After more than a decade in punk rock, Rikk Agnew finally got around to cleaning out his musical attic.
The new solo release by the former Adolescents and D.I. guitarist has both a project name, "Rikk Agnew's Yardsale," and an album title: "Emotional Vomit."
Both are fitting. Stylistically, the record is a haphazard but browsable display of some of Agnew's favorite musical trinkets and knickknacks, a collection of odds and ends that is a patchwork of old and new material, borrowed songs and originals. Thematically, the album is devoted largely to expelling rancid, undigested emotional material left over from failed relationships and betrayed friendships. Hence the blunt title.
For Agnew, who plays Saturday at the Meadowlark Country Club and Sunday at the Doll Hut, that emotional and stylistic housecleaning is a first step toward making a new start that he hopes will bring a steadier career and a more settled personal life.
Agnew, who will turn 32 next month, spent most of 1989 casting about for a musical direction after the most recent breakup of the on-again, off-again Adolescents. That uncertainty, coupled with too much alcohol and too many drugs, set the stage for a purgation on the order of "Emotional Vomit," Agnew said.
"A lot of (the songs) I wrote while I was in a very bad state, a very lonely and self-abusing state," the stocky rocker with the stubbly face and aquiline nose said Thursday as he sat in a dark corner of his favorite hangout, the Doll Hut. "It was a way of letting it out."
These days, things are more upbeat for Agnew. After that fallow 1989, which saw him serving more often as a roadie for other bands than as a musician commanding a stage of his own, he has returned to steady music-making in 1990. Agnew began the year by playing a successful national reunion tour with Christian Death, one of the many bands that he flitted in and out of in the early '80s. Then, with his hastily put-together Yardsale band, Agnew got his chance to tour Europe for the first time. Now, with the release of "Emotional Vomit" on the punk-oriented Triple X label, Agnew plans to play extensively in Southern California in hopes of catching the eye of scouts for major labels.
After leading a gypsy existence, both in his band-hopping career and a free-booting personal life, Agnew figures it's time to settle down a bit. The prospect of impending fatherhood can do that. Hovering nearby as Agnew spoke, bestowing an occasional lovebird's hug, was his fiance, Karen Mountain. Mountain, 23, had followed Agnew's career from a distance ever since she was a 13-year-old punk-rock fan growing up in Tustin. But the two didn't meet until this past May, when the Adolescents regrouped for a benefit show at the Doll Hut and Mountain turned up with a video camera to record the event. The couple fell in love immediately, and they're expecting a child in six months.
"Now that I'm going to have a wife and a kid, I've got to think of three people," said Agnew, a friendly, animated speaker with a high, husky voice who wears the marks of a confirmed punk rocker--a collection of 33 tattoos--on his arms, torso and right leg. "I've got to be serious about making a career out of this, and not just a part-time job."
Agnew was one of the early catalysts of the Orange County punk-rock scene that took shape in the late 1970s and burst forth with a series of well-received albums in the early '80s--including the Adolescents' sizzling howl of a 1981 debut album, which stands as the definitive statement of Orange County punk.
Since then, Agnew's career has followed a jagged path. The Adolescents fired him before that first album, "Adolescents" was even released. He landed in Christian Death, a gloom-punk band from Pomona, for one album. "All By Myself," a solo album in which Agnew played all the instruments and sang all the vocals, appeared in 1982 but sold poorly, even for a cult item. Agnew moved on to form D.I. with fellow Adolescents alumnus Casey Royer. Then he jumped to the re-formed Adolescents lineup, which recorded two more albums in 1987 and 1988, including the excellent but overlooked "Balboa Fun Zone."
Along that choppy, musically inconsistent path, Agnew has written or co-written some of the most memorable rock songs to come out of Orange County--"Amoeba," "No Way," "Creatures" and "Kids of the Black Hole" from that first Adolescents album, "OC Life" and "Johnny's Got a Problem" from D.I., and a slew of strong material from "Fun Zone."
On "Emotional Vomit," Agnew again plays most of the music, including drums, bass, guitars, vocals and keyboards, but it's not strictly a solo affair like "All By Myself" (that first solo album is now available again, packaged by Frontier Records on CD with the first Adolescents LP). Among those helping out on the new album are younger brothers Alfie and Frank Agnew. Over the past decade, the Agnew brothers have performed in twosomes--Rikk and Alfie in D.I. and one version of the Adolescents, Rikk and Frank in the Ads lineup of "Adolescents" and "Balboa Fun Zone"--but never as a trio. Rikk said that will change Monday, when he and his younger brothers are scheduled to record a version of the Ramones' "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" that's intended for a Ramones tribute album being put together by Triple X.
The idea of an all-Agnew band "is always brought up now and then" by fans, Rikk said, but the brothers have felt such an effort would be a too-many-cooks situation, with each Agnew wanting to set the musical direction. "It's not so much the personality mix (that stands in the way of an Agnew Bros. Band), as different concepts of what we want to do," he said.
With its collection of reworked tunes by obscure Orange County bands such as the Mechanics and L.S.D., covers of songs by Depeche Mode and T-Rex, and originals that range from a Phil Spector-style big romantic ballad to "Stress (I Go)," a funny, blitzing speed-metal-tinged rant about coping with everyday frustrations, Agnew's Yardsale project collects odds and ends, suggesting great versatility, but not setting a cohesive career direction.
For his next musical move, Agnew says he has several leads to follow. The Yardsale band, with bassist Brad Jackman, guitarist Dan Colburn and drummer Chris Webb in supporting roles, is beginning an extensive series of shows after its six-week series of underground gigs in Europe, most of them in Germany, where a cult following has sprouted for early 1980s vintage Southern California punk.
Agnew said he also plans to work with Rik L Rik, a veteran Los Angeles punk rocker, and perhaps with a new lineup of Orange County band Doggy Style. And there is talk of reuniting the original Adolescents again for an album of new material in the mold of their debut album.
"I like to bite off more than I can chew," Agnew said. "Keeping busy is good. It keeps me out of trouble."
Agnew recognizes a developing pattern: Punk rockers who managed to survive youthful excesses and find some stability are now building solid careers with mainstream record companies.
"I see a lot of my peers, like Mike Muir (of Suicidal Tendencies), and especially (Social Distortion's) Mike Ness--they get their act together, they get their head clear, and look what happens. They get signed to major labels. I'm not getting younger. I've got to do it now."
Could this represent the start of a mellowing process?
"Mellowing is the wrong word. I'm maturing," Agnew said. "But I'm still the angry 16-year-old I'll always be. Being responsible doesn't mean you can't be a reckless 16-year-old kid. You just have to control your recklessness."
Rikk Agnew's Yardsale, Shattered Faith and Mother Fist play tonight at 9 at the Meadowlark Country Club, 16782 Graham St., Huntington Beach. Tickets: $10. Information: (714) 846-3391. Agnew's Yardsale also plays at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim, in an event to promote pledges for the Love Ride, an annual fund - raiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. The event starts at 2:30 p.m., with performances by Love Killers, Smash Palace and L.S.D. Admission: Free. Information: (714) 533-1286.