"I wanna play defense," Brad Eberhard, Wounded Lion singer and one of the band's multi-instrumentalists, once told me. If he had to force out an album in 30 days, he'd sit in front of a sitcom every night with a paw on the guitar, just playing around.
A former art teacher, a current "painter's painter" (as described in this very paper) and (a long time ago) a kid who grew up in the Orange County suburbs listening to Rodney on the ROQ, he is an admirably courageous absorber, long able to let the insanity of the modern perceptional experience settle into his mind. ("You could study the second half of the 20th century by what choices Penguin Books makes for Day of the Triffids covers," he says.)
When everything he absorbs finally worms its way out, it's a song or at least a good, dark joke. As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, looking at the semitrucks that said PYRAMID in huge letters on the side: "[A] child would suppose that the message was terrifically important, since somebody had gone to the trouble of writing it in letters so big."
So that's Wounded Lion — trying to figure out what's important and what's merely real big, all in the guise of what Eberhard calls a "pretty normal loud fuckin' rock band."
Normal? "Guitars, bass, drums, lyrics, chorus," he explains. So, normal equipment. Four chords, four lyrics, two minutes. If they don't have it down to a science, they have it down to an art, with big slapstick riffs and cut-up lyrics that express the spirit of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" in the language of a rock & roll caveman.
On "Carol Cloud," a song so nice they released it twice: "If you looked inside, what would you find?" Eberhard asks. "Not talking 'bout your body, baby. ..." You can guess the rhyme. And then the guitar starts to growl and hunch; it's like watching a stop-motion-animation monster beginning to move. Eventually it knocks the whole song to pieces. It's very satisfying if you are the kind of person who likes it when the monster gets to win.
"I'm always afraid," says Lion multi-instrumentalist Jon Ohnuki, "that people think we're trying to be funny or goofy, and there's an element of that. But there's a very powerful component that's very important ... something kinda sublime or transcendent in singing, 'I think it's hungry!' over and over again! With Brad's lyrics, if you're looking, you'll see these little edges. Like, 'We're not trying to tell you what to think. But we are trying to work some stuff out.' "
At their best, Lion take punk to its densest minimum. It's not "minimal," where the parts that make up the songs are so distant and dim you're listening mostly to the space between, but "minimum" in the way a mechanical engineer thinks of as elegance. Lion songs are pure; they have what Eberhard calls "few moving parts," which means there's very little left to go wrong. Like an AK-47?
"Exactly," Eberhard agrees. "Or what about an obsidian dagger? Like in museums. Handmade and effective. You see all the marks — of where it was made sharper."
There are five members of Wounded Lion now: Eberhard, Ohnuki, Shant, Raffi Kalenderian and Monty Buckles. Among them, they swap and flip instruments and count three pairs of glasses, two painters of considerable global acclaim, one guy this very paper called a "token hottie" (Enjoy, Shant!), and several hundred (if not thousand) records made by people who knew two sides of a 45 might be all the time they ever had to prove they once lived upon this Earth.
Ohnuki was Eberhard's roommate at Oxy way back when; he remembers playing Clash and Ramones songs together but being "baffled" by some of Eberhard's '60s garage collection. And he also remembers what he calls a taste of things to come: "There was an 'open university' thing, where you could teach a class on anything you wanted to. So we offered a class on noisemaking. We took some amps and other equipment into the quad and only one person showed up — a friend of ours who happened to be walking by."
But this isn't an underdog thing — that's actually a different animal. Writer Robert Gordon came to peace with that kind of haphazard turnout when he wrote, "If people need to find this band, they will."
And they do — people who like to connect the weird, occluded, sometimes-accidental moments of philosophic value in the forgotten and willfully discarded and Philip K. Dick's "rubble and trash of TV commercials and vulgar ads in general."
The Cramps were musicologists on par with the Smithsonian's Lomaxes; they did it all at thrift stores. One man's garbage, another man's genre. Before this became punk, it was just made by punks. These are old tricks to give form to old worries.
"What's it mean to make proto-punk in 2010? Versus 1974? That's a good question," Eberhard says. "I don't have a tidy answer necessarily. I encounter this as a painter. Painting is a very old technology, and within the art world, painting is considered too old or passé or not avant-garde. I don't know if it's self-incriminating, but sex and eating and sleeping — none of that is avant-garde or new, but it's all really rich and important. Human-condition stuff. I don't know if that makes me sound dumb. Rather than making art, we're making food? But that's the social utility of the Lion.
"To make blood flow, to activate people — vitality, right?" he adds. "I'm hoping that it made them feel in the present and alive for a short period of time. That's meaningful. That's profound. There's an art historian, Kenneth Clark, who said you can aesthetically experience something for as long as you can smell a freshly cut orange. You awaken — that's what happens, ideally."
Wounded Lion with Sic Alps, TRMRS and the Lamps at Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake. Sat., 8:30 p.m. $8-$10. 21 and over. clubspaceland.com.