The post-punk work in progress known as Big Whup will get under your skin
Big Whup began when Drew Denny, an exhaustively traveled Texan, fell in with an LA band who changed their name from the New Motherfuckers to Pizza! (Hey, everybody loves Pizza!)
“Pizza! are the band that made me believe I could be in a band,” Denny says. “That’s how I met everyone—going to New Motherfuckers shows after animation class at USC. I didn’t have any friends at all, and they were like, ‘Join us!’ So I did. And they found out that I secretly wanted to play music, but I didn’t know how. And each of them taught me something. A chord from Duncan [Thum], fingerpicking from Alex [Myrvold], confidence from Geoff [Geis], a ride to my first time playing music in front of people from Rand [Voorhies]—Rand taught me not to be scared of singing my songs in front of people. I played my first song for him on the front porch, and he was like, ‘You need to do that in front of other people, too.’”
Pizza! are still going strong: Just last week, they released an album on LA’s hotly tipped Manimal label. But two of that band’s players have joined forces with their onetime protégé. A year and a half into this incarnation of Big Whup, the five of them—Denny on keyboards and vocals, drummer Voorhies, Geis on guitar and vocals, bassist Jenna Eyrich, and violinist/saw player Morgan Lee Gerstmar—are now Whup for life. (Even though, of the Pizza! members, only Geis got the permanent mark of the Whup: matching abstract tattoos etched through pain and giggles across the collarbones—and elsewhere.)
So now Big Whup are all settled into a three-girl, two-boy lineup: “Bigger, better, stronger—more masculine, more body hair!” Denny declares. With about half an album’s worth of songs recorded, Big Whup are clearly post-punk in the most practical sense. “Punk rock doesn’t have to mean hardcore or one style of music or just singing the same lyrics,” Mike Watt once said. “It can mean freedom and going crazy and being personal with your art.” In England and Europe, it was people like the Raincoats and the Mekons who made themselves indestructible through a willingness to try anything—like using pedal steel and violin and hijacking the Kinks and Shakespeare and Ernest Tubb on the way. And in America, it was people like Pylon and Human Switchboard, whose new-puppy enthusiasm and calisthenic keyboard parts led to such Whup songs as “iYaaaay!”
Big Whup don’t make that genre-specific nervous clatter—Eyrich (formerly of OC band Studiofix) and Voorhies are too tough a rhythm section—but the rest is there. Like the energy, the fearlessness, the fishtail transitions from surreal humor to wonder to confusion and sorrow and raw want—even the academic grounding. The Mekons were never in a riot, but they did go to art school; Whup’s USC-to-CalArts background (with classical musical training and precision neuroscience experience, too) gives them songs that go opposite directions at once, thanks in part to the push-pull vocals split between Denny and Geis. It’s that something that makes you laugh until you cry and then cry until you laugh. “I wrote a song about Hobbes’ Leviathan,” Denny says, “but it’s really about trying to be your own person when all the examples you’ve been given are totally fucked—when everything you’re trying to move away from grabs you at the hem of your dress and pulls you into a pile of horseshit.”
It’s something like Arthur Alexander and Patti Smith, Denny says.
Or Elvis Costello and Belle and Sebastian, Geis says.
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Or the Homosexuals, even if that’s a bit cliché, Voorhies says—even if the Homosexuals were one of the best British bands of the punk-and-just-past era, pushing their music right into the hands of anyone who wanted it. Big Whup do that, giving their EP No Teepee away for free in person or online.
Or any of the bands who understood that the chance to do anything is the chance to do everything and who put their own mark on music—even if they didn’t get out the ink and put their own mark on themselves, too.
“Our songs are like bearded ladies,” Denny says. “Beautiful but tough—and lonely! We’re too human for our own good!”
Big Whup with the Mumlers and the Soft Hands at the Continental Room, 115 Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-4529; www.myspace.com/thecontinentalroom. Oct. 26, 9 p.m. Free. 21+.