It all started in 1990 with a man, a record store, and a dream.
Dave Szolwinski, then owner of Earwaves on Milwaukee’s east side and singer in the experimental band Boy Dirt Car, gathered, from his list of colorful customers and employees (and one bandmate, Dan Kubinski), an eclectic group of musicians to perform in an outfit of his design. Behold: Fuckface.
This was not originally intended to be a ‘band’, per se. “We were laying down a track for Richard Franecki for his Vocokesh project,” according to Szolwinski. “He just wanted some tribal drumbeats and we just started doing those, which evolved into us just starting to jam and we added some other people. Somebody at some point said to me ‘why don’t you just write a song?’ One song turned into two songs, which turned into three songs…and we evolved.” A number of these musicians went on to form Fuckface, including Chris Jern (guitarist, although he didn’t stick around long), Kubinski (first on drums, later switched to guitar), Dwain Flowers (drummer), and Dave Raeck (guitarist).
Fuckface created its own brand of sound. Three drummers and a metal percussionist (i.e. a guy banging on a piece of metal with a pair of drumsticks) were standard, but no cymbals or snares allowed. “To differentiate ourselves from rock bands,” explained Szolwinski, as well as reporting that he simply didn’t care for the auditory effect of either instrument. This served to add variety, and necessitated the drummers re-thinking typical patterns, according to drummer New.
Although there was rotation amongst band members, the lineup of this self-described “percussive art experiment” typically consisted of the percussionists, 2 to 3 guitarists, a bassist, and a vocalist. A Smithsonian recording of African pygmy tribes was sometimes played prior to the band beginning and set the mood for the performance. Singer Szolwinski often took on a stage persona called “Blue Boy,” a character taken from a later episode of “Dragnet,” in which a young character took LSD and painted himself blue. To add to the visual element, he painted half of his face red (this part comes from the movie White of the Eye), donned a metal mask, and hit himself in the face with a stick. As an added treat, metal percussionist Paloucek was known to use an angle grinder, projecting sparks off the stage.
Lyrics were typically about weird news articles Szolwinski had read, movies, and experiences he’d had. Some were unbelievable, some were morbid, and some were unbelievably morbid. “L.A. Song” is about a car wreck he and a friend had come across in the Hollywood Hills, “Kenbar” is about a husband-wife serial killer team from Canada, and “Blood River” is about Uganda, details of which he got from “watching the news and seeing bodies floating in the river—there were so many that the rivers were actually clogged with bodies,” Szolwinski says. When asked why darker things like these fascinated him so, he responded “Well, it was just how preposterous some of this stuff was. Kind of asking ‘why are people so stupid?'”
Their 9-song debut album, recorded at Bill Stace’s Milwaukee-based Walls Have Ears studios in early 1995, went unreleased (reportedly due to various negotiation and contract issues) until last month, when it surfaced on locally-based label Latest Flame Records with the addition of 7 bonus tracks. These were taped at several Milwaukee-area locations, including one from a performance at the Toad Café in 1991. The album’s strongest points are the incredible drumbeats and the dark, evil-sounding vocals. The term “experimental” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Distorted pieces of Americana are referenced, such as the recitation of the line “it rubs the lotion on its body” in “Buffalo Bill” and the lyrics “I’ll see you in hell…the magic kingdom we all know so well” in “Disneyland”. Covers include Die Kreuzen’s “All White”, recorded live in ’91, and the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation,” to which these fuckfaces added their own twist.
The issuing (finally!) of the album was one major impetus for a set of reunion shows, now planned in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Green Bay. Also, says Paloucek, he was approached by former bassist Tammy Raeck at the Boy Dirt Car reunion show in February of last year (part of Atomic record store’s closing festivities) about getting everyone back together to play live.
The band “didn’t split up; everybody just moved to different places, so we never really put a nail in the coffin,” according to Szolwinski. Collecting everyone from the four corners of the earth has been a bit of a challenge, but one warranted by the chemistry this group will have while onstage together. Drummer Jed Chrysler is planning a trip from Cape Cod, Massachusettes; Erik Tunison is planning on making the trip from Amsterdam, and it’s still not known whether Dwain Flowers, a drummer from the early days, will make the journey from his home in Atlanta back to Milwaukee.