Weird Interview: Haunted Garage
Posted by weirdestband
From about 1985 to 1993, Haunted Garage was one of the most demented acts in the L.A. underground rock scene, famous for their elaborate, prop-heavy stage shows and frenetic, horror-themed punk/metal songs. But after releasing their one and only album, Possession Park, and touring the U.S. and Europe with The Cramps, the band called it quits. Mostly.
Since 1993, frontman Dukey Flyswatter (also famous as a B-movie actor in films like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Surf Nazis Must Die, sometimes credited under his real name, Michael Sonye) has made several attempts to bring Haunted Garage back to life. The first two reunions produced only a handful of shows, but it’s looking like the latest incarnation of Haunted Garage may stick around for awhile. Formed just a few months ago, the new lineup features lead guitarist Erik Erath (who first joined the band for a reunion show back around 2001), rhythm guitarist (and professional makeup effects artist) Andy Chavez, bassist Sean Fodor and drummer Brian Beaver. With this new supporting cast, Dukey is more excited about Haunted Garage than he’s been in years. “These guys, they believe in the band,” he says. “They like the theatrics.”
Recently, I got to visit the band in their rehearsal space at Francisco Studios, in the industrial L.A. suburb of Vernon. I listened while they tore through a full rehearsal set, then we chatted for about a hour, drinking Jack Daniels and swapping stories. Portions of that interview wound up in an LA Weekly article previewing their gig at the Long Beach Zombie Walk. But I just had to reprint the full interview (with a few minor edits) here on TWBITW, because the story of Dukey Flyswatter and Haunted Garage hasn’t really been told enough.
Weirdest Band: Can you talk about how this version of the band came together?
Dukey: I’ve been trying to put together different versions of Haunted Garage for awhile now. If I lay fallow too long, I go crazy. I have bipolar disorder and I just can’t work a normal job with normal people for too long. I’ve just gotta unleash this pent-up energy.
WB: Were you working a normal job for awhile?
Dukey: Yeah, for a little while. I had a gig with Dinah Cancer and this other girl at a movie company’s daycare center. And then one of the women there—I put her kid into time out. You know, I was weird-looking; I had green hair and everything. So she started this rumor that I was yelling at her kid and yelling at all the other kids. That’s the time that sent me into my second nervous breakdown. I had one breakdown when the band quit and then right afterwards there was the [Northridge] earthquake. And then right after that, my brother blew his brains out. And then right after that, my Mom tried to overdose. So that was just a lot. It was just too much. So yeah, I do better on my own and being creative and staying up late at night—I’ve got insomnia a lot.
We’ve tried to do several versions of [Haunted Garage]. Funnily enough—we used to play this place in San Francisco a lot called the Chatterbox. It was a tiny little place. When the bands came in at night, they would take the pool table and stack the amps on it and put a piece of plywood on top of it—and that’s where the bands would play. And Erik walked in in a stupor one night and we were throwing blood and stuff around. And he was like, “I don’t need to see this crap.” And walked out! [laughs]
And then about 12 years ago, me and Gaby [Godhead, guitarist from the “classic” Haunted Garage lineup], we had a big party at a friend’s house, and we got these guys from O.C. [Orange County, California] to be the rhythm section. They were blown away by the [number of] people that came to the gig. So the next time we saw them, they were dictating to us what they were gonna get paid for each gig. They just decided to hold the band for ransom. So that didn’t fly.
That Gaby got offered a gig with the guys from Bottom 12, and [that] morphed into Virginia City Revival. So I was able to do one more revamp of Haunted Garage for one night only at Safari Sam’s a little over five years ago.
WB: That was with Gaby?
Dukey: That was with Gaby. We were going to keep it semi-regular, and I was booking some gigs, but he wanted to make sure that Virginia City Revival was going to be first and foremost. I could see the writing on the wall: Rehearsals were gonna keep on getting canceled. So that didn’t fly.
Trying to find reliable band members when you don’t have any money to tempt them with is like trying to pull teeth, you know? [laughs] You got money, you can get any hotshot kid to go with you on tour. If you don’t have any money to start something, it’s gotta appeal.
So it was just the right time that I hit Erik—and Erik and I are friends anyway. The rest of the people—it’s kinda like it was the first time with Gaby and those guys. It just fell in my lap. I’ve known Beaver before from this band Insecto. And I met Sean at this club where we were doing this cover band Undead Kennedys with Erik, which was Dead Kennedys covers all in zombie makeup. And then Andy I’ve known for awhile…
Andy: From Mondo Video.
Dukey: Yeah, from Mondo Video. Used to go there and see them shooting porno. They had all these weird bands there like Extreme Elvis and The Kids From Widney High, which were all these disabled kids. He saw the Safari Sam show and he really enjoyed it, so when he saw on the Facebook page that I was looking for a guitarist, he jumped on it. Plus this is the first time we’ve ever had an actual makeup man, an effects guy, in the band. The rest of the guys didn’t bother learning how to do that stuff.
Andy: Yeah, I work for a costume company.
Dukey: And his wife does, too. And I can do some. And these guys are starting to learn, too. Erik used to do his own zombie makeup and stuff.
Erik: Yeah, I did it in the Redwood one night with no mirror. It turned out OK.
Dukey: You do what you gotta do. One night, I think it was after we made the Cramps’ dressing room way too bloody in Europe—we were playing in Germany, I forgot where. Stuttgart, maybe. Anyway, we couldn’t use the dressing room. So we had to go up on these catwalks that were way high above the audience. We had to change our clothes up there and have little flashlights and little mirrors. No one even knew we were up there, it was so frickin’ high up. So you do what you gotta do.
WB: You said earlier that you have bipolar disorder. So is it when you get the manic energy that you get an itch for getting this band back together again?
Dukey: Absolutely. Being creative, period. I’ve been doing other things. But some things just don’t pan out, you know? I’ve been commissioned to write about three scripts, but they’re just kinda laying there.
WB: I checked your IMDb page and see you’ve still been acting occasionally.
Dukey: Yeah, I had a small role in a film called Reel Evil not too long ago. Me and Johnny Angel Wendell—he’s a musician and an AM talk show host, one of the few liberal ones—five years ago we were commissioned to write Blood Feast: The Musical. And we did, and the first draft turned out pretty good. But they haven’t gotten anybody to finance it yet.
WB: Were you always into music as well as the film stuff?
Dukey: No, I was always interested in acting. I always liked music. I love rock ‘n’ roll music. Me and my friends—it might’ve even been my birthday party—we’re all sitting around drinking beer, and we were just talking about some of the bad movies we liked, and the songs in them. And we were like, wouldn’t it be great if there was a band that played all those bad songs that we remember from those movies? You know, “The South Is Gonna Rise Again” from Two Thousand Maniacs!, and Strange Pursuits and Hideous Sun Demon and The Blob and stuff like that. And then the bass player called me up and said, “Dude, we’re gonna do the band. And you’re gonna sing.” And I went, “Oh, shit.” I hadn’t done any singing, except being drunk.
So you know, it just kinda took off for awhile. And then we found out that not as many people knew about the songs and they thought we were just making them up. So we started to make them up. And then as the band morphed, it just got more and more aggressive. It started out kinda bluesy, then it went kinda psychedelic. And then straight-on metal and punk.
WB: Do all your stage props live somewhere else?
Dukey: Yeah, they live at my house. They’re just building up now. Andy was able to score some stuff, and I’m asking around. We’re getting stuff sometimes right off the junk pile. I just had our corpse reserviced—you know, patched her up and everything.
WB: Does she have a name?
Dukey: Amber’s [Dukey’s girlfriend] just been calling her my wife. I think I’ve called her Monica. We’re gonna put a Miley Cyrus wig on her or something like that.
Sometimes it was hard to get the guys in the old band to fork over the money for the show. ‘Cause they were musicians first and they were showmen way second. But these guys like every part of it. So they’re willing to put some money forth in the beginning to at least get the show going. People expect some kind of a show, but we’re not up to where we used to be. ‘Cause on the last couple of shows [pre-breakup] we destroyed everything.
But the best thing about these guys is, they wanna do it. Sometimes it was like twisting the other guys’ arms. I had difficulty just getting them out of town, like to San Francisco. [puts on a gruff grouchy voice] “Why do we have to tour?” And then when they found out it was a gay bar in the daytime: [gruff voice] “Goddamn, look at all these queers hangin’ around here. We have to play this place?” They changed their tune later on. They were good guys.
Brian: Are you doing the bass player right now?
Dukey: [laughs] No, none of them…no, actually, I was doing the old drummer.
Brian: The bass player you guys had [King Dinosaur], he looked like Ted Nugent. Was he a total redneck or did he just look that way?
Dukey: You know, we made him that way. He was a total San Diego surfer guy. And we were like, this is not gonna fly. We were like, you gotta grow your hair, put on a leather jacket. I had the conversation for weeks to get a leather jacket. And when he finally got it, he’d never take that thing off.
And Gaby, the first time Gaby came in, he was dressed up like a hippie with a Nehru jacket and a peace sign. “You know, that doesn’t quite work.” And he says, “Oh, OK. I think I know what I’m gonna do.” And he just showed up at this club, the Zombie Zoo, about 15 minutes before we were gonna go on, in like a total Catholic schoolgirl outfit with this weird kabuki makeup. Brilliant. He stayed that way ever since. In his other bands, he’s still dressing that way.
I was lucky to start the band at a time in Los Angeles when the club scene was very vital. There were a lot of bands that were doing stuff like that, like Pigmy Love Circus, Celebrity Skin, Christy McCool. Tons of different bands.
Erik: I mean, just your average rock band was throwing shapes onstage and wearing weird clothes. It was quite a time.
Dukey: That’s true.
WB: Does this version of the band have the blessing of Gaby and those other guys?
Dukey: Well, the other guys and I don’t talk very much. But Gaby wished me luck in an email. There’s some resentments with one or two other members, but that’s the way it goes.
WB: You’re the sole original member—the sole survivor.
Dukey: You know, I hated doing that. That’s another reason I waited so long. I didn’t want to like, cheapen it, you know? Here’s Fear and the only one in it is Lee Ving or here’s this other band and the only one in it is so-and-so. All the bands that only have one member left.
Erik: It was hard to imagine Haunted Garage without Gaby …
Dukey: Yeah, he’s so dynamic. So when he was doing the revivals with me, it was fine, because it was me and Gaby. But after that it was like, I don’t know. I didn’t know whether it would work or not. But I had to just give it a shot, because I needed to do something.
WB: What’s the story with Peter Rottentail?
Erik: Yeah, what is the story? The first time I saw that thing, it starts grabbing me.
Sean: It almost knocked me over, dude.
Dukey: We used to have a demon suit for that, for “Welcome to Hell.” But we don’t got no demon suit no more. So my girlfriend is like a borderline furry. She’s got some furry costumes and stuff like that She decided to give me that costume for my birthday one night.
At the La Habra Bowl, they have furry bowling on Saturday afternoon. She wants to go, but she works on Saturday. So we might start one out here.
WB: That can’t be easy to bowl in a full furry costume.
Erik: I was gonna say, they must put the bumpers up or something.
Dukey: You know, I think they just roll it [mimes throwing a ball from between his legs] like that.
WB: So was that Amber in the rabbit costume?
Dukey: No, that was a friend of ours. Nick, from the Radioactive Chicken Heads. But I may put Amber in the flying monkey suit.
WB: Whatever happened to the demon costume?
Dukey: Oh, that foam rubber just deteriorates.
WB: I always wondered how the GWAR guys handle that.
Dukey: Well, they have VacuForm machines. They just make another one.
WB: Did you ever play with those guys?
Dukey: You know, they say we have and I swear we didn’t. But we’re friends with them. We were at their shows.
Dukey: Right. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
WB: Oh, really?
Dukey: Yeah. That was amazing.
WB: He’s one of your influences, I understand.
WB: As far as the sound of the band goes…I was listening to Possession Park earlier today and it sounds pretty close to what you were just playing. But do they kind of bring their own flavor to it?
Dukey: They can play with it. It’s pretty close in structure as long as they get all the chords right and everything like that.
WB: There were a few things that sounded a little more Sabbath-y…
Sean: Yeah, everything’s down a whole step.
Dukey: And the solos are very whatever they feel like doing.
WB: Are there plans to release any more Haunted Garage material? Old demos or any new stuff?
Dukey: Yeah, two people and Sean, too, want to record for us.
WB: Oh, so it’ll be new recordings?
Dukey: Yeah. Basically doing each other a favor so they can have production credits. So new material will be coming out. And then there are a few more songs of the old band that I want these guys to learn.
Andy: “Little Green Men.” I’ve been seeing it on all the threads.
WB: Had any of you guys done stuff like this in your previous bands, with costumes and all? Or is this pretty new?
Andy: I was more black metal/thrash type stuff.
Brian: I might enjoy being in Haunted Garage because of my prop-rock pedigree.
Erik: Besides being in Haunted Garage 12 years ago, 22 years ago, I walked out on the band in San Francisco. It was just too much for me. I was like, these guys are too fuckin’ crazy, so I actually walked out on the band that I’m in now.
WB (to Dukey): Do you have to do things differently now to take care of your voice and your body?
Dukey: Yeah, I have to do a lot more stretching and back exercises and stuff like that. And I used to be all over the fuckin’ stage and I can’t do that so much anymore. But, this one person I’m seeing for my health says I’m still not too old to reverse some of the aging process. Sixty is the new forty, I guess.
WB: How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?
Dukey: I’m pushing sixty. I’ll be sixty next April. But I only feel it in my joints.
WB: I have to ask, how did the mousetraps on the face come about?
Dukey: You gotta just [make] do with what’s around. There used to be a big prop house in Hollywood and I would go raid their trash cans at night. I got all these papier mâché cow heads one night from the trash there and we stuck ‘em up on this wall and threw the wall into the audience and had people smash them. We found this old antique fat shaker machine on somebody’s lawn and just went and used that for “Torture Dungeon.” Stuff like that.
Brian: People used to think those made you lose weight?
Dukey: Yeah, but they don’t. [laughs] I was doing that shit every night for two months and never lost a single pound. It was really fun when you put it up high—you could sing like the munchkins.
So anyway, I knew a lot of people in the S&M club scene that was just starting to come up at that time. It was just like, what am I gonna do with [all] these things? I don’t know how the idea came into my head, but it was like…OK, mousetraps.
WB: It’s an intense image.
Dukey: It’s not that bad. The rat traps after awhile hurt but the mousetraps are not that bad. I did play pierce my eye bags one night. That was kinda gnarly.
Erik: That’s a very delicate area.
Dukey: It was. I got shiners afterwards. [sounds of disgust from the band]
WB: Did you do that in a show or in the comfort of your own home?
Dukey: In a show. I’ve got it on film.
WB: That’s intense.
Dukey: It was intense.
Erik: More or less intense than a roman candle up your ass?
Dukey: Yeah, that was at a party. [laughs] I’ve still got the scar from that. I just don’t think like other people do. I don’t want to put myself in a certain league, but other artists that I like a lot think different, too, like Doug Stanhope, Sam Kinison, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart…
WB: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Dukey: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. When I was a kid, I saw some puppets do “I Put a Spell on You” and I was fuckin’ blown away. “Mom! Get me this record!”
WB: What’s the craziest live show any of you have been to?
Andy: I think Rammstein, when the guy came out on fire shooting lasers out of his eyes. That was pretty badass.
Sean: I have to think. I’ve seen so many shows so I have to clear the cobwebs. I don’t know, I mean, for me, that wasn’t really my cup of tea. I was more of a musician. I would go see musician bands. Like, everybody was into Kiss and I was into Queen at that time. Fuck Kiss, I hate that band. They suck.
Erik: They do. They’re terrible.
Sean: My very first concert that I ever went to in my entire life was Judas Priest when I was like seventeen years old. I saw them on the Defenders of the Faith tour in 1983. They had this huge stage thing with the monster with the claw that came out. [Rob Halford] comes out on a Harley. They opened with “Love Bites” and it was ridiculously loud. I was probably 15 feet from the stage. They hit that first note and I turned to my buddy and was like, “We are not standing here.” It felt like somebody was squeezing my head. So much sound pressure. It was insane. But they were great.
There’s a band out of Kalamazoo, Michigan called the God Bullies that’s pretty wild. There’s a really famous place in Kalamazoo called Club Soda. The Stooges used to play there back in the day. When I saw the God Bullies there, the bass player came out in a full clown outfit and stood with his back to the audience the whole time. The lead singer, I remember he had on these super-tight patent white leather pants and super-tight patent white leather jacket. No shirt. And he had this huge bulge, like down to his knee. And halfway through the show, he opens up his pants and pulls it out, and it’s a rotten squash. And he took this rotten squash and squashed it all over his body. They were really good musicians, too, but that’s probably the closest thing to this band that I’ve seen.
WB: Brian, what about you?
Brian: Strangely, I didn’t see many performance-type bands before I was in Insecto. But being in bands, I’ve always been kind of obsessed with musical power. Like you know, certain bands just seem to have that laser focus. My favorite band from my youth is Jane’s [Addiction]. They always had that. It was four people just musically focused [who] would punch you in the face every time you saw a show. From a musical standpoint, that’s always my goal, to have that wall of power.
Erik: Oddly enough, Judas Priest back when I was a kid in high school, too. I saw them in ’78, on the Hell Bent for Leather tour, with the motorcycle on the stage. And then the next time they came around [was] Screaming for Vengeance. That was the first time I took a full dose of acid, too. My ears were ringing the next day. The twin guitars…
Andy: Yeah. K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton. You can’t beat those guys.
Erik: As far as what I can actually pull off playing, K.K.’s the guy, you know? Delay, whammy bar, wah pedal and just a lot of spirit.