An Interview with HOLCOMB KS of BANGKOK 5

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - June 2006

Quite often rock'n'roll has been under the microscope for its undermining levels of danger, be it the probing eye taking a wary and conservative warning stance against it or be it a crustier and redlined pupil with a primal attraction to it. Good rock'n'roll gets people talking on both sides of the division line. In any conservative culture, the loud vibes from the streets are soundboards for what’s real amongst the commoners, not the fat cats calling the shots over the collective province. Herein one can get a better understanding as to why metal, punk and garage music has experienced a recent resurgence in the music underground. Talking with Bangkok 5’s Holcomb KS, a guy I grew instant respect for due to his intensive musical knowledge, our conversation further illustrates the picture. Whether today’s music is full of outrage or full of contradictory joy, both produce a backlash effect against the troubled times presented in our world today. For Tinseltown’s Bangkok 5, they’d rather take the MC5 or New York Dolls route and hit you hard and heavy with a melodic pop upswing that can teach its fans that even though times are tough, good rock'n'roll is our saving grace in a sophisticated though troubled society.

RoughEdge.com: Given your music origins of the vicinity you live in, would you consider it Hollyweird, Hollywacky, Hollywussy or Hollywonderful?

Holcomb KS: You know, the real fact is this: As someone who’s lived in Hollywood for quite a few years, I wouldn’t say it’s any of those. (laughs) Hollywood, to me, is a community of about 300,000 that live here day in and day out, and those people are, for the most part, just a lot of people that work in the industry, whether it’s the music business, the film business or they’re just involved in media of some kind. The people that would give this place the wussy attitude are the ones I think that come here to party. Because this is a destination city, you have people that come from the suburbs, that come here to go crazy, and I think anytime that happens, you’re going to get a weird vibe and you can get people who seem like posers or whatever. The actual people that live here in this town I think are just really solid. There’s a really great long-term community here. A few people have left and moved east to Silver Lake or Mount Washington, but for the most part, Hollywood seems to be—especially for people like me—where you can come and be yourself and you don’t have to worry about freaking anybody out in the grocery store. You don’t have to worry about someone saying ‘Hey, nice haircut!’ You don’t have to worry about people hassling you for your ambitions or asking when you’re going to get a ‘real job’ or ask ‘You don’t have any kids?’ or a lot of those questions you’d normally get in normal places. So to me, it’s more of a legitimized artist town and it’s been commercialized over the last couple of years, but the real thrill of this town is still people that are here to do their thing, whatever that is. There are real people doing real things and there’s a sense of community. It felt really great to meet other musicians that were into doing their thing and would encourage each other. That is healthy anytime you can get it, and I really feel like that’s what goes on here. I’m sure as you can imagine, it’s just nice to speak to other intelligent people that are interested in doing things, whether it’s your medium or if they’re interested in something else, like entrepreneurial pursuits or charity or philanthropy. It’s just nice to speak with people that sort of have a purpose other than just going to The Gap. 

RoughEdge.com: I think Bangkok 5 lies somewhere between Jet, The Strokes, the current inception of International Noise Conspiracy and maybe early Cheap Trick. Obviously, you guys have your own Hollywood spin on garage rock and early glam. The garage sound is really hot right now, so in your opinion, what do you feel is the big draw to the garage sound?

Holcomb KS: One of our major influences as far as the garage sound was Mudhoney. For me, it must’ve been like when people found The Beatles; I liked The Pixies and I started to get really hip to music, but when I heard Mudhoney, I was like ‘That’s it!’ I think what people like about garage-type music is that it’s visceral and it’s immediate and in a world where people sit behind computers, there are people who auto-tune things in a world where we see all of this contrived, overproduced product—not even crap, just product, shit people are trying to sell. Garage music is visceral and it’s stripped down into its purest form. When I went back and found out about bands like Hanoi Rocks or The Dead Boys, those two bands, when I think of that kind of music, it made me understand that at some point glam took a left turn and turned into something like Poison, but at one point it was like Johnny Thunders and it was like Mick Ronson and it was like David Bowie. That music was trashy and visceral and dirty also; if you listen to those early Hanoi Rocks records, they sound terrible, but still… I think it’s an honor that you’d say we have any glam in us, and I think that’s the big thing that makes garage music so exciting.

RoughEdge.com: I’m glad you mentioned Hanoi Rocks, because I imagine there’s still a fair amount of rock'n'roll karma left by your predecessors like Hanoi Rocks, LA Guns and Faster Pussycat, and I’m wondering if it’s a safe assumption there’s still a vibe or energy younger bands have picked up on in their wake?

Holcomb KS: You know what? I actually feel that when you’re from L.A., you have to prove to people that you’re legit, because I honestly feel, quite frankly, those bands did such a disservice for this town, that unless you’re truly from Silver Lake and you have a super-eclectic side…you’ve got all these bands that say they’re from other places because there was a stigma especially upon rock bands from L.A. Other than us, and there’s a band called The Vacation, there’s not very many rock bands right now that are just straight-up rock bands trying to play visceral, kick out the jams rock ‘n roll. So I kind of feel like that time period, when I see TV footage of it and I hear people talk about it like it was that party of all parties, and I see films like Less Than Zero and others from that time period, you think ‘Wow!’ It seems like there was a lot of money and opulence, and it’s just not like that anymore. There’s just not a scene like that anymore. There’s certainly not the money around anymore or the record companies giving bands huge deals. There’s just nothing like it, so I don’t think there’s any of that energy left. Sure, I go to The Troubadour and I see a poster for W.A.S.P. that they played there, but I don’t think any of that music really held a lasting effect. I think in the same sense people throw on (Motley Crue’s) "Too Fast For Love" or "Shout at the Devil" and still really connect with it, and obviously (Guns ‘n Roses’) "Appetite For Destruction," but I don’t think there’s a lot of people throwing on those other records and still feeling that it left a legacy that we can be proud of, or two, really makes people want to riot. I think the problem was a lot of that music didn’t have the depth to go the distance, and hopefully we’re going to prove to people that there actually are bands from L.A. that’s a little deeper.

RoughEdge.com: That’s cool, because the vibe I detect from this current underground is that it stems more from MC5 and Iggy (Pop), you know?

Holcomb KS: I’ll tell you what; we’ve been blessed enough to have played with The Stooges and our bass player (Frost) is friends with Mike Watt and we’ve done shows with Wayne Kramer. To even be that close to the godfathers is just unbelievable. When I first found those Stooges records and I got real turned on to those—especially "Kill City," the first two records and "Kill City"—I was blown away by just the fury and the fire, and it was like, ‘Wow, here’s the missing link between Black Sabbath and punk!’ So yeah, I agree with you; people nowadays really recognize how profoundly important those records are, and it’s funny that you’ve had bands back then that sold so many records that people don’t even care about, whether it’s Grand Funk (Railroad), albums that just don’t mean anything. Other than Zeppelin, Sabbath, The Stones, Pink Floyd, maybe The Who, it’s like the bands that really mean something to people are The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and the MC5.

RoughEdge.com: Another thing I appreciate about your band, especially with the songs on "Who’s Gonna Take Us Alive?" is that a lot of the songs are built around “the hook,” songs like the title track, “Kamikaze” or “Spread Eagle,” which makes a return from the "10 the Hard Way" EP. That’s one thing I detect from Bangkok 5, is that dedication to the hook, you know?

Holcomb KS: Absolutely. To me, I guess it really does go back to the comparison with Mudhoney, but all the music that I’ve always liked, the music was explosive. The songs went up and down and when it gave you those riffs, the crowd would go wild. I’m a music fan first. I mean, I’m an artist, but I know what it was like to be the guy standing in front of the venue so excited. I grew up pretty poor; I grew up with nothing, and my records and my music, that all was my salvation from my surroundings. When I was finally getting to see these bands that meant so much to me, the live experience was like salvation from everything, which sustained me until the next time and the memories I would take from it... Part of those things were the riffs, so for us, I think the only thing music can do in 2006 is either be the soundtrack to somebody’s life or just give people emotion and energy. When I’m writing a song, I want it to fucking say something; I want it to mean something! Other than the lyrics and the groove, what can a guitar player do? Write riffs that say my artistic statement. 

: If you want to talk about those riffs, I think they’re appropriately greasy and it lends a little extra danger to the pop elements that paints Bangkok 5’s songs. Is that an element you really strive for when you’re playing?

Holcomb KS: It’s so funny; those riffs are just reflective of, quite frankly, the life that I lead. Before we even made the EP, we were a band that was playing for our friends, and if that shit didn’t stack up, our friends would be like ‘That stuff sucks!’ Our friends would have no problem saying that shit, like ‘That was gay!’ not in a homosexual way, just flat-out lame. I knew that whatever I was bringing to the table had to be legit, plus I wanted to write stuff I wanted to hear. I don’t want to be in a band that I couldn’t play stuff that I thought was fun, cool and energetic. I’ve felt that’s what always made The (New York) Dolls great, is that they did have these riffs and you had this David Johansen guy trying to be this smooth pop star, then you had Johnny Thunders doing this stuff that was really scratchy, so I think it’s the perfect balance. I think too much sweet is never good; you need the sweet and the sour. The ironic thing is, we’re going to go do an EP in September with Steve Albini and I can’t wait for people to hear that, because quite frankly, people come to see us live and they lose their minds. I hear ‘Oh my God, your record is great and your record is great for getting on radio, great for people as a gateway drug, for getting people into you, but when I come see you live, you’re like the most explosive band! You can tell that you guys at point listened to Fugazi or at one point listened to The Refused or at one point listened to Cro Mags.’ We rip live! I’ll fucking put my band onstage with anybody. I put my band with Against Me or Slayer! We might not have the most grinding guitars, but we kick out the jams! The biggest honor we ever get is those 15 or so kids that come up to you and say ‘Oh my God, I love your band so much!’ or people in other bands saying ‘Fuck, bro, that made me feel something!’

RoughEdge.com: Bangkok 5 is one of the success stories related to Myspace.com. With all of these nasty pervert stories cropping up lately, I think we can give Myspace a little bit of good press, so tell us a little about your association with them and if you feel that Myspace helped you build a following?

Holcomb KS: Oh my God! Myspace saved us! We were on this tour, this thing called The Rusty Surf Tour, and even though of course we’re not a surf band, we were with these three other bands. Well, Rusty, this surf company, pulled the money after the fifth show! So we were looking around, and every other band that we were on tour with, they went home. We looked at each other and said ‘We quit our jobs, only one person in the band has a place to live, I’ve given up my car and now there’s nothing. What am I going back to? I’m going back to nothing! We’ve got nothing; literally nothing!’ I said ‘Screw that! Let’s figure it out,’ so we went through Myspace and it saved us! We would just connect with bands, you know, search bands that weren’t necessarily into the same thing, a lot of screamo and emo bands, because they had the real DIY ethos, just throwing shows at VA halls, or they began to do it in the bottom of basements, whatever. We figured ‘Cool! That’ll get us to Duluth and from Duluth we’ll be able to get to Madison from there. To me, Myspace saved us! There’s no way we could’ve connected with or met these people, so I think Myspace and Tagworld too, it allowed us to meet other people that were our age that were into throwing shows and into doing stuff. Without it, we’d have never met those people! I think so long as you’re somewhat discerning and you don’t do something really stupid like choosing to go beat somebody at their band or their house as like a date or something… I think it’s just common sense. Guns are dangerous for dangerous people, alcohol is dangerous for people that don’t think; it’s just using your brain! I think the lesson for people to learn is that you’ve got to be discerning and also if you’re going to meet someone new for the first time, bring a friend, use your brain! What I’m saying is that you can’t be paranoid; there’s a hell of a lot more good people than bad people if the good people stay together, you know? Just keep your heads up and don’t travel alone if you’re worried!

RoughEdge.com: The angry SoCal scene versus the feelgood rock'n'roll vibes coming out of your turf; what do you think accounts for the difference in moods for both respective territories’ music?

Holcomb KS: I’ve heard and I certainly haven’t experienced it firsthand, but you hear about this Bakersfield skinhead scene, and that kind of anger, I think you can chalk that up to lack of exposure to other types of society. I think it’s just how people choose to express themselves. I mean, we all have anger, we all have despair, we all have the struggle and the anxiety gets overwhelming. It’s just how you choose to express it. I think in our case, it’s kind of a newer group of people and we’re growing up under the Cheney administration… We’re all aware of what’s going on in North Korea, we’re all aware of what’s going on in Iran with all of the testing, their delivery systems and their potential of building a nuclear bomb… In the global village, knowledge is everywhere and it’s so easy to be angry. If I want to be angry, I’m never going to be angrier than (NWA’s) "Straight Out of Compton"! That, to me, is the watermark of anger! I’m never going to be able to outdo that. I’m never going to be able to outdo "Vulgar Display of Power" like Pantera. The best way to fight anger and fight the doldrums and fight overwhelming anxiety is by one sense of community and having a good time. The one way I can have a good time with nobody, and believe me (laughs), even though we got signed to Universal, we’ve literally…I had to pay ten bucks to park today for our van, and I’m like, ‘Ten bucks? That means I’ve got no money for the rest of my day!’ The point is, we wanted to make music that chicks were going to be into, that was going to be about having a good time, because despair is all around us. It’s not like we aren’t being real; we just think about it in a different way. We’re painfully aware! I think you can choose to get the most out of your human experience and I think we’re just sort of at the point where I don’t want to mope about stuff going on, and I know there’s plenty of music for people that do. I think we felt—and I think a lot of other people we know feel it too—that come on, man, you’re responsible for your own head and your own head state and your own head space.

RoughEdge.com: And I think the power of rock'n'roll music in an environment such as we have now or in the eighties, I think the music scene reacts to a hardline conservative culture that smothers many people, you know?

Holcomb KS: Oh, man, absolutely! Anytime you’ve got a society…just look around at what’s going on, no matter what side of the issue you’re on…immigration, so many things…this is a really crazy time we’re living in! If you want to talk about all that and think about how China is the fifth largest holder of U.S. debt? There’s so much insanity going on in our world right now. Power politics are crazy and we’ve got this totally repressive administration and quite frankly, I don’t see anybody that the Democrats are offering that’s going to give them a challenge. It’s a Republican machine and it’s just absolutely like a juggernaut! So I think when things like that are going on, people tend to be more extroverted. Why do you think people connect with The Suicide Girls so much? It’s because they lived in a world where Vogue magazine told chicks how they were supposed to look and the department stores told them how they were supposed to dress! They said ‘You know what? That doesn’t really reflect how it is in the streets!’ I think our music is similar to what The Suicide Girls offer; it’s just a social movement as to what’s going on right now. 

Portions of this interview originally appeared in Angst magazine

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Copyright © 2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400