Delusions of grandeur

All hail the Little People, certainly the next big thing in local horror-comic metal bands

On your feet or on your knees: The Little People are Keith Bailey, Ryan La Cosse, Skinner, Billy Ewing and Neil Haydon.

On your feet or on your knees: The Little People are Keith Bailey, Ryan La Cosse, Skinner, Billy Ewing and Neil Haydon.

Too many years ago, a bunch of us got seriously, ahem, impaired in our drummer’s garage recording studio in Stockton, and we figured the next step was to put together the most brain-damaged metal band of all time. The idea was to open for the various doctrinaire punk bands that were coming through town to play at such long-gone but now-missed local venues as Club Minimal and the China Wagon, just to piss off those punk bands’ audiences. We started with cover versions of buttrock and stoner-metal classics, but that soon got tiresome, and we started writing our own anthems: “Rock ’n’ Roll Party,” “Party at Your Funeral,” “Rock ’n’ Roll Party at Your Funeral,” “Yog Sothoth”—you get the picture.

Then This Is Spinal Tap came out, which hammered the final nails in our collective coffin.

Two decades later, a band has emerged in Sacramento that makes me regret ever disbanding Death’s Ugly Head (DUH). That band, the Little People, is a five-piece metal ensemble with enough inherent cachet, piss and vinegar to make umlauts fashionable again. Not that DUH had any kind of a future, mind you; our pathetic band sucked without mercy, whereas the Little People soon may rule the world.

Two members of the Little People, vocalist Skinner (né Warren Davis III) and keyboard player Keith Bailey, teach art to developmentally disabled adults at the Short Center North in Arden Arcade. On this hazy November day, Bailey was elsewhere, but Skinner was sunning himself in the Short Center courtyard, showing off his newest acquisition: a leather wristband with chromed skulls. “Like it?” he asked.

The band practices a couple of times a week in a space above a downtown liquor store, which Skinner and fellow artist John Stuart Berger—who also teaches at the Short Center—use for a studio; the rehearsal space also is shared with a couple of other bands, and such luminaries as the Earwigs and Sex 66 once practiced there. One wall is stacked with Skinner’s paintings, and his ambition is to secure enough bank to build a massive set—although he balked at carrying things to their Spinal Tap extreme. “You can’t mix smoke machines and taking yourself too seriously,” he mused.

Skinner remembered forming what became the Little People around four years ago with Bailey, after Skinner had soundproofed a room dedicated to the purpose of making noise. Skinner had tricked Bailey into coming over to play some keyboards, and Bailey eventually asked him if he was trying to start a band. Skinner recalled replying: “Fuckin’ A, homes—and you’re in it!” After a few false starts and random suckage, the lineup solidified with the addition of guitarist (and original drummer) Ryan La Cosse, bassist Neil Haydon and drummer Billy Ewing. “They’re totally geniuses, individually, and together what they’re capable of is amazing,” Skinner said with typical heavy-metal understatement. He added, “If they just develop their applicable creativity, they’ll be the fucking greatest band ever.”

Indeed, the Little People’s forthcoming full-length CD, Let’s Do the Damned Thing, may be the sickest blast of ridiculously loud rock ’n’ roll this town has seen in a while. La Cosse is a superb riffmaster, whipping out lumbering dinosaur riffs that manage to dance like kung-fu fighters. Bailey has a knack for pulling in those weird flying-saucer-abduction keyboard sounds that add a spine-tingling dimension of weirdness to the mix, as do a few sampled vocals from Skinner and Bailey’s students. Haydon and Ewing make a fine rhythm section, and Skinner is a superb vocalist—not the cartoon spandex castrati or Cookie Monster cartoon of a metal frontman you might expect, but one with a full-throated roar. The best comparison, for anyone familiar with Skinner’s macabre painting style, is that his voice sounds like his paintings look.

That voice’s appeal is most apparent on the closing track of Damned Thing, “Cutting Teeth,” which begins low and sepulchral over a gloomy intro from La Cosse and Bailey before exploding into an anthemic snarl worthy of Kurt Cobain. And when Skinner hits the refrain “So reeeaall …,” it’s a real butane-lighter moment.

So kneel now, you pathetic vassals. Your new metal demon gods have arrived.