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Aesthetically, Wreckin' Katz are easily pegged as a psychobilly squad. They take pride in their textbook, greaser-punk exterior: tight black jeans; big, studded belts; sleeveless vests; and tatted-up arms.They pen lyrics about lost sanity and burning stuff.
Musically, however, you'd better be ready to hear some thrash. Vince Salazar, Alex Carrillo and Vic Chavez cite Iron Maiden, Bad Brains and Bad Religion among their primary influences. The only thing remotely rockabilly about them is the dude with an Elvis quaff singing lead vocal and slapping the shit out of an upright bass with speed-freak intensity. He revels in standing on the thing, just brutalizing it, playing eighth notes at 220 bpm.
Salazar, 23, the de facto leader of Wreckin' Katz, is the only original member of the band he started some five years ago, shortly after graduating from Etiwanda High School. Seven months ago, Salazar's primary cohort and co-founder, guitarist Jeremy Ecks from Fontana, dropped out of the band, sidelined by chronic soreness in his hand. Ecks can still play guitar, he says, just not every day — and Wreckin' Katz have become an everyday thing.
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Indeed, Salazar keeps the band on the grind. He's gone through a dozen drummers, one of whom quit, Salazar says, "because he said we played too many shows." Typically, the guys play weekly, sometimes twice, mostly around the dive club scene mainly in Orange County and the Inland Empire. But recently, they've gotten gigs at LA venues the House of Blues and the Whisky A Go Go, plus this year's Hootenanny at Oak Canyon Ranch. Things are on the upswing.
Chavez, the current drummer, handles all of the band's bookings, though Ecks' name is still listed on their Myspace as the contact. They do their own press, too, a blitz of phone calls to editors and writers—totally old-school, yet totally effective. That is, until Chavez breaks his phone. Then, whoever's covering the story is shit out of luck. But that's life on the DIY scene, where these guys are entrenched like the Hungarian infantry.
Salazar says their long-awaited debut LP is almost finished. It's to be self-titled (like the EP they have out right now) and documents their day-to-day lives, which might sound strange for a psychobilly group.
"The songs are life stories that I've personally lived or heard from close friends and family," he says. "A lot of bands in our genre focus on Halloween, zombies and horror monsters, but we focus on the horror of actual life, such as murder, suicide and heartache."
This, along with the overdriven James Hetfield-style guitar riffing, gives Wreckin' Katz the makings of a classic, high-octane thrash group, but that's not really what Salazar is after with the music. "It was always meant to be a psychobilly band; we don't really listen to much thrash music," he says. "I'm very into old '80s punk rock; Vic is into '80s hair metal, and [guitarist] Alex is very into death metal. But we listen to a collection of many different genres; we don't like to be musically close-minded."
Nobody can accuse Wreckin' Katz of musical closed-mindedness if for no other reason than Salazar's prowess on the upright bass, which when all is told, is the coolest aspect of the group, with him and Carrillo climbing on it during tunes, and Salazar shredding other bands' four-stringers during mid-show bass-offs. It's a sight to behold, fueling already-intense music.
"I got into [upright] because of the sound it makes," Salazar says plainly. "I was hooked the moment I first heard one. It's an amazing instrument."
This column appeared in print as "Upright Psychobilly Brigade."