Interview 17/03/2008 With kind permission of Aaron Day.
Few people throughout the history of the world are single handedly responsible for the inception of a musical genre. Even less of these people who are still alive today. And there are almost none of these people still making music, touring like crazy and stomping your ass to the ground with consistently good releases. The Meteors are the exception to the rule. Frontman P. Paul Fenech started psychobilly almost 30 years ago in England as a reaction to the soft rockabilly that was enjoying a revival at the time. After being ostracized from the rockabilly scene for being too punk rock, The Meteors carved their own niche in the musical world. Dregs of the punk rock and rockabilly scenes (as well as other musical misfits) gravitated toward this newly discovered Frankenstein monster of the underground scene. Nearly 30 years later, little has changed. The band consists of different members, but the idea is the same as is the music.
After a 22 hour trip to get here and a show with more energy than the hydrogen bomb, The Meteors kicked back with SLUG and discussed their history and the future.
On February 12th, The Meteors ripped through Salt Lake City like a hollow tip through a skull. They played Burt’s for a crowd larger than most I’ve seen there. All in all, it was an unparalleled experience. The audience was obviously stoked. The band had a blast here, too. Nobody who was in attendance that night will soon forget it. If you call yourself a Meteors fan and somehow missed it, you are truly a fool.
Fenech mentioned that The Meteors had played Salt Lake City about 12 years ago, but had toured without a promoter and that the turnout was lousy. The band was much more satisfied with this show than their previous SLC date.
Although psychobilly is three decades old, for many fans it is still a very new idea. Unfortunately, these days it is more of a fashion thing than a music thing. According to Fenech, history is repeating itself, as the same thing happened in Europe in the 80s when psychobilly was born. “We call ‘em fashionbillies at home,” he said. He remarked that everybody had the same haircut and had skulls everywhere. He did note that since then, it has split between those who are in it for fashion and those who are really into it. “I mean, it’s got fuck all to do with how you look really, the music. It’s nothing to do with the fuckin’ style of it, anyway. It’s rock and roll. And it’s horror, but it’s not fuckin’ makeup and crap. That’s cabaret,” he said.
These days, with the line between punk rock and psychobilly becoming blurred, people jump the gun and label a band as psychobilly as soon as they see a quiff or a double bass. “I think there’s a definite definition between punk and psychobilly. A punk rock band with a double bass is not psychobilly. I mean, it’s gotta be billy for a start. Got to have rockabilly in it,” Fenech said. Though there are similarities here and there, the differences between the two genres are innumerable. Psychobilly music is about a billion times more technical and difficult to play than that of punk rock. So, before you and your buddy start making “psycho” versions of The Casualties songs in your basement, remember that one half of the equation is rockabilly. Without the rockabilly element, it’s just punk rock.
The people who just can’t seem to understand this always seem to get bored and move on quickly. There is no denying it, psychobilly is hot right now. For many, it’s just another trend to buy into. Fenech put it like this, “…At the moment, it’s a bit fashion here, so everybody’s doin’ it. I’ve seen some fuckin’ awful combinations. Same happened in Europe. After a year or two, they move on to something else and the people that like psychobilly stick around.” He also commented on the current wave of U.S. bands that display a heavy European psychobilly sound. He explained that psychobilly was developed to be different, and that imitations of European bands are simply a cop out. To illustrate, he mentioned that he had recently seen a Klingonz tribute band, which he was utterly puzzled by.
Personally, I don’t think this has anything do with the popularity of psychobilly at the moment, but in 2005, P. Paul Fenech gave the OK for Cadillac to use a Meteors song in a commercial. The song was “The Crazed” from In Heaven, a brilliant track. But, around the time the commercial aired, there were mixed feelings among fans. I remember people saying that it was a fake commercial not officially made by Cadillac. I can see why some may have thought that. It’s a pretty wild song, both in the way it sounds and the lyrical content. I also remember people saying that The Meteors had finally sold out (what a stupid opinion). Fenech said, “People ask me all the time for film music or TV, and I’m very careful about what I give out. If it had been for fuckin’ tampons or fuckin’ cheese, I wouldn’t have done it. I figure a fuckin’ Cadillac, why not?” About the negative reaction from fans, he said: “A fan would want the band to do well. If you really liked the band, you’d want them to do well. Some people, especially our audience, are psychotics. We’re all psychotics. They wanna keep us in a box.” After nearly 30 years of rockin’ music I think they deserve to make a bit of residual scratch. “I don’t give my shit away without thinkin’ about it. And I thought it would fit. They didn’t cut it. They didn’t bleep it. They didn’t change it and they didn’t want to do anything with it,” Fenech said.
The Meteors aren’t the only project that command Fenech’s attention though. He has two other side projects. A rockabilly band called The Legendary Raw Deal and solo stuff which is critically acclaimed worldwide. If you’ve heard any of the other projects Fenech is involved in, you know that there is a world of difference between all of them. This is interesting, seeing as how the same person writes all of the music. Regarding the writing process and deciding what ends up where, Fenech said: “All the songs that I ever wrote, or will ever write are in my head in a big fuckin’ line. I have to write, I have to write, I have to write. Throw shit away, throw shit away. And sometimes, I get a rockabilly one, it won’t fit The Meteors, it’s too rockabilly, so I put it on a Raw Deal album. If it’s too fuckin’ freaky, I put it on the solo album. But they’re all basically Meteors based.”
The Meteors are coming up on 30 years––an eternity for any band, let alone an underground band who has never really had any mainstream support or real exposure. It’s really rather remarkable. “We’re gonna do a DVD and at the end of this year, it will be the start of our 30th anniversary,” Fenech said. He mentioned that he will be doing a solo tour consisting of 4 or 5 shows and that The Meteors are coming out with a new album in May. He also said that he is planning another U.S. tour for The Meteors next February. “Definitely come back here. I don’t understand why more people don’t. I mean, it was a 22 hour drive, but we do that a lot,” Fenech said about returning to Salt Lake City.
P. Paul Fenech and The Meteors are as strong in the scene as they ever were, and it’s obvious why that is. Trends, bands and opinions have come and gone throughout the lifespan of psychobilly, but The Meteors have always remained, giving credence to and validating the fact that Only The Meteors Are Pure Psychobilly. So, the next time you’re in Hot Topic picking up your new Creepshow t shirt, reflect for a moment on The Meteors. Think about what psychobilly (or your interpretation of it, anyway) means to you. For without The Meteors, it may never have been … then, think again and buy a Meteors album instead.