Golden Torso plays Saturday, Aug. 25, at Small's (10339 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-873-1117) with Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine and Against the Grain.
The show happens to be at the New Way in Ferndale on a Tuesday evening, but it could be anywhere on any night of the week. What's important is that the band on stage melting our faces is not a pretty sight. The fact that most of the members have ample guts is not stopping them from removing their shirts, simultaneously shaking armpit sweat over the first two rows of the crowd. Miami Beach this ain't. The backs are hairy and pale, and "groomed" is an alien concept. Of course, Golden Torso is a Detroit hardcore band, so that is exactly how it should be.
The Muggs laid claim some time ago to the title "ugliest band in Detroit," and far be it from us to take it away. However, Golden Torso is absolutely one of the gnarlier. The aesthetic fits though; the music that the Torso creates — a cacophonous mix of traditional hardcore, post-punk, metal (yes, hipsters, metal) and good ol' rock 'n' roll — is ugly, in the greatest possible way. The music feels like it is liquefying your brain, and yet it is utterly compelling.
Golden Torso formed New Year's Day 2011. Before that, guitarist Mark Paul played in an old-time string band called the Salt Miners with local outlaw country bad girl Katie Grace. Meanwhile, frontman Michael Durgan was in Thunderbirds Are Now!, bassist Henry Pardike played in the Motörhead-esque Diegrinder, and drummer Jeff Porter played in a few bands in Savannah, Ga.
"Before the Salt Miners, I played in punk bands, and I had had enough of the quiet and wanted to get loud again, so I started to think about who I wanted to surround myself with to make that happen," Paul says. "I found these guys. Mike was always a drummer, and this is the first band he's ever sang in. He always played the drums, but he was always a frontman. He was the most exciting thing on stage when Thunderbirds played, I thought. It would be a good opportunity to just take the drums away."
The Salt Miners were essentially a bluegrass-influenced band. So what dragged Paul back from acoustic, old-timey sweetness to sweaty punk rock?
"It was around that time the band Fucked Up from Toronto really caught my ear," he says. "That kind of immediacy of having loud, fast songs, but having an underlying melody even if it's very deep, that really appealed to me. That idea really stuck in my head and that was something I wanted to do. Ideally, at this point in my life, I really just wanted a band that my friends would like and would come out to the bar to see, hang out and have fun."
Paul describes his band, which has an average age of about 35, as having an "obnoxious" sound, which pretty much hits the nail on the head. Durgan is a frontman who simply won't be ignored. "He's a lot of fun to watch," Paul says. "Last Halloween, we played a show at the Crofoot and did a Stooges set. Mike's not even an Iggy fan, but when I watch old Stooges footage, it's amazing how much his actions in general organically imitate what Iggy did. Plus, many people say Henry has the greatest bass sound in Detroit. It's this thundering boom, so it's really brash, but the word 'immediate' comes to mind. It's gripping."
Paul says that, while he might write a lot of the music and Durgan the majority of the lyrics, the whole process is collaborative between all four members. As for the evident anger, Paul says that "Everybody in the band has their demons. Mike is good at channeling those things. The lyrics are secondary. You never really understand what he's saying so it's almost like he's the fourth musical instrument."
"Nothing really pisses me off," Paul adds. "I'm very level-headed. I just spent my weekend at a folk festival in northern Michigan and I found myself at one point playing banjo with three old men who were all playing ukuleles. I don't get pissed off too easily, but I do like to cut loose and beat the hell out of my guitar for no good reason. Playing music with friends is the greatest thing in my life. We all have our jobs, but anybody who has the ability to do so, I think they would probably say the same."
Considering the fact that he's in one of the heaviest (and, yes, ugliest) bands in the Detroit area, Mark Paul is incredibly chill and, well, nice. Completely ego-less, he is simply grateful to be able to create music he loves with people that he cares about. That positivity overflows into his views on the current state of Detroit music.
"In our subset of bands, there are things going on now that haven't gone on in a long time," he says. "I think it's funny that a lot of us who were really into punk and aggressive music when we were teenagers have now resorted back to it, partly because, really, nobody gives a shit about you in Detroit once you're playing punk. A lot of us don't have the ability to get in the van and go on the road for months at a time anymore. We're here doing our thing, playing shows to entertain each other for the most part, and drag some other people in as well. The resurgence in interest in the old bands like the Meatmen and Negative Approach is fantastic for us because these are the guys that we looked up to when we started — and now they're back playing shows and we get to play with them. It's a good time to be doing what we're doing."
Still, Paul is smart enough to know that his band is an acquired taste.
"You can't really put us just anywhere," he says. "We won't be playing any outdoor Ferndale festivals or anything like that. There are plenty of places for us to play, and we play with people who appreciate what we're doing, so we'll keep it up."
Typically modest, Paul says that Golden Torso will probably be broken up in a few short years. It's hard to tell if he's kidding or not.
"It's all about fun," he says. "Mike has two children. Who knows where any of our lives will be in five years? There's no ambition, we just keep plugging along. We're bringing out our first 7-inch in September. Luckily, someone out there was dumb enough to put up the money for it. We'll sell those, and keep doing it for as long as it's fun or our bodies say quit. All of our Detroit shows have been increasingly better so we've had no reason to leave, but we're finally getting out. We've been playing with bands from out of town who were gracious enough to do the work for us, so we're playing Chicago next month. We'll start doing that as we can. Little road trips out of town."
Paul pauses, then finishes with, "There are exciting things coming up. Everything that we're doing is extremely fun and we're grateful to be doing it."
Brett Callwood writes City Slang for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].