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Q and A with Crispy Bess of Phatlynx

More with Durham’s surfabilly band.

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On Friday night May 12th Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern will host a smart pairing of two N.C. based acts – ILM’s rockabilly outfit The Phantom Playboys and Durham’s surfabilly band Phatlynx, is a food obsessed surf and garage rock act.

Phatlynx singer-guitarist Crispy Bess says he thinks the double bill makes sense and wonders why they haven’t done it sooner.

“I’ve known (Phantom Playboys singer) Eric Lawson for a long time,” Bess said. “And we’ve had a mutual appreciation for each other’s groups and witnessed each other in action at countless Elivsfests, Cash Bashes, and Heavy Rebel Weekenders. For us to finally share a bill has been too long in coming.”

Phtalynx released a full length album last year called Loosen Yer Belt! and earlier this year released a 45 with two new songs – “Huevosaurus” and “Ham Biscuit.”

You can read the Star News article on the band this week and below is more of my conversation with Bess about how the band grew, learning from Southern Culture on the Skids, and writing songs.

Were you looking to start a new band after leaving Southern Culture or was this just about having fun? 

Bess: No, I wasn’t interested in starting a new group. I already had (instrumental band) Killer Filler at that point, which was my post-Southern Culture on the Skids muse. Phatlynx was just going to be a fun one-off for the Instro Summit, a 3-day all-instrumental music festival I put on between 2009 and 2015, and may someday do again if I can find the time to do it.

I wanted to do a tribute to Link Wray, who is the king of North Carolina bad-ass instrumentalists, and not a bad vocalist either, but I’m getting off topic. I thought t would be cool to play a whole set of his material, then end it with as many people as we could fit onstage playing his song “Rumble” at the same time. I’d seen this before at Sleazefest, and wanted to continue the tradition. And that was all! Honestly! I figured we knock out our set, say goodnight, and I’d think about some other one-off band for the following year.

How did band members know one another or come to bond over the music of Link Wray?

We were all involved in the music scene at the Cave in Chapel Hill at one time or another. I was there either with Killer Filler, or doing stuff with the bar owner, Mouse Mock, and his various public access cable projects he had on the fire. That’s where I met Robby Poore, our other guitar player. Robby is a big enthusiast of Garage and Primitive Rock, so Link Wray was right up his alley.

Groves Willer has bartended at the Cave since forever. I knew him from Evil Wiener, where he played bass, but he also played drums in the Family Dollar Pharaohs, a highly respected instrumental band that knew a thing or two about Link Wray. And Dave Perry was bass player for Jett Rink, but was also known around town for playing any instrument you could throw at him, and he was also keen to join in with anybody’s one-off or side project band in the name of fun.

You played Link Wray tunes, but how long before crafting original material? At what point you saw this band could be more?

We actually had an original, “Wildwood “Psycho Crunch.” at our very first show. It was something I’d written ages ago that sounded like Link. After that, originals just started popping up in the heat of the moment. Robby kept joking at practice about us being an all Fat Guy band, and having food-based demands on our rider, like a hot tub full of gravy. Those lines inspired me to write a song called “Gravy” which may be our most popular number.

Robby told me he always wanted to play a creepy song called “Spiders.” No song like that existed, so we invented it. At one practice Dave kept quoting a Man…Or Astro Man? cover of “Joker’s Wild” which has a clip of a Batman children’s album on it, where someone says “Signed…The JOKER!!” At one point Dave shouted, “Signed…The COLONEL!!” and another song was born. Everything that we came up with was in fun, simply to crack each other up and have some neat material to play. It still is that way.

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There’s some seriously nasty guitar playing on songs, especially ” Shawnee ” or “Wildwood Psycho Crunch,” and creepy for sure on “Spiders.

Wow! Thanks for the compliments! I’m mostly a keyboard player, and guitar is something I’m still trying to figure out. I think the nasty guitar playing comes from my guitar playing buddies and bosses who had great sway in what I learned and figured out. Rick Miller of SCOTS is the most obvious, and he pretty much taught me to play guitar beyond the couple of two-note noodles I knew before then.

Others would be Pigtail Dick of Chicago’s New Duncan imperials, another great band I played in. Pigtail’s style is wild n’ crazy but gets its roots more from Foghat than Link Wray. Another is Brian Henneman of the Bottlerockets, who comes from the Neil Young school of loud-ass guitar. He also has a lot of neat tricks in how he plays, like he can make entire solos without leaving the first four frets of a guitar neck, something an amateur like me found as a great gateway into better guitar playing.

Honestly, listening to the album can make you hungry. Are there plans for a Phatlynx food truck at gigs?

Well, you get four fat guys hanging around together, naturally the subject matter is going to turn to food at some point. Write what you know about, I always say. We’ve even joked about selling a Phatlynx cookbook at our shows. As for food trucks, I have actively made an effort to get Phatlynx shows at Food Truck Rodeos and other Food-related festivities. Every once in a while we get lucky. As for the rest, I strongly think they should reconsider.

When we first got started, we had a running gag talking about our upcoming line of Phatlynx Gravy Trucks between songs. Talking about all the Gravies we would sell – Beef, Pork, Chicken, Sawmill, Redeye, Turkey, and for the Hipsters–Au Jus! And we mentioned it was all single point of origin – all from one cow we just kept dipping in warm water till it brewed like a fine tea.

This type of music remains timeless. Do you find little kids digging it as much as the grown-ups and college kids?

It depends on how loud we are. College kids don’t mind the extra volume, but kids and grown-ups sometimes do. But if we’re not bothering someone’s ears, yes you’re right, this kind of stuff can make toddlers and grandparents boogie, with everyone else nodding in approval.

You’ve recorded with Jerry Kee at Duck Kee Studios. What does he get about this type of music that’s brought you back to record again?

Jerry gets a LOT of things. For one, I’ve never met an engineer who gets drums better than Jerry. He’s also brilliant at picking apart multiple takes and figuring what’s good, what’s useable, and what should be tossed in the recycle bin. We owe a lot to him for our stuff sounding as good as it does.

Lastly, is there another album in the works? Robby’s silk-screening and artwork are a great, eye-catching fit to the music.

Isn’t Robby’s stuff great? He continues to amaze me with his printing skills. He also does our shirts and stickers, and makes some fantastic posters for some of our bigger shows. Other people are starting to recognize his greatness. He recently made posters for the most recent Elvisfest, and has made posters for bands much more famous than us, like the Handsome Family.

As for the next album, as soon as I teach the fellers some more original material, we’ll start thinking about it. I like to have my records be at least fifty percent originals versus cover tunes. Already have a title for it – Gravyland. It’ll look like the front of the “Candyland” board game, except everything will be shades of brown and meat-related.

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