It’s a little strange that garage rock, like bebop or bluegrass, has become a purist’s and a traditionalist’s music form. The Juveniles play a brand of trashy rock ‘n’ roll that fuses early, sub-Chuck Berry, teeny-boppin’ rock with touches of surf rock and ‘70s punk grime and spazz. They have a snot-nosed punk-rock approach of high energy, volume and speed, and the whole thing amounts to quintessential rock ‘n’ roll fun.
But there’s a parallel to be drawn between a band like The Juveniles and someone like Wynton Marsalis—who, in the 1980s, established himself as the preeminent jazz neo-traditionalist. Marsalis’ approach was to revive a form of the music that would puritanically fit within the parameters established by the original framers of the music. The results were often refreshing, with a slight retrograde flavor. This isn’t to say that Marsalis—or The Juveniles—are derivative. They just work within well-established idioms.
The Juveniles are basically a two-piece band consisting of singer-guitarist Mark “Guapo” Norris, formerly of The Shook-Ups and Dick Bob and the Nobs, and drummer and occasional back-up vocalist Tim “The Fink” Blake, who doubles as the guitarist and singer for The Victims of Sacco-Vanzetti.
Norris tends to be the focal point of the group, usually sporting a fedora and spider-web emblazoned guitar strap—though Blake does his best to grab attention with self-effacing humor. Norris writes the songs, often in collaboration with Blake.
They jokingly compare themselves to The White Stripes, and it’s tempting to try and forge a connection to the current king duo of mainstream garage rock, but the comparison isn’t exactly apt. There’s less overt blues influence, the guitar attack is more primitive, and the drumming more propulsive and less idiosyncratic. Actually, as influences, they cite like- minded and obscure bands like The Monsters, The Reatards and The Teenage Harlots (with whom they have a split 7-inch, currently only available at shows).
I recently visited a practice for an expanded version of The Juveniles that included Jeremy Forson on bass and Carolyn Van Lydegraf of The Spotlight Syndicate playing keyboards. Van Lydegraf, in particular, seemed excited to be playing simple, Mysterian-like keyboard lines on cheap keyboards—quite a change from the highfalutin dance rock of her other band. The four-piece version of the band sounds much the same, though thicker, bigger and fuller and with the great, cheesy, spooky sound of synthesized organ.
The songs are fundamentally guitar-dominant rock songs. “Dead Girl,” a song, surprisingly, about a girl who is dead, is driven with heavy feedback distortion. “1984” features dynamic rock buildups. All the songs are simple, riff-based rock tunes. Another song is called, “Ahhhhhhh!!!”
“Don’t read too much into that title,” says Blake.
Norris says most of the lyrics are about “dead people, pretty girls, pretty dead girls—you know, rock and roll stuff.” One exception is “Ramona,” a first-person narrative about “stalking a chick that looks like a Ramone.”
Norris is also a guy who likes to be heckled: “I’ll just stand there and take it because at least it’s showing some interest. Usually people at bars just stand there with their backs to us, drinking their beers. So I’ll start heckling them first—just to get their attention.”
Norris says he greatly prefers all-ages shows because the kids “are so stoked, they totally get into it and get out of control!”
This affinity for the all-ages crowd is certainly true to their name.