The Neil Armstrong Band, carvers of Orange County's beefiest cuts of garage rock, have stuffed themselves inside their tiny rehearsal space, which is, well, a garage. A shed, really, in the back of a dark, spooky, Santa Ana car-repair place; a lot out front is littered with junked Fords and Chevys, a few broken bottles, and-if we looked closely enough-maybe a rotting corpse or two. Behind the one, two, three soundproofing doors of their studio, though, the aura isn't nearly as creepy. Demon alcohol flows freely, smokes are sucked up Hoover-style, and painful, throbbing aww-yeah!-baby waves of glorious electric guitar churn through the stale air.
The Neil Armstrong Band just might be OC's best band. Watching them practice, you get a feeling of what it must have been like to hear the first wave of post-Beatles/Stones garage groups that sprouted up in every suburb back in the '60s-the first punk bands, really. The Neil Armstrong Band are nowhere near punk, though. They're loose, earthy and louder than all hell, with a don't-give-a-fuck sloppy coolness about them. Imagine Crazy Horse and Wilco getting together for a tequila-fueled jam-a-thon.
In their almost two-year history, they haven't put out much more than some thrown-together demos. The quality of those isn't the best, either. But spin 'em a few times on your deck, and they'll grow on you. Soon, you've got a piece of your new favorite, unashamed rock & roll band, complete with bootleggy sound.
Nobody in the band is named Armstrong, or even Neil. Singer/guitarist/main song scrawler Matt May thought the name up out of the blue when it came time to slap a handle on the project that he, guitarist Jim Nicholas, drummer Corey Gash and bassist Darren Morris were putting together (Geoff Harrington, on loan from Film Star, has been playing keys with the band at their shows). Adopting the moniker of the First Man on the Moon could get them sued, of course, but they'll worry about that later. After all, May says, a lawsuit "would just mean more press." Whudda guy-in a whup-ass rock band and blessed with keen marketing savvy!
The Neil Armstrong Band's kind of rock was supposed to have died this year-according to MTV dweebs Marilyn Manson, Billy Corgan and Jonathan Davis. And, sure, the success of completely ridiculous Culturally Approved Music Products like Matchbox 20, Eve 6 and Third Eye Blind seemed to prove their point.
Hey, Matt! Whaddya think? "On their level, rock is dead," he says, as we plant ourselves inside a deep fissure in the band's studio couch, a spot we just know was used for shagging by owners past. "There's a big space where it definitely is dead, especially here in the Southland. Everything is so geared toward getting radio airplay. A lot of OC bands are trying to fit themselves into those roles in a big way, especially after all the bands that have blown up here these past couple of years-the Offsprings, the No Doubts. There are plenty of Black Flys-wearing, tough guy-acting punk-rock people here. How many do we need?"
Raw, meaty, riffy, rhythmic, melodic, working-class, three-chord, noisy-ass rawk, the kind that the Neil Armstrong Band are so damn great at, will live forever in the underground. If they plan things right, they could be at the head of the next great revival when it inevitably comes 'round again. For now, they're trying to get themselves motivated enough to chase after typical long-haul rock-band goals: a tour that takes them out of their usual OC club haunts; a label deal that won't make them feel like they're shamelessly whoring themselves; and of course, their signatures on their day-job resignation forms.
The Neil Armstrong Band lads are stubborn bastards, too, and when you're chatting them up, you feel-you hope, you want-them to get all that.
At least they've got patience, which has paid off with the gigs they're getting. "It took us a while, locally, to get a decent time slot," May says, "and for promoters to see that we could actually get a few people to come out to our shows, that they wouldn't leave if we played at 1 a.m. Now, we have a good draw, and we make some money."
If the label thing doesn't happen soon, they say, they'll have to spend some of that cash and put out their own CD.
Still, the current situation has its good points. "That's actually the best thing about not having a record deal right now," blurts Nicholas. "There's no pressure, which has been really good for our playing. We've just gotten better."
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"But none of us really gives a shit about the business side of things," May pipes up. "It just seems really confusing. We'd like to work hard for a small, hard-working label, though. . . ."
". . . Instead of getting on some big label," Nicholas interrupts, "and having them rob you blind like they do so often."
Several cancer-stick drags and a few cold ones later, the Neil Armstrong Band are back at practice. Everything's cranked up, and notes and chords explode into verses and choruses-proof, right in front of us, that no one will ever kill off the guitars-bass-drums combo. They labor over a new song, with a line that May sings about being "bored with this fucking place," and we're reminded of something Nicholas told us when we first popped in: "It's pretty simple when it comes down to it: we love guitars."
The Neil Armstrong Band play with Film Star at Out of Bounds Lounge, 21022 Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-9800. Jan. 2, 10 p.m. $5. 21+; and with the Goods at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-6634. Jan. 14, 11 p.m. $6. 21+.