You know there are those event in your life that seem like an average normal day. A day like any other but something happens and often you have not a clue what the meaning of the event is. It isn't until you look back in hindsight that the importance become apparent. 1994 was a huge period of life shifting experiences for me that would mark the beginning of a busy couple of years that would greatly change the music scene in Des Moines and the lives of those involved in it. I had started piercing at Creative Images in May of that year mostly by appointment on the weekend and the first Lip piercing I did in Des Moines was on this tall fellow with a huge warm smile and soft eyes that was sporting a mohawk. It turned out to be Paul Gray and almost immediately we began talking about music.
See though Paul is known for being the bassist and major song writer for one of the world's biggest metal bands, Slipknot, he grew up in L.A. listening to Punk Rock. We babbled on throughout the piercing about countless old L.A. bands that I think both of us were amazed that the other knew the bands. Paul had moved to Des Moines when his mother and best friend Frank did in the early 90s. I had met him a few years later when a friend and roommate of his Jake had invited me over to Paul's mom's house. The house was kind of a combination youth hostile and headquarters for the Underground metal scene that was striving at the Runway. The same scene that would produce a majority of the members of Slipknot. The attic of the house was filled with rows of beds on both sides and was the home for a number of those that would shape the Des Moines music scene in the future. I don't think we said two words to each other and it's one of those things that makes you wonder what would have happened if we would have talked more.
I remember being a little bummed that I'd met this guy that was totally into the same music as I was and here he was moving back to L.A. He bought me a few drinks later that night at 2nd Ave Foundry and I figured that was that. The Foundry had been open in the old Hairy Mary's location and with Runway closed, had become pretty much the only place to see live music in the city. It was kind of the clubhouse for the scene and struggled through about 8 months being that. By the spring of 95, I had opened the Axiom in its location on E 5th St in what is now called the East Village. The Axiom was not only a Body Piercing and Tattooing studio but it hosted a number of after parties.
The average Friday or Saturday night would start with my good friend Lanny showing up with a six pack around 9pm and then we would move onto the Foundry. At 2am when the bar would close, I'd buy a case of beer, we would head back to the studio and often be there till the sun came up. This is something that went on until the beginning of the take over of Safari during the summer of 96. Beyond hosting countless after parties and being the piercing and tattoo studio to most of the Slipknot crew, a number of the early press photos and the famous M.K.F.R. insert photo of Greg and I was taken in the area surround the studio.
The last night that the Foundry was open was a bummer because it would start a period of about three or four months that left the scene without a venue or a clubhouse but it did see the reappearance of Paul back in Des Moines. He had been tempted back to Des Moines with a phone call from Shawn Crahan about starting this new band based on a game about Werewolves called Slipknot. This would have been the summer of 1995 and Paul along with Lanny and Frank became a steady part of my weekend activities.
Also that summer I was introduced to Greg Welts one night at the Foundry. Greg had moved to Des Moines with his then girlfriend and we spent a rather drunken night talking about L.A. punk. Most of the night was spent with him trying to convince me to hire him to tattoo at the studio but at the time, I just didn't have the room. Greg had been part of the OC scene for a number of years in the early 80s and had played with Mad Parade, Organized Crime, claimed to have played a few gigs with CH3 and to have the final cut trying out for Agent Orange. Either way we hung out more than a few times and he even jammed with Jay, Brian and myself. At this point that period was at an end but we had made a 4 song demo with a drummer named Scott. Paul may have even got up and played that night at Brian's. I remember it was right before Jay left town and was kind of a last hurray before him leaving. It's the reason that Reaction would live on into the next line-up of the band because Paul really dug it.
In reality this was the first time the majority of the line up were in one place and playing but like time and time again before, it wasn't to be that easy. It would be Greg's turn to move away this time. This would leave Paul and I looking for a drummer and it would take a tragedy for the band to form. February 20th, 1996 my tattooist Justine "Birdman" Crawford passed away. It was a complete shock and still is one of the darkest days in my life. Jay was a talented art but he was also a friend and someone that I was blessed to have had in my life. Even if it had been for a very short time. We had bounded on a number of level during his time working with me and was a prefect fit to what I saw the Axiom becoming. He would end up being impossible to replace and life at the studio would never be the same.
So I was in need of a tattooist and I gave Greg a call. Not only did I see him as a good fit at the studio and a solution to my need for a tattoo artist but I have to admit the desire to start a band and have a drummer as employee weighed heavily on my choose. Soon after he moved back from Steamboat, Co and I convinced Paul to bring on Brian on bass. The first time we practiced we went through the Circle Jerks 'I just want some skank' a few times before Paul began writing our first Have Nots song Decay. At the time our vision of the band was more a straight a head 80s hardcore punk sound in the vain of early Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Soon after Decay Paul wrote Destroy Madame Wong's which was more about me taking notice of the shift of Punk into the mainstream and we re-learned Reaction with Paul adding a little here and there and me re-working the lyrics which I was never completely happy with. Listening to even those first few songs it is easy to see that even that early we were setting a trend. People used to always ask me what we sounded like and I would always answer, "Punk".
This was because we didn't really have a set sound even from the beginning. We wrote songs then change this or that until it sounded good or we dumped it. There was no plan to sound like this band or that, it was a great deal less directed. In the 20 months that we played there was everything from what I would call O.C. influenced pop punk to songs that had a unmistakable Social Distortion country punk sound to flat out 80s hardcore songs to the choppy Reaction. We were all over the place but that was punk to us and it's still to me. If we did anything good it was not to get hung up on marketing terms. There were songs that you could feel the influences but it wasn't just aping our heroes. In those songs their are nods to a lot of bands though and listening to them now and remembering what we were listening at the time, I notice who we were under the influence with at the time. You see to have a marketing plan would have meant that we thought this was going somewhere and to be honest, if we would have thought it was going somewhere it wouldn't have been as good as it was.