockabilly of Gene Vincent as it does the sleazy glam of The New York Dolls.

In just over a year, the trio has built a loyal following for its energetic live shows that have the ability to insight flailing from even the stodgiest shoe-gazer. Plus, Johnny wears a cape live.

The Shankers came together about a year ago, after Johnny left local punk band Gruk and taught Kerra how to play bass. After playing a short time with drummer Sean Cummins (who’s now with Gruk), the band solidified its lineup with Paul Carlson and initiated him by bequeathing him the surname of Shanker.

The band released a six-song demo in December of 2005 that featured three covers and three original songs. It was The Shankers-penned “Grease” that captured the true essence of the band—a song musically cut from the fabric of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll offset with lyrics that are about, as Johnny puts it, “finding comfort in being weird.”

The song was re-recorded for the band’s latest untitled EP—six originals that capture The Shankers’ penchant for looking at society through the eyes of an outsider.

“Basically it’s about being dissatisfied with western civilization,” Johnny said. “[Americans] are really smart, but really lazy.”

Although Johnny said he doesn’t consider The Shankers a political band, with the recent addition of Johnny’s and Kerra’s little Shanker, Caldonia, they’re no doubt looking at the current state of affairs with a cynical eye.

The new EP isn’t so much political as it is a social critique of the status quo, with Johnny’s trademark reverb-drenched hiccup becoming more unhinged on songs like “Bogeyman": “Here’s to the queers and the communists / Here’s to the ELF terrorists / Here’s to the bogeyman of America.”

But it’s The Shankers’ danceable tunes—which never tip over the three-minute mark—that have made them a popular draw and afforded them the luxury of opening for a wide range of local and touring acts such as London’s Country Teasers.

And being true lovers of music, when The Shankers aren’t on stage, they’re usually front-and-center for the other bands on the bill. And the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is still there. Case in point: A show at The Crux in March when an intoxicated Johnny Shanker took rolled up paper and set it on fire and waved it over his head to show his appreciation for headliners deerpen. He was clearly having fun and the stunt was harmless, but it ruffled the feathers of a few uptight audience members who were content standing there with their arms folded.

The incident served as a demonstration of what rock music is supposed be, and was the embodiment of what The Shankers are about.

“I think if more people freaked out and played instruments and sang,” Johnny said. “We’d all be better off.”