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O.C. Pop Beat

Punk-Vintage Design Drives Big Drill Car

October 13, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — Starting with its apt name, and continuing with its stripped-down sound and forthright outlook, Big Drill Car is a band that likes to keep things simple and direct.

While there may be no actual blueprint and operator's manual for a conveyance called a big drill car, listening to the band gives you a good idea of how such a machine might function.

Mark Arnold's guitar playing suggests both the scraping edges of a heavy-duty cutting tool and the chunky, massive slabs of rock the tool would hew out and plow aside. The quartet's hard, propulsive beat suggests plenty of horsepower and speedy acceleration. From singer Frank Daly come melodies that are compact and crisply efficient--nothing too elaborate, but catchy enough to keep pop-sweetened additives gurgling through the carburetor.

Whatever a Big Drill Car is (the name comes from a science fiction B-movie), the rock 'n' roll version has a rapidly revving engine of punk-vintage design, and will be winding up its latest tour with a series of Southern California concerts: Saturday at the Showcase Theatre in Corona, Sunday at the Troubadour in West Hollywood and Monday at the Ice House in Fullerton.

Comparable product lines in the showroom of punk-pop include Husker Du, which rolled out of Minneapolis in the 1980s, and the band All, which has its roots in two early L.A. punk bands, Black Flag and the Descendents. All has served as a kind of big-brother band to BDC, with All members Bill Stevenson and/or Stephen Egerton contributing production work to Big Drill Car's 3 studio albums and its debut EP.

As it approaches its seventh anniversary (the band's first gig was on Halloween, 1987), Big Drill Car seems to be living up to the title of its current (and best) album, "No Worse For the Wear." But even a reliable model is going to require pit stops and repairs over the long run. During a difficult transitional period that began early in 1992, Big Drill Car frequently found itself stuck in the garage, scrounging for spare parts.

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"For two years, we couldn't take five steps forward without sliding back three. It was a drag," said Daly, summing up a period that brought three personnel switches in the rhythm section and a change of record labels.

The now-retooled band gathered for an interview last week in a Costa Mesa warehouse block that is a warren of rock 'n' roll activity, housing recording studios, an independent record label/concert promotion company called Stab You in the Back, and the barely-big-enough cubicle that the four members of Big Drill Car jam into for their rehearsals.

Daly, sharp-featured and lean with intense blue eyes, did most of the talking, setting off his earnest answers with wry turns of phrase. His foil and the band's co-founder is the mellow Arnold, a friendly bear of a man with a big, slope-shouldered frame, a mild, husky voice and a broad, open face framed by long, blond hair.

The two newer recruits bring a quietly impish streak to the band personality. Darrin Morris, who took over for original bassist Bob Thomson in 1992, is the youngest member at 24 (Arnold, 32, is the oldest) and has the sly grin of a mischievous choirboy.

Jamie Reidling, who joined just three months ago, is, at 26, a veteran drummer who has played in many local bands including the Cadillac Tramps. He replaced Keith Fallis, who stayed a year before getting married and leaving for New Mexico. Reidling didn't need much inducement or coaching: He has been friendly with Daly since their school days in Costa Mesa and was enough of a Big Drill Car fan to know most of the songs before he joined.

The departure of Danny Marcroft, the original drummer, was the hardest change to deal with, according to Daly, who is 26. "When Bob quit (to join the Orange County band Xtra Large) there was no doubt we'd keep going. But when Danny quit, the entire future of the band was up in the air. He was an integral part (but) he said the idea of getting in a van and going on tour again gave him a stomach ache."

It helped, Daly said, that he, Arnold and Morris had confidence in the songs they were working on at the time.

What eventually emerged was an album that stuck with themes and musical approaches familiar from the band's previous releases, "Small Block," "Album Type Thing," "Batch" and the live "Toured." But the usual Big Drill Car formula came across with renewed power and exuberance and, in the best songs, an extra measure of melodic appeal and thematic bite.

Daly--whose fourth wedding anniversary is Saturday (he met his wife, Penny, while on tour with Big Drill Car in Canada)--sings winningly and affirmatively about sustaining love amid difficulties and separations ("Friend of Mine," "Step Right Up"). He said the troubled relationship depicted in the album-closing "Hye" was inspired by the departures that temporarily stalled Big Drill Car.

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