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Evil Presly and Willy B. of The Independents made fast friends with the late Joey Ramone. Since 1992, they have recorded more than seven studio albums.
Band: The Independents, Children of October, The Shitfits, The Zombie Ramones
Date: Saturday, Oct. 27, 10 p.m.
Venue: The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $8, available through Ticketfly
A holiday dedicated to ghosts and goblins in a city with such a storied past is so revered that many local establishments have no problem celebrating Halloween a few days early. Once again, The Merry Widow will conjure up musical spirits from the underground for a party that will plunge innocent bystanders into the netherworld of punk.
This spectral, four-band lineup will include two punk tribute acts featuring seasoned veterans of the underground scene. The Shitfits will pay homage to horror punk’s most iconic band, The Misfits. The Zombie Ramones will haunt the crowd with cuts from American punk legends The Ramones. Pittsburgh horror punks Children of October will use their modern horror punk to electrify the crowd and usher the return of Mobile’s favorite horror punk band, The Independents.
Last year, The Independents celebrated 25 years of spreading a catchy brand of punk. This band captures the raw energy from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and focuses it into a furious burst of adrenalized punk highlighted by the raging guitar work of Willy B. and the smooth croons of Evil Presly. Through numerous studio releases and relentless touring, The Independents continue to draw newcomers to their zealous following.
Presly will be the first to admit life on the road iShore! a lot easier than when the band set out for fame and fortune. However, he maintains fond memories of the group’s early years as an up-and-coming punk outfit.
“We’re pretty well-known now, so the money is better, of course,” Presly said. “The shows are more fun. There’s a lot more freedom, and I’m not worried as much about things as when we first started touring. The early days were the best times of my life. We were sleeping in rest areas and sleeping in a van and sharing a can of ravioli with five different people.”
Conceived in the small town of Florence, South Carolina, the band found it the perfect environment in which to forge their innovative punk rock. In those days, Presly said, their performances consisted of a couple of shows each month at the local VFW.
Since Florence had a small music scene, a wide array of local bands would be recruited to support a national touring act. Presly says these shows would feature everything from funk to country to punk. These diverse lineups allowed Presly and Willy B. to explore their own sound by incorporating different influences from the bands with which they shared the bill.
When the band moved to greener pastures, this open-minded attitude allowed them to craft a versatile horror punk style that has transcended generations and demographics, unlike many other groups preceding them.
“We were all exposed to different music,” Presly explained. “There was everything from punk to classic country and funk and everything else, and we were using all those influences in our music. Then we were able to go all these different scenes in the country, where ska might be big or where metal might be big. We’ve been lucky to cross over with so many different influences in our music.”
One of punk rock’s most iconic names gave The Independents their first big break. Presly was attending a performance by The Ramones. While at the show, he and bassist C.J. Ramone struck up a friendly conversation. At the time, Presly didn’t realize who he was speaking to. Only when C.J. walked out onstage did Presly realize who he was. The two became friends, which led to The Independents scoring an opening spot for The Ramones on tour.
After their first show, Presly says frontman Joey Ramone approached him and said he’d been listening to The Independents nonstop. From there, Ramone established a close, longtime friendship with Presly and acted as mentor and manager for The Independents. He even joined them in the studio as the producer of the band’s EP “Unholy Living Dead.”
“He was strict as hell [in the studio],” said Presly. “He had this look. If you screwed up, he’d look over the glass like a school teacher and let you know you f*cked up. He really showed us a lot, business wise. He took us out of being a small little punk band to incorporating the band and making sure everything was covered. When it came to producing, he was a music fan.”
The Independents have never shied from the studio, and Presly says the band has compiled a number of new songs. However, they are also one of many bands trying to traverse and interpret the music industry’s new business model. Presly and Willy B. have embraced the fact that record sales cannot provide financial support as they did when they first started. With this in mind, Presly says he and Willy B. are unsure what to do with the new material. With hopes of releasing it in early 2019, options have ranged from a vinyl album to just giving the songs away. Either way, Presly’s frustration with the digital music world is one shared by many experienced and up-and-coming bands alike.
“We look on Spotify, and we’ll have, like, 6,000 plays a day,” Presly said. “Then, you get 35 cents. It’s like .001 cents per play. I know Trump just signed something for more money. I haven’t seen exactly what it is, but I’m happy he did it. It’s hard to make a living. You’ve gotta tour and push your T-shirts. I’ve got friends that sell hot sauce, and they’re trying to get us to do it. I’m in the music business, not the hot sauce business.”
On stage, The Independents’ goal is to cover as much material as possible in the relatively short performance time they’re given. Throughout the band’s set, The Independents will maintain an infectious chemistry created by Presly and Willy B.’s bond, both musically and socially.
“Will is like my own brother,” said Presly. “I’ve known him since I tried to beat him up when I was in third grade, and he was in fifth grade. We’ve had our tussles here and there, but we love each other. We’ve spent more time together than our own families. We’re almost like Siamese twins. I can’t go anywhere in the world without somebody asking, ‘How’s Willy?’ He gets the same thing too, and it drives us crazy.”