"It got to a point where every time we played Cleveland, every fuckin' two-bit tough guy in Cuyahoga County came out and threw bar stools," GC5 singer/guitarist Pete Kyrou says. "It just gets really annoying, and a lot of younger kids are scared to go see bands that have a reputation as making music for tough guys."
Listen to the GC5's searing debut, and you'll learn how the reputation was cultivated. A street punk classic, Kisses is a loud, remorseless knuckle-duster, with Kyrou bellowing lines like, "My anger has achieved a sort of permanence." The disc was an underground hit, and the band toured the country several times over in support of it, playing some 250 shows in a year and a half. The problem was, the GC5's ferocity, combined with their overtly political lyrics, began to get them lumped in with the violence-prone Oi crowd.
"People completely latch on to the least amount of class consciousness that comes out in your lyrics -- whether they understand the overtones or whether they just think it's some right-wing thing," sighs GC5 bassist Doug McKean, who doubles as a substitute teacher in the Mansfield school system. "When you start getting out into the world and you see what's out there, rather than just your home and the life you grew up with, there's a sense of outrage, I think, in discovering how messed up things are. It's just overwhelming initially. A lot of those lyrics came from there."
Two years later, the GC5 (including guitarist Paul Weaver and Doug's brother, Dave McKean, on bass) have done a lot of maturing, and the results can be heard on their latest, the rock-solid Never Bet the Devil Your Head, due out in June. Produced by Ryan Foltz of the Dropkick Murphys, the album lets up on the gas a bit and significantly expands upon the band's core sound. Organ and mandolin are sprinkled about in places, and cuts such as "Lies and Prophecies," a great hard-edged pop song, and "When All Else Fails," a sparse, steely ballad, see the band testing its range with impressive results. The album is so strong, in fact, that it caught the ears of Chicago's Thick Records --a sizable indie whose roster includes such notables as Season to Risk and the Blue Meanies -- which recently signed the group and will be distributing the record. Says Billy Spunke, the manager of Thick: "The band has it all: power, charm, sincerity, talent, and an uncompromised DIY work ethic."
The GC5 are on the road about nine months out of the year, booking all their own shows and earning a reputation for playing out-of-the-way places like Conrad, Arkansas, and Yankton, South Dakota. The shows have become semilegendary.
"I got so excited, I jumped up onstage and started singing backup vocals with the band," says Mike Alexander, guitarist for Kansas City ska revivalists the Gadjits. "I haven't felt that excited seeing a band since I was 19."
Of course, maintaining such a grueling pace on the road does have its drawbacks. "We learned a lot about how long Paul can go without showering," Kyrou cracks. "He doesn't smell that bad when he has clothes on. But the thing is, he tends to get naked at times in front of groups of people."
The band members' good-natured goading seems to confirm that they aren't the brawling thugs that many assume them to be.
"Look at us, we're never going to be marketable, we're never going to be cool, it's never going to be fashionable to like the GC5," McKean says. "The only way we're going to make anything of ourselves is to fucking kick it out, get in people's face with it, and make them make an immediate decision: Do you like this or not?"