Sub mission 

Somewhere just beyond the sonar, beneath the murky sonic dirge of the latest disingenuous post-post-punk (s)hit band, the Submarine Races lay in wait — jams damned and ready to lay waste to any poseurs who think a good haircut trumps a good song.

Guitarist-vocalist Ian Adams, bassist Steve Denekas and drummer Paul John Higgins are Chicago's latest and brightest pop act since Adams' former bands, Happy Supply and the Ponys.

Fans of the Ponys know Adams as the even-thinner guitarist who used to stalk the stage and stab at people's hearts and heads with his carefully honed 12-string melodies — if you pop on a Ponys record, it's easy to extricate Adams' Byrds-influenced melodic style from the rest of the group's gauche, punk tendencies. His new band, the Submarine Races (a euphemism for "making out" taken from a Jan and Dean song), releases its eponymous debut record this month on Larry Hardy's benchmark underground label, In the Red Records (the Dirtbombs, Sparks).

Adams jokes, "Larry said he might want to put out something I may do, and I wanted to take him up on it before he changed his mind."

After the release of the Ponys' second album, Celebration Castle, Adams submitted his walking papers and skipped away with a few trinkets. Adams says, "We did get to record with Steve Albini [owner of the famed Electric Audio recording studio in Chicago and member of Shellac] and had a song used in an insurance commercial."

But after his departure from the Ponys (he says the split was amicable), Adams began playing with friends and found himself right back in the throes of band-living. "I didn't want the band to be my new job," Adams says. So with that in mind, he set out to create a group in which he could write songs on his own terms. The Submarine Races would be an enjoyable project that would afford the perks of being in a band, but also allow the members freedom from the grueling business of selling themselves.

Though many of today's contemporary punk slingers rely heavily on such bands as Joy Division (yawn, that's so 1996), the Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen for inspiration, the Submarine Races ship runs, ahem, a little deeper. Nuances of lesser-known mid-'80s guitar pop from Scotland (Pastels, Orange Juice) and England (Wedding Present, Wolfhounds) filter in, showing the group's appreciation of modern music's broad lineage.

"Although, last time I was in Steve's truck he was listening to Duran Duran, and Paul was playing some Tribe Called Quest," Adams scoffs.

The group's main goal is to put out records without pretense and without all the desperate trappings of trying to "make it." To wit: When asked what he'd like to get out of the new band, the frontman simply replies, "Maybe some traveling would be nice."

And though all of Adams' bands have been longtime favorites of the slightly esoteric midtown Detroit crowd, the band's versions of skewed pop music didn't fit neatly into the whole garage thing. This never mattered, because the ambition was always the same: No matter how obscure the influences, shine a little light on the often overlooked groups who came before. After all, the jump from Buddy Holly to the Modern Lovers to the Pastels to the Submarine Races isn't so much of a stretch — it's a matter of course.


Friday, June 9, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. With New Grenada, the Hentchmen and Hairshirt.

Greg Siemasz is a freelance writer. Send comments to

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