London, UK: I'm at a pub called The Dirty Water Club. It has the distinct feel of a VFW hall, wood paneling, linoleum floors. Tonight, Stalkers kick off a brief UK tour that will take them to both Leeds and Reading Festivals. Over sound check, the guys filled me in on the previous all-nighter. I can hardly believe what I see on the back of someone's digital camera. “I didn't black out! I talked to Avi, we smoked half a pack of cigarettes standing outside the hotel at 8 in the morning. Then we ate these French rolls with bacon in them.” says Lefty. The fresh-faced guitarist is a recent addition to the band, and had just taken his first plane ride. He has the look and the mannerisms of a young Dave Weston (of the eponymous punk band of yore).
You may not know it, but across the old deep Atlantic our Stalkers have landed like a bomb. Front man Andy Animal credits Jesse Malin for hooking them up with One Little Indian in London, a label who put out the likes of Malin and, uh, Bjork. And now, the debut LP, “Yesterday is No Tomorrow” as well (on Dollar Record Records stateside). I joined the band in the van en route to Leeds, hoping to learn the source of the New York band's exploding popularity in the UK.
“I really don't know,” says Danny, Stalkers bassist. “I think [these] guys actually listen to music here. People in New York just kinda dance to anything. It's all dance music, not really rock n' roll. People listen to us here because NME tells them to. I can't believe the [bartender] here knows who Stalkers are.” Danny's been seen onstage outfitted in the following: Ray-Bans, leather jacket (no-shirt), blue-jeans, leather converse and Thunderbird bass. Ever notice on those vintage vinyl tracks how loud and dirty the bass is? Thank the Thunderbird.
Josh Styles, on drums, lives up to his (real) surname. Mod haircut, sharp threads. When asked where he gets his scarves, Josh told me he inherited them from his grandmother. Josh used to front a New York band called Dementia13, and switched to playing drums when Andy started Stalkers. The camaraderie is great in this group of lads.
Five minutes with Andy and you know why they call him Animal. He's sometimes possessed, with a crazed look in his clear blue eye. He's been spotted wearing an eye patch, and his long hair has not had the rock washed out of it. He's garage in the sense that he looks like he lives in one. Upon mention that I was traveling with Andy, out came the stories… “That guy used to be our roadie,” “This one time we were all so fucked up…” Seems we have a living legend here.
Manager, David Allen (Cavehouse Artists), recounts his first time seeing Stalkers. “I hadn't seen anything like it since the hey-day of 1977.
“Andy certainly doesn't fit the mold of the current day lead-singer. He's absolutely unique, and I think it's healthy for that mold to be broken. I mean, so many of these kids spend more time at a gym than they do at a rehearsal space. Andy's not very conscious about his appearance, beyond a certain point. He doesn't give a shit … They're very much the real thing.”
Very much the real thing indeed. There was no luxury sleeper bus with a shower and very few hotels on this trip. These guys can really rough it. En route, we were all singing: “We are from the Lower East Side! We don't give a damn if we live or die!” a la GG Allin. It was still dark when we arrived at the Leeds Festival fairgrounds. The door opened, an avalanche of garbage rolled out of the van, and the boys were off to find a party. At sunrise, the stage was empty, and we looked out at a field of grass that by noon would be filled with upwards of 160,000 screaming concert goers across five stages. What a sight! I did not hold back from humming a few bars of “It's Cold Outside,” considering the temperature had dropped to about 55 degrees.
At last, Stalkers take the stage in broad daylight. The kids started heading over from the campgrounds as soon as the gates were opened. These were kids who probably had similar record collections as the band. The mods, the garage kids, the punks. An impressive crowd considering the early hour. Andy donned an American flag cape and jumped down to the audience to hand out drinks. Two days and three hundred miles later, the Reading Festival would prove no different. Andy didn't disappoint when he vomited on stage during the breakdown of “Sun's Coming Up.” The boys played their short songs with no banter, just straight rockin'. By the end of their 25-minute set, the crowd had just about doubled and the kids were dancing, hooting and hollering. Andy was their new rock hero.