THE BAD CHECKS / FRANCE HAS DISCOVERED "SOUNTHERN-PUNKADELIC"
by: Todd Kerstetter (Triangle Live)
How did a Durham "Southern-Punkadelic" / "Voodoobilly" (depending on who you ask) band come to release an
album in France? I talked to Bad Checks guitarist/songwriter Robin Mann and Bad Checks producer Dick
Hodgin about this and about the band in general.
Mann, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and a zippered sweat-shirt, spoke freely and articulately while drinking a White
Russian in Durham's Anotherthyme resturant.
The Bad Checks' new album, Innocence on Vacation, will be their second piece of 12" vinyl, following 1985's
Graveyard Tramp (scheduled to be re-issued on Loretta/Lloyd St. records), which the band put out on its own
Loretta Records label.
Innocence, on the French Music Action label, appeared in France sometime in the middle of October and is
expected to arrive in the States in the near future. The album's date of arrival, the number of copies being sent
to the States and the album's price remains uncertain.
A lot of that sounds indefinate, but the Bad Checks have learned that when dealing with a records label on the
other side of the Atlantic, lines of communication can be less than desirable.
Music Action got a copy of a four-song demo tape the band sent to Europe, and was impressed enough to request
enough additional songs to fill an album. Josh Greer, former head of Dolphin Records, negotiated the deal, which
calls for Music Action to distribute the album in France, West Germany, Begium, the Netherlands and
Luxembourg. Innocence will be available in the US as an import only.
The band recorded the album in Raleigh's Jag Studios, one of the areas finest, according to Hodgin. Hodgin
teamed up with Byron McCay to engineer the album.
Mann said the deal with the French label was a result of music moguls in the States tending to overlook the music
scene in the Southeast and the Bad Checks have had favorable feedback from Europe, including airplay,
regarding Graveyard Tramp.
Innocence is a slight departure from Tramp in that the band had considerably more time not only to record, but
also to produce Innocence. Mann said the band spent about 12 hours in the studio working on Tramp, about six
hours recording and six hours producing. Innocence, however, was about three weeks in the making, and, as a
result, is a little less ragged around the edges.
Hodgin emphasized that he tried to pursuade the band to move towards what he called a "business mix." This
includes the use of reverb, delay, echo and the cleaning up of any foul language. Or, as Hodgin said, "Things
conducive to (college) radio play."
Bad Checks fans may be rolling their eyes and shaking their heads upon hearing that, but there is no cause for
alarm. The band wanted a raw, dry mix and a happy medium has been reached. Everyone was very happy with
the results and is anxious to have the album available in the States.
Hodgin played some of the songs for me in his Raleigh office, cluttered with tapes and stereo equipment. I can
assure you nothing has been lost in the translation. Innocence is Bad Checks loud and clear, especially clear -
the band's sound is clear and individual instruments are more easily distinguishable than on Tramp. This is
especially beneficial on the cuts where lead singer / gyrator Hunter Landen is turned loose with his harmonica.
Of course the rest of the band, Mann on guitar, his brother Clif on bass, and drummer Mike Griffin all come
across just fine, too.
Mann, who writes many of the band's songs, said the cuts on Innocence don't follow any one theme or try to push
any political philosophy. His lyrics just come from whatever happens to be on his mind at the time and the band
prefers to leave politics to politicians. The Bad Checks just want to play good music and have fun.
This philosophy causes some problems when people try to put a label on the band's style. They are not
neccessarily punk, hardcore, or rockabilly even though their playing incorporates some elements of those and
other styles. "Frantic" is the word Robin Mann used to describe the band's music.
When the band collectively tried to describe the Bad Checks' music, they settled on "Southern-Punkadelic,"
Hodgin likes to call it "Voodoobilly."
All the band's members are self-taught on their respective instruments, a lineup that seldom strays from the
classic rock quartet of guitar, vocals, bass and drums. Landen will occasionally blow a few bars on his harmonica,
"when he remembers to bring it," Mann said.
The band as a whole does not list any particular influence in terms of its musical development, but each member
brings his own experience and influences to the band. Mann said his own influences include just about everything
from country to Led Zepplin, heavy metal and the faster new music of the 1980s. He is especially fond of the
Gun Club's first albume and songs that are dark and brooding.
Mann said there are no plans for a tour, but that is a US label picked up the album those plans could change. For
the time being, the band will limit itself to short weekend junkets and area shows which include shows on
Halloween at the Cat's Cradle and on November 7 at the Coffeehouse on Duke's East Campus. The show at the
Coffeehouse is being promoted as the band's album release party. It should be a blast.
- from Triangle Live October 1985