|Photo by Sean Murphy|
Destruction, self-abuse and general mayhem are the essential ingredients of Amen’s notorious stage show. The press in Europe, where the band is a top draw and a media darling, is peppered with descriptions of a rock event that’s more demolition derby than musical performance. Yet things are pretty calm at Casa de Chaos, the Van Nuys house where the entire Amen lineup and support crew live. It’s not exactly the Monkees’ digs, but homey, dare we say, and as comfortable as the five band members care to get at this time.
Now that Death Before Musick, their third full-length, has hit the streets (it’s the inaugural release for eatURmusic, run by System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian and distributed by Columbia), the band will likely spend most of the upcoming year slugging it out onstage. And many of those stages will be right here in America, which is the one territory where Amen’s down-tuned, high-energy metallic punk rock has thus far failed to gain a foothold.
“Same thing with the Ramones,” points out vocalist/songwriter/front man Casey Chaos. “They always went to the U.K. and Europe, because Europeans got it. They have a good bullshit detector over there. Music to them is more of a lifestyle, it’s not trend-based. Look at the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — nobody cared about them in America. Soon as they’re on the cover of NME, then it’s, ‘Oh yeah, the Strokes, next big thing.’”
Formed in 1994 by former pro skater Chaos, Amen now exhibits a completely overhauled lineup, together barely a year, that united slowly after the previous group fell apart following the demise of its recording contract with Virgin Records. Much like their rabid overseas fan base, the new musicians are dedicated to the band in an almost cultlike manner. Says Texas-bred guitarist Matt Montgomery, “I was a huge Amen fan, I had ‘Amen’ tattooed on my hand when the first record came out. I accosted Casey and said I’d do anything for a chance to be a guitar tech, or a towel boy, just to be a part of this band. I really felt what he was doing was revolutionary.”
Montgomery remembers getting the call from Amen guitarist Rich Jones: “‘We don’t really know if you can play guitar or do anything, but if you want to move to L.A. and live in the house, you can. We don’t have a bass player or a drummer right now, or a record deal, or a tour.’” Montgomery’s response? “I dropped everything, left my girlfriend and my job.” Drummer Luke Johnson says he got a similar call, asking him to relocate from England: “Everyone left everything in the hope of being able to achieve what they wanted in this band.”
A recent tour with Brides of Destruction indicates that American conquest is feasible. Winning over crowds that, as Montgomery puts it, were “the people that go to Slaughter/Warrant reunions,” the guys themselves were a bit surprised at how they were embraced. Recalls bassist Scott S. Sorry, “We’re sitting there in Virginia with some real backwoods motherfuckers. They’re all going” — he drawls — “‘Damn, dude, that’s the real shit.’” Sorry, who was sporting a Damned T-shirt and full-sleeve tats, told his new friends, “You would kick my ass if I was walking down the street.”
Chaos is ready to launch the Amen attack stateside. “We’ve spent too much of our time everywhere but America. We’ve been trying to give a respectful representation of what American music really is to people in Europe, as opposed to a lot of the bands that are just in it for the money. It’s no wonder why a lot of Europeans hate Americans, because there’s a lot of disrespect on the level of [Americans] will do whatever it takes to get that American Dream. Who Wants To Marry a Millionaire? — they get to see something like that, and it’s more like it should have been called Who Wants To Marry a Garbage-Eating Whore? We’ve just been trying to give people over there a working-class band. We don’t want the red-carpet treatment, we just want to be able to go onstage and destroy ourselves for your pleasure.”