Memphis hardcore/punk institution Pezz celebrates its 20th year of existence this weekend at the Hi-Tone Café. Through the release of four full-length LPs, two split LPs (with Bury the Living and While I Breathe I Hope), several singles, and years of touring, there have been two constants in the band: Marvin Stockwell and Ceylon Mooney, who formed Pezz in 1989, when the latter was still in high school at Memphis University School.
Like most of the Memphians who would go on to play important roles in the city's punk, indie-rock, and garage scenes, Stockwell answered the siren call of the Antenna club, the locus of a hardcore scene then headlined by a band called Sobering Consequences, an influence that made Pezz possible, according to Stockwell.
Over the course of two decades, Pezz has garnered respect from scene luminaries and notables such as Leatherface (whom Pezz supported on a 25-date tour), Hot Water Music, At the Drive-In, 7 Seconds, Samiam, and, oddly enough, the late Wesley Willis. Through the years, the band developed an identifiable, energetic, and smart take on what could be called "melodic hardcore."
If Stockwell and Mooney have been constants, there's been plenty of change around them, including a history of bass players that borders on Spinal Tap-ish volatility. In fact, one could almost do a local-music documentary on the history of Pezz bass players.
The band's first bass player was Brian Venable, who went on to play guitar for Lucero. It wasn't long before Venable exited and another name many readers will recognize — producer, band leader, and studio owner Scott Bomar — entered.
"Scott was the first bass player to appear on any recordings, and he stayed on until the end of 1992," Stockwell says. "Then Roy Isaacson, former singer for Sobering Consequences, was our bass player from '93 until early '96."
Later came came the former bassist for a Little Rock pop-punk foursome called Red 40.
"I must admit to a little pride in the fact that Ben Nichols' first touring experience was as the bassist for Pezz, looking at the road-dog that he is now," Stockwell says. "His honesty about it was great. After that tour, he told us that he wanted to concentrate on leading his own band, which, of course, we were supportive of. Six or so months pass and I'm at a show somewhere and Brian [Venable] and Ben come up and start talking about this country band they just started ... called Lucero."
But the local-music-scene family tree doesn't end there. The next bassist was [Flyer contributor] J.D. Reager, who was 19 at the time of his tenure in Pezz. Reager would go on to help run the Makeshift collective/label and to lead no shortage of bands on his own.
The current bassist is Christian Walker, who, along with Mooney, is also in the much heavier band Bury the Living.
"I guess the real and important thing at the core of this band is friendship," Stockwell says. "We all like one another. I know it sounds cliché, and someone in every band always says something like that during an interview, but the difference with us is that it's true."
The current Pezz lineup is rounded out by Shawn Apple (also of Bury the Living) on guitar and Graham Burks (The Perfect Vessels, Small Room) on drums.
Pezz will celebrate their 20th year together by headlining a show on Friday, June 11th, at the Hi-Tone Café. It will also be a record-release celebration for their three-song, vinyl-only The Wicked Leading the Blind EP, courtesy of local upstart label Fat Sandwich. Panther Piss and Tanks share the bill.
Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10.