Screeching feedback echoed through the dark, sticker-filled ambiance of the Doll Hut on some cold night in the early days of the recession. The smell of piss and stale beer emanated from everything that night and clung to my smoke drenched cardigan, even as the crisp air begged to freshen everything within its reach. I stumbled out of the bathroom just as Last Gang vocalist Brenna Red looked up from tuning her cream telecaster and shook pieces of her over grown Mohawk from her pale face, screaming out of the corner of her mouth to test the mic, half Joe Strummer, half Courtney Love. I looked at my flip phone and saw the time and must have looked a little stressed out and definitely fucked up within eyeshot of the stage. Red looked over at me sympathetically and said “no matter what, were gonna both be tired and miserable at work tomorrow, we might as well make the most out of tonight,” and proceeded to blow my mind with some of the most arresting live punk hooks and energy my hardly-of-age-self had witnessed behind the Orange Curtain.
Flash-forward nearly a decade later and Red is still a force to be reckoned with behind gritty poetics, brightly dyed hair, and an arsenal of guitars cool enough to make South County dads bow down in jealousy. These days, The Last Gang are revered most for their infectious energy and punk-meets-polished aesthetic, still packing the old school punch that made them staples of OC punk flyer line ups in the mid aughts, still drawing a mix of fans and friends to dingy and DIY haunts across the county. Now all grown up, Red along with long time friend and drummer Robert Wantland and new addition Sean Viele are kicking ass more intentionally and collaboratively, promoting their recent EP release The Split, and gearing up to release their first new full length album since 2006, tentatively titled Salvation For Wolves.
“Our music is relatable,” says Red, a punk veteran and multi instrumentalist from Stanton who formed The Last Gang in 2004. Red got her start playing drums before staking her claim as a songwriter and take-no-shit 20-something in the early 2000s, teaming up with current drummer and musical co-conspirator Wantland in 2008. When The Last Gang reformed in 2013 with “a little more salt on their shoulders,” Red and Wantland went all in, making up for a two year hiatus by furiously writing new material, playing shows all over Southern California, and even landing a spot on a Rancid tribute record.
“When Brenna and I decided to start the band up again I told her this time was going to be different,” says Wantland. As a songwriter he hoped to center their experience, maturity, and taste in new music that stayed true to their punk roots while expanding what the group could do in the medium. Before reforming, Red wrote most of the musical material on her own, an old habit she was finally ready to challenge. She and Wantland worked on close to 80 potential demos, boiling the ideas down to 10 solid arrangements. They recorded some pre-production tracks, and loved some of them so much that they decided to release two on a split with Bristol To Memory, which was released in July with dual release parties at both Programme and at Karman Bar.
In August The Last Gang finally started production on their new full length at Maple Studios in Santa Ana with producer and engineer Cameron Webb and editor Sergio Chavez. Webb pushed The Last Gang beyond their limits, helping them break things down to the molecular level, and shift parts to make everything pop. Red joked that she often felt like a physicist of music during the process.
Each song on the album has its own identity, like “Believe In The Poet” which was inspired by holding out hope despite the potential darkness of humanity in the wake of the Paris attacks. “Karla” is a tribute to Karla Munoz, a Santa Ana woman tragically ripped away from friends and family members in a motorcycle accident in 2013. “I've had several friends die on me before due to accidents, drugs, and health issues,” says Red, “but if you knew Karla, you understand how hard her death was. She was absolutely perfect. Because she's such a strong energy, it doesn't feel like she can really be gone.” In addition to pulling out all the stops themselves, The Last Gang even managed to get Motörhead guitarist Phil “Wizzo” Campbell to shred a solo over a track on Salvation For Wolves.
“New Last Gang music is not the obvious ‘1-2 Fuck You’ kind of punk that is easy to generate,” says Red. While the ‘Gang has grown up, their punk angst has matured instead of going stale or sour, their tastes refined and their sights sharpened. “Our new music is [still] punk at it’s core – its punk and it has a purpose.”
The Last Gang perform September 9th at Loaded with True Rivals, 6377 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA, 90028. 21+, $5.