Red Rocket of Love
The Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad is for the Children
More info on
It's hard not to love a band with a member who calls himself 'The Pikesville Gynecologist"; that expertly re-created the cover (front and back) of Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim for its new album Die Humpin!; that includes a member dressed in a Mexican wrestler's mask whose contributions are described as 'intimidation and tambourine"; that counts a women's studies major among its ranks and also wrote a 'message" song titled 'Lesbian Butt Sex" (its first B-side); and that named itself after a dog dick punning pseudonym its members used to use to 'text battle" on a hip-hop message board.
The Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad-Nikc [SIC] Miller on guitar, Stephen 'Horse Power" Thomas on vocals, Brian Adam Ant on bass, Ryan Graham on guitar, Richard Gugliotta on drums, and Mike 'Captain Mediocrity" Bennett on aforementioned tambourine, though they all play other instruments as well-is just having a bit of fun, like the recently fired cast of a cable access children's show drunk on Natty Boh and playing Hank Williams and Motörhead covers while still in costume. 'I don't think anyone's ever been disappointed by a Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad show," Ant says. And true enough: In a tight-pantsed sea of identikit 98 Rock hopefuls who have stepped right out of their own promo photos, a Flute Squad show is a hell of a lot of fun.
'We're entertainers," Bennett says with a mischievous twinkle behind his big round glasses.
'We are entertainers," Graham says. 'The fact that we wear those crazy costumes shows that we're definitely dedicated to putting on an entertaining show that people will want to watch. We're not just staring at our shoes the whole time."
'We don't have any talent, so we have to have a gimmick," Miller deadpans.
'You really can't take yourself too seriously when you're wearing a Mexican wrestler's mask or a giant sombrero or, goodness forbid, a giant cardboard horse head," Thomas says.
'I'm gonna quote Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone," Bennett says. 'When he turned his hat to the back, it was like a switch. When I put the mask on, it's like a switch. I go from Mike, the mild-mannered women's studies major, to Captain Mediocrity."
Sitting in the empty backyard of Racers, a Parkville bar that's the band's home base after many nights spent there scribbling out scripts for the films its members also make, they speak highly of its beer selection and complementary scoop-your-own peanuts. After mollifying a bartender convinced that the guy in the giant cardboard horse head (that would be Thomas) and the City Paper photographer were up to no good, the six Marmadukes down a variety of brews and talk zombies, the ill effects of adding water to Thunderbird fortified wine, and club owners' occasionally less than enthused reactions to Flute Squad shows. ('You'd think the people that didn't want to see us would be driven to drink more," Miller says.)
'We hardly overlap anywhere, I think," Bennett says when asked how the Flute Squad came to its punk/heavy metal/hillbilly sing-along mash-up sound.
'I just tell people we're a ska band," Miller says.
Ween, unsurprisingly, comes up frequently as a point of reference among the band members, and like Ween, the Flute Squad has the musical chops to pull off both punk-rockers like 'George W. Makes Me Bleed" and country-western songs like 'Look Around." (The country tunes even come complete with banjo, mouth harp, and trumpet.) Those chops also help to make sure the jokes don't wear themselves out after one listen; after all, you can't take the wrestling tambourine player home with you. These are serious songs that just happen to have silly subjects. (Ween equals good and the Bloodhound Gang equals bad, the latter being something we can all agree on.) The Flute Squad takes pride in being able to bring the rock whenever necessary-they probably just paid more attention to David Lee Roth than Eddie Van Halen when growing up.
The band formed two years ago this past January, growing out of Miller's home recordings. 'I remember listening to [Miller's solo stuff] and thinking there were some really amazing hooks," Graham says. 'I started thinking . . . what could I do with these hooks if we put them into this huge Phil Spector or Mutt Lange-type of overproduction, just pump up those hooks and give it a little bit of sheen. And that's kind of what the new album is."
Twenty-first-century DIY to the core, Die Humpin! does sound radio-ready-even if the band's not quite sure where it would fit on the radio-thanks to the magic of home-studio computer recording. Listen to the time and care spent tweaking the sound in postproduction and you could never call the Flute Squad a 'joke" band.
Miller and Bennett met in high school, where they grew up goofing with video cameras before guitars; their shorts as Better Hollywood Productions (with Bennett's brother John) have been shown at a variety of local and regional film festivals. The film connection-both Bennett and Miller appeared with Thomas in Graham's zombie feature Livelihood, what the band jokingly calls its Hard Day's Night-and gigging around the Baltimore-area art (Thomas is a board member at the Hamilton Arts Collective) and music scenes eventually shuffled the players into place. Ages range between early 20s and 30; prior band experience ranges from hardcore bands to high-school years spent playing Zappa covers. Ant has just released his second solo disc and also plays with local rockers Evolve.
Sitting around the table at Racers, the band's T-shirts advertise pretty unicorns, garage punks the New Bomb Turks, and chow puppies. Day jobs are spoken of as necessary evils to fund a compulsion to make art-be it music, film, whatever-as a way of both having fun and adding something to the world rather than just watching TV. Thomas talks excitedly about already living out three of his dreams: singing in a rock band, being in a zombie movie, and now appearing in a comic book, an adaptation of Livelihood. And all the members agree that-forget the costumes and the stage show for a second-they're a rock band, not a comedy troupe.
'We're riding a fine line," Bennett laughs.
'Basically we just want underage teenage girls screaming and grabbing for our crotches," Miller says. 'Something positive for the kids."