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The best kept secret in music

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If anyone said, 'You can have a time machine and travel to play with any band ever,'" declares Machine Gun Blues guitarist Josh Terry, "I'd probably go back and play with the Spencer Davis Group."

Terry and his cousin Aaron Collins, who fronts Machine Gun Blues, have been making racket together in various incarnations of the band since they both had pimples and peach fuzz. After surviving intense Evangelical childhoods (Collins was home-schooled and taught the classical piano stylings of Debussy and Dvork), the inseparable twosome emerged with an insatiable sweet tooth for Motrhead and AC/DC. Now both 22, they chain-smoke, drink Pabst by the suitcase and often finish one another's expletives. But if H.G. Wells ever showed up at their Larimer Street rehearsal space with two round-trip tickets to the past, they would part ways in a heartbeat.

"I'd go with the Stooges," Collins offers. "Before Bowie got ahold of them and tried to clean 'em up. Back when they were in Detroit and were just being complete assholes, and Iggy was taking his pants off and fucking cutting himself with bottles."

Combining the forces of '60s R&B and Murder City sleaze, Machine Gun Blues won't be accused of artsiness, understatement or good manners. According to its website at myspace.com, the Denver-based five-piece -- which also includes bassist Jermaine Smith, organist Holland Rock-Garden and drummer Everett Mansfield -- specializes in "sex set to music" and a sound that inspires "ground licking and beer drinking." It's a timeworn formula, all right. But steeped in rank pheremones and primitive appetite, it marks a welcome return to simpler times.

"We're just a rock-and-roll band," Collins insists. "We have no illusions about ourselves. We emulate what we like. Our record collection is more or less old dead black guys and '70s rock and roll. So we put the two together and play it. Everyone's a good enough musician to do it well.

"Considering how lazy we are," he continues, "it's amazing that people keep coming to shows. We don't send out press packs; we've never booked a tour. Half the time we smoke so much weed that we forget our merchandise. Or we get too drunk and give it all away. We're like the Office Space of music -- where the guy doesn't give a fuck. But people are into it."

Well, not everybody, as it turns out. At a recent beer-spewing Gothic melee, Collins wound up trouserless, telling an all-ages crowd to "suck my big Irish cock" before diving into the drum set. The band further infuriated the venue's soundman by mishandling house microphones. A similar monitor-tumbling incident at Herman's Hideaway got the Gunners permanently banned -- not that they've lost any sleep over it. "Promoters either love us or hate us," Terry says. "But we're gonna trash shit, flip people off, yell and drink. We've tried not to, but it doesn't work."

"We played a show in Portland where no one was paying attention," Collins recalls, "so I fuckin' got naked and walked down the bar, kicking over drinks. They threw us out."

Despite burning a few bridges, Machine Gun Blues has managed to share bills with the Von Bondies, the BellRays, Thee Shams, Atomic Bitchwax and John Wilkes Booze. Slated to appear at the Larimer Lounge's South by Southwest showcase with the Apes and the Datsuns later this month, the Blues recently scored Bender's Stephen Copeland as their road manager, along with a trailer from Slim Cessna's Auto Club (which replaces their worn-out brown conversion van, nicknamed Machine Gun Love: The Doom Bringer) for the long haul to Austin. Cessna even introduced the outfit to Alternative Tentacles' Jello Biafra. "He said, 'Yeah, the band's good, but your lyrics suck,'" Terry relates. "Maybe he wants something about Cambodia. But if Jello doesn't want us, it's not gonna hurt our feelings. We have a label that we're very proud of."

Not Bad Records, home to Call Sign Cobra and scads of other rowdy locals, is issuing Machine Gun Blues' self-titled EP on disc and limited seven-inch. "We make albums based on vinyl," Collins points out. "We got drunk, did three takes of every song, then told the engineer to pick whatever one's best." A concise, garage-injected burst of stripped-down blues rock and organ-pumping convulsions, the sonic appetizer jolts like an eight-ball of cocaine. Mixed by Reverend Dead Eye ("our patron saint," notes Collins), the group's modest debut boasts a spastic nod to boot-knocking ("I Wanna Be Sexy"), plus an ode to misadventure that arguably captures the Gunners at their ground-lickingest ("I Fucked It All Up"). But like a sticky Polaroid, the songs hardly convey the full spectrum of how MGB stretches things out in a live setting, where bandmembers routinely induce seizures in one another, where making glorious fools of themselves thankfully trumps any need to peacock around like goddamn rock stars.

"We got pictures back from our last show with one where I'm sitting on top of Aaron's shoulders, playing guitar -- he's singing," says Terry. "And neither one of us remembers it happening at all. But we've been getting drunk for long enough to know what the right amount of drunkness is when we're playing a show -- most of the time."

"I guess people expect us to do crazier and crazier shit," Collins adds. "I don't know how we're gonna live up to it. I think I might have to kill Holland on stage."

A willing Iggy disciple, Collins doesn't seem too worried about pacing himself. With shows booked through May, the players hope to extend the party by forging alliances with beloved outfits Turbonegro and the Giraffes. Any other brass ring worth taking a swipe at can wait its turn. Then again, the band's chosen profession sort of parallels the short, punishing life span of your average NFL running back -- without the hazard pay, of course.

"If you're really gonna talk to a generation," Collins notes, "you have a window of about five years to do it in. Things are moving fast. We're gonna play as hard as we can for at least that long. We're too lazy to break up. We hate each other enough to stay together for a long time."

Such camaraderie might benefit from a few creature comforts beyond what's found in cans or cartons. At least Terry's own garden-happy mother thinks so. "She randomly gives us plants," Terry says. "We're like, 'What are you doing? They're just gonna die.'"

"It's like someone giving us a fucking child," Collins adds. "Are you joking? If it doesn't drink beer or smoke cigarettes, I don't know what else it wants."

Maybe not. But Machine Gun Blues is much better at engaging older, more nihilistic children, anyway. "Kids are getting bored with the emo hardcore crap," Collins says. "I think everyone's kind of going back to their parents' record collections and listening to the good stuff."

"You always go through a spell of shit before you get back to the rock and roll," Terry says. "That's how it's always been with music. It cycles."

A similar thing could be said for the lousy plumbing in Terry's Capitol Hill duplex.

"It's ridiculously bad," Terry explains. "Everything that's flushed down the toilet will come up through the shower."

Collins flashes a grin: "That's kind of like a metaphor for rock and roll."

Set the Waybac Machine, Mr. Peabody. Then grab a mop.

-john labriola - westword magazine


"We don't do cool," reads the Machine Gun Blues website. "We work our asses off to bleed on stage." Of course, the outfit is wrong on both counts: Its ragged, pounding fusion of the Stooges and '60s British R&B is infinitely, if not self-consciously, hip. And no matter how much raw energy the members burn while performing, it all seems to come as naturally as breathing. But they aren't as haphazard as their booze-basted live shows might imply. The band's debut album -- due in the spring of 2006 -- has been in the works for almost a year, held up by perpetual revisions and perfectionism as the group evolves even further into a seething, punk-injected bastardization of the Spencer Davis Group. Don't be fooled by the quintet's devotion to rock-and-roll chaos, though: Underneath all the sweat and shattered glass lies a pounding, precision-engineered Machine.

-jason heller - westword


Discography

high and low-fi at ponchos vila 2005
machine gun blues 'e.p.' 2006

selections can be listend to on myspace.com/machinegunblues
and various collage radio play.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

After two years in the Denver music scene The Machine Gun Blues have released their first EP on Not Bad Records. The rock quintet has climbed the list of top bands in Denver, and substantiated its claim to be Denver’s premiere rock n’ roll act.

Their style describe as “beer soaked, ground licking, shameless rock” and their non-stop high-energy live shows have created a following of loyal fans, and slots for such national acts as thee shams, the von bondies, munly and the lee lewis harlots, the spiders, the sermon, diamond nights, the dirtbombs, the black eyed snakes, the datsuns, priestess, john wilkes booze, the atomic bitch wax, and the bellrays, along with many other great local and national bands.

Having just returned from SxSW, Machine Gun Blues, is set to tour the west coast in june.