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UP THE COAST: Santa Barbara

Band With a Funny Bone, Nerf Herder Gets Last Laugh

July 17, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the goofball scale, Santa Barbara's Nerf Herder more than holds its own with the likes of the Presidents of the United States of America, the Rugburns, the Ziggens and the Uninvited. Back in their hometown after six months on the road, the band will do a rare local gig Saturday at Emerald City, opening for Bloodhound Gang.

Named for a line in "The Empire Strikes Back," Nerf Herder is guitarist and singer Parry Gripp, drummer Steve Sherlock and bassist Charlie Dennis. The band's debut disc came out on a local label, My Records, and was such a hit that the band was subsequently signed to Arista Records after auditioning for label President Clive Davis.

Nerf Herder does edgy, catchy, funny songs--some of which are survivors from Gripp's previous band, the Decline of Paisley John Shaver--that usually inspire more laughing than dancing. "Van Halen" describes the heartbreak of a teenager when David Lee Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar.

In "Sorry," the singer apologizes for upward of a million transgressions, each more terrible than the last. "Sorry I showed up at your wedding. Sorry I tried too hard to get in. Sorry I screwed up your pictures. Sorry I had sex with your sister."

When Gripp is not doing the rock thing, he works at the family business, Santa Barbara Orchid Estate, a five-acre nursery in Goleta. While grooving among the cymbidiums, he discussed Nerf Herder's last crazy year.

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What do bands do when they're not writing hit songs and touring?

We want to make another album, hopefully by January, and do it all over again. The first album had a tiny budget on a little label. The record company is going to have more of a say in this one. We have some songs, some older ones that weren't on the album, but this one is going to be a lot different. The songs will be more of a collaboration this time because I'm out of ideas.

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Was touring what you thought it would be?

Going on tour was kinda like when your parents sent you to summer camp. When you're there, you can't wait to get home, and when you get back, you can't wait to go back to camp. On tour, you're in a different hotel every night, then you ride around in a van, so playing is a very small part of it. . . . But it's pretty cool to go somewhere you've never been before and have people sing along with your songs.

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What does Nerf Herder music sound like?

It's simple fun power pop.

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How is Nerf Herder different than the Decline of Paisley John Shaver?

I think it has to do with the personalities in the band. With the Decline, we couldn't get anything done or pull anything off. Even if we had written "Hotel California," we couldn't have done anything with it. This band has better musicians in general.

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So you're playing "Sorry" at Toes Tavern in the Decline band, then a few years later, same song, same place with Nerf Herder--but now you're famous rock stars. What happened?

Nerf Herder played for a couple of months, then we made a demo tape. I think it's important to keep recording. That's the key to making it exciting and it keeps you interested in what you're doing. Joey Cape from Lagwagon, a punk band that sells hundreds of thousands of records, produced a compilation album and put "Sorry" on it. Then he produced our album and "Van Halen" got picked up by radio, and because of that attention, record companies came to look at us.

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Then Arista Records sent a limo and flew the band to New York?

That's right. They drive you around in a limo until they sign you, then you're in a van and a crappy hotel. Clive [Davis] liked us--if he doesn't like you, you don't get signed. We were at the Arista Records office in New York on his birthday--I guess Kenny G and Whitney Houston weren't around. So they sent us up to this fancy board room--a huge room just like in the movies--to sing "Happy Birthday" to him.

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Did you do a punked-out version of "Happy Birthday" or an a capella version? And, also, did you sing "Clive" or "Mr. Davis"?

We did it a capella, and I sang "Mr. Davis" because I'm very respectful about things like that.

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So how can other bands get signed?

I dunno. We were just really lucky, I guess. It was all really just a fluke. We weren't trying--we were just trying to have fun. If there's anything you can do to be lucky, then I'd say do that.

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Where does "Van Halen" fit in with your other songs?

It's just a novelty song, but without it we wouldn't have gotten signed.

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How did the song "Sorry" come about?

That was a song about the fact that I always seemed to be apologizing to my girlfriend, then it got really weird. It's like when you're supposed to go to the fabric store with your girlfriend, but then you get baseball tickets. Of course, you're going to the ballgame, but then you have to say you're sorry.

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New girlfriend now?

No, same one.

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How's the Santa Barbara scene these days?

I've been out of town for a long time, so I'm not sure, but I do know there's not as many clubs to play at as there used to be. . . .

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What's the most misunderstood thing about orchids?

That they're hard to grow. Actually, they're easy to grow. You just have to know the proper amount of attention to pay to them. You can grow cymbidiums outside on the deck.

BE THERE

Nerf Herder, Bloodhound Gang, Bobgoblin, Puzzle Gut. Emerald City, 110 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara. 9 p.m. Saturday. $10. 965-2231.

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