Though the image of some punk bands is now one of anger and aggression, punk wasn’t always that way. Back in the late ‘70s, when the movement was forming, groups like the Buzzcocks and the Weirdos felt it was quite all right to have fun.
One of the reasons for the growing interest in the Muffs, a punk-influenced Los Angeles band whose debut album has just been released by Warner Bros. Records, is that the group echoes that old spirit.
The Muffs’ music, which was also influenced by melodic pop-rock groups stretching from the Kinks to the Plimsouls, has a bouncy energy and charm. The lyrics are often about nothing more serious than guys and gals looking for a relationship.
“I always liked really heavy guitar music, but didn’t like the long-winded songs that went with it,” says singer-songwriter Kim Shattuck, the group’s leader.
“And I always liked pop songs, but was driven nuts because the guitars were so wimpy sounding. So I decided to put the two together. That’s how the Muffs started.”
The quartet--whose self-titled album has made the Top 10 of the college/alternative rock charts--came together 2 1/2 years ago after Shattuck and rhythm guitarist Melanie Vammen broke away from the Pandoras, another Los Angeles band with ‘60s garage-pop roots.
Both women had grown up in Orange County, where Shattuck had little interest in music for years.
“I grew up around religious and elevator music,” she said during a recent interview. “I didn’t know any better, so I just thought music was kind of bland. So I didn’t listen to much as kid.
“Also, it was in the ‘70s so there was a lot of really pompous, bad rock out there. It was only later that I found out there was good ‘70s rock like the Raspberries and the Flaming Groovies. I always gravitated toward the ‘60s music more, though, like the Kinks, the Who and the Beatles, of course. Later I got into the Plimsouls and Sex Pistols, you know, melodic stuff. Most people don’t see the Pistols as melodic, but they are.”
But one of Shattuck’s main inspirations was another Southern California band that knew it was OK to have fun: the Go-Go’s.
“When they came around, I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it too,’ ” Shattuck said. “Maybe I could even do it better. I just started practicing and making up songs.”
Five years later, she joined the Pandoras, where she eventually disagreed with what she felt was too much of a “metal” direction by the band.
After the break, Shattuck recruited boyfriend Ronnie Barnett to play bass in the new group and found drummer Criss Crass through a recommendation from friends in yet another Los Angeles band, the lovable Redd Kross.
The Muffs played their first show only weeks after forming, at the now defunct Shamrock bar in Hollywood. It wasn’t long before record companies started showing interest--much to the surprise of the band members.
After all, the group’s sound didn’t echo anything that was on the charts at the time--and major labels usually stick close to what is selling when signing new acts.
Rather than a commercial, radio-friendly sound, the Muffs’ music is often chaotic and trashy. You might even say the Muffs are loud and proud.
Summarizes Vammen: “We’re energetic, unexpected and crazy.”