The mystery of Terry Malts

Beyond the secrets, this is an ass-kicking band

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This elusive power trio, fueled by poppers and tall cans, brings the bubblegum-fuzz to the party.
PHOTO BY R.H. CHILLYPEP

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC The shroud of mystery surrounding Terry Malts is no accident. It turns out that all three band members are also core members of another local band (plus a few instrumental switcheroos) that has received some notoriety over the years, even snagging a spot on the soundtrack of one of those beloved television shows about WASP-y rich kids.

But to call it a side project or a spin-off from those-who-shall-remain-nameless — as is often done around town among people in the know — is disingenuous to all that is Terry Malts, a solid, well-conceived musical effort in its own right. Straying from the cliché of the self righteous musician, the band members seem to take little seriously in conversation. They cite poppers and tall cans of beer as influences and joke about having never heard of the aforementioned "other" band. But the music is no joke.

When asked what the real deal was with this seemingly covert operation, guitarist Corey Cunningham replies that the band "wanted a fresh start" and thought it best to "let people reach their own perspective." Plus, he adds, there is no line where one of their bands begins and another ends. "I see it as though we are different people in a different band."

Perhaps that's why people seem to pigeonhole them into a punk corner in an effort to understand who and what the band Terry Malts is. The constant Ramones comparisons — though understandable on a superficial level — should make eyes roll because Terry Malts is so much more than that: carefree bubblegum pop of the 1960s combined with the fuck-you attitude of 1970s punk and a layer of fuzz and feedback enough to please any jaded post-punk-post-indie pop music snob.

These guys tear it up live as well — Nathan Sweatt's fast-pounding drums are tight enough to incite a dance riot, and Cunningham's high-driving distorted guitar leads sound like he took a bubble bath with a blender. Phil Benson, towering in stature and personality, seems as if he's singing love ballads to his bass guitar — hugging his instrument up high and smiling while bopping up and down. But don't misread that as precious. The boys have ass-kicking spunk that results in live performances and recordings that keep you wanting — no, needing — more.

The band just released a 7-inch on Slumberland Records, the still-relevant Oakland via Washington, D.C., label that released recordings from such college radio chart toppers as Small Factory, Velocity Girl, and 14 Iced Bears in the early 1990s. "I've been buying Slumberland records since high school, so it's a big deal for me," says Cunningham. Owner Mike Schulman sought them out after hearing this year's double-A-sided Distracted cassette on Loglady.

Three tracks were chosen for the 7-inch release "I'm Neurotic," with "Distracted" and "Where is the Weekend" wrapping up the B-side. The title track kicks off with a blast of overdrive and propulsive drum beat and continues on a steady rhythm with intermittent bursts of feedback. The sing-songy "Distracted," a song about moving on after a heartbreak, is so blissfully poppy and sweet that you could eat it. Perhaps "Where is the Weekend" is the most straightforward and in-your-face — an anthem for the modern proletariat working a crap-ass job for low wages in an overpriced city where the weekend fun can't come soon enough.

When asked what's on the horizon for this up-and-coming band, Benson wisecracks: "There's been talk of a possible LP. Perhaps a series of three flexis, each featuring a different instrument, that while played together on three separate turntables reveal a single masterpiece. We shall see." Oh yes, we shall. *

TERRY MALTS

W/ Melted Toys and Permanent Collection

June 2, 9 p.m., $3

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