The New Flesh Celebrates A Half Decade Of Half-Decayed, Weird Punk Rock
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"The New Flesh has been a constant evolutionary process," says bassist/singer Jason Donnells of the trio he co-founded in the fall of 2002. "It was just weird punk, and it got weirder." But drummer Rick Weaver, a veteran of several local bands including Human Host and the Organ Donors, deadpans a more cryptic take on the band's five-year history. "Even if we all just stopped, it would just keep on going," he says. "It's just sort of like this living creature that we created, so much like anything that has to do with any human being."
Donnells, 25, and Weaver, 23, sit on a Guilford Avenue sidewalk late on a Monday night with Greg Dembeck, a photographer and longtime acquaintance of the band who became its new guitarist earlier this year. His addition has injected some new blood to the New Flesh's already open-wound sound.
Dembeck experienced that constant evolutionary process firsthand. At the chaotic Aug. 6 "The New Flesh vs. Everyone" open-mic night at the Sidebar, the band would play one song at a time between sets of earsplitting rock by several like-minded combos. And although they were game for the unusual format, the abrupt start/stop of several brief performances throughout the night was clearly a unique challenge.
"In a band like this, you've just gotta punch people in the face until they can't take it anymore," Dembeck says. "But it's weird when you just kinda, like, punch them and then take a break."
"It's like hittin' a brick wall," Weaver agrees.
Earlier this year, Donnells and Weaver parted ways with the New Flesh's original guitarist, Danny Propert, 24. Donnells describes the break as a mutual decision, while hinting at some possible discord. "I don't know, he got burned out, and we got burned out on him," he shrugs. Still, Propert, also of the solo project Legless, plans to play one last show with the band, a celebration of the its fifth anniversary this week, while Dembeck tours South Carolina with yet another of his bands, Tigers.
Dembeck, Donnells, and Weaver are a good deal friendlier and more talkative than the confrontational racket they raise, but the New Flesh's bleak, gasoline-soaked sound has some origins in real-life experiences. "When Danny was in the band, we all worked at the same gas station in Catonsville," Donnells recalls. "I was the mechanic, and those guys were the cashiers. As I'd be leaving for the day, somebody would be coming in, and then as I'm coming in somebody would be just leaving. It was just 24 hours of New Flesh."
"You're in that box all night, so you sorta realize that you're creating your reality at all times," Weaver says of his experiences behind the bulletproof glass on the graveyard shift. "One day I'm, like, `I wonder if I just saw somebody die outside this door.' Then, a couple hours later, this guy died right on the corner of the street. That's when I realized, Oh, you better watch what you think."
Despite the band's clear roots in hardcore and allegiance to the guitar/bass/drums format, the New Flesh's sound is so viscerally overwhelming, especially live, that it's been grouped with sometimes contentious genre categorizations. "We sorta got tagged there for a while with a lot of noise bands, so people thought we were noise," Weaver says. "But we've never been a noise band."
"I've actively, personally, sought to dismiss that label as `noise,' but I don't know," Donnells adds. "I think it's kind of a good thing. I can embrace the fact that we were intertwined with other scenes." Still, the genre tags on the band's MySpace page, which once included that divisive N-word, now simply read "Punk/ Punk/ Punk."
To date, the New Flesh has released two albums: 2004's Parasite (Maelstrom Recordings) and this year's Vessel (Heart Break Beat), as well as numerous singles, split releases, and compilation appearances spread across various small labels. But the band is looking to double its recorded output soon with two more full-lengths, the first coming out as early as this fall. "We're recording the basic drum tracks on our own and then going to individuals for one or two songs each," Weaver says. "So it's produced by a number of different people. Hopefully it'll have a different feel for every song but still form a cohesive whole."
Dembeck's addition, plus a practice space where the band can log 10-hour jam sessions, has accelerated the New Flesh's creative output of late. ("My dad was a part-time security guard at concerts, so he kinda doesn't mind the noise at all, " Weaver says of the location.) And the latest release, the "Dog"/"Memory Scrap" 7-inch on Terra Firma Records, represents a new step for the band in that it's the first New Flesh record to feature a lyric sheet.
"I've always wanted to print the lyrics," Donnells says, conceding that while he tries to make the words audible in their songs, "it's kind of impossible playin' loud-ass distorted stuff like we're doin'." Those abstract lyrics--"objects of service, cheap entertainment/ that's all that draws us together, nothing draws us together/ same fucking cage view, same room wandering through memory scrap," goes "Memory Scrap"--perfectly evoke the warped, jaundiced worldview that seeps through everything from the New Flesh's brutal, bass-heavy aural assault to the surreal, grotesque album artwork. Or maybe they're just describing one really bad night at that gas station.