There's a lot of folk- and Americana-inspired rock music in this town, a lot of electronic and metal. Seattle 1990s guitar rock is coming back into style, as is shame-free indie dance pop. The Velcro Kicks are a different beast. Their new album, Sub-Humanoid Toxoid, dabbles in samples but is mostly a throwback to late-1970s, early-1980s spooky garage-surf. It's like The Cramps or The Mummies if those bands had embraced psychedelia and then been shot up into space to play to an infinite audience.
A few weeks ago The Velcro Kicks occupied the #1 and #3 spots on KBGA radio's top 30 songs. The trio thought that was pretty cool, though they barely made a fuss about their cassette tapeyes, cassette taperelease party that same week. They just aren't self-promoters. They don't play out much and have no website. Though they've existed since 2009, they only recently made a Facebook page, which provides very little information.
"It's more mysterious that way...I guess," says guitarist/singer Tony Matts, as if offering up one possible explanation.
The most recent action from the band? Days after the tape release party, they put up some posters around town to advertise where people can download their tape online for free. So, obviously, they're not in it for the money, either.
Matts, who grew up in Boise, was born to younger parents who listened to Blondie, Talking Heads and Tears for Fears. He came to Missoula 12 years ago for the music scene, after seeing new-wave rock band Volumen tear up the now-defunct Jay's Upstairs club. "It was the best time of my life compared to the other shows I'd been to," he says.
Drummer Dave Martens, originally from Havre, also got hooked on the Missoula scene after a Volumen show. The two have been avidly involved in the music scene ever since. Matts played in the glam-punk band Black Velvet Elvis and in Victory Smokes. Martens is currently in the Magpies, The Best Westerns and Rooster Sauce.
Martens met The Velcro Kicks's bass player, Ryan Scott, at a show a year ago. Scott (also in The Best Westerns) is from Texas. He played in punk bands, took a liking to At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta and at 18 got to be a roadie for a touring country band called Orange County. He moved to Missoula on a whim to live with his brother and sister-in-law. At a rock show one night, he ran into Martens. Martens was admiring Scott's Dinosaur Jr. T-shirt. ("I had met J. Mascis once," says Martens, "and he was a dick. But it was still an awesome moment for me.") They played in a band called Streetlight People with singer Fletcher Reveley, who ended up being the first bassist for The Velcro Kicks before Scott took the reins. No surpriseMissoula's a town full of musical cross-pollinators.
Matts is The Velcro Kicks's main songwriter and he's an experimental sort, as evidenced by a couple of the band's YouTube videos. A video for their song "On the Floor/Out the Door" uses an old 1950s clip of a conservative father-knows-best businessman listening to his reel-to-reel tape recorder in the comfort of his living room. "I get perfect hi-fidelity," the man says to the viewing audience. "Still, my work is confined to stacking records or loading tapes, clicking a switch and listening. And what listening!" The man smiles euphorically and just for a moment we hear the uplifting swell of orchestral music, which is quickly drowned out by The Velcro Kicks's dirty garage raucousness.
The video for "Only Omega" also uses old clipsthis one is some sort of anti-porn propaganda, showing pin-up and Playboy girls with censored tape over their eyes and intimate parts. This song, like "On the Floor," feels like a social statement. But Matts is most interested in the aesthetic contrasts between video and song. Even the song itself is texture rather than story.
"The whole idea behind 'Only Omega' was that it was supposed to be a sound explosion," he says. "It's not really about the content, it's more feeling. That's the motivation. Sometimes it's hard to pin down specific words I'm saying. The words start to set in after a whilebut it's all subject to change. And in that process the words start to lose their meaning."
Listening to the cassette tape is less like hearing a story than experiencing a strange dream. Within the stomping, creeping garage-rock sound are surprising details: mathy riffs, brassy horn samples that spring forth momentarily, snappy beats suffocated by something like a wind tunnel. Casual moments give way to franticness. (Side B is all sound collage made by Matts with Raisin Bran marketing slogans punctuated by cool bass lines, for instance.)
Cassette tapes are on the rise, barely. Some small labels have started specializing in tape. Locals such as 10-Year-Old Girlfriend and The Whoopass Girls, among others, are on the cassette train. It was a convenient format for Matts: "I have a Walkman, so it's okay, and then my car had a tape deck, so that's all I was listening to anyway," he says. Scott drove around to five thrift stores one Saturday and still couldn't find even a crappy cassette deck. That could change if the cassette has a comeback like vinyl has.
The Velcro Kicks make a good live show, too. This isn't heady art rock, it's hedonism and you can tell they're in it for the fun. Their collage-like weirdness and laissez-faire attitude makes cookie-cutter shows out of the question, which is a good thing.
"Every time we practice a song, it has to have a different ending," says Martens. "It's not a pet peeve. I just forget how we end things, because it's always changing."
The Velcro Kicks play the VFW Saturday, March 24, at 9 PM, opening with Shahs for Olympia, Wash.'s Naomi Watts and Grease Kitten. $3.