You know the opening credits of That '70s Show, where the cast of characters shout along to the Todd Griffin cover of Cheap Trick's "In the Street" while crammed in a car? It's an instant flashback to the heyday of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and a sound and attitude embodied by San Francisco outfit Modern Kicks. The glam-rockers sport denim, leather, and shag haircuts, employing melodic hooks glittered with playful come-ons in KISS-style anthems -- a song like "Crew 'n' Up" offers lyrical flirtations over the formulaic rock: all hot guitar licks and fist-pumping beats.
Modern Kicks play with Black Mambas and The Lady Killers at the Hemlock this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. for $7. Expect a set that's short and sweet -- and all about the party. Anthony Abuse, lead singer and guitarist, sat with SF Weekly to discuss ghost riding the whip, feeling like Magic Mike, and working at Sears while having a mullet. Check out their latest single from the upcoming seven-inch to release on Little T&A Records in June.
Modern Kicks just got back from tour where you played South By Southwest. Any memorable moments from that tour?
Oh yeah. We pulled off in New Mexico tired, hungry, hungover -- just out of our minds from driving all night from Arizona on the way to South By. We were at a truck stop and there was a fireworks stand -- and I love fireworks. So we bought a shitload and started shooting them at each other. The park rangers were nearby and started yelling. I shifted the van in drive. We started ghost riding the whip, in New Mexico, at some truck stop, while shooting fireworks at the park rangers, and just wreaking havoc. As the van drives away, we were just shouting, yelling, being rambunctious and stupid. Everyone was smiling and ecstatic, and I was like, "Alright I wouldn't be anywhere else with any other group of dudes than these guys. We're like thousands of miles from home, and it still feels like home."
What about the shows on the tour?
We played in Santa Barbara on the first night, and there were like 10 or 15 people tops. But everyone in that club was so stoked, and we played, and we killed it. Andrew [guitar] is like the craziest guy on stage. He'll jump up on the bar and take shots while he's doing a solo -- whatever. These older ladies were shaking it, and started throwing money at us. I felt like a stripper, like Magic Mike, you know? It was funny because it was so random, but so nice. Just seeing how these people are feeling what we're throwing down and giving it right back. Not to get all hippie about it, but we felt their aura and they felt ours. It was a really good moment, vibing with all the boys.
Tour sounds pretty wild? Do you guys consider yourselves to be a party band?
If people want to get down and party with a bunch of girl-jean wearing, mullet-having fools, then we're the boys to do it with, and that's how I see it: Entertain people and get them stoked about what we're doing. We'll bring the party wherever anyone's at.
Do you worry about listeners or audiences at shows thinking it's all a gimmick?
We always try to be that fun band. For the most part, we just want to play music, and that's what's important: making good rock 'n' roll music. But that anthem rock, that's what we're going for with the gang vocals where everyone's chanting. I always thought "Crew 'n' Up" was a rock 'n' roll song with a punk influence, and that's where it ended up. All of us played in punk bands, and we know that style of songwriting. We just took that, cleaned it up, and made it a little prettier with the melodic, catchy hooks.
How has the Bay Area scene treated you?
Oakland and San Francisco have a cool garage band scene, but there's a lot of finding which crowds you can play for, and which you just don't. Because when you play a show at 50 Mason Club with a college funk band on a Tuesday night, it's just kinda like, "Man, I'm wasting my time." It's fun to play, always, but there's only so much of that you can take before you realize it's not doing anything for your band. But we can play a show and have there be 20 people and have the best show ever. Or we can have 100-plus people -- but they don't give a shit. Those are the shows where everyone's on their phone, texting, posting their pictures on Instagram, or talking shit. It's like, "Dude, there's a killer band right in front of your face. Are you here to see the band or are you here to drink?" It's like a double edge sword: You can appease them and play the show, and have them be annoying, or, you can call them out on their shit, and end up playing for no one because everyone leaves.
Does Modern Kicks plan on continuing to tour heavily?
We are all kind of in the same realm. Steve [bass] and Sean [drums] work at Raley's, and Andrew [guitar] works at cafe. I work at Sears, so I gotta stand around trying to sell people refrigerators while having a mullet. It pays the bills and gives us the money to buy the equipment we need. There's no time to wait or whine and complain about money. We all have full-time jobs, and yeah, it sucks, but I'll work my ass off for two months straight if I can go on tour for two weeks. We haven't done anything that big yet, but I'm up for it man. You never have enough money, but that's the fun of it. You go on tour anyway. Just fucking figure it out and make it happen. I want to see how far we can take this band.