aka FIFTY TONS OF BLACK TERROR
Careless Talk Costs Lives - August/September 2002
Dead Angel - April 2002
Big Cheese - Summer 1999
Ink 19 - Interview from US tour with Groop Dogdrill - February 1999
MELODY MAKER - 'SexMusic' Explosion - May 1997
Plenty Side - Spring 1997
Big Cheese - January 1997
Quality Time - Christmas 1996
Ribena - Winter 1996
Detour - September 1996
Oscar Smokes The Leftovers - Summer 1996
NME - ON - July 1996
Melody Maker - Advance - Sept 1995
Careless Talk Costs Lives - August/September 2002
words - David McNamee
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Your hands are tied. You're on your knees. Your mouth is filled with scabs, there's masking tape around your head and you can smell petrol...
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Penthouse formed in 1994 Britpop London after guitarist and ex-indie Goth loser Jonathan Marshall Free collided with bassist and future fish-deliveryman Graeme Ichabod Flynn, and drummer and ex-proto-stoner Timothy Alexander Cedar at the debut gig of the latter's tribe of forgotten slouch-rock terrorists, Ligament. Ex parochial indie-grunger Timothy Charles Finke found himself recruited as singer as part of his conditions for reintegration into society. Steady touring of public urinals and outhouses with critically-bypassed Brit-greasers Groop Dogdrill, Gallon Drunk, Gold Blade and Dream City Film Club yielded an antediluvian collection of voyeur hymns Gutter Erotica in 1996, which no-one heard, and an album for Beggars Banquet in 1999 called My Idle Hands. Possibly even fewer people heard this effort. The band were forced to change their name in America (to Fifty Tons Of Black Terror) by arch-pornographer Bob Guccione, and Penthouse were dropped.
That was it.
It reads like any obituary for any no-hoper gaggle of Camdenite twatmongers. Why should you care?
Because we're not here to write press releases, we make myths out of legends, and legends are faerie tales that hide in dark corners, under stones and in swampy marshes, you FUCK. And one particular swamp just outside North London has a particularly nasty little monster waiting to sneak into the closets of a nation of Slipknot fans. UNT (it stands for 'Unprecedented National Tragedy') is Penthouse's callous-handed, bloody-eyed revenge. It is a revelation of Biblical proportions and, no, you haven't heard it. You FUCKS.
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Listening to Penthouse is like being caught between two cars fighting. Guitar, bass and drums squeal, lurch and throttle up while Finke's tongue lashes whip-like around butchered Fall-isms. You can't hear the words. You pick out fragments of it, scraps of sentences, but everything save Finke's most reactionary proclamations are drowned in the degraded blues which rattles and rams and smashes into your skull cavity. You can't dance to it.
It's a religious music, not in the sense of the voodoo slam dance appropriated by Gallon Drunk, but religious in the classic Christian fearmongering sense. Euchrid Euchrane is the New Jesus and Finke sounds like he's speaking in tongues. 'Baby Must Die' reference's Herod's mass-infanticide and there's a thrilling subtext to UNT that paints Penthouse as the Angel of Death come to wash the scum off the streets, to massacre the first-born of a generation of Fake Metal, Fake Punk, Fake Everything bands.
Where do Penthouse fit into the framework of Rock 'n' Roll? At times you sound like you don't even like music, let alone take any comfort from playing it. What are you thinking about when you play? At times it almost sounds like you're making a mockery of other bands, like you've got issues with rock music itself, and you're challenging them all to a big fucking fight.
"Yes, yes, yes, yes... your question is entirely well-informed," agreed arch-mentalist Charlie Finke from his secluded houseboat home in the aforementioned secluded marshy swamp, "except of course, I, we, genuinely truly love music. I sing all day at work - I am utterly sentimental and can be moved to tears. Just seeing Johnny Cash's face will make my eyes well up and my heart feel bigger. Physically, all music informs me, all the time, especially when on stage. I think about time passing by and the notes in my ears, lucid moments of absolute hatred and total love combined in a second."
Where does the impulse come from to make such violent music? Do you think of your music as a form of violence?
"Violence is most dangerous when contained inside an intellect and not allowed any form of exhaust. Jon's fingers are his exhaust pipes, thank God; my bucolic life is mine. It's only natural. We have a real ball but, because it's so unstable, like sodium in a baby's bathtub, it does look and feel extremely violent. I like to use that, but to control it is not easy!"
Charlie, why do you live in a marsh? Is it because you hate people?
"I hate living among all the drones. The marsh is very beautiful. I have all the weather in my face all the time and no twats will feel pity for me. Perfect."
What are you trying to achieve through your music? It sounds full of intent, like you're struggling to either articulate something or provoke a specific reaction or outcome. It occurs to me that it hasn't been successful so far because you're still driven to make the sounds you make.
"It occurs to me that drive does not always need conclusive closure to define itself. As it happens, I might just retire to spite myself. Go and do some manual repetitive task! Of course it's full of intent."
Why form a band? Is it a gang thing? What goals and agendas did you have when you formed? Do you need a mission statement in order to function, to unite the four of you musically and collectively?
"One word answer time: Jesus."
How do you work as a unit? What are power relations like within the band? Do you have a leader? Do you fight each other? How did you find each other?
"Jon is ultimately the boss, but I am ultimately the leader. Cedar is the muscles; McDonald (Esme Gilroy, current bass) pays for everything. We all respect each other for what we do in the band. We don't discuss each other's home lives when we are out but we will be rude if one or the other is acting like a putz. We do not fight about anything except song-titles and set-lists, but it's over in seconds usually. We found each other with intent - it couldn't have been better."
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The cover of UNT is a murky, night-vision-grey painting of an eye 'dribbling out all over it's face'. Lashes poke out like little scars, or like spider-legs that have been jabbed in crudely - and cruelly - as a substitute. The dribbling eye looks like an infected vagina. This works for me. Masturbation isn't jokey, cutesy Blink-182 porno-mag fondling and monkey-spanking. Masturbation for me is like wringing infection out of a weeping wound. It's all about guilt and self-disgust and the spitting redemptive firmament of The Little Death. Penthouse is so much more an appropriate name than Fifty Tons Of Black Terror because this is a masturbatory sound in every sense.
Let's talk about sex. There's something about Penthouse's sound that is overtly sexual. Unlike Jon Spencer's"ooh baabay" hipshaking though, Penthouse revel in a squalid, pent-up, almost aggressive sexuality that - even when not alluded to directly in the lyrics - throbs and moans throughout your entire sound. It's sex music which isn't sexy - it's like that act itself; dirty, physical, indecent, frustrated, carrying connotations of violence and guilt and allusions to deeper more intense dimensions of pleasure and nastiness. What is the relationship of sex to Rock 'n' Roll, and how does this translate in Penthouse's take on the sex-r 'n' r interface? Does it have something to do with death? Do your own sexual experiences inform your music? Is it about power?
"It's not about power; it is power, as you would see if you were in my shoes. Life is a sexual experience from beginning to end, and the less perverted your life is, the easier it is to understand how things really are. Mine is a privileged position, I feel superior because I feel informed! While sex and death will stir the same feeling in a lot of people, they are linked only due to fear. Death is pure and uncompromising, like love... but sex - the physical process - is less so, involving a lot of puerile potential because people won't always be in love. People who are good at rock 'n' roll will be experienced in sex, have some knowledge of love and be rightfully afraid of death."
Is there such a thing as a Penthouse stalker? How do women relate to your music? Do you get women coming to your shows much? Is it a male thing? What do you think people get from your music?
"We have had several stalkers but fortunately none of them were mad enough to tackle Jon or myself outside of the venue scenario. Graeme (ex-bass), however, entertained them, eventually getting engaged to the tallest one. Women like our shows, but they forget about us sooner or later and don't always come back. Men are impressed, but it's the old 'tanks and bombers' thing, 'How bloody loud is that fucking drummer?' etc."
What is the most extreme reaction anyone has ever had to your music?
"Gay Brummie in poxy German town fancied me but couldn't bring himself to tell, so he assaults me instead, drawing blood. I have the fucker by the throat against a wall - he's crying, his friends are all hitting me. I am pulled off by Cedar. Gay actor in Geneva passes love-note during the show then tells me after I'd be a fraud if I didn't live life offstage as I did on, and I should prove how deranged I am later on at his boudoir. I offer him an arm-wrestle, win, tell him I'm married and like real ale."
In 'Posthumous Climax' you sing, "What a woman needs is a real man"! Are you a real man? What is a real man?
"A real man is prepared to be totally honest, has no need for embellishment - anecdotally or about his person - and can walk away from a horny woman he does not love. We are real men from time to time. Some times more than others, but the increasing years will help in understanding how we were/will be."
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There's a song on UNT called 'Creatures Vs. People'. It's a primitive, howling, off-key, shit-slinging, sludgefest thing propelled by wheezing detuned guitar and staggering muddy brown bass. Sounding like he's just crawled out of the primordial ooze, Finke, chewing on the thigh-bone of a lesser-spotted Mark E., howls "Peep-uhl don't like creech-uhs... and creeech-uhs don't like PEEP-UHHL!"
Do you think, like Henry Rollins, that we've grown too soft as a species, that we need to toughen up? How do we do this? Outline your suggestions for the improvement and survival of mankind.
"Pol Pot should be brought in to run the secondary schools - the fuckers are so spoiled with their computers, junk food, shite TV, shite pretend-punk bands, shite pretend 'gangstas', the wholesale manipulation of the West at the Third World's expense for the benefit of the already super-rich. Jesus Christ, what the fuck does it take to make people realise they've got their own minds?! There are no theories about the conspiracy, it is comprehensive and actual! You readers need to get tough so your hearts don't break in the moments of clarity before you die."
The four members of Penthouse are in a fight with a shark, a polar bear, a lion and a crocodile. Who survives, and who dies?
"McDonald dies first of fright. Shark next, due to poor facilities - no lock on gents' crapper, lack of 50,000-gallon pool etc. Bear gets Cedar next but proves indigestible due to 90 kilos of leather and rubber in forearms; a waste. Lion tracks down Finke; smell irresistible. A short fight. I get one on the nose but the old 20-stone big cat at throat thing = goodnight London. Free presents wife with matching bag and shoes - a familiar reptile pattern!"
Do any physical afflictions or mental illnesses play a part in the composition of Penthouse's music?
"Teeth size (both extremes). DT's. Wealth. Fear. Love. Hope. Loss."
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Your hands are tied. You're on your knees. Your mouth is filled with flies, there's masking tape around your head and you can hear screaming...
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I've never seen Penthouse live: explain to me the experience - the sounds, smells, feelings, energies, levels of interaction, responses, reactions - both from the band's and audience's perspectives.
"BAND: three drunk, one sober. Nerves, butterflies: a shot of whiskey and check threads. Lose the plot like boxers. Once in the ring, it's autopilot, impervious to pain. I've broken bones, gashed my face - not even known it. Stale bodies and booze, the comedown - must get pissed, but who's driving? Jesus Christ, give me some JD. Hotel. Acid in the throat. Forget to eat. Can't sleep. Drink till I drop. 5.00AM. Up at 8.00 - go to work.
"AUDIENCE - Must drink. Guest list: me, me, me. Support band. Feel bored. There's Finke. Jesus, he looks so fucking amazing like a true mega-star, what a voice, what power, how does he stay alive? What saturation of all senses! My brains are buggered, must drink etc etc."
You're a London-based band playing what could be described as a particularly American form of music. How do you orientate yourselves culturally? In music, do you shed identities and grow new ones, like a kind of second self?
"Culturally, I am English - typically, in fact. Slightly eccentric, a little cynical, open to ideas but reserved about influence. People perceive our sound as American because we use blues scales. The last thing in someone's mind at a gig is, 'They're a bit American!' I'm Ozzy, I'm Vanian, I'm Smith, I'm Milligan. Second self is too limited, I'm seventh self. I can't speak for the rest of the band, but you wouldn't find a nicer bunch of chaps."
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There's tar flooding over your face, the wreckage is warped around you - limbs meshed into metal, a petrified uber-mensch. You're Tetsuo with a radiator grill for genitals, pistons for arms; you're the Iron Man reprogrammed with Plath's 'Monsters From The Id'. You're sinking...
...it's pouring into into your mouth, filling your lungs. Flames lick your eyeballs before the lids are welded shut. In the distance you hear a big cat yelping into the woods and a voice shrieking: "All you fuckers havin' a ripple on tonight... looking for a fucker to FIGHT! Wait till you get back to sunny Engerland... You'll feel the back ah MAAH HAND!!"
You've never felt more alive.
DEAD ANGEL INTERVIEWS
50 TONS OF BLACK TERROR (aka Penthouse) April 2002
by Neddal Ayad
If the Chrome Cranks were raised on a diet of blood pudding and Black Sabbath and had a singer who was more literate than (and almost as acerbic as) Steve Albini they might have, on their best day, sounded something like 50 Tons of Black Terror.
Neddal sez: I first heard 50 Tons of Black Terror/Penthouse about two years ago when a friend sent me a tape of their second record, MY IDLE HANDS. I can remember popping the tape into my car's deck, hitting play, and almost going off the road while trying to pick my jaw up off the floor. The music was dark, groovy, brooding, heavy, clever, and more than a little angry. It was like someone had synthesized the best elements of my favourite bands and then recombined them into this yowling monster of a band from the U.K. When I got home I immediately sent my friend a "Holy shit, where did you get this? You rule!" letter, then listened to the tape again.
Jump to the present. 50 Tons of Black Terror have a new album titled, UNT, due shortly on Space Baby. (It's already available in the U.K. via the band's website: http://www.fiftytons.co.uk) I caught up with guitarist Jon Free via email and harassed him with a bunch of fanboy questions....
*Note: This interview was conducted several weeks before I received a copy of UNT.
HOW BLACK WAS MY TERROR? DEAD ANGEL FINDS FIFTY TONS WORTH....
DA: For those not up to speed, could you give me a brief history of the band.
Jon Free: Formed 1994, three albums and a bunch of oddities released so far, all on different labels. 400 gigs, 50,000 miles, 15 countries, and no money!
DA: Again, for those not up to speed, why is Penthouse called Penthouse in the U.K. and 50 Tons of Black Terror in the U.S.?
JF: Because apparently the protectors of the US citizens have decreed that your populace would be too brain-buggered by the idea of a band sharing the name of a porn mag to be able to differentiate the subtle yet distinct differences, thereby leading unsuspecting wankers to misspend their hard-earned cash on the incorrect product. However, no such problem could be foreseen by European courts. I believe Depeche Mode had similar problems with Frenchies buying their records whilst searching for fashion tips, only to be sorely disappointed
DA: Has Penthouse Magazine Europe hassled you at all?
JF: Quite the opposite, PHUK, the UK branch offered us a letter of well-wishes, and invited to play at their launch party at Stringfellows (which we declined).
DA: In five words or less what is Bob Guccione's problem?
JF: The People vs. Larry Flynt.
DA: Have you ever received any coverage in SPIN magazine?
JF: No, but sister-publication SWIVEL have been very supportive.
DA: How do you get that marvelous guitar sound? I mean you out-Alweenie Alweenie (Alweenie = Dead Angel's pet name for Steve Albini) and out-Harvey Mick Harvey.
JF: Actually Steve Albini deps for me when Chris Spedding is not available.
DA: Is Led Zepplin much of an influence? I was listening to "Voyeur's Blues" the other day and it hit me -- "When the Levee Breaks..."
JF: None of us can stand that Plant twat.
DA: Can you really get chitlins in the U.K.?
JF: You must come to one of Charlie's (vox) culinary evenings, stewed fox and curried chubb are the most popular fixtures on the menu. Ants make an appearance in the entrees, while cheeses made from pig's milk close out a delightful eating experience, certainly one never to be forgotten. Have you ever tried a Brandy Alexander made with human breast milk? Very more-ish!
DA: I am going go out on a limb and guess that the lyrics to "Head of the Wake" are based on MOBY DICK and "Man o' Fire" is based on THE WICKER MAN; are there any other literary or cinematic allusions that I've missed?
JF: You are correct (well done!) - most other references are literary, though... Dracula arrived at Whitby in the ship 'Demeter', hence the album title... guess that's not a song, though... ! UNT features 'EVERY BABY' which is from the Herod bit in the Bible... Is there a film of the Bible? ' Beautiful Be The Indolent' comes from an Aesop Fable about the Bear and the Flea. Romulus and Remus appear in Night Threat... I'm struggling here...
DA: Your bio states that the band is based out of London but the music and lyrics (especially on "My Idle Hands"), for lack of a better word, have a "rural" feel. Did any of you grow up in the country?
JF: You are very perceptive, aren't you! DA: Tell the truth. Have you ever listened to a Blues Explosion record and felt the urge to smack Jon Spencer around?
JF: We were all very interested to hear their first album, which was pretty shambolic, and the songs were a little shaky, but still good... For me, everything has been downhill since then -- I'm not particularly excited by camp, disco or funk, and fairly insulted that Penthouse are sonically compared to JSBX -- It's like saying we sound like the B-52s... I would imagine the Blues Explosion would feel the same way about being compared to us! Mind you, I've not actually heard their last two albums!
DA: Does it annoy you when North American writers try to Anglicise their questions?
JF: Hell, no. Anglicize it to fuck.
DA: What was the last record you heard that was complete and utter shite?
JF: New Pet Shop Boys album is on heavy rotation here at present - whole album played on air, 40 minute Top Of The Pops special and so on. We all hold fond memories of the Smiths, but Johnny Marr has just turned out to be such a knob. Honestly though, The The? Talking Heads? The Pretenders? And now the Pet Shop Boys. What a cunt!
DA: Can you name some bands or labels besides Penthouse/50 Tons kicking around the U.K. that deserve more exposure?
JF: Country Teasers (possibly deceased?).
DA: 'My Idle Hands' seems to have a bit of a nautical motif running trough it. Care to comment?
JF: I asked Charlie for an answer to this last night, and he said something about "Rivers of blood flowing through life blood and water... - Whose blood? The blood of Christ? Sink or swim! Stillness, whilst eternally spinning in perpetual motion suspended above endless yawning rocky chasms miles beneath the fragile hull..." etc. etc. Charlie lives on a boat, don't you know? Does that clear it up for you?
DA: The new record, UNT is due soon. What the hell is going on with the eye on the cover?
JF: It's dribbling out all over it's face.
DA: Having not heard UNT, has the Penthouse sound changed at all? If so, how? What can people expect?
JF: It's much more well-rounded than before, and less irritating. Better, in fact!
DA: What made you decide to release the record yourselves in the U.K. and Europe?
JF: Massive delusional self-belief. The slogan is "A Vanity Release -- it's not a label, it's a statement."
DA: What's the most ridiculous thing that came about as a result of your association with Beggar's Banquet?
JF: Farcical US tour.
DA: Any plans to hit North America in the near future?
JF: Planning another farcical US tour imminently!
DA: I saw in the bio that you were once a goth. A friend of mine is a recovering goth. Is it possible to ever get the goth out of your system? Or does it just mutate into a taste for other forms of the gothic (i.e. Southern Gothic) as you get older?
JF: True. Oh dear. No. 'Fraid so.
DA: Why do people NEED all three Penthouse records?
JF: So they can sing along on the upcoming US tour!
Interview from Big Cheese magazine, Summer 1999
PENTHOUSE - How Low Can You Go?
by Hugh Gulland
The day has yet to come when you can saunter down to the shops, pick up a packet of vacuum-sealed 'Debauchery', pop it in the microwave and let that shit loose in the house, but Penthouse's new CD 'My Idle Hands' is damn near as good. Thundering charnel-house blues to take your head clean off, the band describe their music as 'the sound of a constant hangover.' Guitarist Jon Free, drummer Tim Cedar and new bassist Esme ruefully hold their hands up to a booze-enhanced sound and lifestyle. 'We used to rehearse on Saturday mornings every week, and what are you going to feel like on Saturday morning?' Like shit? 'Exactly. That has as much to do with our sound as anything else!'
I quiz Penthouse as to just how stupid their on-tour behaviour can get - something is mumbled about an incident involving vocalist Charlie Finke eating ants and the floodgates open to further incriminating details. 'It was in some pissy little village in Denmark', confesses Jon, 'doing a gig to what I thought would be no people, it turned out to be hundreds, drinking 2 bottles of vodka before we went on and I apparently appeared with one cowboy boot and one bare foot, trousers up in shorts, toilet roll turban, Elvis shades with one lens missing, black marker Hitler moustache, smashing the guitar over the bass players head, pouring beer over everyone and passing out in a pool of my own piss and vomit!'
'That wasn't the time you taped meat to your face...?'
God help us.....
Pissed-up hi jinx notwithstanding, Penthouse have focused all the chaos and fury into a potent gutter-punk beast. 'My Idle Hands' runs like the soundtrack to a bacchanalian barbecue in a wrecker's yard, and it's extremity such as this that rock'n'roll badly needs. 'People have come up to me' asserts Jon, 'and said "I'm really glad someone's doing stupid, loud, drunken music!"' So should you be.
Fill your idle hands, you son of a bitch!
Ink 19 - Interview from US tour with Groop Dogdrill - Feb. 1999
Fifty Tons Of Black Terror - Raw Like Sushi
words and pics by Frank Mullen
It's a match made in hell: label mates and drinking buddies Fifty Tons of Black Terror and Groop Dogdrill touring the East Coast, both supporting recently released records. I envy and pity their tour manager -- it appears to be a full-time job just keeping the bands in line, but also seems to be one hell of a good time. We had an Inky conversation before their February show at the Echo Lounge in Atlanta.
Fifty Tons' CD Demeter and Groop's Half Nelson share a few things: songs about sex and liquor, abrasive blues-based energy, and a point of view somewhere south of the wrong side of the tracks, but only slightly north of the gutter. Both bands have had their ups and downs, too. Fifty Tons of Black Terror is known as "Penthouse" in the UK, but was forced into a name change by the US magazine of ill repute. Groop Dogdrill had a lot of exposure in Europe on recent tours with Mötörhead and Therapy?, but this visit to the US was woefully underattended.
Fans of Jesus Lizard or Jon Spencer will feel right at home with Demeter . In the first line of the record, vocalist Charlie Finke sets the stage, growling "I wanna do it to it" over a distorted harp and guitar solos, pounding drums, and a bass as raw as an unfilled tooth. On "The Beauty in the Beast," he screams like he's getting that tooth filled, or maybe passing a bowling ball. Equal parts free-form jazz, soul-selling blues and "Metallic KO," this record screams along like locomotive with a faulty boiler, spitting metal and flame as it lurches down the tracks.
With a nine-pack of empty Guinness bottles as a warmup for this afternoon's soundcheck, Fifty Tons' singer Charlie Finke was plenty relaxed for this conversation. Later on was another story -- pacing the stage like a possessed man, alternately sipping and sloshing a glass of champagne, he was anything but relaxed. Oh, well, enjoy it while you can...
So, you're the band with two names. How did that come about?
Charlie Finke : Well, we got a phone call about two years ago (before we signed to Beggar's), from [the Penthouse] lawyers... "the album title, Gutter Erotica , in association with the band name Penthouse, we find defamatory, and we're going to kick your ass in court all over the world!" We thought it was bollocks, but I asked a couple of friends and they said, "they won't be able to touch you in Europe, but you can never release a record in America without a fight, and you'll lose."
So we sort of knew that was coming for a long time, and about a year later, when Beggar's Banquet picked us up, they said, "We really want to release your record in the States and you've got to change your name," and asked us to think of a name, and it took us about six months. None of us ever knew what to do, and it was starting to hold us back, because we should have had product out in the States ages ago.
One afternoon, my neighbor said, "Call yourselves 'Fifty Tons of Black Terror!'" I thought he was joking, and I said, "You'll never guess what that bloke Paul said we should be called!" to the rest of the lads, because we were going to be called bloody "Slit Whiskey" at this point, or something like that.
Was that really the second choice?
I'm not going to tell you, because it's too offensive. Everything's too offensive -- I can't go into it. I just said it to the guys and there was a sort of moment of silence, and then sort of general nods all around, "all right, sounds like a bit of fun."
(Bassment, Shiny Housewives, Mudsharks, Beaver Fever, Asian Babes, The Sideburners, Bizarre Dwarves, METAL RULER, Spam Javelin, Blowhole, Ringbinder, Cream Tease, Krakatoa, Hole Punch, Eyebag, Spitwad, Hairlip. Hair Ball, Egg Wig, Fish Stub, Itchbox, The Soulcoaxers, The Elvis Estate, Snoutman, Abominable Whoremongers, The Filthy Unjust, Gasoholics, Intimate Gloat, Numb Organ Bit, Blowhard Slug, Radical Root Fluid, Magic Bullet, Schnoozle Room, The Grease Pigs... etc... etc... etc...)
Where did the name come from?
He got it from B movies. It's an American one, I think -- '68 or '66 or so? I don't know, a '60s sort of American film. A big spider comes out of the Everglades and eats a little village. (It's called 'The Spider' - ed).
Fifty tons worth?
Yeah, a huge spider. Fifty Tons. Black. Eats lots of people.
Have you been to the States before?
We did CMJ in New York and played at Arlene's Grocery in November 11th? Pete's birthday? No, Bonfire Night.
Is that an after-Halloween holiday?
No, it's -- some conspirators tried to blow up the king ages ago. What they do is recreate his death, because he was arrested and burned at the stake. So every year, kids sit down with little effigies that they've made and make bonfires.
That seems healthy, doesn't it?
Yeah, they're burning the potential assassin, but I can't remember what it was -- whether he wanted to knock out Parliament altogether or the king or what.
Well, you just missed President's Day here...
We were here for that. President's Sale. Everything seems some excuse to sell something.
Is that your impression of the States?
I think it's a really weird place. I think it's beautiful and ugly. It's frightening. These guys [Groop Dogdrill], someone tried to get in their van at a junction. He obviously wanted to say something to them.
I think New York is excellent. I think it's wonderful how it's so clean, and the people who live there seem to really enjoy living there. I suppose I'm only talking about Manhattan, I don't really know anything about what goes on outside of Manhattan. I would have thought Giuliani's clean-up probably didn't extend all the way, I don't know.
I think every British politician should visit New York and see what positive and active involvement with the municipal planning can do, because our cities are -- London's filthy and getting worse all the time. Manchester's actually had a bit of a clean up in a funny sort of way, it's had a bit of a renaissance of it's own.
Where are you from?
We're from London, and the Drill are northerners, Yorkshire boys from Doncaster. Britain's about 200 miles smaller than California, you know, a pretty tiny place. And there are a lot of people that live there. It's packed, actually -- really packed. We do a lot of tours in Europe and visiting France, and say "Jesus Christ, this place is empty and vast." I would have thought that France was quite small.
Is the EU changing the culture of some of those countries?
Not really, I don't really know what's going on in Europe because of the EU. The effect it's having in Britain is it's making us into a bunch of bitter-minded, thoughtless xenophobes, stuck in our stupid fucking class system. The upper classes, they hate Europe because it invented getting rid of kings and queens, and the working classes hate Europe because they're being constantly reminded that they're working class. You've got to stay working class, otherwise you've got shit food and no money. As if the French are really bad at making people have nice towns to live in, and that's the kind of stuff you get -- there's this constant onslaught from the British press and the media about what a shit place Europe is.
Sure, there's crap in Europe and there's lots of right-wingism -- you know it's frightening, the power, the speed at which right-wing politics can take off in a country. France is a tinderbox, but at least there's a sort of municipal sense of well-being, which I don't think is necessarily true in the UK at the moment.
Is that because of the politicians, or...
No one really knows who's in control, right? No one ever did, no one ever does, but everyone thinks that someone must be, so they just let it go. And who's in control at the moment is fucking bloody Rupert Murdoch and his SKY empire, really. He owns all the bullshit newspapers, that teach us to be thick and keeps us in vacuous, unintelligent states of mind.
That's no different than here -- Bill Gates probably has more impact on people than Bill Clinton.
Yeah, the two Bills. Money talks, and it's all going to come down one day. I'm not wanting to sound like a bit of a pessimist, but something's going to happen. In the next hundred years, there's going to be some serious shit. I don't know what.
Are the National Front and skinheads still active?
It's kind of teetering away. It's sort of been absorbed a little bit into the general consciousness of the British. I think it's insignificant politically. In fact, there's just been a new law - they worked out the percentages, and they've made it illegal for an ethnic minority of less than a certain percentage of the population represent themselves politically, and they've done it so that all the legitimate ethnic minorities aren't affected. The only minority that is affected is the ultra-right.
I'm not really too worried about the rise of the right in the UK, but the French -- that is a bit difficult, because there's a lot of them. They're all determined, and the Germans as well. The worst is the former Eastern states. They're really into nazism. Moscow is full of them. Warsaw's full of them. Berlin's got a few. I just can't understand it.
Now that's in Europe, you know, that hasn't happened in the UK yet. There's plenty of racial stuff going on in England. We just got through a really big case when the rotten apples are supposed to have been flushed out of the metropolitan police -- of course, they haven't. There was a murder a long time ago and no one's going to get prosecuted for it.
Didn't you play at a benefit for that?
No, that was a police benefit for an AIDS charity, or was it "age" and not AIDS?
How has the tour been so far?
We've played in New York at Brownie's, and D.C. at the Metro. New York was good. D.C. was sad, but we played brilliantly, all of us. It was a really good fun night for us, but there was no one there.
Then we did a place called Wheaton, just outside of DC - remember that? Phantasmagoria -- fantastic place. You've got to visit it just because: one, they know about European beer there on draft, and two, they've got a fantastic vinyl collection there. They must have 10,000 titles. There's a brewer's club there, and a record club, and they do a good gig. Once again, not too many people showed up.
Greenville skate park -- that was brilliant. There was a cancellation, we were supposed to be at Chapel Hill, but they cancelled it. So our tour manager, Eric, rang some of his mates up and said, "Can you find somewhere to put two bands on?" A "have gear, will rock" sort of thing. Well, it turns out there's this great little skate park in North Carolina and it was really good fun! We're playing and these guys are skating around... There was a local band, they weren't so hot, but it's not their fault. We were on first, Groop Dogdrill were after. They sell those big giant bottles of Bud for, like, one dollar twenty. Christ.
Tell me a little about your music -- I listened to the record, and heard a lot of different influences, and different kinds of music. The remixes and the live stuff sounded totally different then the record.
Well, I'll say it straight up about the remixes -- we have no editorial control over that at all. Personally, I don't like it at all on the whole. Although the "White Coal" one by the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars is pretty good. It's not my cup of tea, that's all.
Influences? Varied, you know. Massive, really. Basically anything that's ever happened that's been interesting throughout the history of time that made an impression in my memory. I can't specifically say, "Oh, I like the Stooges, or the MC5, or the New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, or Blind Lemon," but those are the ones I like. But I like the Smiths and Joy Division, you know. It doesn't really matter, it's just like everything that's ever been good, that's what I say.
People might disagree with me with what I think's good, but on the whole I have found that most people who know a little bit about music tend to corroborate with me about whether it's good or not. And I'm starting to get into some older music, the twenties and even before - I've been listening to some really older stuff. Modern sort of strange classical music, jazz, everything
I hear a little bit of the Minutemen sort of jazz, too.
Yeah, there's plenty of that going on with us. Our rhythm section is very aware of the dynamic essential. We fuck shit up in a really syncopated way. We do. I like them, they're good musicians. I couldn't really speak for them as they're not here, but what I will say is that I know that Graeme (Graeme Flynn, bass) is really into sort of popular, proper, fuck-off disco music sometimes. He's listening to the Weather Girls and all that sort of stuff, and that's great, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. Tim's (Tim Cedar, drums) more into loud rock music, and blues. Jon (Jon Free, guitar) really likes old blues, redneck blues, white trash blues, and he likes some of the electronic stuff as well.
You know, we're going to Memphis after this. Sunday night bible belt. Never been there before. Been there in my dreams, I can honestly say. I've been dreaming about going to Memphis since I was about six.
That'll be a momentous occasion...
I hope so. ...or a big letdown. I'm ready for it. [shouts to tour manager] Eric, can we go to Tupelo to see the house where Elvis was born? I really want to see that. I need a month really, because I want to drive down to Biloxi. Yeah, that'll be fun.
Looks like you're ready for soundcheck now, is there anything else you'd like to say?
No, nothing in particular... um, nice to meet ya'! What's your name?
MELODY MAKER - THE SEX-PHILES - 17th May 1997
Don't fret, prepare to sweat - SEXMUSIK will save the day. Dig the new creed!
'People do seem to be quite up for that sort of filthiness at the moment'
Charlie Finke's laugh cackles and crackles down the phone. He's pondering the sudden surge of bands who seem to have rediscovered the original drive of rock 'n' roll, who have gleefully gone back to first principles, and got down to basics.
And they don't get down much more basic and dirty than the band Charlie sings and writes lyrics for.
Penthouse are the greasiest gang on the sex-musik block. They are hooligans to Jon Spencer's dandies. We are all of us in the gutter, but Penthouse are looking up the skirts, give us a swaggering shrug and focus on the world around them in all it's sleazy splendour. Penthouse's songs mix the power of late-period Birthday Party with the sheer glee of prime-period Blue Caps.
And, right in the centre of this storm - Penthouse's music is a one-eyed giant, after all - is Charlie.
'When they first asked me to join, my immediate reaction was to refuse point blank, "Just Say No" outright. Because I thought that the way I reacted to their music was going to mean all I could sing was "Fuck me! Fuck me now!", you know? And you can't just keep repeating that; it's about more than just spilling spunk.'
So, for Penthouse's first single, 'Ript n Happy', you wrote about ritualistic masturbation? ("Rope! Give me some!")
'It was actually a religious reference to St Peter, who was crucified upside down', claims Charlie, 'But looking at it in context, people are bound to think it's about the S&M thing, and strangulation. Which is fine. These days there are some people who can't get turned on unless they're moving the lawn dressed as Hitler listening to Shostakovitch. Some people will just stab themselves in the leg a few times. That's sex to them. That's fine.
'Society is so fucking bleached these days, you know? I'm in a phone box in Edinburgh right now, worried I'm about to be arrested because I'm drinking a can of beer! People desperately want a bit of mischief. That's why they sit down in front of the telly to watch kids nicking cars and crashing them. Sex, voyeurism, and death!'
No wonder people can't wait to see Penthouse!
PLENTY SIDE - Fife Fanzine - Spring 1997
By Chris Hynde
When I heard Penthouse were coming up for a weekend of gigs, I just HAD to get an interview. I caught up with the band in Edinburgh, in a pub on the city's Cowgate. We all get the beers in and I start by asking about their general impressions of their visit.
Charlie (Vocals) - Well, the temperature's better up here than it is at home. The generosity of people has been amazing...
Jon (Guitar) - The quality of the support bands has been excellent
C - Oh, yeah, well put together gigs. Bearing in mind we played in Newcastle on Friday and that was just as good. Everyone's very friendly, they haven't got that maniacal ball-and-chain thing that goes around London promoters.
How do you think last night's gig went?
C - Considering the amount of people that were in the audience, they were still a little bit unsure what to do, but I know the ones that liked it liked it very much. It seemed like a good crowd.
J - There wasn't anyone jumping up and down, though...
C- Yeah, but nobody's really heard of us.
Tim (Drums) - We were expecting fights and brawls, being in Glasgow!
C - Yeah, where's all the punch-ups? Is that tonight?
I don't know what's going to happen, but this area is pretty rough. I heard a story once about someone who was attacked with a machete on this street.
J - On this street? Cheers!
No problem, anytime. Last Night was the first time I've seen you live and you, Charlie, throw yourself about the stage a lot, so is it important for you to have a visual foil?
C - No, it's not important. The music would survive perfectly well on it's own, and I often feel that they could do quite well without me. It's just a reaction to what's going on really. Sometimes it feels forced and I feel humiliated, so I calm down for three or four gigs. But it's great to be gigging again because we haven't done many since before October - we were in the studio for a while. It's great to be out and about again.
Have you ever been injured onstage?
C - Tim hurts himself regularly with small cuts and bruises to the hand.
T - But you have some nice bruises, too. You landed on a glass.
C - Yeah, I landed on a glass at the Hope and Anchor, and didn't cut myself. It was as if I had the protection of Christ with me or something. It was quite strange that I didn't get cut.
Also, at the Camden Crawl, I leapt off the stage and landed on my knees and there were these two broken glasses between them which would have got my balls possibly if I'd have been just two inches further that way. Everyone assumed I'd been cut. I mean, it's not an integral part of the music, it's just a thing I do. SOmetimes I feel very embarrassed about it, sometimes I really enjoy it. It's a very personal thing, but if this lot said 'you look like a prat', it would stop.
Do you think he looks like a prat? Be honest!
Graeme (Bass) - (Very diplomatically!) Obviously, we put out a lot of energy and you can't help moving sometimes. It's not something we think about or is contrived or anything. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't
That's pre-empted the next question; the type of music you play means you put everything into a gig, so is it difficult to maintain a high standard of performance from night to night?
C - It gets better, actually; the musicianship at least. My voice is getting worse, though...
T - It's more tiring for me, personally. When I get to the end of the set, I'm going to collapse.
J - Everyone gets ill, but usually the adrenaline rush sees you through it.
T - (deadpan) And the use of hard drugs.
You seem to have garnered a reputation for your drinking...
C - That's single-handedly down to Jon!
Do you think your music would lose something if you didn't drink?
G - It wouldn't happen, although we have done a lot of de-tox.
C - But, we wouldn't create the music in the first place without the reference points and troubles that we get into.
J - I don't know how to put it eloquently, but... You drink generally because you're not very happy, and you have less 'intention' if you drink a lot, and that intention is going to come out in the music. If we didn't drink, we'd probably get more done and be more productive.
Everyone's touched upon this, but your songs conjure up the seamier side of life, dodgy-looking characters in back rooms of pubs etc., so have your experiences in London fuelled this?
C - Yes, for me, lyrically, definitely.
J - It's just part of the tension
C - It's good having a reference point to swing that straight from as well. I think all of us generally appreciate things that aren't drugs and tarts. I know we all like nice things really, it's not like we go out of our way to find brutal situations, but we've all touched upon it, the tragedies, it's nothing serious though. I wouldn't want to be this boring type who waffles on about what a shit life they've had.
Now, I'm going to take you back to something you said in Ribena fanzine. Charlie, you said you'd like to rescue the British from oblivion, so are we all doomed?
C - I said that? What was the question?!
The question was, 'What would you do if you were Prime Minister for the day?'
C - And that got published? Oh my God!!! Well, I'd relax the drinking laws in England so there'd be less twats walking around looking for fights at 11 o' clock.
But, you're still fairly pessimistic, both politically and musically, about the future?
C - Do you think that was an artistic quote meaning the British taste? I dunno. Maybe I was talking about politics or something... If it was me who said it, it probably would have been a grander thing. London's pretty fucked. The Midlands, where I'm from, is fucked, shit towns, and not a nice place to be. Everybody says, 'It's alright, punk was just as popular as this is now', and so on, and in the '50s, unions had strength.
I just get a general sense of real fucking fear and lack of courage and uselessness. No-one's prepared to use their imagination, they've been told for the last fifteen years that they've got choice, so you give a nation choice and no-one's prepared to be responsible for anything. Everybody's been told they've got choices about where they send their kids to school, what music they want to listen to, what sort of car they can have, but ask someone why they do it, and it's someone else's fault. It's like this horrible thing that's going on and on and that permeates everything, politics, social, family values. 'Family Values'? They don't give a shit. They don't give two fucks. It's a load of wank, really.
Is it the apathy of people that you're reacting against?
C - It sort of is apathy, or mental atrophy. I read an interview with Ben Wallers of Country Teasers just this morning, and he was going on about deliberately having to be provocative, just for a laugh, nothing more, nothing less, no inference to be drawn from that. It means nothing, and yet the reason why he said it, and what people get from it is the fact that there is no-one else prepared to say anything for a laugh and to do anything that's actually cerebral. Thank God, all my friends do, and I'm surrounded by like-minded people. On the whole, what I perceive where the nation is, is oblivion - and I think it's wrong.
Talking of the Country Teasers, how did you get involved with them?
J - They played a one-off gig in London about two-and-a-half years ago, in the Samuel Beckett pub, next door to where I live. I went in there for a drink and met my friend Dan from the Charles Napiers, who told me to check out this band. So, I went in, paid my two quid, and they were fucking amazing! Nigel (Butcher's Wig supremo) later introduced us to them, and said 'Do you want to do something?'
I first met Nigel when he put on a Thee Headcoats gig at Molly Malone's, a dodgy local pub, and I gave him a demo tape asking him to put us on. He really liked it and then he got promoted up the record label to manager and things sort of fell into place. He's very enthusiastic, and he certainly knows his stuff.
The Gone Got Wretched EP was two bands from here, and two from America, so was he trying to make a comparison between the two countries with this type of music?
J - I don't know, you'd have to speak to Nigel about that. There aren't too many English bands that he likes that aren't severely embroiled in other record labels. I think he's as much a fan as he is a record company mogul. He writes to bands and asks if he'd be interested in doing something on his poxy little offshoot label (no offence!) and people like Dura-Delinquent and Delta 72 said yes.
Last question - Can we expect an album soon?
J - It should be out in May
C - A single (Voyeurs Blues) will be out in April I think. April 14th?
Cool! My birthday!
C - There you go, a good present for you! The album will be out on May 1st I think
What will it be like? Same sorta stuff as before?
C - Yeah, probably. I think you heard 5 or 6 songs from it last night.
J - There's nothing on it that we've already recorded.
So you won't be falling into that trap, then?
J - We've only been going a year or two, we had ten songs recorded, and then we recently did another seventeen and I guess one or maybe two will get lifted off as singles, and there'll be different b-sides and shit like that. The old singles will be re-issued on an EP on an American label, CarCrash, which should be coming out really soon...
C - ...and that'll have a couple of out-takes. It'll be a really good little package. The album is all new stuff, stuff we're doing live now. Yeah, good.
And with that, we end. It tailed off there towards the end, but it had been a long weekend for all of us, and we still had that night's gig to look forward to, but that's documented elsewhere. Special is a word not often used, but this wasn't anything else. You really should have been there...
BIG CHEESE - January 1997
I hate writing about bands. Words can't do justice to music. Take Penthouse for example. I could tell you they're a sleazy Blues Explosion, sometimes chugging hard like Stanford Prison Experiment and always going stark raving crazy on stage, dripping with the sweat of a thousand fucks and just as many hangovers. But what does that tell you? It's all a bunch of arse if you ask me, you need to see them play. Until then, here's some random ramblings from singer Charlie Finke.
"Why did the Bionic Man have those flashing lights in his arm? Augmented reality teapots? That sounds useful - I can't wait to get one... that'll get me pissed. Our reality is augmented regularly. I joined the band 'cos I was looking for something to do - carpet fitting, test pilot, being in a band - so I listened to their tape. It was quite a brutal, tough sound, and I didn't think there was room for me to do anything, so I left. I ended up moving next door to Jon, and it all came together. The attitude, the intention and influence hasn't changed, it's still as tough, ready and meaningful as ever. We're more professional now - we're the best musicians in London, apparently... the best drinkers. We drank three bottles of whisky and locked Monkey Island's neighbours in their house for two days. When we're silly, dilly dally pop stars and don't know what the fuck to do, maybe we'll try snowboarding. When I joined, I thought "Great! An unsignable band!" The aim is, I guess, to be invited to play in America. We all know what great music is, and we all know what shit music is. Money is bollocks, music is what we're here for. Where's the catering? I want Lemon Sole. Kids want whatever they're given in the end, it doesn't matter how clever you are. Kids can be manipulated very easily from a great height. I can't believe two inept comedians could change the Summer with a crap football song. Hitler? To 40 million Germans he was a good bloke. Nick Cave, he's a fucking maestro. I haven't done as much painting lately, but I just got into life drawing. Painting is like jazz. Cornwall's marvelous. Every Summer I go to Cornwall and get me stick out and get in the room. Rock n Roll is happening again. When you get out of college you think you're something special and can lie around taking drugs and getting drunk. Graeme's a real funkster, he's always on about black girl-bands with big tits who sing about getting shagged. Modern soul has no soul, it's just a guy with his pecs out going "I'll give you more orgasms than Captain Kirk" And swing's even worse. It's all medallions and gorged members."
QUALITY TIME Fanzine - Christmas 1996
By Greg Neale
"AH'M GONNA HAVE TO GO ONSTAGE IN FRONT OF NO-ONE AGAIN!!!"
Succumbing at last to the previously joked-about realisation that tonight - there really is no audience, the former farm hand and grease monkey hangs his head violently in mock despair. And whilst his outburst still reverberates around the dressing-room, he suddenly gets up and bolts for the door. Wearing a black striped lounge shirt, his name 'Finke' scrawled across it's back, he's all dressed up alright, but with no-one to sing for. "Well, look on the bright side," reflects the bass player, Finke having long-since stomped off out of earshot already; "it's been a long time since that's happened." "No," corrects the all-but-silent guitarist from behind a well-worn hanky; "it's seven... eight days." before unsatisfyingly blowing his nose again. Warding off the debilitating effects of flu, and halfway up a 400 mile round daytrip from North London, it's not that Jon Free goes forth in search of humiliation and stage death voluntarily. It's just that at this particular moment in time he may well be mulling over not only the days of last week, but an equivalent number of years; a period of time that has somehow contrived/conspired to bring him here. Here being bottom of the bill beneath two local starry-eyed Britpop combos before the cavernous Sheffield Leadmill - where the bulk of the crowd come after, for the post-gig indie disco.
Six years back, during the aftermath of a particularly ecstatic night in London brought about by a performance of a top American touring outfit, Jon was to be harangued on his way out by a hapless hayseed fanzine hawker. Whilst short of change himself, he nevertheless proved obliging and, in an impressive display of being possessed by even less sense, revealed his own vision of ambition. A dream that wished his then band their own Monkees-style TV programme - Frivolous? yes. Mercenary? perhaps. Self-Indulgent? Definitely! His band was called Moist, except he didn't have a demo tape on him.
The time for Moist back then was expectantly ripe; grunge was the new rock 'n' roll, Babes In Toyland toasted their style, and the promise of a split single with Jon Spencer's emergent Blues Explosion was mooted teasingly. And while there was a certain charm apparent in such scrappy, riff-happy songs as 'Face Packer', 'Lard', and 'Bloat', the truth was that their rhythm section (however much against the odds) called Ned and Percy plodded, not out of know-how but out of knowing nought better. Even more distressing though was singer Nick's unacceptable face of Goth, whose mumble came across muffled not only by a veil of black hair, but also as if buried six-feet-under in the mix.
Moist thus remained a damp, dank, unfulfilled wet patch destined for second-on-the-bill nights at the Bull and Gate, the demo tape dust-bin, and in need of being put out of it's misery. The final ignominy to their memory was still to come, though, with the posthumous heist of their name and logo by a bunch of Cannuck grease rockers who proved marginally more successful, yet ultimately as fated.
On the popular entertainment giant, Kitty Kitty Corp. records, Penthouse pimprolled past the public eye en flagrant with 2 slick 7" singles of sleaze last year. Whilst exploring similar riffage territory, Ript 'n' Happy displayed a more explosive, yet cohesive approach; guitar and bass entwining themselves, switching role and tack between them sustained all along by a swish swing beat. Even more encouraging was a voice which, beyond it's ability to express the prerequisite tumultuous drunken turmoil, could draw upon an intrinsic range of sophistication and wit at will. Choicest cut of the crop was Gas Porter Blues, an arpeggiated stop/start sing-a-long within whose earnest plea for the mend of a lover's broken heart betrayed a keen interest in cardiothoratic surgery. With the backing now of a more colourful cast of degenerates, with a full recording contract with the World Domination label, and an already-recorded LP, all that the half-dozen-years-wiser and more mature Mr. Free longed for before ought now to be being realised today. On the evidence of tonight's turn out though, and the bleak mood backstage, there appeared little likelihood that Jon's years of preparatory foreplay would be consummated here.
Meanwhile, attempts to chat up a conversation (or at least make some good copy) yield only long uncomfortable pauses ,interrupted by Graeme's occasional one-liners like; "(We're) essentially the reincarnation of Elvis' penis" - which hardly help matters. After more mind-numbing, dumb-struck um-ing and ah-ing (me), Jon's plea of "Can we do this after?", comes as a welcome relief. "For fuck's sake!" admonishes a separate voice in despair; "You gotta answer the man's simple questions!" Wired, well-oiled and bottled up; "S'more like lovers' rock!" declares Charlie Finke, before taking offense at the off-hand suggestion that - maybe it's what Penthouse do which might actually cause offence.
"We have never offended an audience in our lives!" denies vigourously the snake-pants charmed crooner. "They weren't happy at the Women's Guild of Bucks and Decorum Society at St. Alban's cathedral that day," he acknowledges "but it's not offensive - there's no offense meant! Are you a punk band or not? Punk is there innit? But it doesn't have to be hate, hate, hate - 'cos the hate comes out with the musicianship. It's fine, it doesn't need to be expressed in the..." But as Finke's philosophical train of thought threatens to run out of track, Graeme derails it with a Red Stripe addled belch - "Urrrr-rrp!" Undaunted as another bout of Graeme's gastric contents hits the sky, Finke continues off-the-rails; "It's the only band I've been in where it's impossible to decide who's actually driving this particular thing at any one time! There's always two or more people on the same tip, and the others soon catch up if it's taking off in one direction."
"It's just an attempt to try and get noticed by other members of the band." deadpans drummer Tim, as to what it is really drives them.
So what's the sexual chemistry in the band like? Dirty laughter erupts from all quarters.
"Aw, fucking hell! That's a very difficult question to answer!" recoils Charlie at the very thought.
"We all fancy the same sort of women." - Graeme
"Do we?" - shudders Jon
"You're fucking eyeing up my birds all the time, you cunt!" shoots down Charlie viciously, before catching the descent of the conversation yet again. "We're forever slipping into that guys' band thing; 'You're a queer! You Poof! You shag butter, now Fuck Off!' - There's a bit of tension there, you know?" he concedes.
"I think we're about this far apart from getting off with each other" - Tim again.
"Except Jon..." counters Charlie.
"...He's about that far!" Graeme (indicates improbable distance between two distant points).
Already sunk under-the-weather, the six-foot-plus six-stringer lifts his head at last as if to appeal against this latest charge levied. But not only does he find himself too weak to offer defense, but deep down Jon knows that to do so would only encourage further lashings of abuse.
Ah, the comfort of company, the familiarity of friends, the womb-like security of having comrades on hand whom you can rely upon in your time of need. Mates who you know will be there; to blame, undermine, and ultimately lead you into uncompromising positions. Of course it's while under stressful circumstances such as this best-forgotten, ill-judged booking that the real character, the inner essence, the truth of those involved is revealed. And it's here we find, behind the mutual appreciation for drink, slaughtered song, and the odd natty suit, the marketing man's manufactured fantasy already realised. A personality-driven multi-media-friendly package; suitable for shifting units, six packs and sex - no additional assembly required. There's the aforementioned gifted, tongue-tied, long-suffering subject of abuse guitarist; the uncouth, missing-link bassist; the cool, diplomatic drummer, and of course the ego-centric exhibitionist frontman. Think: Spice Girls with nobs on.
Capturing and celebrating the joys of finding your charms (and those of others) in the most foul, grubby and common of places, the album Gutter Erotica wears their gentlemen's interests brazenly upon it's sleeve. The cover itself shows no less than the cloven-hoofed, horned and hung Prince Of Darkness himself: recoiling in horror from the advances of a voluptuous disrobing wench. Highlights and low-down moments include the urgent, bruised Road Rash, the joyful stomp of the Beach-Boys-in-squats-on-Special-Brew that is Harmonic Surf Spastic, while A Deviant Soiree serves as a warning of the perils involved in inviting back guests who aren't as yet house trained' "You took your pants down, honey - and you pissed in the corner of my 'ouse!" Meanwhile, when Finke moans mournfully on the single Voyeur's Blues; "Ah wanna do that too! Ah see the way she sucks off on you!"; his kicks thwarted by a set of selfish curtains, you can't help but feel all the sympathy of a mother as she extends forth a breast to console their precious one.
From the top shelf to the underworld, Gin Lane to Mayfair, and mixing it up with fellow high-brow and low-lives along the way, it gives ample example of their own sordid world within the ongoing survival-of-the-filthiest that is London. It's not surprising that, besides being their chosen site of residence, it is in the capital where they've received their most forthcoming response.
Having difficulty holding it together as the dirty classroom giggles continue around him Jon reveals: "There's been a girl, (pause)... dancing, (more giggles)... who's virtually naked..."
"Tu-tu, sequined bra and knickers! Twirly nipple-tassels, you know, the things on the ends there?" chips in Graeme helpfully.
"She told me she comes about five times a set." - Tim
"But she's not the only one," dismisses Charlie casually, thinking as ever of the deeper implications. "There's loads of people who say 'Fuck', y'know, 'Sexy this! Horny that! Blah, blah, blah... People aren't too afraid to say that because we're not aloof... Perhaps if we were more aloof we'd have people gasping for it, all over the place." Still it hasn't done their chances any harm as Finke goes on to describe how this unlikely rabble of grafters and lackeys have since found themselves targeted as objects d'amour. "Tim's very laid-back... He tends to have a lot of women eyeing him up. They don't come up directly and talk so much, but I know every one asks; 'Who is that sultry, sexy drummer?', shortly before they go straight up to Graeme and beg "Fuck me! Fuck me!", 'though Graeme usually just goes 'Hoo-hoo hakk-hak-hak!', swings about, peels a banana and scampers off." And Jon's appeal? "It's a combination of his alcoholism, enormous hands, and total sexual frustration."
So, uh, would you say you do more harm to yourselves than to others?
"Good one! YES! Definitely, I should think so, eh Jon? (Finke looks at said individual affectionately and nods knowingly) Yes. Tim? I don't know about him. Graeme? Yes, he's a bit of a psychological, misogynistic masochist. And me? Definitely, yes! But, I mean, what you mean - malevolence or benevolence? Is there a question mark fur us here? No! Of course not - we're kind and sensitive people!"
Well, despite the likely lack of any audience participation, there's still tonight's gig to attend to. Returning from his sojourn as the rest prepare to clamber on stage, the Devil's advocate reincarnate Finke suggests; "Let's go for it!" Nodding their affirmative approval between them he persists; "Like, Really!" and even Jon, stuffing his hanky in his pocket, can't help but smile as to what this means. Cart wheeling and carousing across the stage, Penthouse play a whirlwind set of distorted behemoth blues. Oblivious to the near-empty house, the band expend their energies towards the moment; a wild abandoned excess, a magnamonious maudlin mess. As if simply playing the songs straight was ever going to happen. Jon's original desire might well remain as remote as ever, but that night before an impassive Yorkshire, they did both the Jesus Lizard and the Monkees, heck even the Spice Girls proud. Star's in anyone's eyes.
RIBENA Fanzine - Winter 1996
"The worst thing about all this shit is; knowing you could go faster, not knowing about your future..." decides the one and only Charlie, lead singer - sorry - frontman of Penthouse.
He dismisses the question with a wave of his hand and concentrates on his beer as if trying telepathically to gain some insight from it.
"The level of stress we operate under on stage is not as vast as, say, a junior doctor, but it is hard. We do push ourselves, but it's all under control. Sometimes it feels so loose it's going to fall apart."
Anyone that has seen Penthouse in action will agree. When full-on, they are as powerful as, say, a big fuck-off motorbike - but with no brakes. The problem is that they're doing 80MPH in the rush-hour on the M25, pissed. The motorbike reference is quite apt for Charlie. He may be the nemesis of ZZ Top and Meatloaf, but he is a biker incarnate, Jon Spencer-ish in both appearance and music.
"That thing in the NME was slanderous!" he says about the band's recent appearance on the 'On' page. "I have never dealt in stolen motorbikes. I don't know where he got that from. I was in prison, but only on remand, and I was released."
"Prison was nothing special." he replies when I ask him the obvious question, obviously not wanting to recount the episode willingly. "I wasn't there long enough to get into the lifestyle, Thank God. At the time, it was alright; it gave me a chance to sort my head out, a chance to give up smoking. The getting up at 7 and going to bed at 7, only going outside for an hour and then spending the rest of the day in your cell wasn't too good."
So, for the sake of the (large amount) of people who have never heard of Penthouse, a brief band-history please...
"After I got out, I moved back to London and bumped into Jon again by accident. We'd met before, a year back, and he'd asked me to sing. I'd previously said no, but now I decided to do it. I'd played bass in a few bands before (notably, readers, a punk band called 'Big Spunk'), but I was worried about singing - but Jon told me to just be a frontman and not a 'singer'. I took that to heart, and it just kinda worked out because all of us are really into the blues, as well as loads of other shit (rock 'n' roll, jazz and hi-energy dance). It's the irony of the blues I like - our personal style, the 'Penthouse' sound is much freer."
I was gonna say that you don't really sound British, if you could possibly define 'British' in any way... What I mean is that Penthouse are rather a fly in the ointment of good old BritPop (bless it's cotton socks)...
"Yeah, we haven't got the obligatory monobrow. Britpop doesn't mean anything to me, I'm afraid."
Would you say you sound like grimy rhythm and blues?
He frowns, "Nah, I've decided we sound like Arabs getting their arses kicked by Clint Eastwood." The image of Lawrence of Arabia and Dirty Harry don't quite marry in my head.
"I'd like to think that we sound a bit American, y'know, '50s delta blues, but also dirty British rock 'n' roll. I do stop sometimes and think whether I am sliding into a drawer that is not my proper one. Insecurity... It's a shit."
I ask the other band-members their thoughts of the Penthouse sound.
"Profound, greedy and subversive" offers Tim.
"We haven't got an agenda or anything, maybe we should have, then people might understand us a bit better" says Graeme.
Where would be the best place to listen to a Penthouse song then?
"Early in the morning, whilst you're still in bed, really fucking loud!" says Graeme.
"Through underwater speakers in a swimming pool whilst picking gold bars up off the bottom. I'd drown trying to pick them all up, but what a way to go!" says Charlie
They've got a single out at the moment called 'Le Stunt'. It's apparently about a film called 'Harold and Maude', about a bloke that goes out with a woman who is ancient (about 70). He's loaded, but he drives about in a hearse. His mum gets him a flash E-Type Jaguar which he turns into a hearse as well. The film ends with him driving this car off Beachy Head - "It's great!" explains Charlie.
"I'm now writing a song about Sting, it's called 'Olympic Lover'. It's going to be about ramprochagge (?) Have you heard of that? (Upon writing, there is no such word in the dictionary - I did look.) It's 'the best of the worst'. The final for people that didn't make the final. It started from the classic gentlemen's sports such as horse-riding and fencing, it means 'the best loser'. Anyway, in the song, I'm saying that in the Love Olympics I'd always end up in the ramprochagge." He sighs and looks into his pint (any would-be Penthouse groupies please note).
What is the best thing about living in London?
Without hesitation, Charlie says; "The proliferation of late-night drinking places. Anywhere I go at any time of the night, I know a place that I can get a drink, from Clapham to Chelsea."
Heavy drinkers, are we?
The band laugh nervously... "Whiskey and beer (Charlie)... You can reach a plateau when you think you've had enough to drink, say 7 or 8 pints and a few bottles of wine. Then you can go on to drink a bottle of Whiskey - that time at the WAG club (he says to Jon), I thought I was going to die... I'd been drinking all day (he explains), and when I got there I had about 8 pints and some wine. Then we went off to a club and I was on double gins, finally we went on to a late-night drinking den and drunk another 4 or 5 beers. It's a bit dangerous to do that, but you can do it if you try."
"If you've got a death-wish, more like." says Jon.
What kind of drunks are you?
Charlie; "Manic depressives. I've been going through a phase of going to pubs when they open, and staying there until they shut. Then I go all week just waiting for when I can do it again. I know that I've got to do something about it, I am cutting down. I accept that at the time I had to do it, 'cos at the time I was going through some shit, you know? The world starts to change shape after a while. I've got an aversion to any other kind of high. Beer's alright. I guess that I should just drink that and lay off the Whiskey, 'cos I can't handle it. Take the other night for example, my mate Percy came 'round with a fucking litre bottle of whiskey. That was the night I managed to lose my keys and my wallet, and I just felt terrible."
This seems to be an appropriate time to get another pint, whilst Graeme goes to the bar I ask Charlie my last question, which is in true 'Smash Hits' stylee.
"Go on then..."
What would you do it you were Prime Minister for a day?
"I'd do something really fucking annoying, like start a war with someone useless, like a one-day war with a really small country, say Luxembourg. I'd lower the age of consent to 12, repeal the drinking laws, get rid of the 11 o'clock stop. I think that there wouldn't be so many alcoholics about if there wasn't the 'Oh fuck, it's ten-to-eleven, I'd better get five pints in quick' mentality. Oh, and I'd also like to do something heroic, I suppose, like rescue the British from oblivion. The British are a doomed race, they should get with the 21st Century and brow up a bit."
Britpoppers beware, Charlie and his band are out to burst your balloon with a broken whiskey bottle...
DETOUR - MUZAK - September 1996
by Alistair Newton
London band Penthouse are currently blasting ears on the capital's circuit. Alistair Newton spoke to mainman Charlie Finke about the Penthouse 'sound' - and let him do the talking.
"The way we work is very instantaneous and what you see on stage is a genuine expression of what's going on all the time... extreme speed metal jazz blues, very thick, so some of the sounds can't come out of the speakers - it's too thick with rock... there is a genuine air of masochism trying to be in this band, you know that you're not some indie-schmindie fuck so why try! I'd much rather do something which is going to be remembered for being bloody weird and bloody different because we're doing it naturally, nothing is forced, everyone on stage is improvising... the way we play our music at the moment is based on letting go as much as you can... because we've jazzed it up and ripped it apart because I'm a twisted fucker, things refer to notions of self-abuse, suicide, denial... some songs are seedy, some are romantic... I want to do more love songs and cover versions because it teaches us about the artistry and greatness of rock 'n' roll... you are joining the real elite if you are good at this job... you've got to be really into what you are doing, go for it and be good at it and know that you are good at it and then you are free and it doesn't matter if you never sell any records because you know that that moment in time existed in time and you were part of that elite group."
Penthouse are playing at a venue near you.
Oscar Smokes The Leftovers - Glasgow Fanzine - Summer 1996
by Andrew Friendly
(Edited to avoid unnecessary reiteration)
Penthouse offer images and films rather than other bands as their contemporaries - 'The Wild One', Brylcreem, 'West Side Story', flick knives/combs, 'Rebel Without A Cause' and perhaps even 'Easy Rider', but on a good hair day. You get the picture, it's a guy thing. Charlie Penthouse's lunatic voice, walks it like he talks it, and these are his patient replies to my inept questions.
You recorded your first two 7"s with Quickspace Supersport's Tom Cullinan, are you still working with him?
No, now we're working with Nigel at Butcher's Wig (part of World Domination records), which MIGHT produce an LP over the Autumn. Also recording imminently two new tracks, possibly a cover version of 'Trouble' - Elvis/Shampoo mix-up thing for Mike Goldsmith (NME geezer), and also entertaining the idea of a split single on CHE records, but this might take time.
Do you think the stuff you've recorded so far lives up to the live show?
No (just). I guess it's not what we're trying to do in the studio, 'cos we know we couldn't get away with it.
What's been your best and worst gigs so far?
Best gig - last week at the Garage - we blistered, the crowd were soaked - couldn't get to the bar afterwards for faces! No such thing as a worst gig. It seems that as individuals we have different feelings about poor performances! I might feel disappointed with what I've done in a show, and one of the others seems to have had a great time, and vice versa, so there is always REDEMPTION.
From what I can remember, you move around onstage like a psychopath - do you think it's important to engage the audience's attention like that?
Quite honestly I think it's fucking essential to engage attention, because I believe in what I'm doing, and all the brilliant groups I've ever seen have been engaging - without trying too hard - it's a jazz thing - the music enters space in my rhythmic body and genuinely converts itself into motion and light - I can feel Penthouse around me and they're excellent musicians - as I feel Penthouse around me, I make up motion and words that I feel the music is clotting up around itself - ! - It's the same with my painting, except painting relates permanently to everything in my humble little life all at once so again I call it a jazz thing - some pieces are very narrative and specific because they were meant to convey the message, if that's the purpose of the picture!! But the way it's done is of a long-term relationship to space and time. One painting is of a man with a number-plate being removed from / coming out of his stomach - a beautiful girl looks on, the surgeon is startled - it's a narrative piece about proof and murder, it's called 'Inside The Killer'. Because it's a painting though, it now has a second story to it, and that's the story of why it's a painting etc. - some paintings are loose, some not - MUSIC IS PAINT - WORDS ARE PICTURES - conclusion - Not arty wank, but it seems that way.
Some of your lyrics seem to explore the seedier side of life - What do you think the attraction is?
I like beautiful women. I like nakedness. I like booze. I'm free to express it. I also like irony and in a human context, this usually involves death or loss, tragedy, etc. - this happens more when people are packed in together, i.e. in towns - big ones, so we will naturally draw conclusions about seediness - cities and the stench of human tragedy, and the furtive excitement of pressing my cheek against a beautiful young stomach - the anticipation - the drunkenness - the passion, the pretty girl - the excitement - need I say more!?
What is Le Stunt about in relation to the movie 'Harold And Maude'?
'Le Stunt' started with the film because I'd never come across such an incredible relationship, but it's not fixed there - I went on a tangent and invented a new story and Harold had a brother, or an alter ego, or a doppelganger - and the resultant pair were called Wayne and Jayne in my song and they're fucking bananas because of what their mum - or dad - did when they were young.
What the Hell is 'Gas Porter Blues' about? On the surface it sounds quite 'yuk!'?
'Gas Porter Blues' is because of a very real thing. I used to work as a gas porter in an eye ward and then in A & E, so I saw a lot of mad stuff like beating hearts and eyeballs coming out - 'Gas Porter Blues' is just a love song, really, and the porter (me) loves the dying girl (her). (Gas-porters wheel oxygen and nitrous oxide around hospitals and operating theatres!)
Have Penthouse got any skeletons in their closet you think should be exposed?
1. We're all maladjusted alcoholics, basically. Don't quote me.
2. I wanna be a girl. I wanna be a woman. Not really, but I'm free to say it.
3. I'm not proud of my old band, who were a bit indie-ish, and I was a bassist, but we had fun and beer in 'The Hinnies' - but basically, skeletons are nothing to worry about - I've been in trouble with the law, but who hasn't - etc. etc.
What kind of people to you think Penthouse attract?
Penthouse should attract a healthy mixture of discerning music-types who know the difference between 'Mannish Boy' and 'fop Boo Radley Dodgy boy', but that's obvious. People who want to see an original rock 'n' roll punk blues thang going ape and looking good will enjoy seeing the group and hearing our music. And attractive people who aren't afraid to show out and get a leg over a big bike etc. (I'm such a fucking cliche). It seems that in our town, people who like a good time come along, and don't get too pissed off with it, so they stay and have a beer - there's the inevitable quiff, the odd old punk - Charly Harper is a name that springs to mind, loads of weirdos etc!!! You know...
And finally, is there anything you would like to achieve with Penthouse before it all goes inevitably sour and lawyers get involved?
Play West-Coast beach parties - I don't mean Oban!
NME - ON - 17th July 1996
I FINKE, THEREFORE I AM
by James Oldham
Four men - suave shirts, cigarettes in mouths - stagger about the stage like they had too much to drink several hours ago.
Accompanied by unhinged blasts of feedback, the singer contorts into a ball on the floor and yelps out indecipherable lyrics, the guitarist meanwhile does the 'Duckwalk' - as patented by Mr Chuck Berry. A riotous spectacle, and one that leads you to suspect the band in question cannot possibly be English. But they are, and they're called PENTHOUSE.
Often compared to the wired-up mayhem of The Birthday Party and The Jesus Lizard, Penthouse started out as an instrumental trio. Formed two years ago by guitarist Jon Free, bassist Graeme Flynn, and drummer Tim Cedar, they spent several months fooling around minus a singer, ever turning away a certain Dan Laidler (who subsequently ended up fronting Tiger). But then they found Charlie Finke. He, though, wasn't quite so sure.
"I was quite intimidated by their music," he admits. "At that time, it was syncopated metal-jazz, and I didn't know what the fuck I was listening to."
Aside from being scared of their music, another problem arose when Charlie attracted the attention of The Law, and he found himself relaxing for a while at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Once free, he moved up to London and accidentally met up with Jon again, this time agreeing to join the band.
Having been brought up in the countryside, however, Charlie wasn't totally prepared for the strains of urban existence. " I just hate supermarkets," he explains. "You know that system where you take a ticket and wait for the cheese lady, well, I'm waiting for her and she's yakking away about some trite urban melodrama with someone else and I say 'C'mon I need serving' and it starts a massive argument with these two women screaming at me, and I just have to leave. It's just a really high-pressure environment."
With everyday tension such as that, it's hardly surprising that the clutch of singles Penthouse have released so far have been slices of sleazy paranoia, deafening feedback and bizarre lyrical concepts. Take Charlie's inspiration for the new single 'Le Stunt'; "Well, that's based on a film called 'Harold and Maude' about a nutter who goes out with a woman about four times his age - she's about 70. He's loaded and drives around in a hearse, but his mum doesn't like it and buys him an E-type Jaguar, which he turns into a hearse as well. At the end of the film, you just see him driving this car off Beachy Head. What drama."
And if that still isn't bizarre enough for you, listen out for their forthcoming version of SHampoo's 'Trouble'. As ever with Penthouse, it promises to cause just that
'Le Strung' (sic) is out now on Butcher's Wig records. Penthouse play at the Highbury Garage on July 27th
MELODY MAKER - ADVANCE - 9th Sept 1995
by Mark Luffman
Maybe you can puzzle out Penthouse from this Mark Luffman piece. We're still trying.
Don't know what Penthouse sound like? They'll tell you.
" I got into Lee Hazlewood through hearing Vanilla Fudge's version of 'Some Velvet Morning'," Jon (guitar).
"And I started listening to Sun Ra because The Stooges and The MC5 used to name-check him all the time," Graeme (bass)
"I like Blue Cheer, especially their version of 'Summertime Blues'," Tim (drums)
Do you know now? Should I tell you that Penthouse sound like a collision between all of the above and more, but better than that? Still don't know? Tell 'em, Charlie (singer).
"I'd done this painting after watching 'Jaws'. There's a beautiful but concerned woman in the foreground with her boyfriend being slit open behind her and number plates being pulled out of him. It's a disturbing painting, dark and sexy, but also very innocent. Then Jon played me a song they'd been working on and I realised they'd summed up musically precisely what I was trying to say in the painting."
Now you know.
Penthouse's debut single 'Queens Of Sex' is out on October 2nd on Kitty Kitty Corporation records.