Money and Tequila
By Dave Chamberlain
APRIL 6, 1998: It wasn't the first time I'd seen the band Cash Money, so I wasn't exactly in the dark when I went to one of their shows two years ago. I knew about the whiskey-edged, wildcatter take on noisy rock pounded out by the duo of burly guitarist John Humphrey and drummer Scott Giampino. I knew Scott sometimes played the frying pan.
But about ten minutes before Money took the stage, my friend nudged me. "Do you smell bacon?" she asked. No, I responded, and probably looked at her like she was crazy. But five minutes later, I heard something that sounded like popping grease. Sure enough, not long after, I smelled bacon. Well, maybe not bacon, but some sort of flesh frying, and it was frying on stage. "Maybe they are frying bacon," I muttered, trying to avoid the I-told-you-so look on my friend's face.
Two years later, I'm sitting down with Humphrey and Giampino, drinking too many pitchers of margaritas at a Mexican restaurant. The band's sophomore full-length "Halos of Smoke and Fire" (Touch & Go!) will have its official release party April 4 at the Empty Bottle.
So what's with the bacon? They both laugh. "During our last show at the Metro with Man or Astro Man," says Giampino, "as we were going on stage, the bassist says, Alright guys, go bring home the bacon' and we were like yeah, whatever.' But when we get on stage, there's this little pedestal thing with a grill on it, frying bacon. Everybody went nuts, so we just kept doing it."
More margaritas flow. "People around the country seem to think it's pretty funny," says Humphrey. "Plus it makes the clubs smell better than cigarettes and beer."
"Yeah," adds Giampino, now laughing. "Plus the vegetarians get pissed."
"And it creates controversy," adds Humphrey. As if the word "controversy" breaks the dam, Humphrey launches into Cash Money's mission statement. "Got to try and be as controversial as possible, since no one else is. Everyone is the fucking same, worrying about their fucking musical careers and how many records they're selling. We don't give a fuck. We're just in this for ourselves, to play shows and travel."
Soon afterwards, we've downed a second pitcher of margaritas. A man and woman take a little stage and start playing Mexican ballads to the crowd, drawing the band members' attention. "My mom is friends with this lady," Giampino says. "The last time we were here, she told me."
With just two members in the band, Cash Money works well together out of necessity. Humphrey, originally from New Jersey, moved to Chicago from Ohio with the band God Is Texas. He and the band toured the country extensively; he's resided in Chicago for seven years.
Giampino is the Chicago native of the duo, the tall man you can see at about every rock show in the city. As an employee of Touch & Go! for almost nine years, Giampino puts integrity on the line every day in the promotion of his own record, but he never wavers. Cash Money records are treated just like every other record.
After the dissolution of God Is Texas, Humphrey formed the Late Great Danes, a band in which Giampino eventually became the drummer. After the Late Great Danes fell apart because of other members' obligations, Cash Money formed.
The two-man band is able to sound like a four-piece, mostly thanks to Humphrey's ability to manipulate the entire spectrum of guitar sounds at once, from low-end to high-end, replacing the need for a bass. The new record, however, unlike the band's debut "Black Hearts and Broken Wills," features additional musicians, including Brian Deck of Red Red Meat on a number of instruments.
The boys have considered adding another member or instrument. "Originally," says Giampino, "we were gonna add something else. It wasn't gonna be a bass, but something kind of weird, like some keyboard or something." Humphrey adds, "But we didn't, and our sound just kind of evolved."
The third pitcher of margaritas is almost gone by the time I get around to asking them the important question. Whiskey or tequila? If you're shooting, it's Makers Mark for Scott. Later, above the din of other conversations and over the merengue, Humphrey's voice shouts with loud conviction, "Anything made from a fucking cactus has gotta be good!"
I need know nothing more.
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