Belches, Snarling Guitars and Other Sounds from Newport's Underground.
The Providence Phoenix, January 29, 2014
To many, Newport, Rhode Island is known only for its obscenities of wealth, from the Gilded Age mansions to the tony shops along Thames Street and private boats lulling in the harbor. But among the toys of the 1%, a culture of poverty and restlessness has long simmered. This disconnect helped create and sustain not only some of America’s most influential underground cultures – namely surfing, skateboarding, and hardcore punk rock – but also one of the country’s longest-running “skate rock” bands, The Loud Ones.
With a new album Time to Skate (Beer City Records) and a slate of shows lined up, the band met with me in December at the Salvation Café, a funky bar and restaurant in Newport. In the private dining room upstairs, as holiday music pumped out of the ceiling speakers, the band settled in. A case of Natty Ice appeared and was promptly torn open, while the sounds of Hallelujah rained down.
The band members span a generation and care nothing for their image. Guitarist Metal Man has a long gray beard, oversized flannel shirt, and thoughtful television-grandpa eyes that glisten when he speaks. An equally bearded Michael – the band’s soft-spoken lead guitarist – hid under a brown hoodie and cupped his hands at the fingertips like a quiet mystic. Two younger members, drummer DKnow and singer Boog are outspoken and intelligent. They handle the business side of the band and its social media presence.
And holding court just outside of the table was the founder of the Loud Ones, bass player and skateboarder Fred Smith. Leaning back with a Miller High Life and a nest of reddish locks pouring out from underneath an old Water Brothers Surf Shop trucker hat, Smith barked out memories above his friends’ voices. Gruff, with a brutally dry sense of humor, Smith is an underground celebrity in Newport. At 49, “Freddy” is seen as an unlikely father figure to a generation of East Coast punks and skaters, but he waves off any hints of deference from his band mates.
Smith founded the Loud Ones in Dighton, Massachusetts as a high school student in 1983. (He relocated to Newport in the early 1990s.) Currently its third incarnation, the band is ready to take the stage once again. Part of the band’s resurgence was just luck.
“When [singer] Boog and I came in, the chemistry was undeniable,” DKnow said. “We had to do it now. The timing will never be better. You rarely find the third incarnation of a band this hungry.”
Newport has produced some of the most potent and lasting hardcore bands of the past three decades – the FU’s, Vicious Circle, Verbal Assault – and the Loud Ones’ Time to Skate is destined to become a regional classic. The record’s 28 tracks include new recordings, older demos, and live tracks from the early 1980s. Boog’s snotty vocals are straight out of 1970’s England. In the snarling guitars, you hear a mix of classic Bay Area surf-jangle punk combined with the crushing wall of sound from 1980’s East Coast hardcore. The guitar leads are metal-inflected and the lyrics are deliciously juvenile, mostly covering women, skateboarding, and parties. This is raw music. You can almost smell the skateboard half-pipe laminate and Mad Dog 20/20.
It’s fitting that skateboarding is a major theme of the band; Fred Smith has a long history with the sport. As an original member of Alva Boards in the 1980’s (founded by the mercurial skater/businessman Tony Alva), Smith was part of the legendary skateboarding team known for its kamikaze skating style, dreadlocks, and black leather jackets. They were the anti-Tony Hawk. At the height of his popularity, Smith’s signature skateboard was outselling every other board on the market. “We used to call him the ‘Scamateur’ [because] he was making like 10,000 dollars a month and he wouldn’t even have to enter contests or do all this other shit the pros had to do,” Tony Alva once told TransWorld Skateboarding magazine,
In the early 1990s, Smith co-founded the now-defunct Providence skate park The Skate Hut (formally located at 7 Dike St.), a huge mill complex that housed a massive vertical ramp. It was at “The Hut” where the Loud Ones, in its second incarnation, honed their chops, sharing stages with then-unknown bands Green Day and Jawbreaker. But even as the underground culture that Smith helped create began to explode into the mainstream, he chose to live on its fringes, opening a tattoo shop in Newport and keeping things simple.
Nowadays, for self-described “old crusty punks” the band deftly uses social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram. On Instagram, the Loud Ones have become informal archivists of the Southern New England skate scene, posting vintage skateboarding photographs of they and their friends in their former glory. The photos trigger memories from people who were there and comments from younger followers, awestruck by the images of a wilder time.
But beyond all of the history, the band is just about old friends drinking beer and making noise for their own amusement.
At one point during our visit, the guys started ragging on Metal Mike, joking about his advanced age.
“Your funeral’s tomorrow,” Smith told him.
“Oh man, you guys are morbid.” Metal Mike replied. Then, after a few seconds, he looked around: “Y’all be there, right?”
Smith answered with an explosive belch. The surrounding band of brothers nodded in agreement.