You never know what might happen at a Haunted Garage show. Even if you're in the band.
At a recent gig at the California Institute of Abnormalarts--the band's first in five years--a giant rabbit with red eyes and demonic teeth bum-rushed the stage. Guitarist Erik Erath wasn't sure if it was an over-enthusiastic fan or part of the performance. "The first time I saw that thing, it starts grabbing me."
"It almost knocked me over, dude!" adds bassist Sean Fodor.
Turns out lead singer Dukey Flyswatter had planned the whole thing. His girlfriend Amber "is a borderline furry," he explains. "She decided to give me that costume for my birthday one night." He dressed a friend up as "Peter Rotten Tail" as a last-minute substitute for an old demon costume that had disintegrated after years in storage. "I wanted something big," he says, proudly sharing cell phone pics of the buck-toothed monstrosity.
Dukey (real name: Michael Sonye) has been doing this sort of thing off and on for nearly 40 years. He started the first incarnation of Haunted Garage back in 1985 as an outlet for the cheesy horror soundtrack songs he and his friends loved. "You know, 'The South Is Gonna Rise Again' from Two Thousand Maniacs!, and 'Hideous Sun Demon' and 'The Blob' and stuff like that."
Eventually, the band started writing its own punk/metal songs based on horror films both real and imagined: "Incredible Two-Headed Transplant," "Torture Dungeon," "Brain in a Jar." With the songs came an elaborately costumed, blood-soaked stage show that made Haunted Garage local horror-punk legends.
Usually the blood was fake, but sometimes it wasn't. "I did play 'pierce my eye bags' one night," Dukey says, tugging at the skin under his eyeballs. "That was kinda gnarly. I got shiners afterwards." Since then, he's pretty much just stuck to his trademark: sticking mousetraps on his face.
The band briefly signed with Metal Blade Records and released one cult classic album, Possession Park, before breaking up in '93. Dukey went back to his first love, writing and acting in low-budget horror films; his greatest onscreen claim to fame is playing a Neo-Nazi thug named Mengele in the Troma film Surf Nazis Must Die. But Haunted Garage was never far from the picture.
"If I lay fallow too long, I go crazy," he says, kicking back after a rehearsal in the band's practice space, where they've been prepping for their gig at this Saturday's Long Beach Zombie Walk. Even at 59, with receding hair and wire-rimmed glasses, he exudes mischief. "I have bipolar disorder and I can't work a normal job with normal people for too long. I've just gotta unleash this pent-up energy."
After a handful of reunion gigs with his cross-dressing, Possession Park-era guitarist, Gaby Godhead, Dukey decided this year to rebuild the band with an all-new lineup, built around Erath's scorching leads, the death metal-influenced riffs of guitarist/makeup artist Andy Chavez, and the breakneck rhythm section of Fodor and drummer Brian Beaver. It's the most excited he's been about the band in years. They're even talking about recording new music, something Haunted Garage hasn't done in two decades.
"These guys, they believe in the band," he says. "They like the theatrics."
So will Peter Rotten Tail make another appearance at the Long Beach Zombie Walk? Probably, but Dukey's already scheming up more surprises--for his audience and bandmates alike.
This time, "I may put Amber in the flying monkey suit," he says with an impish grin.
Haunted Garage performs at the Long Beach Zombie Walk on Saturday, October 26th.
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