One of America's first and best punk groups as well as founders of psychobilly, The Cramps surfaced as a staple act on New York's CBGB's scene in 1976. They continue to wallow in degenerate sex, gleeful hedonism and lowbrow pop culture, all played out with reverb, tremolo-drenched guitars and snarly vocals. They've endured several personnel changes through the years, but amusingly creepy front man Lux Interior and engagingly sultry guitarist Poison Ivy have kept the hellfire burning through thick and thin.
The band has had record-label troubles of late and hasn't played a show since New Year's Eve, but they're planning several projects to coincide with their 25th anniversary next year, including a new album for their own label, a boxed set and more touring. Meanwhile, the Cramps—who moved from NYC to LA in 1980—will play their traditional series of Halloween shows up and down California this week, appearing Friday night at the Galaxy Concert Theatre.
OC Weekly: What was the best Halloween costume you ever saw? Poison Ivy: My favorite was at the Fillmore a couple of years ago. They had a costume contest, and there was someone wearing a cobra costume. She had her arms bound above her head within the cobra's hood. If she had fallen, she couldn't have broken her fall, and she came onstage and did kind of a weird cobra dance. It looked really good, but she was also totally confined, so it had a real fetish factor to it that was very impressive. Lux Interior: That same night, there was also a swarm of bees. There were 12 of them dressed like that, and they spent all night long running around, buzzing around one another, and they never quit. What's the strangest thing that's ever happened at a Halloween show?Ivy: Last year, I got all my fingers smashed in a door when I was planning to go on for the encore. I think it was because I was working with some elemental magic. I invited some weird spirits onto the stage with me. It was more than I could handle, and I think it had something to do with my hand getting squashed. What was the meanest Halloween trick you ever played?Ivy: At Thai restaurants a lot of time, you know how they have those little pickled hot peppers that look just like sliced okra? You can tell people it's pickled okra, and they'll eat one. That's kind of mean. Lux: I can't think of anything to say that you could print. I don't wanna get us busted. Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi?Ivy: That's not fair! They're so good, especially together in The Black Cat. I guess I'm probably an even bigger Boris Karloff fan, even though I loved Bela Lugosi. I've seen movies with him that were creepier, like Lost Gate. That wasn't even a horror movie; he's just going insane. But I have to say that beyond even those two, my favorite horror actor was Peter Lorre—even after his early psycho stuff. He was just kind of chubby and mellow. Lux: I have to give an edge to Bela Lugosi. I like any of his Monogram pictures. They're just so strange—it's unbelievable. People talk about Ed Wood supposedly making the worst movies of all time, but those Monogram pictures blow away anything Ed Wood could have thought up. They're the strangest, most surreal movies ever made. What's amazing is that he didn't even speak English—he didn't even know what he was saying until his last pictures. He just memorized his lines phonetically. How do you feel about being viewed as the godfathers of psychobilly?Ivy: We actually coined that term. We had fliers for our shows in New York that had the term starting with our very first show, which was Nov. 1, 1976. At the time, it wasn't a style of music—it was just a buzzword. What it means now is a specific kind of music that didn't even exist when we started out, kind of a very fast rockabilly. But the best rockabilly is already psychotic: the original stuff. The '50s were very crazy. These were fringe-dwelling misfits, very dangerous people. Now it refers to this kind of hyperspeed music, which is really different from rockabilly. Lux: I think that everything I hear in what's called psychobilly is unsexual, which is weird to me because the prime ingredient in rockabilly is sex. They just go 90 miles per hour, and there's no groove to it. Ivy: And in Europe especially, there are contingents that are very open about being racist—there are like skinhead and Nazi affiliations. It's really horrible because rock & roll was just the opposite. Rock & roll brought people together. Rockabilly never represented negative aspects of Southern culture. Lux: If anything, I think rockabilly was the first time in the history of rock music that white people were hanging around with blacks and openly listening to black records, singing along with black records. Rockabilly is not only anti-racist but was also the beginning of what became the youth movement of the '60s. When you first started playing 25 years ago, did you think punk would be embraced as mainstream corporate rock by 2000?Ivy: It was weird watching in the '90s how bands developed elements of '70s punk with elements of '70s mainstream music. When punk hit, it was a rebellion against '70s rock. I never would have thought they could be married. I still don't feel like they're particularly compatible. One was a rejection of the other, and it's weird to see people coming along and connecting the two. I have to say I'm confused by these attempts—to me, it's just posing. Lux: All the new bands out now are real happy with the idea of making product and becoming rich from it. You never see them actually talking about music or who they like in an interview, and if they do, then they say they like Fleetwood Mac or something. It's really odd. All you hear them talking about is cooperating with the record companies. And this badass stance they all take is very unconvincing. I'll enjoy a badass stance if I can buy it, but no one out there is convincing me. Is it possible for the Cramps to still be shocking in this day and age?Lux: We've never tried to be shocking. I saw Marilyn Manson on David Letterman one night doing exactly what I do onstage, smashing the mic stand and stuff. I think when you're trying to be shocking, you're trying to shock a bunch of straights and squares. We play music for our fans, and we're not trying to shock them. I'm sure it's shocking to squares, but we don't care what they think. How does it feel for the band to be approaching the quarter-century mark?Lux: It seems unbelievable because it feels like we just started yesterday. There have been personnel changes and label changes, but it seems like we've been in great bands for all these years, having a ball, and the time just flies by.
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THE CRAMPS perform AT THE GALAXY THEATRE, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600; WWW.GALAXYTHEATRE.COM. FRI., 8 P.M. $20. All ages.