Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer They May Be Crazy

Just in time for the release of their new CD, the Subteens find a drummer that sticks.

By Mark Jordan

JANUARY 31, 2000:  One of the more memorable running gags in the knowing, classic rock parody This Is Spinal Tap is how David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and company go through drummers like guitar strings. In all, the mock metal band went through a half- dozen skin men, equally noteworthy for the manner of their demises — Peter James Bond spontaneously combusted on stage while original drummer “Stumpy” Pepys would be lost to a freak gardening accident — as for their number.

But even that seemingly ridiculous high rate of turnover pales when compared to the revolving drum throne that sits behind Memphis punk trio the Subteens. “One hundred twenty-eight,” jokes guitarist and singer Mark Akin about how many drummers the band has had in its five years together, though the real number is probably (no one remembers exactly) a still insanely high 27.

“We’re just so awful,” explains Akin of the band’s difficulty in retaining a drummer. “We’re just so hard on drummers. We not a drummer’s dream band. It’s nothing really technical, just play loud.”

At long last, however, the Subteens — essentially Akin and his longtime musical partner, bassist Jay Hines — have seemingly settled on a timekeeper who won’t break their hearts, Bob John Bonds, who fills the same role in a number of other local groups, including the Kenny Brown Band and the Subteens rivals for best punk outfit in Memphis, the Verbs.

“We are one of the 25 bands that [Bonds] plays with, and we couldn’t be happier,” says Hines. “He gets us.”

Adds Akin, “He fits right in. … On an interesting note, [Bonds] has been through Scared Straight twice. He went to [Mississippi’s] Parchman prison one time too many and came straight to Memphis.”

Bonds is the man behind the kit on Burn Your Cardigan, the Subteens’ first full-length CD after two EP cassettes. A compact collection of short, catchy, to-the-point punk songs, the CD is more akin to the Clash and the Ramones than the Sex Pistols. The Subteens are thankfully free of sneering nihilism that is usually associated with punk. More world-weary than angry, at heart Burn Your Cardigan is just rock-and-roll, loud, fast, and hard. And that’s a description that probably suits the remarkably self-effacing, unselfconscious Subteens just fine.

“I think we all think it’s pretty lame when someone asks what is this or that song about and the band gives this long, deep answer,” says Hines. “I mean it’s just a song, and it should speak for itself, regardless.”

Alumni of Harding Academy, Hines and Akin have know each other since they were 5 and were kindred punk souls through high school.

“We both grew up listening to the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones,” says Akin. “Where we start to diverge is Bubba John and I were also listening to lots of AC/DC while Jay was listening to the Buzzcocks.”

The pair never hooked up musically, however, until college, playing together in a succession of cover bands before finally forming the Subteens in 1995.

“It seems like every band we’ve been in together has always had some asshole, and it was usually one of us,” jokes Akin about the inevitably of the pairing. “It’s so hard to find people you can get along with personally and musically. Fortunately, we do.”

Says Hines: “Our songwriting styles are very complementary. If you knew our stuff really well you could tell who wrote what, but I think to the casual listener they mesh pretty well.”

With Bonds in place for six months now, the Subteens feel stable enough to get out on the road behind their first full-length CD.

“Hopefully, we won’t be stuck in three years with 990 of these things in the closet,” says Akin of the CD which seems to have taken an uncommonly long time in coming to fruition.

“We finally managed to write 10 songs,” says Akin of why it took so long before it’s pointed out that there are only nine songs on Burn Your Cardigan. “That’s right, and one of them is a cover [their slightly revved-up, crowd-pleasing take on Billy Joel “You May Be Right”]. Oh, well, there I go again getting ambitious.”

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