”I‘ve been kicked out of other bands for getting too crazy onstage,“ says Dave James, the spastic-charismatic front man of L.A.’s garage dynamos the Superbees, as we swig Coronas in a sticky Hollywood Mexican-food joint around the corner from Goldfingers, where his band will explode in a few hours. Hard to believe that the very antics that make this 7-year-old local group so thrilling to watch — guitar-assaulting, face-to-the-floor, knees-into-the-crowd recklessness, the kind that glued your eyeballs to Iggy and Morrison — would be no-noes. But James‘ previous bands, good though some may have been, weren’t the Superbees.
With their raging, riff-heavy tunes and shaggy-cool style, the Superbees epitomize the kind of rock band James dreamed of joining as a kid, when he was churning out punk covers in the garages of the otherwise quiet Covina neighborhoods where he grew up. After moving to San Francisco and returning to L.A. in the early ‘90s, he knocked around with outfits such as the Comatones, the Sacred Hearts and the Voodoo Tubes (where he met Superbees bassist Dat and started singing in ’94), then did a brief hitch in the Joneses when the Bees took a break.
These days, the Superbees‘ caustic swagger, sludgy rawness and scruffy sex appeal get them over just about anywhere and everywhere in the L.A. club scene. At first they haunted beloved dives like Al’s Bar and the White Horse Inn; soon they raised havoc at then-hot hangs like Bar Deluxe and Club Lingerie. Now, at clubs as diverse as Spaceland, the Dragonfly and the Garage, you can see James rolling around the stage while longtime bassman Dat, rhythm guitarist Scott Carlson and drummer Johnny Sleeper sweat up a storm.
Versatile, you bet: The Bees‘ old-school rawk & squawk is groovy enough to appeal to retro-minded Eastsiders who worship bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, ballsy enough to fit in with the Tigermask garage-punk revival scene and visually grabby enough to cut the mustard in Hollywood’s hippest glam pits.
”I always wanted to be in a band that wore tight black trousers, played loud Marshall amplifiers, and kicked out a sound that was a mixture of metal, punk and rock & roll, with no ‘garage’ or ‘heavy metal’ tags,“ says Carlson, who joined the group three years ago. ”We have a lot of influences, and we‘re just taking them and putting them out there.“ The band’s early-‘70s Detroit flair is undeniable. A mix and mash of the MC5, the Seeds, Thee Hypnotics and of course the Stooges, the Superbees are loud, fast and primal. With the Hives and the White Stripes turning so many heads with their unrefined passion and power, it’s a wonder the A&R vultures haven‘t yet snatched up these arthropods.
Garage-rock frenzy — a boon to the Bees? ”Time will tell how it will affect the band,“ says James. ”It probably opens the door for us a little. People might investigate a bit more. But we’ll just continue to play the brand of rock & roll we always have.“ Unfortunately, like X before them, the Superbees and their peers — bands like Flash Express and the Lords of Altamont — must crack the glass ceiling that keeps L.A.‘s noisier groups in the smaller clubs and off the radio. While acts like the Strokes and the above-mentioned Hives have ridden the hype to hitsburg, L.A. rockers are largely ignored — a theme of the rock doc Badsville, a film that prominently featured the Superbees and was released by Acetate, the same company that put out the band’s new High Volume.
A maelstrom of revved-up ax licks, almost Cramps-like drum whomps and unbridled vocals make this record‘s title ring like a command. Odes to promiscuity and general debauchery such as ”Loose“ and ”Glue Sniffer“ edge close to capturing the band’s rowdy spirit, but the real punches are thrown onstage.
”This band is about energy,“ says Dat, whose face usually streams with hair and sweat when he batters the bass. Guitarist Carlson is possessed by the same demons, while drummer Sleeper (a two-year member and the best pounder the Bees have scored) attacks the skins with a head-hammering abandon that‘s simply electrifying.
”We’re kind of like a top — you spin it and see where it goes,“ says James, who says it took a while for the band to learn how to reconcile their chaotic stage exploits with the realities of music making.
”We used to have lots of technical difficulties, like things would come unplugged, or I would knock my amp over,“ says James as he heads out for what will end up a wonderfully raucous, mishap-free set. ”We‘ve got longer cords now.“
The Superbees play the Garage on Tuesday, September 24.