Straight Outta Frenchtown 

The rise, fall, and rise of F’town’s greatest band

Nobody’s Heroes
The Bevel Sessions
Self-released

Stryker

The Strykers

Self-released

Missoula’s outlying towns need to step up to the plate. We’ve learned not to expect much in the way of contributions from East Missoula or Bonner, but where’s the Lolo? What have you heard from Florence lately? When’s that Victor-based dance-and-comedy troupe gonna happen?

And yet, somehow you just knew it’d be Frenchtown. The pleasant Victorian-styled hamlet 17 miles to the west has been lying dormant for far too long as regards rock ‘n’ roll, or any other cultural signifiers, for that matter. Too close to Missoula to have not absorbed at least some of the cultural hoo-hah, Frenchtown nonetheless has failed to make its presence widely known. Outside of football, that is. Longtime head coach Tim Racicot (yup, Marc’s older brother) has built the Broncs into a perennial Class B powerhouse squad. I don’t have the figures right in front of me, but I’d wager they haven’t even come close to having a losing season since the late ’70s and have walked off with the state title three or four times.

Then, in the mid-’80s, just when the word “awesome” began to enjoy acceptance for household and casual use, three rock-starved hooligans cobbled together a metal combo out in Frenchtown. They practiced in an annex adjacent to Frenchtown Elementary for hours every day after school. They didn’t really know how to play their respective instruments, but we all know that, at that stage of the game, technique is secondary to ambition. They called themselves Stryker (or “The Strykers” as their principal interpreted it), reverently observing the de rigeur Intentional Metal Misspelling practices of the day (e.g. Trixter, Enuff Z’Nuff, Kikk Tracii). (That’s really a heady, existentialist thing to ponder, when you get down to it: To make use of such spelling conventions today is funny, but only in the sarcastic sense. But, in the here and now, people younger than about 18 have—and can have—no appreciation of a milieu in which such a thing was actually bad-ass, like the kid at my school named Max who went to great lengths to get everyone to spell his name “Maxxx”).

Stryker played around Missoula for about six years to little fanfare. Eventually wearying of the lonely Tuesday night gigs attended only by their girlfriends and some drunk sneezing in his beer, they decided, like so many of their brethren before and since, to move the act to Seattle.

They moved to Seattle, changed their name to 007, did some recording, then went their separate ways, as young men with ever-changing priorities are wont to do.

Stryker’s Chris LaTray and Bubba Warne, bassist/singer and drummer, respectively, took some time off from music, only to join forces again in 1999 as Nobody’s Heroes. The Heroes are a rejuvenated, menacing quartet loosely based in Frenchtown and Ronan, hell-bent on conquering the area with their full frontal live onslaught. They are scary, too! LaTray is a massive, sweaty entity that bounds across the stage like a runaway truck tire, playing constant quarter notes on bass and singing all the while. His vocal attack is verily the fifth instrument, a condensed, elongated growl that somehow manages to attain discernible melodies. And Bubba’s the kind of guy that you wouldn’t know was in the band until he’s onstage; to look at him, you’d never guess he was such a maniac of a drummer. The two guitarists stand taut at stage left and right so as to provide an anchor for this hell-bound scabbard.

That’s the live show. They recently did some recording at Missoula’s new Bevel Studios, a new high-quality outfit that seeks to undercut existing studios with its econo rates and ego-free engineers. The resulting CD came out great and Chris did all the label printing and duped copies out of his house on his CD burner. He does his promoting via the band’s website, offers free MP3 downloads of half the songs, and reader, my friend, I think that is beautiful. A couple-three thousand dollars in equipment, a little ‘puter knowhow, and you can darn near forswear the hassle of getting someone else to put out your music forever.

The standout track is “Beatnik Bop,” with its rollicking metal-informed punk feel. In fact, it’s all metal-informed punk, or punk-informed metal, depending on your upbringing. There’s a difference between music being punk-informed and just kind of punk slumming, like Metallica or Guns ‘n’ Roses do, flippantly dropping inaccurate Misfits and Germs references when the whimsy strikes them. Nobody’s Heroes makes it abundantly clear on this album: They dig metal and they dig punk and where the twain shall meet, that’s where they’re gonna be.

Mere weeks after the first Bevel session, Bubba and Chris met up with former Stryker guitarist Mike Latham at Frenchtown’s Alcan Bar, and wouldn’tcha know that a Stryker reunion session was slated. They practiced for a few hours, having had no sonic congress in over ten years, and headed to Bevel the next morning. The result is a twelve-song CD filled with songs whose material falls into one of three categories, according to Chris’ extensive accompanying liner notes: “unrequited love, death/killing, and the state of being insane or descending into insanity,” with some overlap allowed. It’s fairly rudimentary hard rock, made doubly entertaining by Chris’ and Mike’s earnest falsetto parts. You don’t have do be wearing a circular Copenhagen hat to enjoy it, but it sure does help.

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