By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
This column appeared in print as "Concentrated Chaos."
The Shrills sound nothing like an African-American girl group from the '60s. In fact, if the Shirelles—the group that inspired their moniker—were around to see them play at a bar somewhere, they probably would run out screaming as though the place were on fire. Upon first listen, their name obviously reflects the caustic nature of their screeching, psych-punk sound. But this brazen pack of OC weirdos manage to pay homage to the days of doo-wop in subtle whispers between the cracks of their aural chaos. The song "Morgana" from last year's Pink Hotel EP juxtaposes fluttering, rhythmic piano with werewolf howls and lyrics about a lovelorn psychopath who sleepwalks with ghosts.
They're the kind of off-kilter local band who naturally wander into the Distillery in Costa Mesa, trying to book some time. Inside the belly of this dank gem of a recording studio, a flotsam of mangled circuitry; battered, vintage amps; and the occasional fire-melted guitar litter the all-analog set-up, including a soundboard that Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" was supposedly recorded on. Parked on a couple of rusty garden chairs outside the alleyway entrance, Shrills members Dan Simmons, Zack Grimm and bassist Fabian Ruiz commiserate about what sets their band (rounded out by guitarist Dan Cano and drummer Patrick Tapia) apart from the typical flock of jangly garage groups.
"Everybody thinks they can record at their house on their laptop," Simmons says. "A lot of times, you depend on a place like this, where people know what they're doing, but they have the same mindset as you. The first couple of days, we didn't even get any work done because we were fucking around, lighting fireworks the whole time."
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That sense of mischief and mayhem has permeated the band since founding members Simmons and Grimm met as juniors at Mission Viejo High School in 2007. What started as a bizarre, David Bowie cover band eventually morphed into a full-time, all-original project in 2011; the band members had little aspiration to do anything outside of simultaneously scaring, insulting and exciting people with their music.
In the past, Simmons says, their crass, gear-busting live show caused members to quit the band while onstage. After accidentally splitting his head open by throwing his guitar up in the air at the Prospector in Long Beach, Simmons, who was bleeding profusely, got into a shouting match outside the club with one drummer who simply walked off, leaving his drum kit behind. Instances such as this make the title of their forthcoming album, Meltdown, all the more fitting.
"Most of our shows over the past year and a half have been a complete meltdown," Simmons says. "But now I think we've learned to harness all the energy of that without getting hurt really bad at a show."
Though this kind of masochism seems to border on gimmickry, the Shrills' aptitude for insanity is winning them fans, including the blues-rocking, psychotic showmen of Death Hymn Number 9 (the two bands share Tapia). On the strength of their first EP, Santa Ana garage label Resurrection Records promptly agreed to put out their full-length, which will kick off the band's tour of the Pacific Northwest this fall. Then there's the fact that the Distillery, run by legendary, eccentric soundman Mike McHugh, usually reserves its studio time for signed bands with prominent indie-label backing. Leave it to McHugh to recognize a band with heart and take them under his wing, even if they are a bit hard-headed.
"Being in Orange County, we tend to get lumped in with hipster bands who are total pussies," Simmons says. "So we went into those shows with the mindset that 'This is the band everyone is here to see, so we're gonna show them why they shouldn't look at that and think that it's the face of Orange County punk.'"