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Gunk Rock

Gunk Rock

Kevin J. Elliott

In his 2010 tome We Never Learn, author Eric Davidson didn’t set out to write a history book. His mission was humble; he wanted to devote ink to the “undergut” of punk and bands like the Dwarves, the Gories, Supersuckers, and Guitar Wolf, who existed between the genre’s vintage era and the rise of grunge and Green Day. These were tales of the “gunk” that had been forgotten, but were essential in forging the “garage” sound so currently en vogue. Of course, the New Bomb Turks, who Davidson has fronted with his flamboyant throat for 26 years, play a huge role in the narrative.

There’s never been any doubt who spearheaded High Street’s ’90s punk renaissance.

Gaunt may have brought it to the masses with more melody and a brief dalliance with Warner Bros., and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments may have mutilated it to anthemic extremes, but it was the New Bomb Turks who cleared the overgrowth with a figurative machete that the rest of the Midwest was still trying to sharpen. For many around the world—not just campus dives—the New Bomb Turks were a strain of raw “gunk” punk—both cathartic and campy—that still resonates.

Never in a reunion mindset, the quartet—including Jim Weber on guitar, Matt Reber on bass, and Sam Brown on drums (who replaced original drummer Bill Randt in 1999)—which originated in the dorms of OSU, stay fit with frequent jaunts to European festivals and terrestrial punk extravaganzas, even if they haven’t released an album since 2002’s The Night the Day the Earth Stood Still. When the Turks take the stage as headliners at this month’s Sick Weekend, they’ll be surrounded by bands half their age who owe them a debt of gratitude for blazing and maintaining the trail.

(614) recently spoke with Davidson about the band’s upcoming show and their status in Columbus as pioneers who have yet to switch off the lights.

To what do you attribute the Turks’ longevity?

I think basically, along the way, we avoided a lot of the classic downfalls of rock bands. No one in the band died of an overdose, there was never a huge spat that caused decades-long grudges, and if there’s a good thing about never having a huge hit and becoming a household name, it’s that there wasn’t that kind of weird, depressing downfall that makes you want to never revisit it all again. So a couple of times a year, if someone has a good party or a fest they can fly us to, it’s fun to get together, maybe come up with a new cover tune, and try to keep the flame of the music we like burning a little while longer.

Being on Epitaph Records (Bad Religion, Rancid, the Offspring) in the ’90s, was there any pressure to produce something that transcended what you had already done?

We might have tried to put a little pressure on ourselves, because we didn’t want to always just remake the same exact record. But that was just to keep things interesting, stay fresh artistically, and try different things. We trusted ourselves as a band, I guess, to weld together albums we liked, and figured our fan base would go along with us. I should note that I am speaking for myself here, but I always thought we would have to change our sound a lot to “get on the radio,” which would take some time, and then whatever zeitgeist or trend was around that got you signed would have passed. I felt that most of the bands we loved, were primarily inspired by, and we were compared to back then, like the Saints, the Ramones, Dead Boys, Pagans, Devil Dogs, Replacements, and the Lazy Cowgirls, never had huge hits, so why would we all of a sudden have one? And no, I am not saying we were as good as those bands.

What keeps you going? Are there bands around who motivate you?

Oh yeah, I mean there are always cool bands that pop up. I have to admit that personally, working as an editor at a music site, I have no idea where music is going, as far as distribution, consumption, and how music will influence the lives of children growing up right now, into the future. One friend said he thinks music will just be like pants or toilet paper, just another thing to buy online. That’s weird to me, and doesn’t keep me going. But, you might also assume that having to sift through endless press releases every day, of probably 80 percent total crap bands, would kill my interest. But is has not. Good tunes and fun bands always seem to come along at just the right time, and as usual for me, it’s a bunch of bands no one gives a crap about, so I’m not going to list my 10 Favorite New Bands, or whatever.

What do you hope the legacy of New Bomb Turks will be once it’s all said and done?

I just hope that we, again, along with others, helped keep alive the notion of punk rock as a raw music with a sense of humor and perspective that can get lost sometimes. I often see “punk” being described first as political ideology or fashion directive before the, you know, music is actually mentioned. To us, the Saints are a perfect punk band. But as they say, history is written by the winners. Just make sure you get your 12-year-old nephew an Australian ’70s punk comp for his or her birthday.

The New Bomb Turks play the three-day Sick Weekend Festival on Friday, March 25 at Ace of Cups. Visit for tickets and a complete list of bands.


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