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Athens musical troupe Dark Meat rival Polyphonic Spree in size and the 13th Floor Elevators in squalling, shambolic approach. Frontman Jim McHugh is actually listening to Roky Erickson’s old band when I reach him by phone. Formed in 2004 by Greensboro natives McHugh and Ben Clack, the band released its debut, Universal Indians, in 2006, after McHugh relocated to Athens, Ga. Vice Records recently reissued the album as a double-vinyl set with three unreleased songs.
The band’s expansive approach readily segues from pretty, horn and string-addled folk-rock to face-melting squalls of distortion, and trancey, percussive drones. It’s not surprising that McHugh counts The Velvet Underground and the Stooges’ Raw Power among the first albums that shaped him. At times, his music sounds like someone dropped “Venus in Furs” into “Search and Destroy.” Like those bands, McHugh’s music reflects a quest for a certain type of transcendence. McHugh is seeking something more than a typical rock show. Thus, the 17 compatriots.
“Who fucking cares if you can play your guitar like an ace, really?” McHugh asks. “We’re past the point where rock bands are going to make a really important impression. I’m not talking about market niches, I’m talking about changing people’s lives. There’s so much distance between the world now, so it’s super challenging, but there’s no barriers between the audience and the stage. I’m not staring at my bellybutton while I try to rip off a Dire Straits solo. I hope to be in your grill, and I hope you like it.”
Traveling, McHugh offered his thoughts on these five words.
PUNK ROCK: As D. Boon said, punk rock saved my life. It’s the reason I am where I am and I’m doing what I’m doing, for better or worse. Everything at heart that we do as a band is punk rock, I’d say. I started going to house shows in Greensboro and seeing all these punk rock shows and I never stopped exploring the political/ psychic/ physical/ musical ramifications of what punk rock is and what it evolved into. That’s where we’re at. That’s what’s funny about our image. People think we’re some kind of flower children, and we’re really a loud, fucked up punk rock band that likes free jazz. We’re into some shit associated with flower children, but we’ve all been punk rock road dogs for years.
PSYCHEDELIC: I think some of the best psychedelic albums of the last 20 years have been made by bands lumped into the punk-rock thing. It’s just being open to different sounds instead of being restricted by whatever notions people apply to terms like punk rock. Zen Arcade is one of the greatest psychedelic albums ever, even though Hüsker Dü is usually linked to punk rock. Really, psychedelia is the next step in open and expansive music. Sort of applying the freedom that punk rock blazed to music, if I want to play a one-minute free jazz part in the middle of your garage rock tune, it shouldn’t matter.
CULTURE: Athens has a very active culture. We’re really proud to be a part of that and it behooved us being a part of that … I lived in Greensboro and made music there for a long time, and it was either really raffle or really sad music. All of a sudden, down here, there are all these people who were willing to celebrate it and joined in with it. It became this carnival. There’s still the rage and still pathos because I’m human, but people were participating in it so hard, on such a true level, that you can’t help but be joyous about what you’re doing.
AUDIENCE: There is no difference between the band and the audience in any way. We’re a big fucking band so we’re always spilling. People are really lost in the rapture of performance, you’d be surprised; the staunchest hipster in Austin at SXSW is painting her face purple, putting confetti in her hair and flipping the fuck out with a tambourine. Badly, but that’s what happens.
TEAMWORK: The one word in my situation that I would spout out Rorschach-style is necessary. We live in a huge, enormous, ambulatory giant iron tube [a 35-foot GMC bus], and everyone in the world is a complex individual, so we have to make that work. On the level of emotional survival, teamwork is absolutely necessary, never mind the schematic issues we face, automotive issues, gear issues. This is where we live, and we got good at it.
Dark Meat and Monotonix play Slim’s in Raleigh Tuesday, April 15, at 10 p.m. Cover is $3.