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Comes the Dawn

[whitespace] Junk Sick Dawn
Michael Shapiro

Deal 'Em In: It was Kim Deal of the Breeders who inspired Junk Sick Dawn to keep playing through tough times.

Junk Sick Dawn makes a glorious noise of distorted guitars, off-kilter beats and tortured lyrics

By Matt Koumaras

'THERE WAS ONE KID in high school who had dyed hair, ripped jeans and a leather jacket with buttons all over it," says Tait Reed, Junk Sick Dawn's scrappy vocalist. "I was the only one back then who would call himself a punk, and I would get the crap beaten out of me day in and day out."

Reed, a 27-year-old resident of Santa Cruz, says he "wouldn't have graduated high school in one piece" if it hadn't been for the Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables album. The irony is that the same bullies who smashed Reed's head into the concrete are now into punk music.

Bassist Russ Spaceranger, formerly of Poppy, teases Reed, "So, are you going to the 10-year reunion?"

Reed bundled up all his pain and formed the cathartic rock band Junk Sick Dawn in 1993. The band has put out a handful of self-made demos, the most notable being the lusciously introspective Genuine Monkey Pod, and the big vinyl bang of Hasta Que la Muerte (loosely translated by the Spanish novice Reed as "until death"). Reed's relentless blues and punk exorcisms combined with heart-on-sleeve verses bleed undeniable talent. He started playing guitar at age 9. When he heard a Syd Barrett album, Reed's musical boundaries exploded.

"My world cracked in half," Reed says, "I didn't know you could do that with an electric guitar--I started playing guitar like a monster."

He played Led Zeppelin and R&B covers at a Watsonville chicken coop with friends, including Graham Kenville, Junk Sick's Dawn's first drummer. Reed also played in a few garage bands that consisted of "getting high and playing 'Louie, Louie' for 14 hours straight."

Naked Lunch

WHILE WORKING at Pizza My Heart, Reed met ethereal local rockers Beautiful Green Skeletons loading up for a show. He asked to play with them sometime. After witnessing what he could produce on guitar, the band scooped him up despite differing musical styles.

Junk Sick Dawn
Michael Shapiro

Then There Were Three (Again): After years of lineup changes, Junk Sick Dawn guitarist and songwriter Tait Reed (center) hits the Catalyst Thursday with the high-powered new rhythm section of bassist Russ Spaceranger (left) and drummer Michael Shapiro (right).

When the Skeletons eventually disbanded, Reed says he went through guitar withdrawals. His girlfriend caught him "air guitaring" in his sleep. Reed and Kenville decided to start their own band and found bassist James Feathers through a classified ad. The trio was screaming out random William Burroughs passages at practice when the mystical name Junk Sick Dawn reared its tripped-out head, sneering at the band ever since.

After fine-tuning for a year, Junk Sick Dawn made its debut at the Redroom's Sounds of Now band competition. Reed didn't expect much and was distraught about his parents' recent divorce--the trunk of his Mustang was packed with all of his possessions. He had enough money for two gallons of gasoline.

"California," which the band performed at the local-band contest, was supposed to be his grand farewell to the Golden State (though with two gallons of gas, he might have made it only as far as Castroville). A strange thing happened: The audience went absolutely insane for the band's freaky pop experiments. Among those mesmerized was future Junk Sick Dawn bassist Spaceranger, who was competing with Poppy.

"We were so sure we were gonna kick ass that night," explains the rail-thin Spaceranger. "And then I saw Tait play, and my jaw hit the ground."

The band played the Redroom once or twice a week for several months straight and started making good money. As Junk Sick Dawn set its sights on touring, Kenville left the band. Bad Monkey Records guru and the former Metro Santa Cruz news editor Mike Mechanic approached Reed, proclaiming, "I'm your drummer."

The new lineup released Hasta Que la Muerte, a slick collection of thrilling new tunes combined with classics. "These Days" slithers majestically with Reed's hypnotic guitar picking and pinpoint verses like "I hang around in a myriad depression/So addicted to the tools of obsession/Your helping hand stabbed me in the back/It only hurts me when I laugh." "Bar Fly" is a smoky rocker based on Reed's encounter with a pregnant woman he saw getting drunk every day in a bar. "Jimi Toad" preaches "killing all the beautiful people" years before Marilyn Manson. "Monkey" bumps and grinds scary things at night with Nirvana-like saws of power chords. Their music erupts with distorted glory, and Reed's lyrics emit consistent rays of complete honesty. "Headache," on the Santa Cruz Still Sucks compilation, drew the attention of artists-and-repertoire reps from Epitaph Records.

But things started disintegrating within the band. Spaceranger had to replace Feathers on bass. Feathers suffered from carpal tunnel complications (although he still plays bass with Reed's side project, the Noise Clinic). After a tour to Vancouver, B.C., the band had a major falling out, and Mechanic left.

Junk Sick Dawn

WITH JUNK SICK DAWN'S future all but flashing "BLEAK" in neon, Reed's spirits were suddenly lifted at a December 1997 Kelley Deal 6000 show at the Catalyst. During the show's finale, the former Breeders guitarist and bandleader asked for a volunteer to play guitar for her on the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Thanks to his friend Velvet's screaming "This guy right here!" Deal asked Reed to take the stage. Reed impressed her so much that she invited him to play with the band at a Southern California show.

Feeling revitalized, Reed kept Junk Sick Dawn alive by trying out a plethora of new drummers. The quest for a full-time replacement would remain unrewarded until the band hooked up with Mike Shapiro.

"It took us a long time because we knew what we were looking for," Spaceranger says.

After five months of rehearsing with Shapiro, Junk Sick Dawn plays as loud and glorious as ever before a crowd at the Stork Club in Oakland. Newer tunes seem more concise and show a more steady commitment to melody than previous efforts. (Spaceranger jokingly tells me not to listen to P.J. Harvey's latest album because the band "ripped off every song.")

Reed never lets his bandmates know the root notes of any song, attempting to "do a thing to an instrument that it isn't designed to do." The unorthodox technique keeps each tune off kilter and lends the band's songwriting a definite edge from the lack of uniformity.

The jangly swoon of "Gasoline" burns with some of Reed's most passionate vocals. "Bottom Feeder" is a hip-shaking number that grooves around Spaceranger's harmonic bass tapestries. "Pizza Boy" delivers a big riff joining Reed's "You are not my father/ You are not my mother" banshee cry. "Big Dumb Rock Song" takes Reed down to the crossroads to steal some wicked guitar leads from the devil. Plus there's a bent-out-of-shape cover of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher" that aims to get the audience's collective motors running.

Reed heads for the highway in September to join Shapiro and Spaceranger in San Francisco. That the trio plans to practice in the same studio as the Melvins should keep the band properly motivated. It finally appears, as the lyrics to "Jimi Toad" suggest, that Junk Sick Dawn is ready to "fire a shot that starts a war."


Junk Sick Dawn plays the Catalyst Thursday (Aug. 26) with Wyrm, Naked Ape and Time beginning at 9pm. $3, 18+. 423.1336.

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From the August 25-September 1, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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