LEGAL WEAPON: BEYOND PUNK
“The last time we played ‘Frisco we had to play for skinheads and they weren’t too enthralled with our new sound,” says Legal Weapon’s Kat Arthur with a grin.
“They came thinking we were doing the same stuff and we’re not, and they just stood there with their mouths open. They said things like ‘You guys sold out!’ But no way--we just changed. You can still dance to it. The hard-core thing is basically fascist (while) the punk scene allowed for everything.”
While Legal Weapon still retains much of the passion of punk, the band has clearly moved beyond the one-dimensional dum-dum caliber of the genre in which it began. Indeed, vocalist-lyricist Arthur says she rarely attends the thrash-bashes that still go on at the Olympic Auditorium.
“I don’t go to the sandbox-set shows anymore,” says the 28-year-old singer. “I haven’t the energy.”
That’s not to say that Legal Weapon has mellowed out. Although the band’s current style may not find approval among punk purists, the group’s 1985 LP “Interior Hearts” demonstrates that Legal Weapon’s sound still packs a punch.
The hard-rock style shows off Arthur’s vocal talents in a powerful, uncompromising package. From the coolly enticing “Too High” to the sultry, intense “Collusional Love,” Arthur evokes comparisons with a host of seminal female vocalists, from Janis Joplin to Deborah Harry.
So far, however, Legal Weapon has yet to break out on any major label release. All four of the 6-year-old band’s records have been independently released on the group’s own Arsenal label. Still, the quartet has come close. A deal with A&M; Records last year fell apart during the recording of “Interior Hearts.”
“After the emulators (on Arthur’s vocals) were brought in and the saxophones and the keyboards and then they wanted to have Lindsey Buckingham play acoustic guitar, we said, ‘Wait a minute,’ ” recalls guitarist Brian Hansen, 28.
“It didn’t fit somehow,” adds Arthur. “It was like putting Bob Dylan with Julio Iglesias or something. (The decision to bow out of the deal) didn’t damage us that much. Some A&R; people from other labels may have thought, ‘Oh this band has an attitude,’ but we don’t really. So, easy come, easy go. That’s what these people are in business for.”
With a history of making it on their own, the members of Legal Weapon--Arthur, Hansen, bassist Ed Dwayne and drummer Adam Maples--knew that it was better to rely on their own instincts and persist rather than submit to a quick fix dictated by a label deal.
“You just keep working at it and sooner or later you’re bound to get something going,” says Hansen. “If someone doesn’t want to do it we’ll just do it ourselves.”
Still, doing it yourself can get old after a while.
“You start off being a band and the next thing you know you’re a record label and a booker and a manager and you start forgetting about the music,” he says.
One aspect of the music that Arthur clearly doesn’t mind forgetting about is the frustration of the early days of Legal Weapon when the band roamed on the edges of L.A.'s punk scene. For her own satisfaction, as well as the health of the band, a change was necessary.
“It just blew my voice out,” she recalls. “It’s awful. There’s no melody line--just loud bass, loud drums, loud guitars. It’s all percussive. If you’re a musician and you don’t change you’re just cutting your own throat.
“A lot of bands are really hot when they first come out but then their second album is the same as the first and you realize they can’t do any more than they’ve already done. People like Iggy or Bowie have always changed and that’s why they’ve had such longevity in their careers.”
For Arthur the move away from punk involved more than simply a stylistic change but also an alteration in attitude, a gradual shift to a more positive mood in her lyrics.
“The lyrics (on “Interior Hearts”) are a lot more uplifting,” she says. “As I get a little older everything seems a little better and brighter. You don’t have that real angry attitude.”
Arthur’s down-to-earth approach is standard operating procedure for Legal Weapon. The band has toured constantly in the last six years while all the time remaining true to its Southern California roots. Although the group recognizes the danger of overplaying locally, L.A. is still the place to be.
“I like L.A., even the smog,” says Arthur. “I miss it when I’m not here. Most of the time if you keep playing L.A. you can wear yourself out and ruin it. So it’s best if you play once a month or so, then tour, and then write music and make records.
“The scene here is great. It’s coming around again. The clubs like the Roxy and the Whisky are opening up again and it seems like a lot of labels are looking at a lot more bands now and signing them.”
Still, she adds, getting that signature on the dotted line doesn’t necessarily mean the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“I see a lot of young bands get deals and they think ‘We’re the next Kiss’ and they have some hard lessons to learn,” she says.
“They may have a style but it needs development and it all comes down in the studio. If you’re not a great musician and you can’t keep time on the drums they’ll put a drum machine on you. I see a lot of bands get signed and then you never hear from them again. They get a record deal and they think ‘Where’s my new house and my sports car?’ It doesn’t happen like that. Wait until you get that first hit record before you crack the bottle of champagne.”