Don't call them an exercise in revivalism. Call them exactly what they are: Cobweb-clearing endeavors that the underground Memphis music scene desperately needs. Or just call them hardcore. Even if Staags! and No Comply manage to recall Midtown Memphis' first hardcore punk-rock heyday (late '80s through late '90s), like all good hardcore, these new local bands have little to do with nostalgia (despite a few members having been involved in the Memphis heyday).
In the case of Staags!, nostalgia would be impossible, as founding guitarist/vocalist Cameron Higgs, formerly of The Weatherman (in his words, "a really shitty band") and The Barbaras, is still in his early 20s.
"Staags! were a garage-rock band for a while, and I got tired of that and started writing more hardcore songs," Higgs says. "It killed our popularity. We were liked a lot more as a garage band."
The transformation also killed the band's original lineup: Two members left when the hardcore direction began taking over.
"Every musical genre seems to be fairly formulaic," Higgs says. "Garage rock had gotten me back into music again, but it was getting old, and it seemed like everyone into it was 40 years old or 17. There wasn't any middle ground, so I guess I was frustrated, and the anger of hardcore punk rock appealed to me again."
Rounding out the current lineup is the other original member, Robin Pack, on bass, Jackson Gilman on drums, and Kyle Johnson on guitar. Johnson was a member of early-'90s pop-punk band American Lesion, and Pack is a rock-show fixture, documenting bands with his mobile recording unit. As Rocket Science Audio, he provides, for instance, the recordings that fill the GonerFest compilations. Pack has a musical background with decidedly un-hardcore moments (the onetime jamband-that-wouldn't-die Yow), but more importantly, he held down the bass slot in the powerful sludge punk/metal hybrid The Lewds and the equally punchy Sonsabitches.
"It's no secret that I have tie-dyes and devil sticks in my background, but before that, I listened to the Circle Jerks and Poison Idea as a kid," Pack says. "In terms of what I listen to and what I play, I want music that kicks people in the face for a while, let's them rest, then kicks people in the face some more, and so on — music that quickly gets to the point."
The Staags!' self-released seven-inch EP, Adult Brigade, is six songs of furious hardcore in little over 10 minutes. The hilarious cover features the members massacred in an office copy room, all dressed in professional middle-management garb with Gilman in the foreground aiming a stapler at the camera. Pack's other life in the corporate world no doubt provided some inspiration for the shot.
Largely pedigreed in the city's '90s punk-rock and hardcore salad days, No Comply features guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Geoffrey Brent Shrewsbury, a photographer, filmmaker, and skilled go-to cameraman who recently worked on Craig Brewer's upcoming web series $5 Cover. Musically, Shrewsbury is best known as the drummer for one of Memphis' brief but great late-'90s punk-rock hopes, Vegas Thunder. Drummer Tony Sojourner was in hardcore mainstays Left for Dead and Blank Is Born, while vocalist Matt Johnson played with Shrewsbury in the band Pickles and Bananas.
Like Higgs, Shrewsbury found much of what surrounded him on the rock and garage scene to be insufferable.
"I wanted to do something with the guts and energy that the current scene sorely lacks," Shrewsbury says. "Not that we're better than any other band, and not to say that bands without a visceral impact are necessarily bad. Harlan [T. Bobo] obviously plays from the heart, and that's what's important, that's why we're doing this. It's not for nostalgia."
Scheduled as the next catalog release in the Goner Records discography, No Comply's eight-song seven-inch EP, It's Getting Hot, nonetheless plays like a hardcore hall-of-greatness with original and updated nods to '90s luminaries Born Against and Los Crudos, '80s skate punk, and straight-up hardcore. No Comply is subtly political, blasting through their amazing sets minus the self-righteous verbal intermissions that have made a laughingstock of some hardcore bands.
"I want people to go away from our shows feeling good because of what we gave them, not because they got laid or drunk," Shrewsbury says. "This music feels great to play. [I] suppose it's my version of what I would want to hear from a Memphis band."