It took two minutes of the band's set at this year's Blowout to decide that the Real Spicolis are my new favorite band. Or, at least, my favorite new band. The band's tortured punk blues was a joyous noise both raw and pissed, and the band was suitably naked, but for boxers and socks. How much musical ability on offer was impossible to read — but who cares? A few screams or riffs later, a few seconds of pounding on the rudimentary drum kit, and the singer was throwing himself ass-first into said drums, while the drummer was kicking shit around. Show over.
The Real Spicolis, a Ypsilanti-based two-piece, are guitarist Jeffrey Freer (brother of Jeremy Freer from the Juliets) and drummer Nick Zomparelli, although they both claim the Spicoli surname as a rule. (You'll recall Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in '82's Fast Times at Ridgemont High.) Freer says he and his partner relate to the aforementioned surfer-stoner: "Me and Nick are skaters," he says. "One night we were really wasted, and we were skating down Cross Street, which is a one-way street in Ypsi. We like to ride down it, even though traffic is coming your way. I said to Nick, 'We're the real Spicolis. We smoke pot, we skate, and we like to play music.' It's the spirit of summer. Jeff Spicoli embodies the summer and what it's all about."
The two dudes, both in their mid-20s, work day gigs in Ann Arbor (Freer in a chain store music department, Zomparelli in a brewpub), but are part of an Ypsilanti scene which is pumping out quality band after quality band, all wild in their own ways (see Black Jake & the Carnies, Sex Police).
Freer says there's a reason for that: "Ypsilanti's kind of a wild place. Not a lot of people come out here. It has its dangerous elements. ... But I've lived here five or six years, and never once has my car or house been broken into. It's the same as Detroit. There are dangerous areas that you should stay out of but the rest is fine. But people stay away because they know Ann Arbor is more upscale and safe."
How did these guys hook up as Real Spicolis? Well, they figuratively pieced it together when their other bands fizzled. And they couldn't find a proper trapsman.
"We went through different drummers," Freer says. "Throughout that time, all these different random drum pieces just kind of accumulated in the basement. Different drummers would leave stuff and never come back for it. Nick said he could set these parts up, and we made this makeshift set. He just set them on chairs, cinderblocks and whatever was around in the basement. I started playing this riff, and he started chugging along with it on the drums. We jammed it out and thought it sounded cool. I brought some mics down, we hooked them up to the computer, and that's the first song we ever recorded, 'What I Need.' I made a little video for it."
Freer says that the band's "raw as fuck" take on garage punk is a result of attempting to play the blues as loud and forcefully as possible. "It's just me on guitar and him just hitting drums. It's real aggressive and trying to bring the punk element, but also the blues element. I love blues. My dad was a blues player, and he played with Muddy Waters. Growing up, he was playing old blues records all the time. I didn't know how great blues was at the time. It was just what Dad listened to. Later on, as I grew up, I realized how blues is the foundation for all modern music. It's the root. I love the characters. Names like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. That's an element I really want to bring to this band. An old school rock 'n' roll flavor."
There's a highly watchable, unhinged side to the band, a manic, fuck-you sweatfest that will, at one point, leave carnage in the band's wake. Freer is responsible for a lot of that old-school verve; it's bottled-up anger.
"There's plenty you can get mad about in the world or about life," he explains. "I don't feel that getting mad or complaining about it is the solution to anything. There are a lot of things that piss me off. I'll try to get it out through my art, whatever it is. I think that's the best way to get out your frustration. I'm a firm believer in not complaining. I know too many people who just love to complain."
So what does Freer brother Jeremy think of the Spicolis? His Juliets are, after all, a more sedate, orchestral affair. "I'm always gonna have the upmost respect for his music," the brother Freer says. "We were in a band together [called Freer] for a long time and I love the songwriting. I think he digs my band. I don't really know though. I haven't really asked him, to be honest. In a way I really don't care. [laughs] It's brotherly love-type stuff."
Having offered up one of the best examples of onstage brouhaha since the Stooges' last local appearance, would the Spicolis go so far as to cheesily choreograph such a display of show-ending wreckage?
It is spontaneous, yes?
"I haven't jumped into the drum set every show we've played, because that would get way too tiresome," Freer says. "There have been a few shows where I've done it. I always wanted to do it. I don't have a reason. The first time was at Woodruff's, a really cool bar in Ypsi, and I had been watching a bunch of old Nirvana footage. I have a friend called Alexander Thomas who is a brilliant weird guy with an eye for film. I've been participating in a project of his called Cactus Pantry for three years, and there's a YouTube page. He filmed the Metro Times Blowout set and our set at Woodruff's. I always wanted to see what it looked like. I don't plan it. It's how I'm feeling at the end of the set. If I'm out of it and can't keep going, I'll do that to give it a big ending, rather than do something awesome musically."
Thing is, as appealing as chaos can be, the Real Spicolis are truly fetching sonically, a full throttle motor on two wheels. Crazy spirit only greases the wheels.