Here’s something you don’t see every day: five grown men, dressed as Mormon missionaries (cycling helmets and backpacks included), raising all manner of unholy hell onstage through the medium of riotous punk rock.
Yet that is what you get if you go see L.A. punks The Mormons at one of their fairly regular soirees. These guys formed in 1998 with a relatively conventional desire to play rock & roll at local dives with their buddies. They wrote a few songs, and things were going OK, but then frontman Patrick Jones devised the plan that would alter their destinies.
“I guess I liked the idea of having a uniform,” Jones says. “I would judge bands by the way they were dressed, and I wanted to neutralize that. I thought that would be a fun way of doing it, and I’ve always like the costumed bands like The Mummies, The Monks and The Leeches. That’s kind of where the idea came from, more or less.”
Dressing as Mormons is all well and good, but essentially that means wearing a black suit and white shirt with a tie. It’s the addition of the bicycle helmet and backpack that makes it art.
“We made it our own thing,” Jones says. “We’re spreading our mission to ‘rock out correctly’ onstage, so we have to wear the helmets for protection when we do that.”
“When you see Mormon missionaries around, they’re usually on bicycles,” guitarist Peter Tintle adds. “The helmets and the backpacks remind people that these are the Mormons that come up to our door. This is the same person I saw yesterday.”
Purists and experts might point out that modern Mormons are more likely to be seen with a messenger satchel slung over their shoulders than the two-strap backpack, but that’s splitting hairs. Plus, these guys draw the line at a satchel for fear of being made fun of, which seems ludicrous given the clothes they’re wearing onstage. More bizarre still is the fact that there are some concert attendees who actually believe these musicians are genuine Mormons.
“When they see us with a beer in our hands, they’re completely shocked a lot of times,” Tintle says.
“You know what, though, it doesn’t bother me because I just went to Disneyland yesterday and we actually met Mickey Mouse,” guitarist Vince O’Campo adds. “My son was so excited but I didn’t want to tell him, ‘Son, that’s not Mickey Mouse — it’s somebody in a Mickey Mouse costume.’ You’ve just got to go with it. The guy in the costume went with it, so we do it too sometimes.”
It's nice not to destroy the magic and mystique. On the flipside, it’s rare that actual Mormons are ever offended by The Mormons band, preferring to take the twisted tribute in good spirits.
“They get a kick out of it, the few times that has happened,” O’Campo says. “If anything, they think it’s cool. They’re honored. Maybe people who were Mormon or who just really like Mormons get offended by it — I’ve had that happen a few times."
The Mormons have a sound that, on one hand, is rooted in traditional punk rock, but there’s a welcome element of quirk in there, which encourages not-inaccurate comparisons to Devo.
“People say we sound like Devo and Dead Kennedys, or Devo and Bad Brains, or Devo and The Damned,” O’Campo says. “Devo and The Misfits. So pretty much Devo and your favorite punk band is what we sound like. But we don’t have any keyboards or anything like that.”
The band members agree that there is a punk resurgence happening in Los Angeles at present, younger bands looking to do their own thing while simultaneously tipping a respectful hat to the old guard.
“I think a lot of the younger kids these days are looking back at the older bands in the scene and they really respect those guys,” Tintle says. “We get included in a lot of shows with all these new punk bands that are coming out, and they love the old scene. We also play with a lot of the older bands, bands that have been around longer than us, too.”
Live, The Mormans’ mission statement is to “rock out correctly,” which they say means many different things but seems to suggest that they give their all onstage, pulling out all the stops. The focal point is Jones, who is a gloriously unpredictable leader — standing on a barstool tower one night, wearing a trashcan like a dirty robot the next.
“The good thing is that Patrick is always inventing something new for the show,” Tintle says. “So any show you go to is completely different. You can see him one night and say, ‘Oh man, I remember when he jumped on the bar.’ The next night, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember when he jumped in that trashcan and started singing with it over his head.’ Every show is a different experience. I remember one time Patrick went into the restroom and sang from there.”
“I had to pee really badly, midsong,” Jones admits.
On Sunday, The Mormons play at the Liquid Kitty Punk Rock BBQ, which takes place at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica this year. The show, they say, will include all of the “classic hits.”
“We always try to put out 100 percent at every show,” Tintle says. “We have 30 minutes to get it done, and we want people to remember that 30 minutes for as long as possible. We’re always trying to give the best show that we can. Patrick is great at doing that, and making sure that each show is a special experience.”
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This being the 20th year The Mormons have been existence, they’re working on some special performances and releases for later in 2018: an album, and a few other items as well.
“We’re also thinking of getting into making products,” O’Campo says, probably joking. “It’s time to cash in after 20 years. We’re working on a very futuristic Mormon sexual aid — for if you’re in prison or just a lonely fella. You can buy one of those — that’s just down the pipe.”
The Mormons play the Liquid Kitty Punk Rock BBQ with PRV13, Superbean, Lawndale, Atomic Sherpas and Shit 4 Brainz, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb.18, at Harvelle’s.