Jonah Ray: To All the Bands I’ve Had Before….
Looking back at a formative time in his music life
I started playing drums in the fourth grade. All I wanted to be at the time was the drummer for Metallica. Just to be clear, I didn’t want to be Lars. I just had this fantasy leading up to my first-ever Metallica concert that Lars [Ulrich] would somehow see me on the upper lodge of the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu and go “YOU!” Everybody would stop down. James [Hetfield] would shield his eyes from the stage lights to see who Lars was pointing at. Kirk [Hammett] would smile knowingly, because he too must’ve seen me and just “knew maaaaan.” The whole crowd would turn up to see me, the 11-year-old kid flanked by his brother and older cousin Kalani (our chaperone for the night). The 11-year-old boy sitting directly behind the bored Japanese businessmen who hadn’t headbanged ONCE during the show, not even during the double bass drum hook of “ONE.”
Lars would say it again: “YOU!” A spotlight somehow finds me, I’m wearing the ENTER SANDMAN shirt I just purchased with my parents’ money on top of the two other t-shirts I wore to the show. In shock, I give a cliched look behind me, then back at Lars and mouth the words “who…me?” As if this was a teen romantic comedy and the coolest kid in school just saw me at a party and asked me to dance. Oddly, a constant theme in my media consumption as a kid was to imagine myself as the girl who was desired in a movie or sung about in song.
Needy from an early age.
“YEAH, YOU!” Lars continues. He’s already shirtless by the way. “You look like a kid that can come down here and rip it up on the skins to our cover of Black Sabbath’s IRON MAN!” Honestly, I don’t know if Metallica ever covered “Iron Man,” but in this fantasy, they ask me to play the drums to a song I can actually KINDA play — at least the beginning.
Practical in my fantasies from an early age.
Oddly, that’s where the fantasy ends.
I would go on to start a ton of bands from the ages of 11 to 19. Some never played a show, some never should’ve. But here, from my recollection, is the gist of them.
IAN & JONAH: The first time I ever played drums in front of people was at the St. Anthony’s talent show in Kailua. I became friends with a kid who “played” the saxophone. We both took lessons at the same place, Rock Works Hawaii. I always felt it was odd to name creative spaces as if they were making some sort of product: Rock Works Cement! Laugh Factory Gas! Comedy Store Clown Equipment! The only lessons I remember getting were to learn how to play “Proud Mary.” Ian (I think that was his name) played a VERY terrible version of “TEQUILA” with all the SQUEAKS and SKWONKS that would burst out of a novice’s saxophone. All of it in front of our elementary school who ALL sang along. I just realized how odd that is. I wonder if in 20 years some kids will do a performance of “W.A.P.?”
THE JU-JU-BEES: My friend Donald and I got really into alternative rock and eventually punk/hardcore. I don’t know if we ever finished any songs outside of a parody of “Anarchy In The UK” called “Anarchy For The Pizza Guy.” We knew that was a thing to cover since GREEN JELLO had done their own version called “Anarchy In Bedrock” about the Flintstones, a year before Weird Al’s Red Hot Chili Peppers parody “Bedrock Anthem.” Ours was an ode to the pizza guys we would pull “friendly pranks” on like dressing up the house as if it’s Halloween in June and answer the door like two kids who killed their parents and kept it Halloween forever. Or was it that we were forced? I can’t remember the in’s and out’s of this bit. But whatever the “prank” turned out to be the reaction was always the same: Nonplussed.
SPOON: Now, we didn’t know there was a band called SPOON. It was a few kids from my school trying to come up with a band for another talent show. We were all very much into THE TICK. So we made a song with the chorus of “SPOON! SPOON! Using it helps us through the GLOOM!”…yikes. We didn’t get into the talent show. Also, because the audition went long, I was late for a tech rehearsal for a play I was in called BOYS n’ GHOULS. I played Sweetie, a giant ape. When I walked into the theater 30 minutes later than I should’ve been, the angry British director asked why I was late. “I was auditioning for the talent show.” Thinking he would admire my versatility as an artist. I thought he would say “Wow, you can do it all!” But his response was “The guy in this play with the least amount of talent auditioning for a talent show, how about that?” I’ve seen footage of me in that play. He’s not wrong. I mean, how to do you fuck up playing an ape that just runs in three times throughout the play? By doing what I did more than once: forget to put on the mask. Just a large, black furry ape body…with a chubby, bespectacled Childs face at the top. SPOON!
GOD.OUR.DICTATOR: Spazzy, Screamy hardcore trying to sound like EYEHATEGOD. Now, this was a BIG one for me. I had just started going to punk shows (as written about HERE) and I decided that for my birthday, instead of a PARTY, I was gonna throw a show at my house. My parents — who are the coolest — approved. They said that I had to tell the neighbors and swing by the police station to let them know I was going to have a rock show from 6-9 pm SHARP. I asked my favorite local bands: The Sticklers, Tweaked, The Pettyfords, and COOPERSTOWN. At the end of the night, the show a success. I asked Rolando (drummer of Cooperstown) if I could play his drum kit. He was very sweet and let me hop on for a bit. Two days later, Josh Benton from Cooperstown called and said he had another band that needed a drummer. I’m realizing now that I was probably asked NOT because of my abilities that night, but because I lived close to the other members and had a garage to practice in. It reminded me of when my dad talked about his band in high school “I technically played the bass. But, my main instrument was ‘The only guy with a truck.’”
So I got to join my first “OFFICIAL” band and even played my FIRST real punk show. Like, people actually paid five bucks to get in. They may have not paid attention, but it was HUGE for me. I just recently found a video of it and to say I look scared is putting it kindly.
(14 years old)
THE YER OUTS: This was a band that added two extra members for the sole purpose to not leave out anybody in our friend group. We called them MONKEY BOYS and they sang backups. We loved Screeching Weasel, Dillinger Four, and THE BANANAS. The Yer-Outs first song was about HOME ALONE and the rest were TERRIBLY offensive. The kind that can only be written when you are TRYING to be offensive teenage boys. Our singer was Raph, who was known for shitting on a napkin and hiding it in your room. One time, he smeared it on our friend’s car. Later that day, that kid attacked Raph with nunchucks. It was on the day we were going to take the cover photo for our seven-inch on Wet Noodle Records. Raph had a scuffed chin from the attack. The original name of the record was supposed to be called MENENDEZ: LIVE with artwork being a drawing of a live play of the Menendez Brothers shooting their parents. Dave Noodle, rightfully, said “Jesus, no. Pick something else.” Raph then felt his creativity was being stifled and had me call Dave to say we wouldn’t be putting out the record with him. Jokes on us…the thing never came out at all. I guess that’s what we get for trying to be shitty within every single aspect of the band.
36 CHAMBERS: A very serious, politically minded, straight edge, vegan, hardcore band. Everybody in the band wore kung-fu gis they bought in Chinatown. Except me. I tried the only one that fit me, and since I was a kid of LARGE stature both vertically and horizontally it just looked like I was wearing a shiny curtain. So, I opted to just wear my Weird Al shirt. I was the youngest member in the band and felt out of place the entire time. We had a message of animal rights, human rights, anti-war, and anti-American imperialism. We’d even put up PETA posters of vivisected animals at the FREE MUMIA benefit shows we seemed to play on a monthly basis. I felt our shows were so preachy and violent that I started to go up on stage after our sets to recite funny poems I had written with titles like “FAT BOY CURSE,” “EVERY GIRL HATES ME,” “HOT DOG VIOLENCE” and “YOU PUNK ROCK GREEN BANANA.” We ended up getting quite a following in the scene. Influences were a combination of our favorite stuff at the time: Botch, Coalesce, Born Against, The Locust, and Avail.
QUARTERHEAD: This band set out to be fun for us, weird on purpose, and irritating to most. As we all got older we started to listen to weirder stuff like Captain Beefheart and Zappa. But at the same time, new dance-punk was starting to come out like Q AND NOT U and THE FAINT but we acted confident and sassy, trying to emulate bands like Nation of Ulysses and Party of Helicopters. We all wore polyester shirts and brown slacks obtained from local thrift shops. People for the most part hated us. The name came from when a few of the members saw an afternoon screening of M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S THE SIXTH SENSE. As they were waiting for the movie to start a bald man sat in front of them. Stuck to the back of his head was a 25-cent coin. “Clearly” they thought “He was taking a nap on a couch and in doing so, inadvertently rested his head on a quarter.” They watched it more intently than Bruce Willis helping Haley Joel Osment. It had to fall eventually, right? The guy gets up and goes to the bathroom. Comes back. IT’S STILL THERE! The movie ends, Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, the man gets up and walks out of the theater…QUARTER STILL STUCK TO HIS HEAD. That band was, if anything, a pile of inside jokes and references that can only really happen when you hang out all the time. This band eventually went on a month-long tour on the “mainland.” But that’s a story for another time.
SOCIETY’S THREAT: Much to our friend group’s confusion, there was a growing element of “gutter punks” in the Hawaii scene. Gutter punks, by and large, were from larger cities and tended to live in homeless squats while begging for change to buy Casualties and The Exploited backpatches. We knew these kids lived with their parents and found it funny. So, we started a band to parody their bands. We all dressed as “punk” as we could while giving each other nicknames like “THE RUNAWAY KID” who ran away from home because his parents tried to make him wear a collared shirt. I went with “GUTTUH” because that’s where I lived and that’s what I sounded like singing back up vocals. The drummer was Andy Skumface and the singer called himself CHUCK SHIT UP. A very clever (to us) take on the time old classic punk slogan “FUCK SHIT UP.” It was our attempt to be the Spinal Tap of the Hawaii punk scene. We built a whole world for ourselves including a fictitious pub where we were the house band. The songs were as simple as possible with titles like: “THE BOYS IN BLUE (WE’RE COMING AFTER YOU),” “ALL THE PUNKS AND ALL THE SKINS (ARE GOING OUT TONIGHT),” “FUCK. SHIT. UP. (BEER).” And our heartbroken ballad in the style of Swingin’ Utters “Nuthin’ Better 2 Do (Drink Another Brew).” Wow, lot’s of (parentheticals).
DAS MUCHACHOS: I had graduated from high school, started drinking, and moved to Kaimuki on the “town” side of Oahu. I wanted to be in a band that was simple and fun and sounded like ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT and THE HELLACOPTERS. So, with Dave Noodle, Brian Baldwin, Trina, and our lead singer Mish, we started a band called THE MUCHACHOS. I suggested there were too many “THE” bands and that we should cross-pollinate the language by calling ourselves DAS MUCHACHOS. Mish, our singer, couldn’t have been more than 4’10.” A tough, Asian, rockabilly punk who would wield a light-up dildo during songs like “VELCRO BOY.” She was absolutely badass. I don’t know how this band ended. It could’ve been because I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and comedy. I think it was.
SCIENCE AND THE LAB RATS: Upon moving to L.A., I immediately psyched myself out of trying to act. The city was too new, too big, too scary. I retreated to what I knew: The world of punk. I auditioned to replace the drummer for San Pedro mainstays TOYS THAT KILL. But, for reasons like “his cymbals were too small” I was not asked to join. Instead, they hired Troy from Icarus Line. Shortly after that defeat, a large, affable, crazy, dimly-lit friend of mine named Jed asked if I wanted to play with his friend SCIENCE. Jed used to play bass in F.Y.P so I was excited to be considered. Now, Science looked like if a cracked out Sam Rockwell was a dominatrix. Usually dressed, no matter what time of day, all in leather and mesh. You’d almost think he would be in that scene in SE7EN where somebody gets “fucked to death.” The songs he wrote though, were Ramones-influenced pop-punk about heartbreak. Catchy stuff if not derivative. One night, playing at what was then known as THE GARAGE (now called THE VIRGIL) we played a show while I had terrible food poisoning. At the start of a song, I puked onto the snare right as I was hitting it. The puke went everywhere…the band did not.
When I was younger, I was always jealous of bands that were able to start in high school and stick together. Upon revisiting these bands…I’m relieved that wasn’t the case. But I’m lucky they happened at all.