Who the hell do these Jesus Chainsaw Massacre guys think they are? With the band’s blog, the blatant disregard for inter-band civility, free-flowing insults and onstage shenanigans, the band members, particularly guitarist JR and vocalist Bryan Metro, have managed to upset and enrage people all across the contemporary (and indie and alternative) Detroit music scene, and they couldn’t give a flying fuck.
Seriously though, not much is known about these guys besides the fact that they go out of their way to irritate and offend — and how well they do it. Not everyone would agree — they’ve been accused of bullying and, not just crossing the line but leaping over it and spitting on it mid-jump. The fact that it’s satire — a roast of a Detroit music scene that can be guilty of taking itself a tad seriously — is lost on many. We at the MT have been on the receiving end of a few jabs, and we get the gag.
Sit with them, have a beer or two, and they’re pussycats. We met up at the Lakepointe Yacht Club in Livonia, an oddly nautically themed bar with swordfish and shark teeth decorating the wall. Stranger still — the waitresses all dally around in bikinis. In Livonia. In February. The longtime patrons dig it, and there’s certainly nothing particularly sleazy about it. It’s just a bit weird.
Nobody ever talks about the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre’s music. People often forget that this is a band at all. Let’s break that trend.
The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre is an indie rock band in that it uses traditional rock ’n’ roll instrumentation. That, however, is where any sense of normalcy ends. In 2009, they won a Detroit Music Award for “Outstanding Electronic Dance Artist/Group,” mainly because that’s the category that fits them best, without really fitting them at all. The guys (and particularly Johnny “JR” Retro) experiment with electronica until they’ve created something both refreshingly unique and quite disconcerting. Anything can happen — lush symphonic sounds can give way to a dude coughing. But here’s the kick — the songs are always hooky. JR can write a mean tune.
Metro, meanwhile, is the loose cannon. He writes the lyrics once presented with a CD of new music (though he swears he’s not a poet). It’s in the live arena that he excels — the man has the ability to retain the attention of even the most offended. Especially the most offended.
Still, it’s wasted on many, who forget that JCM is a band at all. “Contrary to what a lot of people probably think, a lot of what we do is calculated,” Metro says. “We’re more of a blog now than a band. We have a small window every year where we come out of hibernation and do a couple of shows. But in terms of regularly gigging, like you see the bands having a show every weekend, that’s not really who we are anymore. I get bored and disinterested. Anybody who wants to pursue the music aspect of this whole experience — they have side projects. So they can still distance themselves from the hate and the crap that comes along with the blog thing, and still are able to enjoy the band and gigging aspect.”
Which brings us to the blog. There are whole portions of this interview that we can’t print, but anybody who has visited the JCM “Lavender” blog knows what grinds their gears anyway. Sometimes, it’s tough to defend them, but these guys aren’t asking to be defended. Of late, Sadie Quagliotto from the Hip in Detroit blog and local musicians like Jesse Shepard Bates, George Morris, Ryan Allen, the Hard Lessons and Marcie Bolan have found themselves the subject of some hefty insults. On one hand, JR points out that the JCM boys didn’t start the online flame wars, but that they’ll certainly have the last word. On the other, it’s best to view the whole thing as a giant roast. Nothing is sacred, anything can be said. Some see the whole thing as vulgar.
“Lately, we’ve been branded as totally misogynistic and we hate women,” Metro says. “But absolutely not. We totally love women. I have a problem with the cliquey-ness of the local music scene. A lot of times, I lash out at people who feel the need to have like six bands and three of those bands playing at the same festival. Then it’s a very insulated circle. Those are the people I like to go after.”
“I’m a really nice guy,” says JR, with a laugh. “For me, it was initially whoever was on the cover of your magazine. Now, it’s more so if somebody messes with us. Nine times out of 10, people are into it and think it’s cool, and we end up becoming friends. If they’re egotistical and into themselves, they can’t take it, wars get started. People go back and forth, they come to the shows wanting to kick our asses, and we have a better crowd. More people talk about it.”
At past shows, in the spirit of performance art, Bryan Metro has torn up a bunch of copies of this newspaper and thrown the pieces around like confetti. At last year’s Blowout, he placed a pressure cooker at the front of the stage, a commentary on the Boston Marathon bombing which had just occurred. Do they ever consider just, you know, playing a show without the theatrics?
“Detroit’s always been a town that’s more about showmanship than musical talent,” says JR. “If you want to go see somebody play guitar and just singing, you can go down to Nashville, or you can go to an open mic somewhere. If you look at a band like Electric Six, there’s a lot of show, a lot of kerfuffle. Not that we aspire to be like the Electric Six. Look at the Stooges — huge showmen. Iggy Pop cutting himself with glass bottles and having girls suck his dick while he’s playing.”
Fair enough. This weekend, JCM plays the Hamtramck Music Festival, and you can guarantee that they’ll be livening things up. “If all the shit-talking that we’re doing gets people to buy a $10 wristband and comes to start shit with us, tries to get into an argument or even worse with us, and then they end up checking out the rest of the bands for the rest of the festival, then, hey, maybe we’re not so bad after all,” Metro says.
The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre, then. They’re just big softies at heart.
The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre plays the Hamtramck Music Festival at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at Baker Streetcar Bar, 9817 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-873-8296; see hamtramckmusicfestival.com for more info.