Some names immediately sound punk. Slug Guts is one of them. The name showed up randomly in my inbox, but the moment I saw it, it began to gnaw at me. Eventually, there was nothing to do but find out everything about the band. After determining that there is a pretty unmanageable fourteen hour time difference between Brisbane and Atlanta, Slug Guts leader Jimi Kretzler and I agreed on an e-mail interview. I sent out a list of questions and crossed my fingers. In my five years of music writing, Nels Cline is the only good e-mail interview I’ve ever done- Tjinder Singh claimed to have been abducted by a UFO over e-mail. Sea Wolf returned responses so short that any interview created from them would have been as padded as a public school meatloaf. Interesting point, that, as what I received from Kretzler was just as punk rock as his band’s name. The answers were fragmented, and infused with the kind of snark and bravado that made them at once brilliant and nearly unusable. Rather than beloabor the point and whine for confirmation, what follows is the essence of Kretzler and Slug Guts- probably everything you need to know about the band before it becomes the next Australian act to conquer the United States.
According to Kretzler, Slug Guts “met in juvy. Me, J.D. and Falco were all sent there during our high school years for various things. In there we met Nick, who was a heavy figure at the time and showed us the ropes. He later became our saxophonist.” The band hails from Brisbane, but Kretzler is slow to embrace his city, preferring to hold his tongue about any influence the city’s vibrant music scene has had on the band. Until those in charge in Brisbane “name a bridge after us, we will never acknowledge the influence the city did or didn’t have on us.”
The next obvious line of questiniong is about the band’s name. There are better and worse names, but few, at least in the short term, are as immediately memorable. It’s a relatively brilliant combination of words; something about the abutting “g’s” makes it fun to say. I found it popping into my head randomly for days after my initial encounter. This is the holy grail for marketing departments every where, but if focus groups and market research was involved on any level, Kretzler’s not talking. When posed a question about the origin of the name, Kretlzer said the band “lost a bet with this mafioso guy/fruit shop owner and were forced to run with it.” Kretzler is also circumspect about the effect his band’s unique name has had on its fortunes. He says the band’s name was “always Slug Guts; we never really thought too much about it.” Asked if there was perhaps a hold out among the band who sought something a little more conventional, Kretzler again offers that nobody in the band had much to say on the topic, and that “it’s kind of too late now even if they did.” Kretzler further admits that he “has no idea” about the impact of his band’s name on its eventual fortunes.
Slug Guts’ style of music has proved as confounding as its name. The band has a sound that is slightly retro, but much too heavy to be simply nostalgia. Kretzler says he plays “really simple, to the point of stupid, primitive caveman music.” The closest comparison with stateside bands would be the Black Keys or Jeff the Brotherhood with a heavier Stooges influence, but that’s open to interpretation. The term “punk noir” is also being thrown around, and while it sounds exotic, even Kretzler admits that he “doesn’t understand the term.” He adds that “we don’t have ‘punk noir’ in Australia.” It would probably just be even more confusing to note that it was invented for his band.
The ethos of Slug Guts comes into slightly sharper focus when Kretzler discusses his influences. He first offers Abo Henry and Neddy Smith, who sound like a marginally successful folk music duo. Smith is in fact a six foot six criminal celebrity in the vein of famous English hard man Charles Bronson, but with the added cachet (maybe?) of having been convicted of two murders and ruling a genuine reign of terror for a good part of the Eighties. Henry served as Smith’s partner in crime for most of the decade, adding whatever muscle was needed. Choosing this pair dovetails a little with the “punk noir” label, but the musical influences Kretzler gives are a little more telling. He independently mentions the Stooges as a band he’d love to play with; his second choice is outlaw troubador Townes Van Zandt, whose habit of living harder than his songs seems like something that would interest Kretzler, even if only from an academic standpoint. And while neither pairing is necessarily likely, it adds yet another musical dimension to the increasingly complicated Slug Guts palette. I offer a theoretical pairing with Social Distortion, and Kretzler responds cryptically: “I feel like a gun is usesless without bullets.” Kretzler responded similarly when asked about an influence that’s less obvious; he offered up Brisbane’s Bird Blobs, a band that would seem a natural fit with Slug Guts approach to music. Kretzler perhaps says more with his joke answer than he means- the tossed off response to fans and critics determined to make him a derivative of a past artist is indicative of his larger viewpoint as an artist.
No matter how his band is received in his homeland, Kretzler clearly has his eyes focused on the United States, a place that, even with the sarcasm that characterizes his correspondence, he describes as “our holy land. Everything, every idea, every indulgence can be fulfilled with minimal fuss in your country. We plan on all moving to New Orleans next year and ceasing to be friends.” He reiterates that he might not be joking, as “after two weeks on tour we often find we are close to breaking up and our spirits and health is definitely broken.” But even if the band ends up claiming different sectors of the city and spends its golden years watching the Saints and seeking out jamblaya specials, Kretzler has a plan that insures Slug Guts will remain together for eternity: “I want a 401K and a gold watch, and tombstones for all of us which read “He meant well.” When we’re all buried together, I can bum (band member) Nick Kuceli out forever, and so J.D. knows that even in death he can’t escape Falco.”