Louisiana garage-pop band Pet Fangs

Ultra Deluxe: Pet Fangs, garage pop and a no f*cks given attitude (Interview)

With South Louisiana as its native backdrop, pop-rock band Pet Fangs will release Ultra Deluxe on August 16. The album was introduced with “She’s Alright,” the group’s latest single. Co-founded by Joe aka Jozee and David Stark (of Baby Bee) plus Jory Cordy and Ben Alleman aka T Ben, Pet Fangs call themselves “garage pop” and draw inspiration from nearly any genre you can imagine: from Northern Mexican norteño to dark techno, the band bites into it all. 

Ahead of this week’s forthcoming album release, Pet Fangs chatted with OffBeat about a “no fucks” approach to music, Louisiana, the 1980s and more.

What was the creative process like while working on Ultra Deluxe? How Long has it been in the works and what was the band thinking about or listening to while creating it?

T Ben: The creative process for Ultra Deluxe was extremely sporadic but very inspired. Our general M.O. is to put ourselves in a position in which the songs come out from the ether… just play in a room until a groove is realized, then go from there. A lot of what I look for is reactions around the room. I’m usually observing things that we’ll play that tend to light everyone up. That’s when I will point something out and try to go with it. Jozee would usually peace out of the session once the bones of the song were laid out, and a few hours later he would emerge with lyrics. It all just happens when we are together in a room, some kind of energetic synergy thing.

Jozee: Yeah, once in a while someone would have a demo but it was rarely more than a little nugget of a song. Most of the album was recorded over a few years of “getting together and seeing what happens.” It’s fun to just trust everyone’s instincts… although that doesn’t count necessarily for all the re-working of the stuff we did to get everyone happy with it.

A lot of this was recorded in Houma, LA at our project studio that we call the Tackle Box. Sometimes we’d record on tour and we also used our favorite studio, Dockside in Maurice, LA a bunch as well. It took a little while to get a group of songs that we felt were album worthy.

T Ben: The band’s musical taste spans far and wide. We all have deep roots in rock ‘n’ roll, funk and blues, which informs a lot of our style, but we love all kinds of stuff… I love to get lost in a Daniel Lanois record, or some dark techno like Paula Temple or Uun. Joe and I love Norteño bands like Los Tigre’s Del Norte. Jurry and Davey are constantly turning us on to new stuff…bands like Parcels and Billie Eilish, plus all sorts of hip-hop stuff.

The band has been self-described as “garage pop.” What does this term mean in the band’s own words? Are there distinctive qualities of “garage pop” that differ from other garage bands (for example: different influences, are there shared influences or is it a different style completely)?

T Ben: I think when we came up with the “Garage Pop” term for our music, we were mainly thinking of how the music was created. We enjoy a “no fucks” approach to making music. Usually the wilder the better. But we settle into the Tackle Box, or Dockside and proceed to be a four-piece rock band that yields a groovier sound — sometimes lending itself to the music of Prince, early Beck, or Gorillaz. There’s certainly a natural pop element to our music between Jurry & Davey as a cohesive groove machine, Jozee’s melodic nature, and then me sprinkling different keyboards, synths and sonic candies into the mix. What usually comes out is a garage rock band with a pop sensibility. But if we’re talking about being under the umbrella of pop, we’re certainly existing far on the side of being unrefined, unhinged, and unpredictable. We use the same ethos for our live performances and aesthetic as well. If you come see us live, it’s way more of a rock show. Which is fun for everybody. 

The music video for “Bitch Baby” shows the band taking over a convenience store. Is this a tongue-in-cheek nod to the band’s DIY garage aesthetic? The video for “Afterglow” is much more bare – it’s the band playing in a more serious environment. What element of these songs calls for such drastic differences in the videos?

T Ben: The video for “Bitch Baby” was filmed at a gas station convenience store in Houma, just a few minutes away from the Tackle Box. In a way, the video could be a reference to what Garage Pop means to us. We approached that video the same way as we made the music. We kept the convenience store open during the entire shoot, so people were coming in and out. The gentlemen you see in the video were actual customers of the shop. They came in and saw the cameras and lighting gear and wanted to hang out with us for a while. We bought them some lotto tickets and boom, they are in the video! Everything about the video is about as DIY as you can get. For the guitar solo scene, we left the fishing line in the shot, which lowers Jozee’s guitar into the frame because it’s funny as hell and goes along with our ethos. Behind the camera, Jozee & Davey’s dad, Wild Bill, had a massive contraption rigged with fishing line that they were controlling by hand in order to lower the guitar into the frame. We were lucky to have some of the Caramel Curves motorcycle squad come and ride in the video. It also meant a lot to us to have powerful women of color representing in the video. It was a pretty wild scene with all that happening in Houma. It was awesome to see the way the Caramel Curves ride those bikes doing burn outs and donuts and shit. It was loud as fuck! 

Jozee:  For the “Afterglow” video we just wanted to do something cool for content, so after a photo shoot we worked up a version and shot it. We actually did it all at my house. No real reason for the difference in attitudes except that we just don’t care about being one kind of band. I used to care about that but not anymore at all. Life’s too short…we’ll do whatever we want.

The band seems influenced by an ’80s-inspired sound. Why that decade of music? What makes it stand out for Pet Fangs?

T Ben: The 80s vibe in our music stems from a number of things. While we didn’t set out to make an 80s record, we certainly draw a lot of inspiration from the music of Prince, The Clash, The Police, Madonna, David Bowie, New Order, The Cure, etc. and you can hear some of the influence in the record.

I feel like the music of the 80s was fueled by some of the same things that fuels Pet Fangs: good times, good grooves, art pop, dancing, rebellion, sex, escapism, forward motion, and so on. More musically speaking, even though Davey can play the shit out of the drums, we regularly employ the use of our Linn 9000, which is a drum machine that you’d hear on mid-late 80s recordings. We’ll program different grooves or replace real drums with the LinnDrum or layer the LinnDrum under real drums and vice versa. There’s something magic and hypnotic about that sound. I also like to play analog synths from the 80s while manipulating them with crazy guitar pedals. Jozee’s ability as a guitarist also lends itself to that era, when you heard way more guitar on pop records than you do today.

Jozee:  Yeah I have a ton of 80s influences. On a lot of these tunes, I was trying to channel a Nile Rodgers vibe…like the stuff he made on those early Madonna records.

Pet Fangs

There are some elements on Ultra Deluxe that sound particularly funk or blues-inspired. Were these sounds naturally picked up from the band’s South Louisiana home?

T Ben: Being that the whole band is comprised of South Louisiana, funk is everywhere around us and it’s infectious. Part of coming of age for Jozee and me was learning how to play like that. Jozee collaborates regularly with Marc Broussard and I spent two years on the road playing Hammond organ with Dr. John at the beginning of my career. So being able to actually FONK is important to us. Jurry and Davey got that infectious funk, too. Davey grew up playing drums with Jozee and their dad Wild Bill who is an amazing keyboard player and frontman. Listen to the bass lines Jurry played on the record, especially “Candy Baby”… it’s insanely funky and very original. 

Jozee:  I’ve had some great teachers in that funk world including my “uncle” Tony Hall from Dumpstaphunk and some time spent in George Porter’s band. And yes, I think being from down here is for sure a huge part of being able to play they way we do.

The track “Hermanos Y Hermanas” features a voice saying hermanos y hermanas, te amo. Is this a subtle political message?

T Ben: “Hermanos y hermanas, te amo” translates to “Brothers and sisters, I love you.” We love everybody and our music is made for everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your sexual preference is, or what your skin color happens to be. We want anyone who comes to our shows and listens to our records to feel like they are in a safe zone where they belong, because they do. Separately, I spent a considerable amount of time as a kid and a teen in central Mexico and that experience of learning about Mexico’s heritage and spending time with its people changed my life forever. We support the cause of humans fleeing violence or striving to create a better life for themselves by immigrating to the United States. 

Jozee:  Hell yeah. 

From the song “Barbarella” it’s clear the band has sci-fi influences. How does a band go about turning an aesthetic like sci-fi, which people typically associate with visual media like TV and movies, into music? 

T Ben: I think we all love to involve ourselves in various forms of escapism and sci-fi is definitely one of them for me. Transporting yourself into a different dimension in the form of a movie, book, or album is almost therapeutic and necessary these days.

Turning that escapism of sci-fi into music? I think it has a lot to do with how the setting of the song is presented. Jozee sings a lot of abstract lyrics about love, future, sex, pain, afterlife, drug-like highs, vital sign lows, the idea of a “Barbarella,” etc. I think all of those topics fused with the hypnotic groove nature of some of this music can put you in a sci-fi daze state where you might ask yourself “what if this was real life?” I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of my intention musically. 

Jozee: We also always record with some kind of crazy movie playing on silent in the background, so I feel like visual elements are always crawling into the songs. Barbarella was definitely on the screen a few times.

For more information on Pet Fangs, visit the band’s official website.