There's a new wave, so to speak, of L.A. bands doing interesting modern variations on punk and post-punk, but none of them manufacture quite the same sense of overriding dread and urgent intensity as Egrets on Ergot. The local quartet play with a driving punk-rock aggression, but their dark music also is imbued with a restless post-punk experimentalism and goth morbidity that are taken into even weirder places by singer Atom's stark saxophone interpolations and balefully poetic lyrics.
A feeling of impending doom often lingers as Atom's clipped, enigmatic vocals slink around the shadowy corners of such tracks as "Occult Matters," from Egrets on Ergot's 2017 album, Surfeit of Gemütlich, chased by guitarist Crow Jane's febrile array of bell-like tones and skittering sound effects. And yet even within that sordid atmosphere of paranoia and claustrophobia, there emerge beautiful elements, such as Daniel Muñoz's majestic bass opening to "Sister, Please," which burrows into the dank underground with a Peter Hook–style momentousness that provokes Matt Sherin's ticking-time-bomb drum rattling.
Given all that sonic fear-mongering and bewitching mystery, one can't help wondering if the members of Egrets on Ergot are into black magic.
"I'm not deep into that stuff at all," Atom, also known as Adam Brooks, says about "Occult Matters" by phone as the quartet drive past Flagstaff, Arizona, on their way to a show in Tucson. "That one's more of a fun, not-too-earth-shattering theme in that song, delivering a light jab at armchair occultists. In L.A. about five years ago, there was a surge of people using occult imagery, rattling off shit right and left and wearing it like a brand."
Meanwhile, "Sister, Please" expands on the theme of earlier rants such as "Exfoliate," from Egrets on Ergot's 2014 debut EP, Serve Us Tender, in which Brooks punished himself with a litany of self-criticism: "Inside my head I try to shake/this dirty, filthy, clouded tank."
"I was drinking more then and had a lot of 'I hate the world' thoughts," he says. "'Sister, Please' follows that theme" of self-obsession but is more about society in general," adds Brooks, 33. "Ideologies are tightly gripped among groups instead of people looking at things more objectively. Everybody is guilty of that at some point. I myself follow a lot of the same patterns."
The other tracks on Surfeit of Gemütlich range from the sax-driven, madhouse art-noise collisions of "Praxis" to the heavier, jaggedly rumbling epic "Plantation Pudding." "I was inspired by people, I guess, who are really entrenched in academia and theorizing with a lack of real experience," Brooks says about "Praxis." On the other hand, "Plantation Pudding" uncovers "the ugly past of slavery, a topic that's still relevant today. ... It's all too common for especially white people to not bring all this up."
The singer describes the group's new songs as even "more aggressive and punk. The last four or five songs not on the album are heavily political." One of the still-unreleased songs is called "From Here to Aleppo," which doesn't have "a lot of words," he says. "It's abstractly tying the bullshit here in this country to the bullshit in that part of the world and suggesting connections, like to the water situation in Flint, Michigan."
This is all a far cry from the subject matter of Brooks' first band, a Long Beach/Orange County–based psychobilly combo called The Fossils. "I just didn't feel connected to the whole scene or rockabilly subculture that was in Southern California. Still like the music, but I was in a box," says Brooks, who was born in St. Louis and now lives in Silver Lake.
"Around that time, I started doing acid," he continues. "I started getting a little more serious about certain things in life. I wasn't as interested in partying and drinking alcohol. I started being more aware and cautious of things that weren't me or didn't directly benefit me. ... I got this saxophone at a pawn shop in Long Beach and taught myself how to play."
LSD was such a life-changing experience for Brooks that the band even included a tab of acid inside each of the first 100 copies of the initial pressing of Serve Us Tender. Was Brooks ever worried about getting in trouble? "We were concerned about it at the time," he says but adds that he doesn't care about it now.
Brooks started writing songs with Crow Jane (née Heather Galipo) in 2011, and they played their first show as Egrets on Ergot the following year, although the pair went through about nine drummers and two bassists (including Jose Molina, who played on the EP) before they found drummer Matt Sherin and bassist Daniel Muñoz.
Choosing from a list of potential band names compiled by Brooks, Galipo selected Egrets on Ergot, in a fungal reference to the psychedelics that were influencing much of the duo's early music. Brooks also came up with the curious album title Surfeit of Gemütlich, which translates as "too much comfort" — a state of mind rarely achieved by the band's listeners.
Galipo is no stranger to discomfort, onstage chaos and Grand Guignol theatrics. Besides playing synthesizer and singing in the electronic project Bustié, she also performs as the bloodily lascivious Nurse Heather in Scott Guerin's reinvented version of his 1970s punk-jazz-funk blasphemers The Deadbeats.
When playing with Egrets on Ergot, Galipo has a particularly sinister attack that replaces conventional lead-guitar soloing with an ever-shifting debris field of scratchy dub echoes and galactic post-punk matter. She cites The Birthday Party's Rowland S. Howard and Christian Death's Rikk Agnew as her favorite guitar heroes and also was inspired by the way The Residents deconstructed music in general. "They have a whole array of interesting sounds, things that cut through in strange ways," she marvels.
"I was a wastoid punk kid. I'd spend most of my time stealing liquor from stores," says Galipo, 27, who was born in Palmdale and resides in Elysian Park. "Being aggressive, listening to music, painting a lot.
"I was taken out of class in handcuffs," she says about being kicked out of school for intoxication. "I was still kind of drunk from the night before. It was the day of my final."
Punk rock ended up saving her. "We were each other's families," Galipo says about the other punks she hung out with. "It's how I got embedded in the lifestyle that I'm in now." That lifestyle includes singing the occasional lead vocal with Egrets on Ergot, such as "Not Recommended," from Surfeit of Gemütlich, and "Daisy," a new song. "I'm pretty influenced by Penis Envy–era Crass," she says in describing "Daisy." "I'm not really singing. I'm ranting words off a scroll."
"Daisy" is about how babies are imprinted at an early age with gender roles. "I always thought that was strange," Galipo adds. "I always wanted to play with my brother's toys."
Galipo works in the film industry and attended the same makeup school as Sherin. "We both do special effects and makeup," explains Sherin, 31, who was born in Beverly Hills and lives in Atwater Village. "She does more on-set stuff, and I do more props and the fabrication side of things. We've worked together on a few things — just really violent things like an outlaw biker short film, A Killer of Men."
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With Egrets on Ergot, former Le Face drummer Sherin brings a range of influences that extend from thrash and grindcore to "dynamically dark post-punk, ethereal stuff like krautrock, prog and world music. I try to put it all together with an aggressive punk filter," he says.
"We're changing in a lot of ways," Sherin continues. "We just add on to our original sound — a bigger picture of what we want to accomplish. We did a lot of growing; a lot of that was bringing in Daniel, a classically trained musician who understands musical theory." As the band near the end of their tour of the West Coast, Qui's Matt Cronk is filling in on bass while musicologist Muñoz finishes the school year teaching at UC Santa Cruz.
Sherin also credits producer Paul Roessler for his impact on the quartet's sound. "He's a great asset to the band," Sherin says about Roessler, the iconic keyboardist (Screamers, Nina Hagen, 45 Grave, Twisted Roots) who sometimes performs onstage with Egrets on Ergot. "He took a lot of interest in us and kind of nurtured us."
In July, Egrets on Ergot go on tour with The Weirdos, with a performance at the Echo on Sunday, July 29.