By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
Heather Anderson, 23-year-old drummer for the Blast Rocks!!!, has an unusual way of setting up her kit: She tapes it together. Of course, it helps that her kit consists of a glass jar, a cookie tin, and a large rubber trash can.
"We had a trash can laying around and didn't have money for a drum kit and it sounded pretty good," guitarist Nick Campbell, 27, says in explanation.
The Blast Rocks!!! -- Anderson, Campbell, and 22-year-old keyboardist Sandra Yang -- are sitting patiently in the Presidio Bowling Alley lounge, waiting for their lane number to be called. The trio doesn't quite fit in here, among the J. Crew-clothed yuppies and the vacated military quarters. Actually, the band has the most in common with the aging counter jockey who calls out, "I forgot your name but you tipped me real good," when someone's chicken wings are ready. Two of the three bandmates are sporting helter-skelter haircuts that would give mope-rocker and bad-hair practitioner Elliott Smith pause.
Saturday, Feb. 17, at 9:30 p.m. With Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Cass McCombs, the Silents, and Baby Rat Love. Tickets are $5; call 885-4535.
Sample of "Robot," by The Blast Rocks!!! Click the "play" icon in the control console below.
But that's what rock 'n' roll is all about, right? Looking like you haven't had to time to fix your hair since you had sex in the bathroom five minutes ago. But the Blast Rocks!!! are different. The band members don't want to sell a million records, play the Fillmore, or hang out with strippers; they just want to have fun. And sing about zombies and bash on trash cans. Oh, and if something subversive comes out of the goofy racket they make, that's fine, too.
The Blast Rocks!!! wouldn't exist if it weren't for Ms. Pac-Man. Nick Campbell was addicted to the video game, and in late 1998 he began playing a tabletop version at Gaylord's Cafe Espresso on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Heather Anderson worked at the cafe, and one day she challenged Campbell to a duel. They hit it off -- and began trying to write a Ms. Pac-Man song.
Campbell had moved to the Bay Area from Albuquerque in the summer of 1997 and was already in a band with his friend Will Eskridge. "We were fed up with take-yourself-serious types of bands and wanted to do something fun -- fun to watch, fun to be in," Campbell says.
One day in March 1999, Campbell took Anderson to Eskridge's house in the Tenderloin to try to write some songs. Up to this point, Anderson's musical training consisted of playing in a guitar group when she was 5, taking piano lessons during grade school, and tootling on the trumpet for her junior high band. But Campbell knew she had what it took to be a drummer. "I could tell she had a good sense of rhythm. She was always knocking on Tupperware," he laughs.
For inspiration, the trio went to a nearby corner store. "It had the strongest coffee in the world. We all got wired and went crazy!" Campbell says. Using a broken keyboard they pulled from a dumpster, the trio wrote and recorded one song, "Blast Off."
"It's about all these things we liked, these all-American things -- fast, jacked-up cars, flags blowin' in the wind, and UFOs," Campbell says enthusiastically. "It kind of didn't make any sense, but we liked it."
Excited by the raucous tune, the trio decided to write enough numbers to play a set for Anderson's upcoming birthday party at the 40th Street Warehouse in Oakland. By the time of the show, the threesome had seven completed songs, and Eskridge made tapes to sell. Each one came with trading cards featuring vital statistics and photos of the band members, including one of Eskridge mooning the camera.
"We made 20 to 30 tapes and we got rid of them all," Campbell says in amazement. "I didn't think anyone would want one but they were fighting over them."
A second gig at a house party in San Francisco proved surprisingly successful, with the crowd responding to the band's kinetic energy and geeky tunes. Unfortunately, Eskridge moved back to North Carolina soon thereafter. After a couple of practices as a duo, Campbell and Anderson decided they needed another member.
Sandra Yang had been at the first Blast Rocks!!! show; afterward, a drunk Campbell had even asked her to join the band. So when the duo ran into her at the Ruby Room months later and asked her again, she agreed to give it a try.
"The only reservations we had were that we wouldn't have the same wacky chemistry with Sandra," Campbell says. "She was pretty subdued in practice, and then when we got to the gig, on our first song, she grabbed the mike and was going crazy! We still had that kooky energy but now we were more raw."
Around this time recording engineer Ricardo Esway took a listen to the band's tape. "It was so much fun -- just stripped down and childlike," he recalls. "So many people take music so seriously and so pretentiously. But [the Blast Rocks!!!] make really good pop songs in a spastic, destructive way."
Esway persuaded the trio to record at his home studio, which was initially in his kitchen. (What better place for a band whose drummer cut her teeth on plastic goods?) The result was You're Fired, an album that fuses the soul and structure of oldies with silly lyrics and a whole lot of aggression. The band even came up with a name for its trashy sound: junkyard rock.