I don’t expect that many people think of Phoenix, AZ, as a nerve center of punk rock. My go-to Phoenix bands have long been the Meat Puppets, Sun City Girls, and The Feederz, but that’s been about the extent of my knowledge of that city’s contributions. Little did I know that it was a hub where a surprising number of crucial spokes met.
The Exterminators were a short-lived Phoenix punk band whose existence has long eluded the outside world. They existed only in 1977 and 1978 and never released a single note of music, but its members went on to play in The Germs (drummer Don Bolles), 45 Grave (bassist Rob Graves, Bolles), The Gun Club (Graves), The Feederz (singer Dan “Johnny Macho” Clark), and Mighty Sphincter (guitarist Doug “Buzzy Murder” Clark). The only known surviving documents of the band were a raw sounding and totally unheard cassette recording of a 1978 gig, and a few songs, among them “Bionic Girl” and “Destruction Unit,” which Dan Clark brought with him to the Feederz, and which appeared on their debut Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss?. This gap in the historical record has been corrected: Slope Records, a Phoenix-based archival label with a local focus, has released Product of America, a brand-new recording of that 1978 material by the original band, minus the deceased Mr. Graves (RIP 1990, many punk points awarded for pseudonymous irony), whose spot has been filled by another Phoenix lifer, Cris Kirkwood of The Meat Puppets.
The album is a primal emission of toxic hate-noise, recorded quickly so as to preserve the younger band’s raw directness, though it’s being played by now-seasoned musicians almost 40 years after the fact of the songs’ creation (though when we chatted, Bolles wisecracked that just because he’s made a lot of music doesn’t mean he’s learned to play). It contains “Bionic Girl” and “Destruction Unit,” plus 14 other blasts of malice, with themes ranging from sexual depravity to nihilistic politics. Dangerous Minds was privileged to speak with Bolles and Kirkwood about the early Phoenix scene (such as it was), the formation of The Exterminators, and the circumstances that led to the release of Product of America.
Cris Kirkwood: The Exterminators were a band from about 77-78, and I never saw them when they were active. Derrick Bostrom, the Meat Puppets’ original drummer, was a lot more hip to the local scene, and once I started hanging around with him I became aware of things that had happened before I started playing. My first Phoenix punk rock show was this thing called “Trout-O-Rama” and one of the band’s was the Brainz, which was Doug Clark’s band, and he was “Buzzy Murder” in The Exterminators. He was friends with someone I’d gone to grade school with, and eventually I got to be friends with Doug and his brother Dan, who was “Johnny Macho” in The Exterminators.
Don Bolles:There wasn’t really a punk scene at that time, just this band The Consumers, which I tried to be in but I wasn’t a good enough. I tried to start things in Phoenix but nobody else I knew was into punk, except Paul Cutler and David Wiley of The Consumers. I’d moved back to Phoenix from an unsuccessful foray to San Francisco, and I called Paul and David to see if anything was happening, and they said their bass played had been hit by a car, and I said “Well, I just got a bass. How about I come and jam out with you guys?” So I went to play with them, and those guys were GOOD. They had like 50 amazing songs, and they were super tight. But I was so terrible. One day I showed up for practice and they hid from me, and I could hear them snickering behind the kitchen door.
We started having all these other weird bands with all the same people. There was The Consumers, there was my band Crazy Homicide, and there were like five other people, and that was our “punk scene.” We started doing shows, and then I started hearing about this other band, and I was livid that I wasn’t in it. They were called The Exterminators and they were really young. They had done a show already and the cops had come. The Exterminators had covered themselves in Saran wrap and tinfoil and painted themselves, and this was at a pool party and there were police helicopters, and it was total chaos. They needed a a drummer, so I borrowed a drum set, which was tough, because nobody wanted me to use theirs because when I played drums I’d break them, but I dragged some drums over to this storage warehouse where they rehearsed, and they were like 14, 15 years old. I tried out with this broken stuff, and I guess it still sounded good because I was in the band. Then they lost their bass player, so I got Rob Graves to play with us. He had a bass, and their guitar player was this crazy kid, Buzzy Murder, and the singer was his brother, Johnny Macho. They were actually Dan and Doug Clark.
Kirkwood: There’s this guy in Phoenix, Tom Lopez, and he came up in the Phoenix punk rock scene, and he managed to get himself in a financial position to be able to start a record label, so he started Slope Records to kind of document the old Phoenix punk rock stuff that was happening. It was a part of his early experience and he was working on a record with Doug, who was in Mighty Sphincter. Tom was asking about the older stuff that had happened before, and Doug brought up The Exterminators as a sort of infamous band that had caught on to that whole thing early on.
Bolles: I didn’t know Tom, I moved out before he was old enough to actually meet people, I was 21 when I moved out of Phoenix. But Doug called me up and told me “this guy wants to put out an Exterminators album. Me and Danny and you, and Cris Kirkwood would play bass.” So I talked to Tom, who flew me out to Phoenix and put me up—in the fucking Clarendon hotel, which has a bust of the real Don Bolles, who was murdered there [Clarification: Bolles’ real name is James Giorsetti, he took his stage name from an Arizona journalist who was killed by a car bomb in 1976]—and I went and recorded all The Exterminators’ songs from back then. All the songs. We tried to do them as faithfully as we could. I had a tape of one of our shows. I had a rehearsal tape for a while but I lost it, probably in the ‘90s.
Kirkwood: A cassette still existed of an entire Exterminators show, from like ’78, and Tom had the idea of recording the songs, but Rob Graves, the bass player, is unfortunately no longer with us, so I was asked to play bass. Some of the songs are kind of Phoenix punk rock classics that had been recorded by other bands, so I knew them. With very little practice, we went into the studio—we had one practice day with the full band and on the same day we did a photo shoot—and it came up surprisingly cohesive. It was funny, Doug was like 15 when they had the band, and here we are, pretty seasoned players, doing this batch of youthful songs that had never been recorded, and now we’re these old farts taking a stab at them. It was a very fun, very fucking satisfying experience, and it came out well.
Bolles: I just went into a studio with some drums. We tried to play it all together, but I was the only one who really remembered all of the arrangements because I had the tape. It came back to everyone, but right at first when we got there, I was the only one that knew them. So I did the drum tracks alone, no click track, no other instruments, no singing. It was crazy. It seems like it worked OK. I had to show Cris some of the bass parts because Doug tunes his guitar funny, so he showed Cris a lot of bass parts in totally different keys because of how he tunes. I’m a Rob Graves fanatic, I loved his playing, so I made it my business to learn his parts, so I could try to learn how he thought, so I was able to show Cris, and he did a pretty bang-up job. So we put the other instruments and singing on it, and there it is.
The first Exterminators gig in almost 40 years will take place on Friday, 11/25/16 in Phoenix, AZ. Until then, enjoy “Death Blow,” “Patriotic American” and “Static Planet” from Product of America.