By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
By Matt Coker
By Vickie Chang
By Matt Coker
By LP Hastings
By Michael Goldstein
By R. Scott Moxley
"We bumped up a notch every night," Lohrman says. "We'd go to my house, get all lit up on speed—I wouldn't let anybody drink before shows. And every night a big turnout of friends—junkies, degenerates, drunks, faggots—would just go fucking crazy. A whole army. The first six shows were ambulances, cops in riot gear, fire trucks. Finally, some excitement!"
This lineup recorded in Chula Vista, but the tapes were unusable—ambient static shredded the vocals. A minor setback. They kept moving, to a live recording at the long-gone Butt Cave in Santa Ana. Halfway through the set, the power cuts, but Sleeper keeps playing, certain that the venue is kicking them out. The kids go crazy, screaming and shrieking in the dark.
Their first release was just one song on a comp—"I Just Wanna Fuck," to support their first mini-tour. Witmer and Lohrman and Sleeper were ready to go; Logan and Retarded Ron weren't. So Logan and Retarded Ron were out and a guy named Pete Archer—who'd been seeing the Stitches since they started, and whose band Corrupted Ideals wasn't going so well since he started dating the singer's wife—was happy to join.
"I thought they were the best band I'd ever seen," says Archer. Born on Whitby Island in Washington state, Archer moved to Anaheim and spent his childhood there. Of his four closest friends who used to play in the dried-up Santa Ana riverbed with him, three committed suicide and one became a tranny. He says, "I'm the only one who never ate the morning glory [that grows there], that's my theory."
As a kid, he was obsessed with Kiss; he'd later trade jackets with scat-punk legend G.G. Allin, which, in punk terms, is like swapping hats with the pope. Archer doesn't talk much, but he'd been seeing the Stitches all summer and finally told Lohrman he wished he could be in the band. Lohrman asked him to join for the tour . . . with Corrupted Ideals as support act.
"That was a little uncomfortable," says Archer. He sat knee-to-knee in the back of Lohrman's truck with the band he'd just quit and the guy whose wife he'd just started dating, knee-to-knee, all the way to San Francisco. That was the start of the Stitches. And when they got back from tour, they recorded their first single, "Sixteen."
So this is the early days of the Stitches. Or, says Witmer, "The best days!" After "Sixteen," Lohrman's own Vinyl Dog Records would start the initial run of Stitches singles, ratty classics like "Vibrator Buzz" and "Talk Sick." And as OC punk, inspired by the snowballing Offspring, developed delusions of stardom, the Stitches dug in their heels and went underground.
"They changed the direction of OC punk," says Rick Bain, co-owner of Huntington's Hostage Records. "While everybody was busy chasing down the cash and making stale CDs, the Stitches came along, made some of the greatest music ever, and left it on vinyl. They made you sit down and listen. If you didn't have a turntable, you lose."
It was the same camaraderie Sleeper talked about, when he'd cross the street to talk to a stranger with a Clash shirt, except now they'd be wearing a Stitches shirt. The band had done everything the old-fashioned way, and they built an old-fashioned following.
Gabe Hart was in high school then, just starting a band called the Starvations. Lohrman told him to drop out of school. ("We were instant friends after that," he says.) To him, the Stitches charted a shadow history of Orange County music that had nothing to do with whatever was getting played on the radio. The Stitches had paranoia, a sense of danger, the hyperactivity and the confident, stubborn sense of identity.
"They captured the whole fucking seedy underbelly of OC that was actually going on at that time," Hart says. "At that time, if you were into punk rock, you'd still get called a faggot for looking weird. But at a Stitches show, you got to know people—they definitely brought people together. Like, 'Fuck, where have you been all my life?' And it was something everyone recognized as real. They stole punk back from all the jocks and snowboarders."
It wasn't supposed to last more than six months, says Archer now. He'd given away all his ultra-rare test pressings to his friends because he thought they didn't matter. But the Stitches blitzkrieg live shows and barbed-wire singles had tapped into something primal. You hear it again and again and again, from people who've been following the band for all 10 years: there was nothing, there was nothing, there was nothing and then there was the Stitches. The Offspring could have the radio—the Stitches would take the real world.
"We played this place they used to play," says Sleeper, "J.J.'s, in Orange, and at the time, the Offspring were totally on the radio. The whole floor was covered with shattered glass and at the time I played barefoot. The owner came out because we had to stop playing and he was trying to grab my hands, and I jumped over the drum set, was rolling around barefoot in shards of shattered glass, yelling at the guy, 'Don't touch me! DON'T TOUCH ME!' And I remember thinking, 'Yeah, the Offspring used to play here—but not like this.'"
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