San Francisco’s Juicebumps are moving rock n roll in new directions. The band specializes in disjointed rhythms, genre breaking arrangements, unexpected vocals that shift between talking and traditional harmonies, jolts of synthesized sound and unusual subject matter. On Hello Pinky!, their remarkable debut, they sing about ants, dumpster diving, dead end jobs and ecological collapse, as well as the usual subjects of dysfunctional relationships and romance. Their approach to songwriting has hints of Devo, Talking Heads, Kraftwerk and other eccentric acts, but their sound is all their own. They call it “spank rock.”
“Not everyone gets our wit,” said Parker Richard, one of the band’s singers, guitar players and songwriters. “We all share a sense of humor with a tinge of irony in it. We do play rock, but it has a bit of a spank. It stings, with a level of discomfort, but in a fun way–like a spanking. That’s why we say listening to our music ‘may leave you hankering for less.’
“Our music is usually energetic and loud, so we get lumped into the punk scene. That scene does influence us, but a lot of punk songs tend to have politically driven and opinionated lyrics. I don’t feel the need to express a personal or overtly political opinion in the music. I’d rather keep things vague and let people make what they will – allow them to paint their own picture.”
The music on Hello Pinky! mirrors the band’s unconventional approach. The album opens with “Scanner,” a sound collage, with the kind of noise you’d hear spinning the dial of an old radio–a cold war announcement suggesting you “duck and cover,” snippets of dialogue from radio and TV shows from the ‘40s and ‘50s and a voice from a sci-fi movie, describing the face of an alien. Suddenly, the band jumps into “Wet Leather.” A twanging surf guitar, solid drum beat and propulsive bassline deliver lurching stop/start rhythms to highlight Richard’s vocals as he sings/shouts “Get it with a cutie! Get it with a spank!”
Richard said the rest of the band–bass player, fiddler and vocalist Shaina Pan; keyboard and synthesizer player Spencer Owings; drummer and percussionist Kyle Nosler–joins him in a collective approach to composing and arranging the songs.
The album was recorded at Oakland’s Tiny Telephone Studio. Just as they were about to release the album, the Covid shutdown hit. “We had to decide if we’d sit on the release, or put it out into the world,” Richard said. “We put it out, despite it all. The fine business connoisseurs at Discontinuous Innovations Inc. helped us produce some tapes. Then, our friend Sebastien in Paris released it on his label, Degelite. A little later, Time Room Records (Belgium) teamed up with Le Cépe Records (France) to put some vinyl out in Europe.”
After the album’s release, Owings inherited a studio in Oakland, The Grassy Null. The band now rehearses and records there. Since the album’s debut, they’ve made two more singles to showcase their unconventional sound–“Slog” and “Babyman.”
“Babyman” is a synth drenched, mid-tempo soundscape, full of processed vocals and jittery tempos. It portrays a young man having a temper tantrum because his lover won’t give him what he wants. Richard pleads, cajoles and growls as he sings–“I’m not a baby anymore”–his voice climbing up into a near weeping falsetto. Sampled voices from commercials, describing the proper care for newborns, fade in and out of the mix. The video the band made for “Babyman” shows them performing in clown makeup and diapers crafted out of trash bags. “We like to dress extravagantly and dangerously,” Richard said. “We try to incorporate a different kind of thematic imagery into every show, the idea being that these visual elements complement the music.
“After coming to the Bay Area, I saw bands playing all kinds of off-kilter rock music. Their music had this edge that resonated with me, so I thought, ‘OK, I can whip something up along those lines.’ The goal was not only to make music that I liked, but also to create an atmosphere that people could dance and mosh to. I don’t think I’d be playing in a spank rock band if I hadn’t come to San Francisco.”