One of the more entertaining rock pairings of the year comes to call Saturday night when a couple of wacky trios, the Ziggens and the Rugburns, perform at Nicholby's in Ventura. Not so much a dance gig, this will be more like a Songwriting 101 seminar. Both groups alternate between goofball rock--comedy night with a beat--and songs that are scared-straight slices of sleaze.
The Ziggens, from Buena Park by way of Wisconsin, have five albums, and the Rugburns, a San Diego band, have three. But both groups are in a state of limbo as to their future.
Priority Records quit doing rock 'n' roll and recently trimmed its roster, including the Rugburns. Meanwhile, the Ziggens are on Skunk Records, which was a label owned by Sublime, whose singer-songwriter Brad Nowell died of a heroin overdose a few months ago.
Anyway, day jobs probably won't enter this scenario, particularly for Mr. Savage Social Commentary, the Rugburns' Steve Poltz--though anyone known to wear a pink dress on stage can't be too serious.
Poltz is one of the few rock writers who can be funny and sad in the same song. On the Rugburns' latest album, "Taking the World by Donkey," he writes songs about hangovers as big as Peru, broken hearts that never quite mend, mean suburban kids who will never learn and trippy tree huggers. There's also the triple-X rated but funniest Christmas song of all time, none of which can be repeated, including the title.
Most compelling, however, is "The Ballad of Tommy & Marla," a song about a couple of speed freaks who lived unhappily ever after.
Poltz discussed the state of the Rugburns during an interview.
So the Rugburns are a band with no label?
We're in between. We're in Bad Band Detention Camp waiting to be placed. You know what happened to Priority Records, right? They dropped 10 bands and fired 30 people; now they're just a rap label. And since we're not about to put out a rap record--man, I'd be lost there--we're in band limbo. We hope to be placed with another label by Christmas.
How did the Rugburns get started?
It started in a bar, where everything seems to start with us--by default. There was a guitar in the corner and I picked it up, and my friend worked in the bar. We started as a duo and became hometown heroes, or maybe hometown fools, whatever. We've been a duo, a trio, a five-piece, a four-piece and now we're a trio again.
How's the San Diego scene?
I'm not really home enough anymore to know. A couple of years ago, a bunch of bands got signed like Rust, Rocket From the Crypt and Lucy's Fur Coat. They have a good folk scene, and I like acoustic stuff.
Who goes to a Rugburns show?
Losers. But anything can happen at a Rugburns' show because everything's allowed. One song could be country or punk or funk, you name it. We never have a set list, it just depends on how we feel.
What inspired the song, "The Ballad of Tommy & Marla"?
I was living in El Cajon, which is trailer tweakland and the methamphetamine capital of the United States. And these two people would always be tweaking and fighting. I'd wake up at 8 in the morning to do stuff and they'd be scrubbing bathroom tiles with toothbrushes.
What inspired the Christmas song?
There are two hidden songs on that album. One is about a friend who got killed, and then the Christmas song. I was just sitting around playing guitar, in a goofy mood. I had just returned from Christmas shopping and was completely overwhelmed by the mall. I just started and it came out of nowhere, and every line got stranger. The song actually got a lot of airplay, but it was totally bleeped out. Maybe I'll send a copy to Tipper Gore.
How does the writing process work for you?
Words and lyrics just come out of me, kind of like trying to tune in a radio station. I don't really understand how it works. Sometimes nothing is happening, then suddenly I feel like I have to write a song. I do know that songs I spend a lot of time on, I usually don't like as much as the ones that just come out. I guess it's a gift. I had a couple songs on Jewel's album that sold a million copies, so that was good for me.
What would you tell an aspiring songwriter?
If you start a song, finish it. Then keep doing it. Songwriting is like a muscle--it needs exercise. Also drink a lot. They say you can't drink to forget, but man, you can. Also listen to everything from John Prine to Earth, Wind & Fire to Nancy Sinatra to Link Wray to Dean Martin. Listen to anything, everything. I really love music.
You guys are on the road a lot?
We play from New York to Tijuana and we're always on the road. I love the travel, but I hate all the fast-food. Every morning, we play find-the-rotting-burrito in the van. We drive everywhere. Sometimes we'll drive into the parking lot of a Motel 6 and just stay in the van so we can say we were at Motel 6. Then we can jump in the pool and wash our hair with the hose.
What's next for the band?
This is it. Isn't it romantic? I want to have as many albums as Frank Zappa. Maybe I'll have to move back to El Cajon and get addicted to crystal meth.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* WHAT: The Rugburns and the Ziggens.
* WHERE: Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.
* WHEN: Saturday, about 9 p.m.
* HOW MUCH: $6.
* CALL: 653-2320.