Photo by Matt OttoThe following stories about the Willowz could not be verified at press time:
The Willowz did all but one show of their first national tour with a fiftysomething transsexual named Kat Kitty as their chauffeur. The Willowz's bassist, Jessica Reynoza, got a bass lesson from Motown Funk Brother James Jamerson Jr. in a restaurant in Tennessee during a blackout. The Willowz's drummer, Alex Nowicki, got in a shoving tussle with the tall guy in the Strokes and tagged "www.thewillowz.com" on the Strokes' tour bus on the way out. The Willowz's old keyboard player (since served walking papers), Nick Hide-the-Last-Name-From-the-Cops, burned down a house. The Willowz's guitarist, Richie James Eaton, was asked to be in a band with A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, but declined. Eaton's mom once dated Henry Rollins. The Willowz got signed to Posh Boy Records because they practice in a half-burned-up house full of busted computer monitors in the Whittier hills that happens to be next to D.B. Cooper-elusive Posh Boy honcho Robbie Fields' parents, and one day Robbie just walked over and asked them to do a record. The drummer who plays on the Willowz's first seven-inch was the drummer for G.G. Allin & the Murder Junkies. The Willowz had reps from Island and Atlantic or whatever majors at their first show, rounded up by the producer of the Donnas, who heard the demo they recorded in a Whittier garage and dragged the whole West Coast industry out to gnash and drool at them. The Willowz were offered several soul-gutting major-label contracts by a bunch of fat guys in New York who liked fried-peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches; the Willowz declined said contracts. The Willowz are 19, 19 and 17. And the Willowz are the most hated band in Anaheim.
For such a baby band, the Willowz lug around a lot of stories. But that last one might be true, Eaton says. "If you shut up and be quiet, everyone likes you. And if you have personality . . ."
Well, yeah. But some instead call it ego. Or worse: "Naw, I like the Willowz," says one kid from Anaheim. "Well, two of 'em." But Eaton definitely has something, and refracted through his peach-fuzzy 19 years on this planet, it warps and bends into something people could get a little jealous of. He taught Reynoza to play bass note by careful note, made up the words for the Willowz's B-side "Think Again" right as the tape rolled at their first session in NYC in his stepdad's recording studio (it has since become one of their more notable songs), and walked the hot-off-the-studio reels into Universal Records' New York HQ just to see if he could become a teenage rock & roll star less than 24 hours after pressing the RECORD button. He didn't, but who even knew you could just walk into Universal like that, anyway? He's 19, but with hormones and teenage insecurity sublimated to matter-of-fact ambition and book-learned show-biz acumen; he's at once unassuming, boyishly enthusiastic ("I'm into everything," he says, talking about what's on the turntable, which, if you're wondering, is the new Outkast record) and immovably committed to getting the Willowz into your CD wallet. It's like if Black Flag put their work ethic into getting on MTV—on their own terms, of course. "As lame as TV is now," Eaton says, "I'd still want to be on it."
The Willowz's upcoming debut CD—the demos of which got major-label reps at their first show, the one that's coming out on LA's Dionysus in January? Slick and fatty; you could roll corn dogs with it. But live and unpolished, they're Redd Kross' Born Innocent, rolling down a hill in a trash can, punky kids pinching Nuggets riffs into sloppy-but-smarter-than-it's-supposed-to-be teenage garage rock. Major labels, this is not your new Hives or your new Strokes, even if Eaton has some semifamous parent-ish people who maybe greased the process along a bit (recording engineers, ex-punk-rockers, Dee Dee Ramone's art gallery proprietor, etc.). This is the good old stuff: "Get Down" is "Psychotic Reaction"; "End Song" is a slab of Troggs; "Rock & Roll Song" (which we have the feeling they rarely play) is early Velvets drone set for low lights and thick curtains—Reynoza tiptoes through call-and-response that's perfect to nod off to ("Wake me up when everyone's dancing . . ."). Nowicki (ex-CTW, who this paper apparently hated) rolls over those drums better than 17-year-olds are scientifically supposed to be able to, and Eaton sings like he has a time bomb lashed across his chest—gums flapping, no pauses for breath, singing, "I'm at a loss for words!" completely dishonestly. Lots of personality. Maybe hated. But hard-working, too. He e-mailed about eight times after the interview was over, adding more stories and mentioning the Willowz's manager (Ted Gardner, "really important!"). At parties, he leaves people demos, and when you wake up the next morning, there they are, smiling up at you in blown-out Xerox black-and-white. That's the plan for the Willowz: get everywhere.
"People just wanna hang out," Eaton says. "Seems like everyone wants to hang out, instead of getting something done!"
The Willowz perform with the Ex-Models, the Distraction, Dance Disaster Movement and the Hollywood 10 at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.