There’s been much ado—countless articles, TV appearances galore, a whole movie even—about pre-teen rockers Unlocking the Truth. Which is fine and all, but what if I told you there was another band, decades before, that were even younger, sold more records, toured extensively, and rode a wave of minor rock fame all the way to high school? It’s true. And if Unlocking the Truth knew what happened to ‘em after the band broke up—a saga much grimmer than your average episode of VH1’s Behind the Music—they’d find new hobbies.
Old Skull formed in Madison, Wisconsin when a couple of punk rock dads—Vern Toulon (Missing Foundation) and Robin Davies (Tar Babies)—decided to recruit their sons into the lucrative world of indie-rock. Toulon’s kids JP and Jamie handled guitar/vocals and keyboards respectively, and Davies’ stepson JP pounded the skins. They “wrote” songs about hot dogs and AIDS (most people assume Toulon senior composed the music, but the truth is lost in the mists of time) and bashed ‘em out with impressive energy, if not finesse. Which was fine, I mean, it was hardcore punk made by kids who were in the third-grade.
Naturally, given their age and the general wackiness of the times, Old Skull got snatched up to a label (Restless Records, one-time home of Flaming Lips, Slayer, Mojo Nixon, Fear, W.A.S.P., etc), who released their first album, Get Outta School, in 1989. The pint-sized punks were nine and ten years old by then. They got written up in major mags like Rolling Stone and Newsweek, toured with Flaming Lips and GWAR, made a (low-budget) MTV video, and achieved about as much fame as knucklehead kids playing wonky skate-punk possibly could.
And that was pretty much it. After the drummer was grounded for a month by his parents, the band shuffled the line-up around and took a stab at a (slightly) more mature sophomore album, 1992’s CIA Drug Fest, but by then nobody had the patience and the novelty had worn off. We were all doing the grunge thing at that point. The band broke up and the kids turned into teens and went on with their lives. Sorta.
In the 90’s, the Toulon brothers’ mother died in a train accident. Dad—who had been reduced to panhandling on the streets by the turn of the decade—died of alcoholism in 2001. The orphaned sons rallied and performed as Old Skull in 2005, but death continued to stalk the clan. JP died in 2010 after struggling for years with a drug habit. His brother Jamie took his own life a year later, the victim of chronic depression. And that was the bitter end of Old Skull.
There’s probably a cautionary tale for any pre-teen rock bands out there, although I’m assuming shaky parenting had a hand in the mess that ensued. Still, Old Skull deserve some kinda accolades. It’s not easy being a midwestern punk rock star with a record deal and a lengthy touring itinerary before you’ve even kissed a girl or learned your times tables.
“Homeless” from the ‘Get Outta School’ album.
“Pizza Man” from the ‘CIA Drug Fest’ album.
And if you are a serious glutton for vintage novelty punk punishment, here’s a mercifully short set by Old Skull at the Milwaukee Metal Fest in 1992.