Thursday, March 27, 2014

Square Zeros #13: Louis Ramos with Nova Luz (The Amputees, Mrs. Whitehead)

As a punk rock kid growing up in the D.C. suburbs, I’d often dream about being able to play shows at CBGB, the legendary Lower East Side venue that helped launch The Ramones, The Dead Boys, and so many other bands I loved. In my head, it was a phony-free sanctuary of pure rock n roll, where everyone was there for the music alone, and I could channel the ghosts of my musical idols.

I wish Louis Ramos had been around in those days to tell me about the deer decapitation.

Louis is the frontman for the NYC-based garage punk band The Amputees. They play fast, powerful songs with a tinge of hardcore but enough pop sensibility to draw listeners more dialed into tamer indie rock. Hüsker Dü comparisons come to mind, but I definitely wouldn’t stop there. They recently released a five-song EP called Scream, and they’ve got a full-length in the works now. You can catch them at Don Pedro on April 11.

Louis is also a seasoned veteran of the New York City’s punk and hardcore scenes. Long before he formed The Amputees, he was a regular at CBGB shows and for a while fronted a post-hardcore band called Mrs. Whitehead.

Louis describes a Lower East Side in the 1980s that’s a lot different than anything we know today and a lot different than my naive fantasies as a kid. Bands were violent. People hated each other. There was constant warring between scenes. You could get your ass kicked for looking like you listened to the Misfits. He describes one particularly poisonous day from his youth — July 4th, 1984. For some reason, he says, several bands that were fixtures in the hardcore scene fell apart that afternoon. At one point things got really ugly.

“I remember standing outside CB’s that day,” he said. “And these skinheads rolled up in this pickup truck with a dead deer. And they dragged it out in front of CB’s and proceeded to chop its head off with this big, huge knife, and swing it around afterward.”

Much as people love to romanticize New York’s grittier eras, I think we can all be thankful that we don’t have to worry about skins hacking up a buck outside Shea Stadium.

“There’s a line going from then to now,” Louis said. “But it’s much safer and much more fun.”

Looking for something of an exit from the hardcore scene, Louis ended up getting recruited into a band called Mrs. Whitehead that played a blend of Sonic Youth-inspired noise and My War-era throatiness.

The first cut is “Pigman.” Amputees guitarist Nova Luz, who joined us in the interview, compared it to Black Flag, which is pretty spot-on. Louis improvised the vocals on it.

The second cut is a somewhat poppier number called “Mean Streak.” Louis’s vocals are still unhinged, but you can start to hear how they’d evolve into the more melodic singing he does in The Amputees.

“I was very moved down very pleasant streams by the very nice sounds, and then Louis’s voice came in and it was very aggressive,” Nova said. “And I thought, this is a nice edge.”

Thanks to Louis and Nova for sitting down with Square Zeros. Don’t miss them at Don Pedro on April 11 to give Louis a birthday shout out, and check out their EP, Scream.

Mrs. Whitehead. Forever.


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