Remy Casillas still remembers when the subculture of psychobilly grabbed him from beyond the grave and refused to let go. The allure of badass standup bass players, mosh pits, B-movie gore, hot rods, creepers and pomade made the raucous celebration of the undead seem eternally cool.
"I went to [Katella] high school, and all of the jocks listened to Sublime and Kottonmouth Kings," Casillas says. "I was this skinny, nerdy kid, and I heard songs about riding in a Batmobile or about zombies, and I knew that psychobilly was my kind of music."
Casillas is dedicated not only to the music that nurtured him, but also to the tight community of his ilk, those who live for the hellified combination of punk, rockabilly and appreciation for the undead. And there are now enough of them to take over an amusement park.
On Sunday, hundreds of psychobilly band mates, fans and families, their tattoos and greased pompadours blazing, will stroll through the gates of Knott's Berry Farm for the first Camp Psycho, organized by Casillas' promotion company, Pizza Beat. And they'll be doing it without being officially sanctioned by Knott's.
"Camp Psycho is an independent social event for psychobillies, rockabillies and, really, whoever else wants to go," says Casillas, who runs Pizza Beat with girlfriend Tawney Estrella. "You don't have to look the part or anything; as long as you listen or are open to the music, you're welcome to go."
Casillas, wearing his trusty black vest covered in band patches, and Estrella, sporting coal-black, wingtip eyeliner, are digging into burritos covered in salsa verde as they explain why they decided to invite California's psychobilly scene to Knott's. "We want to take everyone out of the concert experience and have everyone do something else. It's really loud and kind of hard to really get to know someone just at concerts," Estrella says.
Las Palomas, a Mexican restaurant in Anaheim, may seem like an odd place to be discussing an event bringing hordes of Southern California's psychobillies to an amusement park. But it's actually a perfectly fitting backdrop, especially considering the restaurant will host Saturday's Camp Psycho pre-party. (Unlike most psychobilly concerts, the party–as well as Camp Psycho itself–is an all-ages event.) "These days, a lot of the local psychobilly shows happen in smaller venues, a lot of bars and restaurants. It's not a very big scene right now, but it's growing again," Casillas says. "A few years ago, we maybe had one psychobilly show each weekend. Now, there are often two great shows happening in the same weekend, sometimes at the same time."
Though the largest psychobilly scenes in the world are undoubtedly in Europe, Southern California has always been one of the biggest homes for the genre on this side of the Atlantic. Long Beach's Psyclone draws fans from around the world to the area.
"I think Camp Psycho is an awesome idea. We're actually in the psychobilly capital of America," says Kris Fotino, bassist and vocalist for the pre-party's headlining band, the Quaranteds. "Psychobilly shows happen in all different places. People have to take care of the places so we can keep using them. I tell people to get wild but respect the place."
Casillas and Estrella have a similar message for the people who are attending Camp Psycho. After getting a message via Facebook asking for a good place to do drugs at Knott's, they realized they would have to make it clear to campers to not get too psycho at the amusement park. "This is all completely DIY. We've put a lot of work into building this, and we're really excited to do this event," Estrella says. "If people at Knott's see someone who's dressed like us or looks like us getting into trouble, that's going to look bad for the whole group. We've already had a huge response for this, and it's only our first one. We'd like to be able to do it every year." According to the event's Facebook page, more than 500 people intend to attend Camp Psycho.
This isn't the first event for Pizza Beat. Casillas began the annual It's a Ska World After All in 2010 for fans of his other favorite style of music; that gathering is held at Disneyland. The Happiest Place On Earth already has a rockabilly/psychobilly day, Rock Around the Park, but Pizza Beat believes it doesn't really matter where the event is held. It's more about pulling members of the scene together and getting to know one another. "Some psychobillies are a little anti-social, so it's also an easy way to make friends," Casillas says. "You ask them who their favorite band is, then you ask everyone to raise their hands if they like that band. Now all of those people have something to talk about."
One of the things that draws a lot of psychobilly fans together is the genre's lack of rules as far as lyrical content goes. The Quaranteds, for instance, write songs about anything, concentrating primarily on whether the music's loud and fast. "Punk music is almost always against the man. In metal, you have to stay dark," Fotino says. "There's nothing like that with psychobilly. There are no politics involved."
The Quaranteds' founder, vocalist and guitarist, Frank Benavidez, expands on that idea: "Our shows and our band are about having fun. We're starting to get a lot more of a fan base now, but we're playing the same stuff as we were playing three, four years ago. That's cool, but we really just want people to come out and have fun."
Ultimately, everyone involved in Camp Psycho is looking to find a new way to take pride in their community. While looking devilishly good, of course. "Psychobillies are usually very well-groomed people because everyone has to be able to do their own makeup and hair," Casillas says. "Having psycho hair is actually so important that I know some guys who have gotten hair plugs just to be able to have a quiff."
While many psychobillies are willing to share their preferred tips and products, as well as the definition of cool as they see it, Casillas knows there will also be a little bit of that high-school-outcast feeling inside every fan strolling through Knott's. "I think the biggest secret about most psychobillies is that we're all nerds on the inside," he says. "You might see the biggest, scariest guy at a show, but on the inside, there's a little nerdy baby pushing up his glasses and saying, 'I know about every type of robin' or, 'I can name every member of the Green Lantern Corps.'"
Camp Psycho at Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 220-5200; www.knotts.com. Sun., 11 a.m. Admission prices vary; see website for details.
Camp Psycho Pre-Party at Las Palomas Mexican Restaurant, 400 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 758-1049. Sat., 6 p.m. $10.
For more info on Camp Psycho and other Pizza Beat events, go to Facebook.com/PizzaBeatEntertainment.