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Pezz: Punk with a Conscience

Memphis punk band stays active.

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"It's unusual," Ceylon Mooney says of his punk band Pezz's 24-year existence. "There's no financial incentive for us to stay together. In punk, you have all of these reunion acts around the country. Some are worth seeing and some aren't worth reading about. We come out of a world where the lifespan of a band like us is four years. We've been doing this for about 25. I joined the band in 1989."

Looking through old Flyer articles on Pezz, there are two that reflect on decades of work, one by Mark Jordan in 1999, and a full accounting of the band's revolving personnel by Andrew Earles in 2010. Through the years, Mooney and guitarist Marvin Stockwell have held the group together as they grew up and found their places in the world. When we talked last week, Mooney's place in the world was walking down a highway.

"We are about 20 miles west of Kalamazoo, Michigan, right now. Today is a 16-mile walk." Mooney was marching with Voices for Creative Nonviolence from Boeing World Headquarters in Chicago to a proposed drone command center in Michigan.

Ceylon Mooney (center)
  • Ceylon Mooney (center)

"It's a walk against drone warfare. The slogan is 'Ground the Drones.' We're here to highlight that the drones kill primarily civilian noncombatants and create enmity among the countries where we're using them. And if there's one thing that will create more terrorists, it's to keep using these drones."

Mooney became politically active in 1998, almost a decade after Pezz formed.

"It's always in the tradition of punk that there is a socio-political bent to the music and to the culture. We've been singing about social unrest for a while. One of our first songs was about Jimmy Moore's campaign to censor and ban certain concerts from being in Memphis because of obscenity and things like that. We grew up in a PMRC America."

Moore was a city councilman in the 1980s who sought to ban the Beastie Boys and other allegedly lewd acts from Memphis. The PMRC was the Parents Music Resource Center, the work of Tipper Gore, wife of then Tennessee senator Al Gore. The PMRC created a pretty kick-ass playlist of "filthy" songs that sparked outrage and led to the parental advisory sticker being placed on "naughty" music back when you had to buy a tangible CD But as the members of Pezz grew up, they have stayed oriented toward activism.

"It's just a matter of our culture," Mooney says. "A lot of us, as we've grown up and moved on in our lives and doing what we do, have become much more focused. Marvin's vocation is serving the working poor. I've spent years in conflict zones among people who are most affected by U.S. wars. My volunteer gig is supporting the homeless. I used to work at the Peace and Justice Center. Anthony Siracusa is one of the people responsible for the development of bike culture and accessibility in the city. So our music comes out of a world where there's a social political bent. It's just that we've become more actively involved in these things over the years. It's a much bigger part of our lives. But it's become more focused."

The band members are comfortable with the new orientation to music as an avocation.

"We have to adjust our expectations," Mooney says. "We're not a band that practices three nights a week and tours for months at a time. Maybe in the quality of the songwriting you can set a high bar. But as far as how polished the recording is, the band doesn't function as a machine. We're weekend warriors. It's a hobby and something we love doing with each other. We found a place in this city and we relate to the world around us. But we can't set our expectations as high as we used to. You can't expect to have your hair blown back after every time you finish a take."

From his long walk, Mooney takes the long view on Pezz.

"To me, this band is like a conversation," Mooney says. "It's a relationship among all of the people who are playing in it. It's a relationship between us and our city, between us and the world around us and the things we struggle with on a daily basis. Sometimes it's as mundane as our everyday lives. We try to wrestle with the world around us and with our place in it — and what our place should be. What we keep coming to is that we can do better, and we should."

Pezz plays with Chaos Order, Tanks, and Grave Pioneer at Black Lodge Video on Friday, June 20th.

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