RETURN TO SUPERSUCKERS

 


Rock's ready Spaghetti

BY TOM LANHAM
Special to The Examiner

The story rippled through the San Francisco bar scene like wildfire. A well-known local pub manager named Martin -- recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle accident that set both of his arms in right-angle casts -- was bound and determined to see his favorite band, Seattle cult combo the Supersuckers, when they hit town late last year.

With some equally devout fellow bartenders, he attended a Slim's show, survived the mosh pit and afterward made his way to the merchandise booth, where bandleader Eddie Spaghetti was vending T-shirts. Awestruck, Martin asked the rocker to autograph a cast.

But Spaghetti -- Magic Marker in hand -- wanted to know more. How did the wreck happen? Was it painful? And was it true that the casts made it impossible for the barman to fight back, to defend himself if attacked? Yes, Martin nodded -- he couldn't swing his arms at all. "Good," smirked Spaghetti. And he promptly drew a mustache across Martin's started face.

Seeing this, another bartender raced up to demand that he get a Magic Marker mustache, too. A rather odd band/listener interaction, to be sure. But the Supersuckers -- whose upcoming self-issued album is playfully titled, "Motherf---ers Be Trippin' " -- are notorious for their outrageous sense of humor. And their fans, Spaghetti swears, really seem to get the joke.

Sitting backstage with his wife and toddler son at a recent Bay Area appearance, the 36-year-old Spaghetti was still frat-rat mischievous. Why did he ink Martin's face? "Well, he was incapacitated, you know?" Spaghetti chortles. "So I just couldn't resist."

'It keeps us alive'

Which brings up a good point, he adds. Formed 14 years ago and signed to hip indie SubPop for most of their career, the Supersuckers will openly admit that "none of us are really great at anything. I'm not a really great singer, and our guitarist Ron (Heathman) has only become a very good guitar player in the last few years.

"But there's something about what we do that I'm at a loss to explain," Spaghetti says. "Something about our songs and the spirit of the band resonates deeply with a really select group of people, and that's what makes the Supersuckers magic."

Spaghetti comes off like a real regular Joe. He's wearing jeans, workboots and a denim workshirt, and his short business-length hair is topped by one of his own Supersuckers embroidered baseball caps. He pauses mid-interview to play Dad and make certain that his son's protective headphones are fastened securely for a soundcheck that's beginning without him. And Spaghetti and his missus take time out to compile a quick guest list for the show, featuring all of their Bay Area buddies. There are over a couple dozen names.

Moreover, Spaghetti seems genuinely moved to hear about the Martin-led bartender contingent that often follows the Supersuckers from concert to West Coast concert. "That cultlike following is what keeps us alive," he sighs.

That and a satchelful of timeless rock 'n' roll tunes. Spaghetti easily runs down the roster of his favorite albums, and it's telling: AC/DC's "Powerage," the Ramones' "Rocket To Russia," Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades." And he says the near-perfect "Let It Be" by the Replacements is an album "that totally influenced me and taught me how to put songs together in a very simplistic fashion, while still having them feel fresh and entertaining." "Trippin' " is bristling with such compositions.

Spaghetti's secret

Spaghetti's secret is his innate understanding of a great riff, no matter what musical genre in which it might happen to occur. He didn't give up on arena metal when punk rock hit in the mid-'70s, he says, and he still loves country cat Dwight Yoakam as much as older R&B artists like the Coasters and Chuck Berry.

The Supersuckers' sound reflects this. Every "Trippin' " track is a tangy, twangy singalong, from the cynical opening anthem "Rock-N-Roll Records (Ain't Selling This Year)" to punchy sonic salvos like "Rock Your Ass," "Bubblegum and Beer" and the self-explanatory "A Good Night For My Drinkin'."

Spaghetti grins as a huge garbage can full of Amstel Lights is hauled into his dressing room and gives assurances that, yes, beer does play a crucial role in Supersuckers performances. He pops the top on a bottle; it's gone in just a few swigs.

Smarter than they thought

Businesswise, though, the singer has been keeping a clear head. Originally hailing from Tucson, Spaghetti and crew moved to Seattle in '89, and sidestepped the burgeoning grunge movement on a fundamental philosophy: Let's dumb it down and have some fun.

They recorded split singles with Steve Earle and the Reverend Horton Heat, backed Willie Nelson on a "Tonight Show" slot and even released an entire album of all-country originals in '97.

"And when we turned into country band for a year, it wasn't a 'F--- you' -- it was a 'F--- yeah!' " Spaghetti says. "Bands just don't take risks like that very often these days."

But risk is this rocker's middle name. After an aborted signing with Interscope, Spaghetti launched a personal imprint last year, Mid-Fi Recordings, and began managing the group.

"Our hopes and dreams had been dashed against the sidewalk of commerce," is how he describes his motivation. "We found ourselves thinking, 'Do we wanna beg our way onto another major label, or do we wanna try and do this ourselves?' Like all great ideas, it was born out of necessity."

And it's working. The band -- which opens for Celt-punkers Flogging Molly at Slim's this Friday and Saturday -- hired a booking agent and a publicist and has had no problem licensing "Trippin' " to distributors.

"We do everything ourselves, and we've never made more money," brags Spaghetti. "So I really don't understand why more big artists don't do the same. Why do groups like REM even need a major label when they could do everything on their own?"

Everything except, perhaps, interact with their fans in the same wacky way. Theirs is an audience Spaghetti knows so well, he can risk Magic Marker mustaches without fear of reprisal.

"Our fans are so much smarter than I initially gave them credit for being back when we were pretending to be dumber than we are," he says. "Once we started meeting those fans, I was like, 'Damn! These people aren't idiots at all!' And when they let us do the country thing, that cinched it for me.

"Now I can rest assured that I'll be able to make up songs for the rest of my life, and a decent amount of people will care about them," Spaghetti says. "And you just can't put any monetary value on something like that."