Everybody in Orange County knows the members of the Vandals are as punk as they come.
But who would have guessed they were also neo-grunge post-metal alterna-rockers? For a little more than a year in the early '90s, two of them were.
Drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Warren Fitzgerald, along with vocalist Darren McNamee and Big Drill Car bassist Bob Thomson released a 12-song album entitled Now I Eat Them.
The album, which featured cover art of a large roach type insect in full vestments presiding over the wedding of two lovely women, was released on Warner Music Group subsidiary Giant.
The band sprouted from an earlier project Fitzgerald and McNamee had been involved in during the late '80s called Gherkin Raucous.
"We had broken up and decided to record those older songs. Some were actually four or five years old by the time the record came out," says Fitzgerald.
The resulting musical product featured Fitzgerald's chugging guitars and face-melting solos accompanied by McNamee's maniacal high-pitched warble. It was at once bizarre, heavy, catchy, and punctuated by unexpected moments of profound beauty.
Witness track four, "Perfect House," a lushly arranged acoustic strummer with Beach Boys-style harmonies and an acoustic guitar solo that could arguably have been lifted by No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont four years later with the single "Don't Speak." While perhaps overly sentimental, the chorus repeats the refrain "I'm in pain/ But what am I?" with sincere pathos.
"My personal influences are incredibly vast. And when that record happened I was particularly fascinated with The Who and a lot of classic rock with various indie bands from that time," says Fitzgerald, explaining that while Xtra Large had its fans locally, the road saw the group playing to empty venues.
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"What happened is that we were on tour and at that point the record wasn't performing dynamically and the label pulled tour support."
Around this time Freese started touring with Paul Westerberg. "Shortly after, I joined Oingo Boingo and kind of let it go."
Does he feel any lingering disappointment about the band's failure to launch? Fitzgerald replies, "It was an interesting experience. It was my first dabbling with a major label to see some of the dynamics involved."
He laughingly adds, "When I joined Boingo and worked on their following record, it was also on Giant so it was the same cast of characters under different circumstances. It was kind of an indication of how incestuous the music industry is,"