The Scarring Party
I met Isa Carini at a roller derby tournament. I immediately recognized her as the dress-wearing, tuba and trumpet and whatever else playing femme fatal of the Scarring Party. I tried to be coy. She was selling cigars, jewelry and PBR tallboys. I bought several pieces of jewelry. I asked her if I could watch the band rehearse sometime, she said No. She said though, that the band was looking to replace someone who’d just left, if I played. As it turns out, I didn’t.
This was a little after the Scarring Party had released Come Away From the Light, the follow up to their debut, A Concise Introduction. Their music is definitive, iconic and creepy - sounding like nothing except things that are scary. The sound is exclusively acoustic, arrangements consisting of banjo, guitar, bass, tuba, accordion, typewriter, xylophone and any number of odd things the band manages to scrape together. This is not for the sake of novelty - a band after anything so cheap would’ve bowed out by now. No, there’s a solid songwriting genius under these macabre tunes.
I bribed Isa with a handmade, tailored, silk Victorian dress to get me an audition. I told her I could play but I didn’t tell her what. I’d find something. I found a Hello Kitty electric guitar in my sister-in-law’s attic. It would have to work. I found that if I only hit the thinnest string, it sounded pretty creepy.
Isa had instructed me to wait on a certain corner, on a certain day, at a certain time and I did. I wasn’t waiting very long before she skated up. She was roller skating. I told her I didn’t have any skates. She said, Hop on. I rode on her shoulders to the audition. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a blindfold on - we twisted and turned though alleys of Milwaukee so forgotten that they hadn’t seen drug traffic since disco was king. We stopped on the outskirts of an old beer brewery. We stepped through a hole in the fence and she led me to a half-collapsed brick building, a little bigger than my mom’s house. Inside was an overturned beer vat. Awesome.
We ducked through the hatch and inside there was a little light coming from a candelabra made of bird bones and chewing gum. She took off her skates and helmet and stored them under the bench that ran the length of the right side. Daniel Bullock, singer and songwriter and figurehead of the band was in the back, half blanketed by the flickering shadows. He rubbed one hand over the other in front of himself, back and forth. His neck was bent forward like a vulture’s. What will you play for us, he asked.
Chris Roberts, the percussionist, wasn’t there and then he was, removing and replacing his eye glasses constantly. I motioned to the guitar in my right hand. I thought I saw one of Daniel’s thin blonde eyebrows lift. He certainly stopped rubbing his hands, that’s for sure. Isa had sat down on the bench and was looking about the room. Chris was still busy with his glasses. Daniel made small steps toward a crank-driven record player and even those tiny steps reverberated heavily in the tank. I just stood there.
Daniel began to crank the player and it was a song I hadn’t heard, unfinished, mostly violin and banjo. I stood there, Daniel did not turn around initially and then he did. He stopped cranking, the sound slowed and lowered then he instructed me briskly to play along. Gosh, I thought. I gulped a little air then as he began to crank I began to play, picking at that thinnest string. It sounded like a wasp cussing, loud and sharp inside the copper room.
The song finished. Daniel turned slowly and was rubbing his hands again. Interesting, he said. You know we are not the average band, he said. I nodded. Who are your influences, he asked. I really like Nirvana, I said. And Lil’ Wayne. Chris stopped playing with his glasses and looked at me. And blinked. Isa smiled knowingly. Daniel raised an eyebrow and said, I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I do like the blues.
He began a tangent about Fats Waller, Robert Johnson and a litany of names I could never remember. He paced the small room, steps echoing, and I thought, journalist that I am, while his back was turned I could get a picture of this - this lair of ghoulish sound. Isa saw me pulling the small camera from my pocket and I could see her shaking her head, mouthing something to me out of the corner of my eye. But I tried to take a picture.
The moment before my finger dropped on the button Daniel turned. He must’ve attacked me. I don’t know. I woke up in a street with houses on either side, without my guitar, without my camera and without a good deal of my blood - which I could see was draining into a gutter. It was nearly morning and I began to moan to the best of my ability. Bleary-eyed, I could see a crow in the tree above me with something like a tape recorder around its neck. As the street’s residents came to my aid, the bird flew away.
When I awoke in the hospital some time later, surrounded by friends and family, I related to them my adventure. They were aghast. The next day a package arrived from the Scar Brewery. It was a CD. The one I wasn’t on. They’d found their fourth member, a shadowy multi-instrumentalist named Satan. No I’m kidding, his name is William Smith and he’s very talented.
The album was released August 13 at the Turner Ballroom in Milwaukee. It is superbly dark. Tapping in with claw-to-coffin percussion, the album collects 12 magic tales of sadness, loss and this world’s unstoppable, natural malevolence. It is not difficult for me to listen to. Even if Daniel Bullock did accost me (his fingernails are longer and sharper than raptor’s teeth) his songs are wonderfully arranged and immaculately executed. And this effort is again a step higher than its predecessor. Some short songs, some long songs, all wonderful songs.(2901) Page Views Scarring Party Online:
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CD: Losing Teeth