Local duo Life Is Bonkers isn’t afraid to wear its collective geek heart on its sleeve
Life Is Bonkers is a throwback.
The nervous local duo, which plays its first headline show this weekend at the True Love Coffeehouse, excels at making angst-on-sleeve, crispy-critter, old-school new wave—the kind of thing Elroy Jetson and a buddy might brew up in the garage after way too many cappuccinos. Throwing caution to the wind, Life Is Bonkers dares to veer off in the joyfully weird directions that fringe-rock acts used to take in the early 1980s, before jock poseurs hijacked punk rock and turned it into a slightly different flavor of ultra-conformist album rock.
Of course, some people think this kind of mutant music flat-out sucks, but some people have a pretty good time at arena-rock shows, too.
Formed just days after 9/11, Life Is Bonkers came together when Genetic James, a student at California State University, Sacramento, and budding songwriter, cheesy keyboardist and new-wave fan, answered a music ad in SN&R placed by Michael Jay Mayhem, a guitarist whose tastes ran more toward metal. A primitively recorded homemade CD, titled Music to Crash Cars To, followed shortly thereafter. “That was done pretty much when we got together,” James recalled, “like Mike playing over my stuff. It kinda had this novelty-song vibe. The production sound was really awful; it was done on a four-track, and Mike’s guitar sounded awful. But the ideas were there.”
Life Is Bonkers picked up momentum by showing up at plenty of Midtown open-mic nights. “I think it’s funny that we became associated with that,” he mused, “because I’m not sure our act was too good for open mics—it’s so in-your-face, and the lyrics are sometimes perverse. There is, like, a sickness to it. I always felt like kind of an asshole doing the open mics; I feel much better doing shows because people know what to expect, and we can go all out.”
This past March, the duo unleashed a much more sophisticated disc titled Full Moon Nation. “That CD has been getting really good reviews all over the place,” James said. “We’re a lot more happy with it; we knew a lot more what we were doing. There’s still funny songs, but they have meaning, too. Everything I write, there has to be some meaning to it; it can’t just be a silly, off-the-wall song, even though there’s a funny side to it.
“But, you know, if people dismiss this stuff because it’s funny, I think that’s ridiculous,” James added. “The Ramones wrote funny songs, and now they’re probably the most important band of the ’70s. They were funny, too, but their songs had meaning and a dark side.”
All the band’s songs can be heard online at www.lifeisbonkers.com. And a split seven-inch with a guy who calls his act Sex With Robots will come out—whenever that guy gets around to it, James said.
The duo writes all the time, James said, and won’t be hurting for new material anytime soon. “There’s this one great new one called ‘I’m an Elephant,’” he boasted, “and it goes, ‘I’m an elephant, and I get what I want.’ Mike wrote the tune for that one; I think it’s our punkiest song yet. There’s another song called ‘I’m Gonna Get Away With It’ that’s already a big hit at our shows,” James said, laughing. Then he added, “It’s pretty bratty.”
As with many musicians in a creative spell, James said he thinks his duo’s latest material is the best. “Oh, yeah,” he added. “We have a song called ‘Kings of the Court’ about the Sacramento Kings. So, now it’s going to be a little bittersweet, after what happened.”
The song, which James describes as “reggae,” goes: “They are the Kings / The Sacramento Kings / The kings of the basketball court / Because of the magic they bring / They bring to the basketball court.”
OK, so it isn’t William Butler Yeats, but neither is “gabba gabba hey.”
“At least I know it’ll be big next year,” James said.
As Life Is Bonkers may be.