INTERVIEW: Sex Clark Five
Interview with James Butler (electric guitar), Trick McKaha (drums), and Rick Storey (acoustic guitar)
By: David Gaines
Sex Clark Five are on a planet all their own. Their albums are like complicated comic books about space travel, girls, surfing, heroes, kings and queens, Ireland, the South, and yet more girls. Mix a punk Mersey beat musical with one of those WWII documentaries on the History Channel and you begin to get an idea of what a Sex Clark Five CD is like. Strum and Drum! (1987), Battle of Sex Clark Five (1989), and Antedium (1994) keep you coming back for listen after listen, year after year, trying to get to the heart of a chuckling mystery. With their acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums and an occasional keyboard SC5 do more on ONE SIDE OF ONE LP than most bands pull off in a lifetime. The band is putting the finishing touches on their fourth album that promises to be their best yet. Now speaking with James Butler (electric guitar), Trick McKaha (drums), and Rick Storey (acoustic guitar). Joy Johnson, the group's bass player, seems to have left the band.
DG: OK, I have to ask this because I'm curious. What's it like living in Alabama?
RS: It's just like what you see on TV.
JB: Yeah, we're always hosing down Negroes and siccing German shepherds on them.
TM: In fact, I need to get down to the cotton gin and see about my bolweevils.
RS: No, we're supposed to play that debutante ball at the College for Women tonight.
JB: Allright! Is it the Beta Mutes or the Phi Delts?
RS: I think it's the Old World Girls.
JB: Allright! Let's go set up!
RS: At the schoolhouse door!
JB: George Wallace saved our skins one night.
RS: We were playing the inaugural ball, not Wallace's ball, but a more recent governor, and the State Troopers ran us off the stage and were going to throw us out.
JB: But Wallace zoomed up in his wheel chair and said, "Ya'll leave them boys alone." So we were able to get out of there with our equipment in tact.
Why did they run you off the stage?
JB: It's really complicated, but we were hired as an act of political sabotage. In fact, we came to find out later that it was George Wallace who had pulled the strings to get us hired. He planned it so the new governor would be embarrassed. So when we got into trouble, I guess he thought the honorable thing to do was to get us out of there unharmed, after he'd used us.
RS: It was a big scandal.
TM: Needless to say, the people at the ball were not expecting to hear what we do.
RS: Which is basically a lot of racket.
RS: Alabama is wild.
JB: There's still pockets of Confederate guerillas that are really more like roving bandits now. They don't hurt anybody very often, but they do take what they need. RS: They'll cordon off a section of interstate, like between here and Birmingham, and before the State Troopers get there they'll confiscate enough to carry on the struggle for months.
TM: Mostly they take your guns.
JB: Yeah, they'll definitely take your shotgun, first thing. But they're polite to the ladies.
RS: And, to tell the truth, the State Troopers aren't in much of a hurry to get there.
JB: They're partisans!
You guys are pulling my leg, right?
JB: Come down here and see if we're foolin'!
RS: It's best to have an escort, though. There's several good tour guide companies that can steer you clear of the less pacified areas.
Do you think being from Alabama has had an impact on your music?
RS: Heck yeah!
JB: Huntsville has a lot to do with it. Most people here are Southerners, of course, and rebels. But the most explosive thing about Huntsville is that it was settled by a band of Germans after World War II. German rocket scientists.
RS: Right. Wernher von Braun came to Huntsville with his merry band of rocketeers.
JB: Von Braun lived up the road from me until a few years ago. His house is a tourist attraction.
RS: That's when we were rehearsing at James' house. We could be rehearsing and all of a sudden the house would start shaking, and it would be one of von Braun's rocket tests out at NASA. I mean, we'd have to stop playing and prop ourselves up against something.
TM: Then we'd be rehearsing some afternoon when von Braun had the day off, and he'd storm into the house yelling "Stop ze noise! Stop ze noise!"
JB: And it affects you deep down when you're walking your ancestral lands and suddenly this huge blast of smoke and fire erupts out of a distant cotton field. Another rocket test. You try to get used to it, but it's kind of unnatural.
Huntsville has a NASA plant?
TM: O yeah. A big one. Goober Space Flight Center.
RS: It's where they build the rockets for the space shuttle.
JB: They test shuttle engines there now. Never fails to be scary when they start up. You think, "Is it a tornado?" By the time your heart skips a beat you know what it is, but the psychic damage has been done.
TM: Space Camp is here too.
JB: Yeah, we've played some great gigs at Space Camp.
RS: Sometimes you wonder if they're training those girls to be astronauts or go-go dancers.
I'm beginning to get the picture. This all sounds like your CDs.
JB: It's our own comic book land.
TM: Let's talk about the new CD now.
JB: It's called Crimson Panzer.
TM: We'll be done with it in a couple of weeks. We're doing the final sonic mashing. Then we need to put them in some sort of order.
JB: Then we get to listen to it. At last!
One of the things I love about your CDs is the huge number of songs. Like 25 or 30 songs. Will this one have a lot of songs?
JB: Yes, over 30. But nobody's sure how many yet.
Is there any particular meaning to Crimson Panzer?
JB: I think there is. It has to do with our beloved Huntsville High School. It's a holy place.
RS: The most beautiful women in the world walk those halls.
JB: I was tempted by an angel there once. Not a girl. An angel. Such is the mystical nature of the place that it acts as a conductor to other worlds. She had a lot to do with the CD.
RS: The Huntsville High sports nickname is the Crimson Panthers, so Crimson Panzer is a pun on that.
JB: The Panzer part is a bow to the Germans coming to Huntsville and starting the space race.
TM: Crimson Panzer takes everything we've done to a new level.
JB: Yeah. It is the best thing we've done.
Better than Strum and Drum? That's a classic and has to be hard to top.
RS: Yeah, Strum and Drum does sort of set a standard. But Crimson Panzer is as good, if not better, in its own way.
JB: It justifies everything. I shall rest my weary bones and stake my claim to infamy on this here CD.
Who's going to release it and when?
RS: We're talking to various moguls now.
TM: Of course, it would help if they had something to listen to.
RS: They're interested merely on the strength of our reputation.
JB: Oh no, not that! That's why Joy left!
RS: Not that reputation.
Sex Clark Five is supposed to have four members. But there's only three of you today. Where's your bass player, Joy?
RS: I don't think she's with us anymore.
JB: She hasn't been around for a while, that's for sure.
TM: So much so we had to replace her.
Did Joy quit the band?
JB: Seems like she quit years ago, then hung around waiting for a chance to do us the most damage.
TM: So she left right before we started working on the new album.
She left in anger? I always had this idea that you guys must be inseparable.
JB: I don't think she was angry. She was seething.
TM: Yeah. Everybody in this band is good at seething.
JB: She had a chance to try out for astronaut, so it was between SC5 and riding on the space shuttle.
RS: She's shuttling between Tuscaloosa and California, last I heard.
TM: She hasn't returned her SC5 membership card, so I think we can recall her if necessary.
So you replaced her?
JB: Oh heck yeah. Can't have a band without a girl!
RS: The new member is Laura. Laura E. Lee.
Who is she? Where is she?
JB: She's unavailable at this time.
RS: Yeah, she's out fomenting revolution.
JB: Well, you know how it is in the South. Must keep everything in the family. Laura's my cousin. She grew up on a neighboring plantation here in Huntsville. We are not married, however.
RS: She's quite a girl.
TM: We had a hard time catching her. She's been living in Manhattan and Ireland.
JB: But it was her fate to join SC5.
Does she play bass, and sing?
TM: The whole cannon ball of wax.
JB: She sings on the new LP more than Joy used to. Not sure why, exactly. It's a different kind of voice from Joy. More ethereal maybe. Her voice helps define the sound of the new LP, I think. Without hearing the whole thing at once it it's hard to tell.
Has the SC5 sound changed?
JB: Well, I think we definitely cover new ground on this CD. It's a different approach for us. But we're incapable of escaping our formula, which is pretty much cruddiness buoyed by epic dumbness.
RS: The songs are still short fast and fun.
TM: Except some are longer than others.
JB: I think we run an even wider gamut than on previous albums.
Will you be playing live to promote Crimson Panzer?
TM: It'd be like starting from scratch. We haven't ever really stood up and played the songs.
RS: We could play the old stuff.
TM: If someone wants to release Crimson Panzer and give us lots of encouragement, we might play live.
JB: Lots of encouragement and lots of money.