The "Frustrations House," which sits on a quiet street in northeast Ferndale, is as textbook a suburban punk palace as one could hope to find. The enclosed front porch, brimming with empties and other detritus, has just enough open floor space for a few bodies to hang. Inside, ashtrays are full to overflowing. A 4 1/2-foot tower of pizza boxes balances precariously by the fridge. On the fridge door is a MOJO magazine centerfold of Iggy Pop eyeballing a particularly bountiful naked black chick. She looks delicious.
Miraculously, the place doesn't stink — undoubtedly due to the alchemy of what happens in the basement. In the basement, atoms are smashed, beer is turned into sweat and fractured ideas are hammered into splendid, godless noise. Most nights, it comes courtesy of the crudely affecting Frustrations. But tonight, the neighbors are "enjoying" the trio's X! Records label mates the Terrible Twos.
That's right: The splendid, godless Terrible Twos.
A gaggle of five disparate white boys from Farmington, the band officially formed in 2004 and gradually made its way to Detroit via Ann Arbor. Lurking on the fringes of the Detroit scene, they definitely had a presence. But nobody could have guessed what this entity was going to become.
Inspired by older Detroit punks like the Piranhas and the Clone Defects, many of whom ultimately befriended them, the Terrible Twos — Chris Campbell, 25 (vocals, guitar), Craig Brown, 23 (vocals, bass, guitar), Danny Bing, 22 (synthesizer), Jeffrey Jordon, 24 (drums) and John Bobcat, 24 (guitar) — have evolved into an art-damaged wrecking crew of undeniable force. Their self-titled X! Records/Criminal IQ debut (which, according to Campbell, required three different recording attempts to "get it right") is a hyperkinetic Frankenstein monster of punk's fragmented legacy. Blistering, demented and barely held together by Bing's out-to-lunch keyboards, the Twos are novel in the same otherworldly way that bands like the Spits and the Seeds were novel. Like Campbell's Detroit heroes, the Piranhas, you've never heard anything like it.
"The Piranhas were the big thing for me," says the pasty, lanky singer, as the band takes a break from rehearsal on the Frustrations' porch. "Their music was so fucked-up. It wasn't like standard punk. Everything the Piranhas did was dangerous. They were fucking with the formula, which, arguably, is what we do too."
With arrangements that border on orchestral and a propensity for sudden, aggressive arpeggios, the Terrible Twos are much more ambitious than they look. But, if there's a formula to be fucked with, you can be certain that the band's other significant force, Brown, will be right there to fuck with it. Although he joined the Twos later, after original singer-bassist John Aho moved to Chicago in 2006, the loud, stocky provocateur — who currently sports a cheesy "Guido" mustache — is the lightning rod of the band, the yin to Campbell's yang. While Campbell's delivery is calculating and ferocious, Brown's is naturally manic. One gets the impression that, if he doesn't already have a meaningful relationship with an area bail bondsman, he will soon.
"Craig and I fight constantly," says Campbell. "Not just about songs, but about everything. I punched him in the face once. In high school, I saw him get beat up every day by the same people. He has a big mouth, but he's hilarious."
Looking at the band's tour vehicle, a windowless construction van that they will be piling into soon for 25 days when they hit the road opening for the Dirtbombs, it's easy to imagine how tension between the two could build up. But the dynamic of Brown, whose handshake greeting includes an arm-long swipe of his runny nose, definitely brings volatility to the Twos that wasn't there before. Among his recent antics: pissing off the roof of a bar at SXSW onto the unsuspecting nerds below.
"He peed on the people waiting to see Nada Surf," says Campbell. "Just last night he was getting chairs thrown at him."
Paul, from Fontana, who also lives in the Frustrations' house, quizzes Brown about the previous night's activities. "Don't you remember hitting on those chicks?" he says, as Brown breezes through the porch. "They told you to slit your wrists and suck a dick."
Brown pauses for a minute and says quizzically, "There were girls there?" Then, pretending like he gives a shit, he says flatly, "They were mean."
Although most of the band currently lives in Farmington, Brown's former, low-rent Detroit crib, off Grand Boulevard, made for some memorable big-city bonding.
"It was in a really ghetto-ass neighborhood and we were always partying," he says. "One night at 4 o'clock in the morning, these punk-ass guys — these fucking assholes — walked in and held us up at gunpoint. Two guys held up people on the porch and the other two came in the house with a gun and an ax — not a guitar, but a real death ax. It fuckin' sucked. After it was over, we called 911. The cops came about two hours later."
Campbell adds that the band had to move all their stuff out immediately and hit the road on tour two days later. "Since then," he says. "We've been inconveniencing everyone by playing at their houses. We're all in financial distress right now."
"Yeah, we need some fuckin' money," Brown yelps. "I'm serious!"
If anything should give the Terrible Twos encouragement (besides the support of more-established bands like Human Eye, and a growing tide of local peers like Tyvek, Fontana, the Mahonies and the Pizazz) it's the association the band has formed with punk rock poster boys the Black Lips. One of the few acts able to leap the current culture's barricade of mediocrity, the Black Lips' moment in the sun is encouraging — and yet difficult to interpret. When The New York Times reviews a band whose primary claim to fame is being able to vomit on command, it's hard to tell if punk is dead or just beginning to rise from the ooze.
For the Terrible Twos, who have already started recording their next album, it doesn't matter either way.
"I like the idea of destroying rock music rather than saving it," says Campbell. John Bobcat, silent and slightly glazed for most of the evening, suddenly hoists a warm quart in agreement.
"Yeah," he says.
"I'd rather be punched in the face than be called a fuckin' rock star."
The Terrible Twos play Saturday, April 26, at the UFO Factory, 1345 Division St., Ste. 101, Detroit; 248-632-3670. It's the band's last area show before hitting the road on the Dirtbombs tour. With the Pizazz and Forest People.Wendy Case writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]