I commend to your attention the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, American filmmaker: the marketing visionary behind such grind-house classics as Blood Feast, The Gore Gore Girls, 2000 Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red. I invite you to meditate upon shades of red, the crimson overtones of a thousand horror movies on a thousand midnight screens in rural America and anguished screams of terror in the night.
I ask you to do these things because this month marks the release of Beyond the Valley of the Murderdolls, one of the most inexcusable, irresponsible musical offerings in recent memory, and surely the best thing to happen to perpetually panty-bunched parents’ groups since Marilyn Manson first smelled children.
Dig this track list: “Slit My Wrist,” “Twist My Sister,” “She Was a Teenage Zombie,” “Grave Robbing USA,” “Kill Miss America” and the family-oriented “Motherfucker, I Don’t Care.”
Now get a look at the band members themselves: painted, gelled, kohl-eyed and draped in dangly crypt costumery. If ever a band were born to contribute songs to low-budget horror movie sound tracks, it’s the Murderdolls.
And here’s the punchline: They’re just pullin’ ya leg, mom.
“It seems like a lot of music right now talks about nothing but depression, pain, trauma and how awful life is,” says the man who calls himself Wednesday 13 (okay, we’ll play), lead caterwauler for the Murderdolls. “But when I go out to a show, I want to forget about the fucked-up stuff in my life. I don’t want somebody to stand up there and tell me about it, all over again, making me think about it even more. I had a pretty good childhood. My parents were always cool to me. I think everybody in the band had the same experience.
“So the stuff we play isn’t at all meant to be taken literally — they’re like short stories, it’s all theater. And it may be the dumbest lyric in the world, but it’s fun, you know? Even though it’s not meant to be anything more than the two minutes that it is.”
As Wednesday talks, the conversation veers around to the acts he dug as a kid growing up — the Ramones, Alice Cooper — and the influence of a billion late-night slasher movies over the years. There are echoes of the Ramones’ high-speed, three-chord attack on Beyond the Valley of the Murderdolls, as well as Cooper’s Grand Guignol theatrics. (Wednesday’s voice, in fact, bears several similarities to the young Alice Cooper’s.)
But it’s hard to believe there isn’t a healthy dose of Misfits records in here as well. From the comic-book Weird Tales story lines to the fuzzy guitar hooks and the we’re-coming-for-you choruses, the Murderdolls have the dramatic aspects of their chosen idiom down pat, even if their straight face occasionally slips.
Of course, it’s hard to take choruses such as “She’s evil as she wants to be / She’s evil and she’s meant for me” seriously, which Wednesday freely admits — that’s the whole point, he insists. (“Our music shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than a Friday the 13th movie.”)
But the Murderdolls’ project succeeds particularly well when they wed gleeful, surf-style chord progressions to their ghoulish imagery, as on “Grave Robbing USA” and the screamingly funny “Love at First Fright.” Though their music isn’t as sparse or as raw as the Ramones’ — nor is it meant to be — the Murderdolls seem to instinctively understand the comedic potential of shoehorning gutter imagery into starry-eyed, doo-wop harmonics.
If the Murderdolls work the graveyard shift, then, they do so in Groucho Marx glasses, which is a far cry from at least one of the band’s immediate relations (get ready) — Slipknot.
“The crowds we’re getting on this tour have been pretty interesting,” says Wednesday, “because most of them come out, at least at first, to see Joey” — this Joey Jordison, drummer for hard-metal combo Slipknot. Prior to Slipknot’s break, however, Jordison had fronted a Des Moines-area band called the Rejects, whose modus operandi was an early version of the Murderdolls’ theatrics.
“When Slipknot broke big, the Rejects got put on hold, so to speak,” says Wednesday. But a rotating cast of players continued to get together for short hops — guitarist Tripp Eisen of Static X came into the fold in 1999, after meeting Jordison on the Ozzfest tour.
In 2001, anxious to work in a non-Slipknot setting for a longer stretch, Jordison called Wednesday, who was playing in a band called (get ready again) the Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13. Originally recruited to play bass, Wednesday soon moved to vocals; drummer Ben Graves and bassist Eric Griffin soon followed.
Beyond the Valley of the Murderdolls is slated for release on Aug. 20, which means the crowds coming to see them, if they know anything about the lineup at all, are likely expecting hard heavy metal along the lines of Slipknot. But Wednesday reports no complaints from the road crowds.
“At first, yeah, they come because of Joey. But one of the best things about the shows is that the kids are really embracing all the members of the band — and we work to be such unique characters on stage that, actually, sometimes we get kids who’ve seen us more than once, and they’re developing ‘favorite’ band members. Like a KISS thing — someone liked Paul, someone liked Ace and so on. That’s been one of the best elements of the shows that I’ve noticed.
“Or we’ll go through a song the crowd can’t have heard before,” he continues, “and by the second time through the chorus the kids are singing it back to us. That’s amazing, it’s unbelievably cool.”
The PR packet for the Murderdolls sets the bar fairly high: G.G. Allin antics, Alice Cooper drama, Texas Chain Saw Massacre chaos. Since the band’s touring without an album, for the next couple of weeks anyway, what can the unprepared clubgoer expect from the Murderdolls’ live show?
Understandably, Wednesday skirts the eyebrow-hoisting comparisons of the promo sheet: “Well, you won’t see a few things. You won’t get a lot of between-song raps, like ‘Yo yo yo, what’s up, how y’all feelin’?’ I mean, obviously you’re feeling OK, or you wouldn’t have come out to the show, right? So you won’t get any of that. If we say anything between songs, it’ll be more along the lines of, ‘Shut up and listen to the music, motherfuckers.’
“Also, you won’t see what we call the ‘bobbing for apples’ headbanging move, perfected by Korn, where everybody stands there, slouched over from the waist, and flails their heads up and down like morons. But you will see a fuckin’ rock band that looks like a rock band — telling you to shut up,” he laughs. “And you’ll see a band that wants you to have a good time and enjoy the show.”
Fair enough. (Have you noticed what nice boys these murder junkies are?) But the Murderdolls’ glam-gore aesthetic is precisely the kind of shtick that unfailingly terrifies America’s Concerned Parents, which makes us wonder whether the band’s bracing for any angry reactions.
“I hope so,” says Wednesday. “Look, the people who are going to be offended by it won’t understand that it’s fiction. They’re exactly the kind of people who sit around and wait to be offended by things. It’s not like we’re serious about a song like ‘Grave Robbing USA,’ for instance.
“Why would we want to go out and rob graves?” he asks ghoulishly. “There are so many good-looking people above the ground.”
The Murderdolls will perform Thursday, Aug. 8 at Saint Andrew’s Hall (451 E. Congress, Detroit). For information, call 313-961-6358.E-mail Eric Waggoner at email@example.com