While it’s all well and good to extol the virtues of those punk bands that keep things as simple as possible — the Ramones school of stripped down rock ’n’ roll — sometimes, just every now and again, a gimmick can come in handy.
Nobody will ever forget that the Dwarves’ HeWhoCannotBeNamed performs stark-bollock-naked but for a wrestling mask. Or that GG Allin liked to, y’know, roll in his own poop. Sometimes, something other than the music is necessary in order to get people to pay attention. The Mormons have, for the 19 years of their existence, dressed up like Mormon missionaries. It ain’t shit-flinging, but everyone’s different.
“We started the band in 1998 and originally it was just going to be a straightforward band,” says guitarist Pete Tintle. “Our singer Patrick [Jones] came up with the idea of wearing the Mormon uniform, which is the white shirt, black tie, backpack and helmet — you see those guys going down the street. We thought it would be a funny thing to do — to dress up as Mormon missionaries and call ourselves The Mormons. We did one dress rehearsal and it felt and looked so cool that we decided to keep doing it. 19 years later we’re still doing it.”
It is, without a shadow of a doubt, a weird and whacky sight. These five men, on stage, put on a wild and raucous punk rock show. Jones is an untamed and mildly unhinged frontman who risks injury with his antics at every show. And yet the guys are wearing the most conservative of religious attire.
“There was no thinking behind it, but as the years went by, something kinda grew from it — the idea of Mormon missionaries who are out spreading their message the way they do it, door-to-door,” says guitarist Vince O’Campo. “A lot of the time, they get the door slammed in their face. There’s a parallel between that and playing in a band. The same kind of thing. Our mission is to play music and entertain people.”
The LA band admits that the contrast between the clothing and the music confuses people, with barflies expressing their discomfort with “mormons” playing the devil’s music in the past. After all, real mormons can get excommunicated for listening to rock. Perhaps surprisingly, the actual mormons don’t seem to have a problem with the band.
“They seen to like it,” says Tintle. “We anticipated them maybe getting offended, although we really don’t say anything negative about their religion. We’ve never had any official word from the Church of Mormons or whatever.”
The band is based in and around northeast LA, with the Highland Park punk dive Cafe Nela their unofficial headquarters. After 19 years in the local scene, the men of the Mormons have seen trends come and go, but Tintle says that they’ve stuck around through a combination of sheer stubbornness and a modicum of respect from their peers.
“It does seem like, as the music changes, we still get along with the local bands really well,” he says. “It’s neat to see the younger kids coming up and changing things, but still respecting the older scene. We still like the scene. It’s like anything else — there are people that are awesome and people that are dicks, and you just hang out with the people that are awesome.”
If ever there was a lesson to be learned from this stuff, that’s it. The men of the Mormons actually say that their motto, and also the title of the latest (and third) album released at the end of last year, is Rock Out Correctly. What that means varies depending on which member of the band is talking. For Jones, it can mean keeping the lyrical subject matter eclectic.
“There are songs about cats, a few about the apocalypse, songs about haunted high school restrooms, songs about overhearing people having sex next door to you and masterbating to it and feeling guilty,” he says. “It runs the gamut. We all grew up on punk rock and that’s our base, but we try to do something different, creative and fun with it. That’s what we do.”
“Rocking out correctly” also means not playing for more than 30 minutes so as to retain the interest of the audience members. And, again, Jones will damn-near injure himself for the sake of the show.
“Patrick has a unique stage presence,” says O’Campo. “I’m in the band, and a lot of the fun in playing is watching him do his thing. He really gets into it, gets the crowd involved, and it is a unique sight. He puts his life and limb into what he does. I get scared. We’re not 20 anymore. We have some gray hairs coming in. I was telling him, ‘dude, you’ve got to be careful. You’re not a kid anymore. You’ll break your fucking neck.’ He’ll build these structures out of bar stools and bar tables, climb to the top of it, and sit on the chair right on top. It topples over and he seems to get out of it.”
The Mormons will be bringing that insane display of bar furniture-themed acrobatic tomfoolery combined with manic punk to Alex’s Bar on Sunday, so we’ll get to experience all of the above. Tintle says that he enjoys dropping by Long Beach.
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“Alex’s is awesome,” he says. “Last time we played there with The Dwarves and The Queers and it was great, although every time we play there it’s a really good show. Good sound, and the stage is awesome. It’s huge so we don’t have any problems trying to fit five guys onto a stage. Bradley the bartender is really cool. Alex is very nice. And they film True Blood there, so that’s cool.”
As for the set, it’ll be a typical 30 minutes featuring 50 percent new songs, the rest pulled from the previous 18 years of their existence. And as is the norm, the guys will be looking to make new fans and blow a few minds.
“The reaction we mostly get that I’ve noticed is that people will say, ‘When you first walked in I was giggling and thought it was funny, but you guys are really good’,” says Tintle. “If you’ve never seen the Mormons, you have to come see us at least once.”
The Mormons play with Punker in the Headlights, Melting Pot, Slippers, and Rundown Kreeps at 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 20 at Alex’s Bar; 2913 East Anaheim Street, Long Beach; 562-434-8292.