FOUNTAIN VALLEY — The members of the punk rock band Olivelawn were sitting over lunch in a sunny corner of a salad bar restaurant, debating a question that goes back to Ecclesiastes: Is there really nothing new under the sun?
If you're talking about rock 'n' roll, there isn't, said Mike Olson, the band's singer.
"There's nothing left to be done. Nothing," he said. As Olivelawn's lyricist, Olson has laid out his theory of musical repetition in a song called "Piltdown Man."
I'm not sure why I'm here, let alone what I'm doing.
Someone else has done it too many times before.
I'm getting used to feeling slow and boring.
I'm a retro man, but at least I know it.
Guitarist Otis Barthoulameu begged to differ (he's just "O" to those who know him as a friendly, burly, gruff-voiced, stubbly faced and ubiquitous presence on the local punk-alternative rock scene. If Olivelawn isn't playing, O is likely to be helping out other bands as a roadie, a guitar technician or a photographer (he has shot album covers for Don't Mean Maybe and Big Drill Car). O pointed to Sonic Youth, with its unusual system of guitar tunings, as an example of a new development in rock.
Olson wasn't going for it. He said he can't hear Sonic Youth without thinking of its noise-dealing '60s precursor, the Velvet Underground.
Olivelawn is a band that apparently doesn't need full agreement, a unified philosophy, or even regular proximity in order to function. The four members are scattered across three counties. Olson, 21, lives in Huntington Beach. Drummer Eddie Glass, 21, lives in La Mirada in Los Angeles County while O, 29, and bassist Johnny Donhowe, 25, both are based in San Diego County, where they hold photo jobs with a skateboarding magazine.
Because of its far-flung geography, the band practices sporadically, members said--although they've finally agreed to settle on one rehearsal studio in Garden Grove and begin to play together more regularly. At this point, it makes sense for Olivelawn to get a little more serious. With the recent release of "Sophomore Jinx!", the follow-up to its 1990 debut album, "Sap," Olivelawn now has two strong albums that sound like a potent amalgam of punk heroes Black Flag with '60s precursors like the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Stooges and the Who. After a little more than two years on the local club scene, Olivelawn has begun to step up in stature: It will top the bill at Bogart's tonight, its first headlining slot at the Long Beach club. On July 8, Olivelawn will play its first headlining show in Los Angeles, topping an all-San Diego bill at the Whisky in West Hollywood.
While O and Olson might argue over whether all rock bands are doomed to repeat the past, Olivelawn's members have no qualms about wearing their influences. This is a band whose latest release sports a cover that's a direct copy of the cover of a '60s-vintage album by the Ventures.
"I don't even try to do it," O said of his obvious stylistic borrowings from Hendrix, and the direct guitar quotes from the Who and Love that found their way into the song "Mom's Farm." "It just comes up in the way I play guitar. I really like blues a lot, and Hendrix ruled."
"You can't do anything new, so you might as well take something you enjoy and put your own stamp on it," said Olson, whose singing--or, to be more precise, drawled yelling--sounds a lot like Mick Jagger might have if the Stones had come along in 1977 rather than 1962. "Just go for it, and if you're accused of thievery, it's tough luck."
"The best thing to do is not think about it; just play," offered Glass, the skinny, stringy-haired drummer who these days is playing with just one foot, having broken his right ankle recently after stumbling on some steps. "If I'd done it skateboarding or something, I'd feel a lot better," he sighed.
Most bands would be fretting, at the very least, over the prospect of having to play important dates with a maimed drummer. Olivelawn figures it will do what it always does. The band makes no claims to live precision, nor does it profess grand ambitions.
"We can wing it," said Olson.
"We're just a punk rock band, that's all we are," added O.
Olivelawn began when O, who covers the national skateboarding scene as a photographer, hooked up with a professional skateboarder and amateur bassist, Neil Blender, in the fall of 1989. The guitarist, who grew up mainly in Huntington Beach, had been around the Orange County punk scene from its late '70s beginnings. O cites such local-scene sources as Jim Kaa of the Crowd, Rikk Agnew of the Adolescents, and, most of all, Ron Emory of T.S.O.L. as inspirations for his own heavy, slashing, but melodically engaged guitar style.