Wired & Weird
Chris Campbell of the Terrible Twos, his girlfriend Alexis and I are sitting at the bar staring at a disgusting looking jar of pickled eggs. Its green ooze-like liquid contents beckon to be a prop on the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. “You should dare Craig (Brown, TT’s Bassist/Vocalist) to eat one of those,” Alexis says. “We actually just tried eating those while we were on tour,” Campbell says, reminiscing about the tour they just wrapped up two days before. “Maybe just dare him to eat the whole jar and drink the juice,” I interject. “The bad thing is Craig would do it,” Campbell says pushing his hair behind a silver-sparkled headband. “Last time, when Brimstone Howl was, here he snorted vodka out of a shot glass. Another time I dared him to do something stupid and he said, ‘C’mon, man, don’t say that. You know I have to do it then.’”
A theory as to why the Terrible Twos' synth-punk has become so successful recently might be Craig Brown’s aforementioned reckless abandon. However, it’s not just Brown. The whole band encompasses this train of thought. They don’t care about the clothes they wear, they don’t care about sounding like your favorite band and they sure as shit couldn't care less about what scene they belong to. The only thing they care about is that one magical thing: making exciting music that they love.
With that being said, the music that the Terrible Twos like to make is weird. Yet, there is a difference between being a bit odd and being weird just for the sake of weirdness. If you compare and contrast the difference between The Stooges when they first started and the band that produced their infamous first record, it’s easy to see said distinction. The first show the band ever put on included a Kabuki-faced Iggy Pop tap dancing on a washboard in a housedress with a tin foil wig. Meanwhile, Ron Asheton played a microphone in a blender and vacuum with Scott Asheton pounding on a huge oil drum. Exhibit A: Weird for the sake of being weird. Then take Exhibit B: The Stooge's self-titled debut record. Loud, primal rock ‘n’ roll action that was different from anything going on at the time. This is the Terrible Twos. Their rock ’n’ roll is truly something different.
There is a long line of weird bands that act as a musical road map to get you to the current Terrible Twos sound. The archaic rage of The Stooges acts as the base and distills down through to mid-'70s bands like New York’s Suicide and L.A.’s The Screamers. While the Twos look to these artists as influences, it’s more in admiration of their lack of a theme or gimmick. “We’ve never really had a concept for the band,” Campbell says. “We are just all afraid of sounding boring.” Aside from having similar principles, the Twos have also taken musical cues from Suicide and The Screamers. Both bands were critically influential for their inventive use of keyboards in punk rock. After all, the true driving force behind the Terrible Twos' sound is synth player Danny Bing.
Lanky and tall, Bing has a blond haired Richard Hell look-a-like quaff on top of his head. While he might be the quietest Two, relegating himself to mostly unleashing toothy smiles, he is easily the most important member when it comes to the band’s sound. From the first moments of the Twos’ debut record, Bing takes over, unleashing a flurry of synth sounds and perfect melodies. “I don’t even remember how I did that,” Bing says of the instrumental buildup of the track, “No New Thing.” “I never really played synth before I joined the band. I’ve just kind of always been able to pick up an instrument and make it work.” After moving to Milwaukee for a relationship that didn’t work out, he moved back to Michigan where he met Campbell at his day job. “We were standing outside when Danny was walking up for his first day,” Campbell says. “Someone said, ‘He just looks like he should be in the Terrible Twos.'”
It’s Tuesday night and it’s pouring rain. Campbell, Bing, drummer Jeff Jordan, guitarist Jon Arthur and I sit on the porch of Campbell’s Woodbridge estate and stare out in the hazy abyss. We joke mostly about Craig Brown's love of being late. Yet, when Brown finally shows up, he doesn’t disappoint. As always, Craig has a new story. “Hey, man, I don’t have AIDS,” Brown says as he offers up a high-five. “She asked if I had any tattoos and she was looking right at my smiley face.” He points towards a small tattooed grimace on his right arm. It’s no bigger than a penny. “I said, ‘What that doesn’t count? That should count as four.’”
While Craig Brown is easily the Chris Farley of the band, a large comedic presence in any room, Jon Arthur and Jeff Jordan hardly play second fiddle. They are the David Spades of the group. Both are much quieter versions of Brown, but provide the same amount of hilarious moments behind the scenes. Jordan tells me tales of days misspent working at Chuck E. Cheese and throwing in a fake southern accent to make fun of his faux-southern patrons in Chelsea. Arthur is constantly in some state of making a joke or mumbling something that will make you laugh. Weirdly enough, these jokes act as the glue that holds the band together. It’s easy to see that they were friends before bandmates.
Thus, this friendship is where the Terrible Twos' fairytale begins. Post-high school doldrums answered by the fun of playing in a band with your childhood mates. With little to no options for the future, Campbell, Jordan and former bassist John Aho joined forces to create the band's initial lineup in 2003. “Jeff, John Aho and Chris started off playing together while I was away at EMU,” Arthur says. “When I came home, everyone was kind of bored and I joined in on writing a bunch of crappy songs.” Jeff laughs at his bandmates history lesson adding, “They were not good. The only song that we use today that was written at The Lofts is ‘Rebel Rerun.’”
Practicing in the storied Lofts of Redford, in a space across from Detroit psych-rockers Friends of Dennis Wilson, The Twos made slow progress before ever thinking about playing a show. “Our first show didn’t really happen until around the spring of 2004,” Campbell states. “We wanted to make sure that we had our sound down right.” After several shows, the band completed their first real recording session with former Detroit Cobras/Rocket 455 member Jeff Meier. “We had a lot of our own recordings. There are a lot of CD-Rs everywhere,” Campbell says. “The first serious try was the first release.”
In the constantly-evolving Detroit punk rock scene, the Terrible Twos found new allies in the likes of The Clone Defects, The Piranhas and a new crop of weird punks from Royal Oak, including The Frustrations and Fontana. With help from The Frustrations' Scott Dunkerly’s upstart record label, X! Records, the Terrible Twos “Plunderball” single was released in 2005. Yet, after its release, bassist John Aho decided to quit the band and make the move to Chicago for school. Enter Craig Brown. A loudmouthed, mustachioed childhood friend who was waiting in the shadows for his break into the band. “John wanted to go to school. Before he left he taught Craig all the songs, but he kind of already knew them since he was always at our shows anyway,” Campbell chuckles. “As soon as John told us he was moving we just called Craig."
Finding its way onto turntables around the Motor City, the single made a splash with punks, prompting a second stab at a single with Outrageous Cherry’s Matt Smith at the production helm. The resulting “Chinky Glass Eye” single in 2007 showcased the band at their best. The addition of Craig Brown proved vital, as his contribution of the song “Outside” remains one of the band’s standout cuts. Alas, the perfect warped formula of the Terrible Twos was set in place.
Chris Campbell squats as he sifts through records to play in his living room. First, there is a noise record, then The Ramones, a bit of Alice Cooper and then The Clone Defects. Although it’s not really stated by anyone, Campbell is the unofficial bandleader. Planning tour routes, setting up shows, mending unglued record packaging, it all seems to fall on Campbell’s shoulders. Yet, there is no resistance from the stalky, sideburned guitarist/vocalist. He seems to accept the role with a shrug of the shoulders, but it’s easy to see a genuine love of the game in his eyes.
“We’ve already been talking to some labels about our next full-length record,” Campbell says of the band fielding offers from national independent record labels. The band’s debut album, only released in February of this year, has garnered so much attention that the demand for a second full-length is frightening. Then again, who can blame the salivating music fan that can’t get enough of the Terrible Twos? This is a record that is quite challenging, and rebellious in spirit, but doesn’t compromise the classic hallmarks of what makes good music.
To be honest, the full-length is almost too much too handle. It’s perfect, but it feels physically threatening. The combination of Campbell’s voice and Brown’s throaty chortle feels like they are playing good cop/bad cop. Campbell sooths with stories of looking for love in the wrong places while Brown screams about tuning his guitar and staying indoors. Arthur’s jab-like guitar sounds land all the right blows while Jordan’s all-out assault on drums is downright perilous. All the while, Bing sticks with his synth, leaving hardly any white space in-between songs. In two words: amazingly weird.
It’s hot on The Crofoot’s outside patio. It’s 8:30 p.m., but the sun is still beaming down on the Terrible Twos. With High Life in hand, they chat up a female friend of theirs. The band is opening for seminal noisemakers Mudhoney tonight, but Brown has other things on his mind.
“Your're going on a date,” he scolds with a gappy smirk. “With who?” The girl says the boy's name and mistakenly tells Craig where they are going. “I’m going to follow you guys and throw nickels at you,” Craig says laughing. “Better yet, he will probably piss on you,” Campbell howls. “I don’t piss on people,” Brown states, looking me dead in the eyes. “I’m not that weird.” | RDW
Terrible Twos • 6/13 • Rock City, Magic Stick
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