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Reality Bites : The Humpers' Authenticity Hampers Its Success

June 12, 1998|JENNIFER VINEYARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Long Beach-bred rock band the Humpers faces a self-imposed career dilemma.

The barriers that band members say are preventing them from reaching a wider audience result at least in part from the same attitude, the same cocky swagger, that informs the band's menacing meat-and-potatoes blend of street punk and garage rock.

Some artists' lives and art seem to exist in opposing universes--Ice-T still rapping of life in the 'hood after moving to Bel-Air, or Rage Against the Machine's Zach de la Rocha singing about urban strife despite growing up in Irvine. Not so with the Humpers, whose carousing music and members' lifestyles may turn out to be too much in sync for the band's own good.

"People think our glory days have gone by," bassist Mitch Cartwright said. "But we're still waiting for those glory days to arrive."

The Humpers haven't had to wait for their share of frustrations.

When the band formed eight years ago, it seemed to be in a better position than most--landing a record contract before the lineup was finalized, on the strength of the band's name alone.

After dissolving his old band, the Suicide Kings, lead singer Scott Drake got the idea for the Humpers' name from a scene in "A Clockwork Orange" in which a record store's chalkboard includes a list of fictional groups. (That's also where early-'80s synth-pop band Heaven 17 found its name.)

*

But signing with a label based in war-torn Yugoslavia didn't lead anywhere, and that first deal, so easily won, was just as easily lost.

When the Humpers got a second chance, with punk label Epitaph Records, the group hoped to follow in the path of Epitaph's flagship band, the Offspring, which in the previous year had proved punk's commercial prowess.

"When we signed, we thought all the bands would be like us," drummer Jimi Silveroli said. "But they weren't; they were sober. To them, it's all an act, a facade, an image they want to keep."

Still, the band felt a bond with label head Brett Gurewitz, who was set to produce their latest album, "Euphoria, Confusion, Anger and Remorse." When that plan fell through, they fell back on Sally Browder, who produced the band's previous two albums.

Had Gurewitz produced the record, the band members maintain, they would have received more attention and financial support, enabling them to tour more extensively. (The Humpers play Saturday at Club Mesa in Costa Mesa.) In the two months since the album's release, the band has played only a week's worth of club gigs.

"Truth is," said Epitaph spokesman Jeff Abarta, who brought the band to the label, "we spoiled [these groups]. When we had the Offspring, we paid tour support beyond covering a band's loss. Now we're back to the way things were before, and we just cover the loss. We don't pay their rent."

Another factor in the skimpiness of its tour schedule is the band's reputation among some club operators as a contentious lot.

Not that this fazes the band, says Linda's Doll Hut owner Linda Jemison: "They think it's cool they're banned from the Doll Hut."

Some bands break up for lack of major financial support; others find alternative ways of paying their own way. The Humpers have done neither, taking a laissez-faire approach to their careers.

"Unfortunately, that bleeds into the shows," Cartwright said. "It wears on you."

Nevertheless, the Humpers wear their reputation as a group of misfits as a badge of honor that elevates them above many of their peers.

Punk was popular, the band members say, because it appealed to jocks, and ska because it was safe. "Ska is sanitized," Cartwright said. "It's music your parents wouldn't mind you listening to. It's not dangerous. It's abstinence."

* The Humpers, Stitches and Smogtown play Saturday at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. 9 p.m. $5. (714) 642-6634.

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