Almost-Famous OC Rock Band WANK Pull Themselves Together For a Reunion

Best band name since the Circle Jerks
Best band name since the Circle Jerks
August Sullivan

For local favorites WANK, "1998 was a whirlwind," recalls Bobby Amodeo. That year, the group went from playing ska-infused pop punk at local barrooms such as Linda's Doll Hut to full-fledged rock stardom. They signed to Madonna's Maverick Records, had KROQ and radio stations across the country spinning their single "Forgiven" in full rotation, and toured with acts including Social Distortion and the Deftones. But as quick as it came, it disappeared.

After nearly two years of major-label success, WANK dropped off the radar just shy of the millennium, leaving fans wondering if they would ever see the band again. After a long break in which band members gained experience and bassist/vocalist Amodeo survived a five-year battle with leukemia, WANK is back, ready to "come out swinging."

WANK formed in the mid-1990s, when Amodeo, guitarist Daniel Walker, Amodeo's drummer brother Spider and guitarist Billie Stevens met in high school. They first focused on cover songs, but the band members quickly developed a taste for songwriting. They started jamming on original material inspired by acts such as the Clash, the Beatles and Elvis Costello and named their group after a cassette tape of Walker's home-recorded solo tracks that he titled WANK. The guys played the Orange County club scene, which "provided a lot of fuel" for Walker, a quiet kid who learned to express himself though music. "The friendships, the people, the fun, the fights, the good and the bad" all impacted his songwriting. "Our goal was always to make music by hustling and working at it, " says Amodeo, "kind of [with] the do-it-yourself mentality."

One fateful night in Anaheim, WANK opened for New York-based band Degeneration at Linda's Doll Hut. Among the crowd of local drunks and punk enthusiasts was Fullerton legend Mike Ness, who loved what he saw and approached the band after the gig. "Mike took us under his wing," says Amodeo. "Shortly after [meeting Ness], KROQ picked up our single. [We] got on Zeke's Backyard, then Jed the Fish [made] it his 'Catch of the Day.' About a week later, [KROQ] put us in full rotation."

Their upbeat radio-friendly rock caught the attention of Maverick Records, which signed WANK in 1998. The outfit were unable to track a new record because of issues the label was having with KROQ; Maverick instead released WANK's previously self-recorded album, Get a Grip on Yourself. "That was tough, but we had no choice," says Amodeo. The band immediately hit the road.  

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"We just kept going, and in late 1999, our management company and team came to us and said that we needed a change, that we were going to leave Maverick. At that point, all of us agreed that we were going to explore other opportunities." The group amicably split. Walker went on to play with local favorite Handsome Devil, and the Amodeo brothers decided to pursue careers in music management. "Looking back with experience I think, 'Wow, we probably shouldn't have done half of that!'" Amodeo says, laughing. "But the experience was amazing for us. "

After WANK's members went their separate ways, Amodeo learned he had leukemia. "I thought I was done," recalled Amodeo. "I thought I was done in life--period. . . . I sold everything, checked into the hospital, and did chemo for five years." Afterward, it took time for him to build up the strength and will to get back onstage. Amodeo channeled the anger, fear, and pain he felt as a cancer survivor into songwriting. "It was tough coming back from that emotionally and physically," he says. "I'm ready. I feel the strongest I've ever felt."

The trio believes it was fate that drew them back together. "All of us need music in our lives," says Amodeo. "That chemistry the three of us have has always been perfect." Last month, WANK released their first video and new song since the 1990s. They're finishing a new record to be released this winter and are preparing to book national dates for 2016.

On Saturday, the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa will host WANK's only 2015 appearance in Orange County. "It's going to be a homecoming for us," says Amodeo, who's excited to get back to business. "There's going to be a lot of stories, a lot of new songs, and obviously a lot of fun. Costa Mesa's where we grew up."

WANK perform with Mink Daggers and the Cornfed Project at the Wayfarer, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 764-0039; www.wayfarercm.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $13-$15. 21+.

See also: The 50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene The 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List

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