Shock and aw shucks
Botchii’s mission of noise, destruction and snappy comebacks
“You know what’s great about me? Nothing. I mean, I’m from Oroville. That means I’m worse than all of you.”
That’s Tom Skowronski, 21-year-old Butte College student, pizza salesman, guitarist and vocalist for Chico experimental duo Botchii, introducing a live recording of the song “Shock and Awe” on the band’s new CD, The Greatest CD Ever?
“Nothing” is where you have to start if you want to understand why Skowronski and 23-year-old drummer and electronics store employee Matthew Graybiel decided to make their messy, noisy brand of music.
“We both hate radio,” was about all the explanation Skowronski could muster during a recent interview under the colorful lights of the carousel at the food court in the Chico Mall. Whereas experimental or art music is often so self-conscious it becomes emotionally detached, this duo didn’t even know that what they were playing could be considered experimental music.
Two admittedly nerdy guys who speak in constant sarcastic tones (Botchii’s live shows are half noisy mess and half hilarious, insult-driven one-liners directed at each other and the audience), they have remained themselves and allowed whatever unedited, virtually uninfluenced craziness they possess to run wild.
“He told me, ‘We can’t always sound the same—this has to sound different,'” explained Graybiel about his wild-eyed band mate’s determination to be like nothing else. “He’s always throwing things at me, and I’m like, ‘I can’t do that—'”
“It’s like this, like a donkey falling over,” Skowronski interrupts.
“And then I do it,” Graybiel finishes, “and it works.”
What works are warped guitar tunings forced into the spastic blurts and squawks of Skowronski’s chicken-pecked notes that almost melt away at times in the sustain-free mess of his floppy and loose bass strings. With Graybiel keeping the rhythm straight, Skowronski moves on to dutifully unleashing broken-speaker fuzz explosions of noise accompanied and accented by casual screeching and healthy doses of guitar and amplifier destruction.
There’s a scene on the video collage of their live shows, called Tom’s Life Sucks, which Skowronski produced, that illustrates where the this kind of spectacle draws its purpose and possibly where the value of this type of art may lie. In the scene, a guitar is hammered over and over into the ground, exploding all over the dance floor. As Skowronski stomps on the remaining splinters and chunks, a little boy enters the frame and with a huge smile on his face joins the stomping party with the glee of, well, a little boy allowed to jump up and down all over a broken guitar. That’s it. That impulse to do whatever you want, whether it’s allowed or not, just to give things a try is where the story of Botchii begins.
“You can’t just entertain other people without entertaining yourself first,” explains Skowronski. “The whole instrument destruction comes from either things not working or really good shows. It’s really good shows that bring the inspiration for everything.”
Of course, this type of inspiration comes with a price. As the duo report on their Web site under a link to “Bannings,” their antics have gotten them banned from several venues—but not every one, fortunately.
“I thought we deserved to be banned from Tower Records,” says Skowronski.
“We broke their couch, their floor, their microphone stand. I think you broke a microphone and almost hit someone in the head with your guitar,” adds Graybiel. “But they told us to come back?”
Could it be that these guys are real enough that their power is evident even to a corporate record store? See for yourself during the Botchii world-premiere CD release party at the non-corporate Fulcrum record store in downtown Chico.