Styrenes, The

The Styrenes: At last, an authorized biography…. Few bands in the history of rock and roll have been so consistently mis-chronicled, mis-quoted and misunderstood as Cleveland’s Styrenes, Mirrors and Electric Eels. All Music Guide, Wikipedia, even a book on the history of punk music: They all got it wrong on these three groups.

Rolling Stone came a little closer, calling them “post-punk before punk ever happened.” But of all the critics who have tried to describe the Eels-Mirrors-Styrenes aesthetic, James Mann may have captured it best. In his Ink review of the Styrenes collection “It’s Still Artastic” (ROIR), Mann wrote “there is a current of unflinching integrity and valor not often found in music. This is the sound of men who truly don’t give a damn. Freed from chasing the bright lights of fame and fortune, they (not so quietly) developed a unique and uncompromising vision.”

And they’ve never stopped. Thirty-five years after the Styrenes’ first gig, bandleader Paul Marotta—a member of all three groups—continues to record and perform, including a two-week anniversary tour in April, 2010 with Mirrors mastermind Jamie Klimek and Electric Eels founder John Morton.

In a recent interview, Marotta recalled what led him to form the Styrenes in 1975….. “I was playing guitar in the Electric Eels and keyboards in Mirrors in 1974,” he told Athens, Ga. rock writer Gordon Lamb. “It was challenging and fun and frustrating and all the things bands are. But neither band was exactly what I had in mind, and both bands were led by strong personalities—Jamie in Mirrors and John in the Eels. I wanted to call the shots, so I needed to have my own band.”

Klimek and Marotta formed the nucleus of the new ensemble, releasing their first single—Marotta’s cheerfully fiendish hate song “Drano in your Veins,” originally written for the Electric Eels in 1973—under the name Poli Styrene Jass Band. They also performed and recorded as the Styrene Band and the Styrene-Money Band, with sidemen including Jim Jones, Anton Fier and Michael Antle, before settling on the Styrenes name. The band is often lumped in with other Cleveland-area groups, but existed there for only about five years before Marotta and Klimek decamped for New York in search of greater musical opportunities. And although their original recordings, like those of Mirrors and the Electric Eels, have been saddled with the “proto-punk” moniker, the Styrenes’ music—from their earliest singles to the recent CD “City Of Women” (Rent a Dog, 2007) —has stoutly defied easy labels.

“A big, full sound created from a mixture of acoustic, amplified and electronic instruments has been an almost unbroken thread tying together our recordings over the years,” says Marotta, who, at various times, has incorporated tape loops and gadgetry violin, cello, alto sax, trombone, clarinet, French horn and harmonica into the band he leads primarily from the piano. While the Styrenes’ move to New York came a year or two too late to benefit from the rock-club scene that had begun to die out by 1980, both Klimek and Marotta continued to write, perform and record in a variety of settings. In 1987, Marotta began collaborating with Cleveland writer and vocalist Mike Hudson, formerly of the Pagans, on a series of stories with music. The two recorded the LP “A Monster and the Devil” (Tinnitus, 1989), and performed as the Styrenes with Klimek and a shifting array of other musicians and actors….. Klimek and Marotta also revived Mirrors as a three-piece with Klimek on guitar, Marotta on bass and Paul Laurence on drums, playing regularly around New York and touring both coasts and the Midwest. Laurence also played drums for the Styrenes, which now included both Hudson and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. With all three members of Mirrors also playing in the Styrenes, the two bands toured as a package and began recording new material until, in 1994, Klimek left New York….. Marotta then recruited guitarist U.K. Rattay and bassist Al Margolis to record “We Care So You Don’t Have To” (Scat Records, 1998), which proved to be Hudson’s last album with the Styrenes. While rehearsing, recording and touring in support of the CD, Marotta also worked regularly as bassist for New York’s swinging-bachelor-pad sensation Voodoo Martini, played guitar in John Morton’s band, Amoeba(raftboy) and started Jilmar Music, a music publishing company. For the first time since 1975, when Mirrors, the Electric Eels and Styrenes all released their first singles, Marotta was again in three bands with new recordings—the Styrenes’ three-song Christmas CD and the debut discs from both Voodoo Martini and Amoeba(raftboy). Also in 1998, the Styrenes accepted an invitation to perform on BBC radio and TV, which led to a club tour of the U.K. with Marotta taking over as lead vocalist.

By 2000, Marotta was ready for a more ambitious project: the Styrenes’ recording of Terry Riley’s landmark work “In C” (Enja, 2002) with an expanded group of seven players, including Morton on guitar and the guitarist and vibraphonist from Voodoo Martini. “We rehearsed for almost a year,” Marotta says, to create a taut and compelling rock version of the 1964 composition, which the touring Styrenes occasionally perform with local musicians taking part….. The typical Styrenes show is a fast-paced hour of what Marotta calls “serious and intense rock music—loud or soft, fast or slow, sincere or snotty—that avoids mid-tempo rock conventions.” Audiences can also count on hearing some of the band’s narrative pieces, in which spoken word and instrumental music are layered into hypnotic, virtually cinematic experiences—among them: “Westies,” a violently lyrical story of Irish-American gang life and death in Hell’s Kitchen, and the trippy dream-tale “One Fanzine Reader Writes,” in which strange events transpire on the Lake Erie shore….. “We won’t be overly loud,” promises Marotta. “Still, everyone should get a big, dark, intense, funny, scary, and with luck, pleasantly overwhelming blast of rock and roll.”….

Web Site: www.thestyrenes.com

Tracks:

  • Leave The Girls
  • Brian’s Song
  • Circus Highlights
  • It’s Artastic
  • Opus 12
  • All The Wrong People Are Dying
  • Girl Crazy
  • Major Minor
  • Murder Me
  • Overload
  • Beauty In Flesh
  • Empty Vessels
  • Nineteen Sixty Seven
  • No Deposit, No Return
  • Leave The Girls
  • Leave The Girls
  • Half Of Nothin’
  • The Green Lamp
  • Good King Wencelas
  • Cold Christmas Eve
  • Hark The Herald Angels Sing