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They’ve got the hots for Charlie Watts: Hanging with the Exbats

Many a great rock and roll band has born from the seed of great friends hanging out and digging on a shared love of a song or a sound. For Inez and Kenny McClain, of father-daughter duo the Exbats, that sound and aesthetic was late '70s New York Bowery punk, from well-known bands like Blondie and the Ramones to rarities like Judy Nylon's fabulously underrated NYC band Snatch, whose song "IRC" was a particular influence on the Bisbee-based musicians.

"[Things that sound] like girl gangs in subways are the best. And obviously the first record by the Ramones, that's a definite songwriting target. Or the Velvet Underground. The movie 'The Warriors' is cool, maybe that movie 'Times Square,' all that stuff," said Kenny, adding that his band sounds "sorta like if the Partridge Family picked up the Cramps hitchhiking.".

"It's not that we try hard to capture that spirit," he said. "It's just that we feel like carefully avoiding most everything else. And for pop radio, that's exactly what we are trying to do. We write singles. Pretty much an Exbats record should sound like a greatest hits record."

While this approach to songcraft may seem a bit chaotic, there's actually a bit of disciplined genius to it. In the style of the old school Nashville and Brill Building hitmakers, the ExBats follow a strict structural template in their songwriting, hinging on a catchy hook and purging anything unnecessary. The result is a catalog of simple, brilliant two-and-a-half-minute garage punk gems very much in the tradition of The Ramones or "newer" old punk bands like Shonen Knife. According to Kenny taking more time than that would feel indulgent and kill the band's intent.

"We honestly feel like the world has more than enough killer musicians and singers and that's really great,and that's covered like for the next bunch of decades right? That probably won't change about us, we aren't going to blow minds with [our] chops. But we will always be super honest in our songs." he said. "[We] care more about the songwriting being exciting than any other aspect of the band. If we are honest enough with ourselves than the song can just live its own sorta killer life, and we just get to deliver it."

Beyond a penchant for raw honesty, the band's underlying motivation is to channel the lo-fi joy and energy of old-school rock and roll radio."If we sound like some old band coming through an AM radio attached to some bike handle bars outside an arcade, then were getting pretty close to the place we wanna be," Kenny muses. "It would be cool to sound like the Bay City Rollers."

In truth it would be safe to say the Exbats sound at least as much fun as the Bay City Rollers. While Kenny casually channels the ghosts of Joe Strummer and Johnny Thunders on guitar, drummer/vocalist Inez McClain plays and sings with the rhythmic timing of a drummer twice her age and a vocal delivery that is equal parts bubblegum sweetness and streetwise punk rock snark.

Inez's childhood was always just a tad unconventional and music was a giant part of it. The 18-year-old Oregon native has been playing live music since at least age 10, when she and Kenny began playing shows in their former home of Portland.

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 Even her name has rock and roll roots. "My mom has always had a big crush on Michael Nesmith, whose nickname was 'Papa Nez.' The Monkees are our family's favorite band. I met [Nesmith] when I was two years old, at a book signing in Texas," she says. "He totally gave her mom a creeped-out look when she told him we named her after him," chimes in Kenny.

While the idea of playing rock and roll with one's parents would mortify many a self respecting teen or tween, performing with her dad has seemed to give Inez an ease and confidence many young musicians struggle for.

"People feel really comfortable around us," she said. "It's crazy relatable. But honestly we would have stopped a couple years ago, and nearly did stop because all that funny stuff was there but we hadn't quite found our sound. It took us awhile to learn how to really write together.".

Once they did it was an easy choice to "be brave" and keep going.

"I mean, when you write a song like "Kill Yr Boyfriend" or "Xena" you just really want to share it."

While writing and playing together has always been fun for the duo, pursuing music on a professional level didn't always seem inevitable.

Kenny recalls a time a few years back when the band considered hanging it all up, but for a chance gig in a strange place.

"We were visiting our friend Xissy in Prague and he got us a show, and we were really at a low point. Living so far off the grid that we never got any feedback, we only cared for a few of our songs, but he was into it. So we bought a shitty guitar at a pawn shop and played this bar that looked like the Cavern Club. And for the first time, among total strangers, who were mostly not speaking English, our reception was incredible. They made us play our set over. They took pics and basically implored us to keep doing our thing. Prague is great." Kenny said. The band would love to visit and tour Eastern Europe again, he added. "We are secretly Hungarian!"

In a far less globetrotting move, a few years back, the 'Bats made the move from bustling Portland to rural Arizona. While they currently reside in the arts-friendly Bisbee, the two originally settled in the town of Piñon, where homespun punk bands are a bit less common than, say, backyard chicken coops.

"The name ExBats is a British term used for ex-battery hens, caged hens," said Kenny.  The band's first album title, "A Guide To The Health Issues Affecting Rescue Hens," was inspired by a book the two found when we googling the name ExBats.

"We're even more excited for the title Inez came up with for our next one," he said. "[It's called] 'I Got The Hots For Charlie Watts."

The new album, the ExBat's second release, was recorded at Tucson's Midtown Island Studios and will be released next month on cassette by California indie label Burger Records. "We are very loyal to Midtown Island and [studio proprietor] Matt Rendon. That's all there is to it. It works for us. We need to be ourselves, we can't be urged to sound a certain way or we get distracted."

In addition to recurring gigs in Bisbee, the band is a regular presence in Tucson these days. In addition to the upcoming album release party next month at D&D Pinball, they will be making appearances at Kitty Quasar's Glitter Ball on Sep. 9 at The Rialto Theater and a midweek show this coming Tuesday night at Bar Passe, supporting SoCal art punk band The May Company.

The Ex Bats with May Company, 6 p.m Tuesday, at Bar Passe, 417 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)

Surfing the sonic waves With Lenguas Largas

Lenguas Largas is not a band you listen to so much as a band you feel, in epic, sonic waves that are almost visible to the naked eye. The Tucson based indie psych/punk/noise band sometimes boasts as many as three drummers plus added percussion pounding out a primitive tribal heartbeat pulsing through fuzzy layers of noise guitar and  ghostly, dream psych lyrical weirdness. The current, stripped down lineup, freshly returned from a Japanese tour, features founding members Isaac Reyes and Ricky Schimo, bassist Tommy Melchionda and Free Machines/Carbon Canyon drummer Brian Bollt. Check them out at an early Sunday night show this weekend at Club Congress.

Lenguas Largas opens for Michigan indie band the Plurals w/ Jason Paul Band and Monsignor Wednesday's Guitar Mass, 7 p.m. Sunday at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (Downtown)

A chip off the old (Pascua) block

Hailing from the Yaqui village of Old Pascua on Tucson's West Side, Sur Block's brand of desert indie pop blends eclectic indie pop and Arcade Fire-style anthems with electronic pulses and gorgeously melodic vocal harmonies. The band released an EP this summer and is about to head out on tour, but you can catch them this Tuesday night as part of an evening of glorious baroque indie pop, opening for NYC band A Deer A Horse at Bar Passe.

Sur Block, Half-Broke Town, Juju Fontaine, A Deer A Horse, 8 p.m. Tuesday at Bar Passe, 417 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)

Remembering Bob Spasm, rock and roll gentleman

Last weekend Tucson said goodbye a local punk rock legend, as Mr. Robert McKinley aka "Bob Spasm" was laid to rest. Bob was best known as the unapologetically profane, politically incorrect and very outspoken singer/lyricist of infamous Tucson hardcore punk pioneers Bloodspasm and the band's precursor U.P.S. (short for "Useless Pieces Of Shit.") But despite his raw hardcore image, Bob was also not so secretly known in local music scene circles as a friendly, talkative guy who loved his friends and loved good punk music.

Bloodspasm was responsible for one of the songs on the short list for Tucson's city anthem, the frequently covered "We've Got Cactus."

Tim Gallagher (aka Hank Topless): "I have a fond memory of Bob approaching me at Vaudeville (before a Topless Opry set), and asking if he could come up to the mic midway through to read a poem. Of course, I agreed. Still recall his stack of handwritten papers."

Wendy Gadzuk: "Bob used to sit at the bar at Vaudeville where I tended bar, and often stay after-hours and I would give him rides home. He was always extremely generous with the bands and the staff. And he sure liked to talk!! One time he actually admitted to me that his controversial (at least in the punk rock world) political views were often stated just to piss people off, not because he actually believed all of it."

Sarah Hamilton: "I picked [Bob] up from work after he had pulled an all-night shift. When he got in my car-he told me about how excited he was that his new Radio Birdman CD had arrived from Europe the day before and how they were sooo his fave band. The CD player was out in my car - so he plugged in his headphones and told me to wake him up when we got downtown. He pushed play and immediately started to snore,sing and smile, simultaneously. Somewhere near the U o fA stadium, I stopped at the red light. A work truck behind me didn't bother to slow down. A large crashing sound followed as the truck proceeded to crush the spoiler of my new car and I instinctively threw my  arm, in front of Bobs face. After  what seemed like forever, my ears quit ringing. I came to full understanding of what had just happened. Bob continued to snore. When campus cops came to the scene, Bob's window was down. The campus cop gave Bob a semi concerned nudge on shoulder..."Sir, you OK?" Bob grumbled...".Birdman,"  ... Took him a while to wake up.

Katie Rogers: "We had a huge party at my house and Los Federales played, and my band played, and Bob saved me from a girl who had a surgical knife tucked in her knee-high boot. I had just punched her in the nose and he came back to the party later and told me that he had immediately gotten her outside and called a cab to send her home because he was afraid she would gut me."

Lenny Cortes: "We went to see Dee Dee Ramone and his band play at the Rock. I spent the last 12 bucks I had getting in so I was fine with drinking water as long as I got to see Dee Dee. Bob noticed I had nothing to drink and was, like "Dammit, Lenny' and thrust five bucks in my hand. While the first band was playing Bob and I wandered outside where we ran into Dee Dee himself and his wife Barbara. I happened to have something to smoke and Dee Dee actually asked his wife if it was cool to partake. Of course Bob didn't indulge, but we both took turns glancing at each other, star-struck all over. I know when you meet your idols and find out they're just regular people it's a regular thing in punk rock but this was different, Bob positively tittered! After the concert we waited around for Dee Dee to come back out, and it started getting late so I asked Bob if he was going to want to ride home with me but he just said 'Ah I think I'm going to wait em' out.'"

Fonda: "The most amazing thing about Bob was that you could completely disagree with his politics and just about everything else and he would still embrace you and be a supportive friend he should be a model to all of us of how easy it really is to agree to disagree. the world is a lesser place without him."

Bob died August 9 from complications from multiple sclerosis. He was buried last Saturday in Pennsylvania. A Tucson memorial is in the works, with details yet to be announced. In the meantime, Tucsonans can best remember Bob by indulging in green olive pizza, White Castle burgers or "two Luke's sandwiches and a six pack of Coors," watching some football or wrestling and being a goddamned decent human being as often as possible.

Live Music Listings

Friday August 25

  • La Cerca, Dirt Friends, Natalie Pohanic, 9 p.m. Sky Bar, 536 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • Michael Considine, 5:30 p.m., Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
  • Pigmy Death-Ray, Creepsville 666, Muskhog. 9 p.m., Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • Mike Herbert's Prison Band, Limit Club, Heather Hardy, 7:30 p.m., Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (Downtown)
  • Archer, 8 p.m., The Loudhouse, 915 W. Prince Rd. (North)
  • BreakingGlass with Dulcet Chimera, 9 p.m., Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave. (S of Downtown)
  • Stonebreed 8 p.m., House Of Bards, 4915 E. Speedway (Central)

Saturday August 26

  • The Demons (Benefit for Tucson schools) 3 p.m., Saint Charles Tavern
  • Infinite Beauties and Monsignor Wednesday's Guitar Mass, 9 p.m., Saint Charles Tavern
  • Mantis w/ Soul Shaker. 8 p.m., House Of Bards
  • Jessica Fichot, 7 p.m., Club Congress
  • Al Foul, 10 p.m., Che's Lounge, 350 N, 4th Ave, (Downtown)

Sunday August 27

  • The Sinners, 6:30 p.m., Che's Lounge
  • The Plurals, Lenguas Largas, Jason Paul Band, Monsignor Wednesday's Guitar Mass, 7 p.m., Club Congress

Tuesday August 29

  • The Ex Bats w/ May Company, 6 p.m., Bar Passe
  • Sur Block, Half-Broke Town, Juju Fontaine, A Deer A Horse 8 p.m.. Bar Passe
  • Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, 8 p.m., The Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.

Wednesday August 30

  • Sawyer Fredricks 8 p.m., 191 E. Toole (Downtown)
  • Andrew Victor, Casey Golden, Keith Abbott, Prabjit Virdee 6 p.m., Bar Passe
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Ken and Inez McLain of The Exbats

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