by David Lee Beowulf
I really consider this somewhat of a scoop, since the Bullys are virtually unknown outside of the small inner circle of New York City punk rockers. Once enough people hear them, though, the word will be out that somebody opened up a 1977 time capsule, because the Bullys play genuine 100 proof punk rock.
Their debut album, Stomposition, was produced by none other than Marky Ramone, a man who obviously has some experience and knows punk rock when he hears it. I spoke with guitarist Johnny Heff and singer Joey Lanz at the St. Marks Ale House in New York City’s East Village. After they barged in like they owned the place (“Is it open?” I asked. “It is now,” said Joe), we spoke about the band’s origins and their basic take on the world of punk rock.
How long have the Bullys been together?
John: I guess a year, me and Joe have been together for five years doing different things, we got Gerard [Ganz] the drummer in the band a year ago and since then we got Stack, the guitar player at the beginning of this year. And Todd [Feyh], the bass player, was picked up last month, so we’re still putting the band together. Todd's not on the record [Stomposition] but he’ll be on the next one, definitely. Joe and I came up with the concept of the Bullys about a year and a half ago. We did a couple of small club dates just over a year ago. We’ve only been around a year, playing as the Bullys. We went through our drug and alcohol stage and are more used to being on the Bowery [where one of the oldest rehab missions in the United States is] than playing there [where CBGB’s is]!
Joe: We’re New York’s best kept secret, I think. People are coming up to us after shows and saying, “where are you guys from? How come we never heard of you before?”
When was your first show? Where was your first show?
John: We played the Elbow Room on Bleecker street last summer, it’s a nice, big-sized room, we played there, me and Joe and another bass player, Dennis.
Joe: We actually were doing all the songs that are on the CD, but we kind of axed a few from the original set because we have so much new material and we’re trying to get the songs out. Some of the old stuff laid back on the hard rock influences we had, or other projects we’d done. We kind of squeezed out the hard rock tunes, and replaced them with more punk sounding stuff. All the new material is real punk shit, it’s really good!
Were there any famous punk stars at the first show?
John: Nobody knew who we were! When you do your first show, you’re not sure who your want to invite! I had played bass with Joe in other bands, and that was my first time playing guitar on stage in a long time. So it was pretty touchy going up there! It was just one of those local band shows. We definitely impressed people and they wanted us to come back. We did a couple of Sex Pistols covers, just to have enough material. We played “No Feelings,” a real “Bullys” type song!
How old are the guys in the band?
John: I don’t know if we can answer that one! A couple of guys are really young in the band, but our average age is about 30.
[The waiter comes by and asks how hot we would like our Buffalo wings: “hot” or “fucking hot.” We order “fucking hot.”] What other bands, if any, have they played in?
Joe: Really haven’t been in anything that we’ve gotten any recognition.
John: I played CBGB’s when I was 17, in a band called the Psychotics. I used to play in a Ramones cover band and Gerard used to play in a band that was like Minor Threat, the Misfits, Fear... But we spent a lot of time doingjunk, rather than doingpunk. We used to just hang out at clubs...
Joe: So one day we said, “we should be doing this shit; instead of getting high in clubs, we should be playing them!”
John: So we put the band together. We really don’t have anything to show for it before this. We really only started concentrating on music and stopped getting fucked up a year ago!
What made you guys decide to play this great punk rock? I mean, today the way to success in rock is to play boring, non-melodic, unpowerful, whiny “alternative” pop. How come you’re not?
Joe: We were doing a lot of hard rock/heavy metal for a while before it just seemed like the thing to do, but when we finally sat down and said “what do we really want to do?” We didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. And that’s when the whole Bullys concept came about. When we agreed what we wanted to do, the whole New York City punk rock and roll sound came up. It just kept flowing, it’s natural.
John: It wasn’t a hard thing for us to gel into
Joe: We were playing junk rock, it was garbage, everyone else was doing it and we were bored with it. But we loved playing out, so we sacrificed the material just so we could be in bands and play gigs, block parties, whatever. Now, it’s still about playing out, but mostly it’s about the material, the songs; the songs have to be great, and we have to like them. We’re going to go out there and play punk rock and put as much into it as we can.
John: That whiny shit we can’t get into. We dig hardcore, but we don’t want to be grunting into the mic... Joe’s got a great voice and we have good background vocals and we’d rather do something punk, where we could add some melodic sounds to the songs.
Well, the Ramones and Misfits are melodic...
Joe: Those are the more colorful punk rock bands out there. And we have songs, we have great songs, good melodies, and good hooks and I think that’s what makes a great song. Anybody can get up there and go “blarghblargh.”
John: “OK, what can I do, I can’t sing, so I’ll grunt. I can’t play solos, so I’ll play music without solos.” We said we could do the opposite with the Bullys and do it good.
What prominent punk rock folks did you grow up around?
John: We’re from Queens, so definitely the Ramones. I grew up in Rockaway Beach! We’re on a compilation album from Canada called Back to Rockaway Beach 2.
Joe: This Rockaway Beach thing keeps coming back to us! And it’s a real strange thing, but it’s cool, we love it! Rockaway's a great place.
John: We weren’t lucky enough to know anyone, and only the Ramones made it out of Queens! Only a handful of musicians made it out of New York period! D-Generation ‘s doing pretty good, though. We got to meet the Ramones from hanging around here [East Village] and D-Generation from hanging around the clubs, because that’s where they are. Of course, we never ran into KISS... Hopefully we’ll be the prominent rockers in the future.
Joe: I see the whole New York City rock and roll scene as this pot of boiling stew and there’s a lot of stuff, a lot of different bands in there and a couple of them will rise up. One will eventually rise to the top and be the next big thing, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We love playing Coney Island High and the Continental and CBGB’s, this is our home. We love playing these clubs! If we played these clubs for the rest of our lives we’d have a blast.
John: I played bass at a few gigs when we were still putting the band together, and now we truly have five guys in the band who we think really are it.
Joe: We get a lot of comparisons to bands, the big one is the Ramones, even with Marky's name on the CD, I tend to wonder if Marky didn’t produce the CD if we’d get the reference, but the thing is we’re trying to pave our own road through this rock and roll battlefield, all these other bands left big craters and stuff!
John: I was totally into the Ramones when I was a kid.
How did you get involved with Marky Ramone?
John: One of those gigs we played he happened to be there and after our set we ran into him. And I was blown away, I said, “Oh, my God, Marky Ramone! I can’t believe you’re here!” He said he dug our stuff and asked if we had a tape. So I gave him a tape I just happened to have in my coat pocket. A little while later he called and said he had some time and would like to produce a CD. The record came out in March, we went in the in the studio in January with Marky [Ramone] and did it in 37 hours, which is like no time at all! That’s everything, from the minute we walked in the door to the minute we walked out.
I think he’s one of the best friends of punk rock there is right now.
Joe: He’s a great guy. I tell you, there’s a lot of egomaniacs out there in this business and a lot of people are all for themselves. Marky doesn’t have to spend any time with anyone else if he doesn’t want to, he has his own project going [Marky Ramone and the Intruders]. He did a great job that we really appreciate. He’s sincerely interested. He always wants to know what the new press is and what gigs we’re doing. It’s not like he produced the CD and disappeared.
John: He helped us get some key gigs, too. He’s a hard worker, he produced another band recently, the Travoltas.
Joe: He’s the hardest working man in show business. He’s been doing it for twenty years! You know, you’re looking at someone who was your idol and now we’re hanging out with the guy telling jokes!
John: He loves great music and he’s definitely not fooled by any bullshit.
Do you guys really beat up school kids for their lunch money?
John: We have, in the past.
Joe: Hey, you gotta eat!
Don’t you get in trouble with the school principal or does he get a kickback?
John: I’ll take his fuckin’ money!
Joe: He gets a kickback or a kick in the ass!
How come the girls go for Bullys all the time?
Joe: because we’re real men, we don’t wear stockings and bows on stage. Like some bands that we’re not going to mention.
Do you beat up hippies, too?
Joe: Hippies? No!
John: You mean like the Dead Boys’ song: “I beat up the next hippy I see...”?
Joe: Naw, there’s nothing wrong with hippies, they don’t bother nobody. We just bother people that bother us.
John: Ones that can’t take it, you know? The best defense is to not be so sensitive, if you can take a joke, you can take anything.
Who wrote “I’m a Boy”? While the song is clearly about being a male kid, I can’t help but think about its homosexual undertones. Considering that David Bowie wrote a song about being a “boy,” are you making a statement about the latent homosexuality inherent in most males who are bullys during their adolescence?
John: I don’t understand the question...
Joe: Of course!
John: I’ll tell you this: we had to change some of the words in it because I was calling myself a homosexual.
John: Listen: we’re definitely not homophobic. Certainly in this business there’s a lot of “alternative lifestyles” going on, but hey, whatever rocks your boat. Live and let live, that’s all. Just don’t touch my ass.
John: I think the transvestites and all that shit; I think they love that song. Everybody, the girls, everybody likes it, c’mon, get in touch with your masculine side!
Joe: Everyone’s going to put their little spin on it.
John: When David Bowie’s up there on stage with this makeup and wig, saying “I’m A Boy,” you take it one way, when you got Joe up there spitting in your face saying it, then you got a difference.
The line “I like to pick my nose and wipe it on my clothes” is great comedy!
Joe: It is comedy! You know the best compliment I get is from people who come up after a show and say “that was fuckin’ hilarious!” And that’s what it’s all about: there’s nothing serious about this, we’re having fun, we like people to have a good time, we’re not making any statement, we’re not political, we don’t use our forum for politics and other bullshit...
John: We don’t know what’s going on anyway...
Joe: They should just do what they do, these people, sing and play guitar and stop talking about the world’s problems and the rain forest and who gives a fuck?
How come you never get caught beating up the skinny kids?
John: There’s five of us, we always have a lookout.
Joe: Ahh, we don’t pick on people, we like people to challenge us.
That doesn’t sound too bullyish! Are you guys poseur bullys?
Joe: I tell you what: you come down to our gigs and tell us we’re poseurs, you won’t see one poseur up there on stage.
Do any of you wear glasses?
Joe: What kind of question is that? I wear glasses all the time!
Isn’t it “uncool” for a bully to wear glasses?
Joe: I wear sunglasses at night! That’s a Corey Hart song.
Boy, you really know your rock and roll!Are there some famous bullies you’d like to emulate?
John: Famous bullys? In the music industry?
Joe: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. Mike Tyson, Howard Stern.
John: Yeah, Tyson. He’ll bite your fuckin’ ear off if you don’t pay attention to him!
How about famous punks?
Joe: Iggy Pop.
John: I could give you a whole list of punks I like: Rancid, Dead Boys, Sid Vicious - he didn’t take now shit from nobody, especially that bitch he lived with - Wayne County...
[We notice a teenage girl with blue hair and a punk boyfriend in tow walk by the window.]
John: That’s a punk right there, blue hair, with a skinhead.
Joe: You know, punk’s about living your own lifestyle, paving your own way.
Yeah, but what happens when everyone has blue hair?
Joe: Um, I dunno, blue’s a good color.
[That ends the print version, I had another half an hour, though!]
Johnny: It’s easy to please people when you’re outside of New York City, if you can make it here... This is the most jaded fuckin’ town around. You know, people fuckin’ stand there and if you put 100 fuckin’ percent in to the show and people are just standing there goin’ “...all right, next!” and it’s discouraging, what’s up with that? And now, we’re playin’ out and people are goin’ “yeah! Yeah!” we’re getting a reaction finally. People in the other cities aren’t afraid to show their appreciation for good music. But we won’t play sports bars!
Joe: I think there’s too much exposure. People are like “been there, done that, you know, seen it before. Unless you give them something different, and you go out of your way. These bands getting up there with the whole pseudo-transvestite thing, like “I’m a transvestite, I’m wearing stockings and a garter and a boa” all right, the shock value wears off in like two seconds. Like “all right: guy in panties. All right, let’s move on, where’s the music? Where’ the material? Where’s the lyrics? There’s nothing.”
John: A lot of bands concentrate too much on that because they say, “all right, we have to come up with a gimmick.” and they think too much about the gimmick than the songs.
How long before you recorded the songs did you have them written? Were they sitting in your mind for years?
John: I guess a couple of months.
Joe: Johnny records things, like, instantly. If he’s taking a shit, and a song comes in his head, he won’t wait to wipe his ass, he’ll run to the 8-track and record it! Instantly! And that’s the way you have to do stuff, because the longer it sits in your head the longer you forget things, got to get it down as soon as possible.
John: We had ten songs for Stomposition, and we were just talking about going into the studio in January and record another one.
Have any labels expressed interest?
John: Yeah, but the promo people get fired so much over there. All the guys are hanging on to their jobs by a thread...
Joe: It’s real cut throat with the labels...
John: That’s how the world works: if a metal band has great A&R and sales people behind them, it gets played. That would work for us if our stuff was reviewed constantly, because our music will do the talking. Some of those bands get successful just because they have good business people, who know to make the calls who know who to sell it to.
As a writer I get so much of this stuff sent to me, tons of CDs and records - I have a record player - and it’s all garbage, the owner of the label likes it and they have to promote it and it’s shit! And the music really suffers.
John: I played [a recent] Furious George gig and the labels were there, but I didn’t go up to them... If they want to talk to us, we’re here. They have our CD. Lookout! Records? We’d definitely consider them, but they have like a thousand bands on their label! I like them because I see their bands in the stores, they have good distribution.
Joe: If Lookout! wants to they can come and talk to us.
John: They could get rid of like 900 of those bands...
Joe: They could put all their money into our CD and start living large!
I remember for a long time in the early to mid 1990’s having to see all these shitty bands and wondering just who the hell is playing punk rock any more. The band just sucked, did anyone ever hear of the Ramones or the Stooges? No! Obviously not, because they’re playing this non-melodic crap! Whiny shit. Then here in New York, there’s the same thing! But in 1996 it came back!
Joe: It’s dying out, that alternative crap, you know, like fuckin’ Radiohead? What a bunch of whiny babies, I just want to beat the shit out of them. Radiohead: give me head! We were talking to this waitress in Hooters once and we asked what she did, like “did you go to college?” and she’s like “yeah, yeah,” so what are the college kids listening to now? So she goes: “I don’t know, like Radiohead,” and I’m like, yeah, ‘coz everyone else listens to Radiohead!
But the college radio stations are definitely the way to go, they’re more free and more open-minded and if they’re playing music they’re playing it because they actually like it, not because someone’s paying them to fuckin’ play it.
You recently played a show with Marky Ramone and the Intruders...
Joe: We played with Marky and it was packed!
John: That was a good gig, we had all the back stage access, all the beer we could drink, all the women we could use...
Joe: Marky put us on that bill, and that was really nice thing for him to do. He didn’t have to do anything for us. We have a lot of respect for him. A lot of bands wouldn’t put someone as good as we are with them.
Marky and Joey give a lot back. If they put their name on any show, people show up and pack the place. They love the music and have some sense of duty to punk rock.
Joe: Well, he does, if they don’t carry the torch, who will? We’re still trying to do that and hopefully we’ll pass it on - after we make our fuckin’ money! We’ll all challenge anyone!
Let’s go over the songs on Stomposition...
Joe: Johnny is the sole songwriter of the band.
John: Joe’s my editor!
Joe: “Egomaniac” is about these egotistical assholes out there. You see them walking around with their cell phones and half the time they’re not talking to anybody, but they got to look like they’re busy. It’s a funny punk song.
“Can’t Wait ‘til it’s Over”?
John: Sitting in school looking at the clock, the mundane rituals of everyday like, you want to get out and party, and you just can’t wait ‘til the shit they you have to do is over and done with.
“Still My Home”?
John: That’s about Rockaway, It used to be a great place, still is, but that’s where I grew up. Party and boardwalk, they really fucked it up by turning it into welfare homes and projects.
Joe: Public assistance and nursing homes. I guess you got to put the elderly and the poor someplace, but right on the beach? Don’t put them on prime real estate!
John: Yeah, the neighborhood went to shit, and that’s why I moved out of there, but it’s still my home and that’s why I wrote the song. It’s a shithole, and where my dysfunctional family lived.
Joe: it’s part of your life and still your home
Joe: It’s about bad relationships and how chicks make a fool out of you. Like you’re living with somebody and she’s fucking your best friend. Not a lot of substance there but good for a song title.
John: “Shrink” definitely has something to it, it’s about being a sick fuck and needing a little bit of therapy.
Joe: That’s more about dysfunction, but between two people, not your family. Your girlfriend is dysfunctional, you're dysfunctional, and she wants you to go see a shrink; you’re the one that’s crazy, everybody’s crazy!
“Staring Me Down”?
Joe: That’s self-explanatory, you got people you’re sitting on the subway train and this fuckin’ moron is like staring at you like he knows you, and I don’t like it. You know, I don’t stare at people if I don’t know them, like getting into a fight, psyching each other out.
John: Some of these people staring at you if you have, like, blue hair, and they stare at them, and what the fuck are you looking... Ahh, here you go... [Ugly guy walks by with cell phone]. That’s really attached to his ear.
Joe: When I’m not near a phone, it’s because I don’t want to talk to anybody!
John: I don’t give a damn, anyway.
John: Mad enough to kill... that rage, going over the title and shit, it’s not that deep. You know what it is? Individual lines in each song, sometimes they’re deep. Like that’s deep, but as a whole, none of the shit is deep. Another writer was telling me, “listen to the Dead Boys and listen to how deep they are!” We’re deep in a couple of particular lines, like “Damn” says, “Another crying mother mourns a dying brother of mine.” That’s a deep line, really strong, it’s not the song, they’re are deep lines here and there. “Mad Enuff” says, “you think you got some kind of perfect life/and every thing turns out OK/so you live in harmony, but don’t get in my way.” That’s good line, so rather than kill people with a whole theme, I like to give them something here and there in the song.
“The Bullys Theme”?
Joe: That’s our theme song, we end our set with that song always. That’s a cool thing. You know when the last song comes.
How about any new songs?
John: We’ll record in January . The new songs are pretty self-explanatory, too: “Sluts,” one of my favorites. “Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie” you might have heard at one of our shows [I have, it’s great, amazing melody], “Gimme money, money money/gimme sex, sex, sex,” it’s about indulging... Excess.
Joe: I know there’s a few bands out there that have “gimmie gimmie gimmie” in their songs, but it’s a punk rock thing; it’s punk staple.
John: “PMS” is a new one. And women love that song!
Joe: We get a lot of positive feedback about that song!
John: The women love that song because they understand! “Famous” is a tongue in cheek song about wanting to be famous. “New York City Man” is another one. What else, “Sight of Blood,” that’s about people rubber necking on the highway, people want to see what’s going on.
Joe: If there’s a bar room brawl people want to see bloody noses and shit.
John: Although it will come off like the Bullys love blood, we’re just telling you what you like to see.
Joe: We’re holding up a mirror to everyone else.
John: “King of the Misfits” is about a bit of gratitude for being different but being put together well. None of us has six fingers or these big bifocal glasses and shit.
I knew there was an anti-glasses bias here!
John: So it’s like, we’re kings in the land of the misfits! No reference to the band, although we love them. It’s about people are all freaky and we’re not...
What about rich punks here in New York City who come down to squat but go home after the summer’s over?
Joe: There’s a lot of that going on, and that’s exactly what we’re not. It’s like you got a bunch of rich boys who think they know what punk is, or they think they know what rock and roll is.
John: You have to have lived it. Like the poor black guys who say you have to live the blues to play them. Well, the same thing is true with punk. My father died when I was a kid, my brother died as a young guy. Joe hadn’t seen his father in like 20 years...
Joe: I hadn’t seen my father for 25 years and we ended up bumping in to each other on the same job on a construction site! And we ended up back together.
John: But we’re not saying feel sorry for us, we just know what it’s like...
Joe: I wouldn’t give up anything right now, because it made me the person I am
John: So if we're up to it, we can play the blues! But we’re punks! And that’s what we’re about.
Joe: We’re about giving people an outlet to vent their anger toward everyday shit, their family, their shit, working 9-to-5, that whole fuckin’ slave-to-the-grind stuff. What happens is that Johnny gets in to the song.
John: You know the Ramones’ song “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”? You don’t want to start sniffing glue because your Ferrari won’t start, it’s because parents are beating each other up every night! Man, Dee-Dee’s [Ramone] a genius, he’s nuts.