It is hard to say which Southern California institution is the most scandalously bankrupt: Lincoln Savings, or Hollywood Heavy Metal.
The pages of photo ads in the pulp music magazines that chronicle the L.A. hard rock scene tell a story of creative and imaginative collapse that would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. Band after band appears in one of two ritual guises: the frowning, leather-clad tough-guy clones of Guns N' Roses, and the fluffy-haired, prettified fops made up in Poison's pouting image.
It is a vision of rock as a beauty pageant, or a game of follow-the-leader, in which riches and fame await those who can best embody some pre-cast standard of outrageousness and rebelliousness. In a world where walking, cussing cliches like Warrant (this year's prize L.A. metal spawn) can sell a million albums, the inducements to run from individuality are obvious.
The Big F is one Los Angeles hard rock band that has turned its back on the fashion sweepstakes. From the start, said Rob Donin, the power trio's drummer, the Big F decided that it would stay clear of the Los Angeles hard rock scene and its cliches.
"We don't hang out in the Hollywood clubs, and we're not trying to get in with the Sunset scene," said Donin, whose band opens for Soundgarden tonight at the Marquee in Westminster. "It seems there are a few bands out there that are really sincere, and 2 million others jumping on the bandwagon with this instantaneous toughness. To me that's not rock 'n' roll. It's a Hollywood fabrication. We didn't want to be a typical rock poseur band. There had to be some substance there."
Instead of making the Hollywood scene, Donin, singer-bassist John Shreve and guitarist Mark Christian spent most of the past three years in their tiny rehearsal room in North Hollywood coming up with the dark-visioned hard rock songs that appear on their debut album.
"The Big F" is not a work of striking originality--the echoes of such power rock precursors as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and, to a lesser extent, Aerosmith are much too obvious for that. But the band does pack a good deal of emotional force into its collection of melodic, hard-riffing rockers. If Shreve's wailing vocal style owes a big debt to Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, it also carries a raw, all-out immediacy that makes the Big F's songs sound like intensely felt statements rather than studied Zeppelin tributes.
The band's adopted emblem, a grotesquely phallic scene from a painting by Hieronymous Bosch, tells a good deal about its thematic slant. The Big F's ambiguous, symbol-laden songs frequently depict forces of control, ranging from religion to drugs to fashion, clashing with a fierce, sometimes threatening sexual energy. While the Hollywood metal crowd treats sex as a commercial come-on, the Big F seems serious about delving into sexuality as a source of mystery and power.
"There are emotional elements within the three of us that we like to purge through the music," Donin said in a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Phoenix.
"There's a lot of frustration and anguish that comes out. We don't repress things. There is a violent element within all of us. You repress that and, in my opinion, that's when you have these nut cases going around killing people. They repress until it blows up."
That let-it-out philosophy also applies to how the band has operated internally, Donin said. "The casual observer would think this band is ready to fall apart" because of its members' penchant for arguing creative issues aggressively.
"It's those instances when we are really angry at each other that things come out great. Each of us wants to be a dictator, and I think that's healthy. As a result you get a constant clash, and what comes out of it is pretty powerful stuff."
Donin said that he, Shreve and Christian, all in their mid-20s, formed the Big F (he said the initial has no set meaning) after running across each other in separate Los Angeles bands. The band made no effort to build a local following, playing only a few dates last spring to which its manager invited record label scouts. The Big F had expected to release its first album on its own but Elektra Records offered a deal that Donin said gave the band the full artistic control it was seeking.
While a name-brand producer is usually considered a prerequisite for a hard rock release on a major label, the Big F's members produced their album themselves.
"Other labels that suggested stuff like that (bringing in a producer) were immediately dismissed," Donin said. "There are very few labels other than Elektra that would accept 100% creative control."
One consequence of not having cultivated a following on the Hollywood scene is that the Big F is emerging as a completely unknown band with no base of fan support.
"I don't know what our following is at this point," Donin said. "I don't know if the Big F is an alternative band. It certainly isn't in my mind a heavy metal band. Extensive touring right now is going to find the audience because I don't know where it is right now. There is definitely an audience out there for this. We have yet to clash with each other."
The Big F , Soundgarden and Skin Tight play tonight at 8 at the Marquee, 7000 Garden Grove Blvd., Westminster. Tickets: $10. Information: (714) 891-1181.