Courtesy of the Tufted Puffins
The guys in the local punk rock band Tufted Puffins possess some serious musical pedigrees.
Prior to forming the Puffins, singer-guitarist Mike Baker played in local bands such as Sleazy Jesus and the Splatter Pigs and Hucklebuck. Bassist Ken Brown also played in Sleazy Jesus and spent time in the hard rocking Ten Tons of Hell too. In addition, Brown runs his own recording studio and plays for various theatre orchestras and other musical projects. He is, as it says in the band’s bio, “all business on the bass.”
Guitarist Tom Huff played in Burning Lesbians with highly respected local musicians Dave Cintron, Sam Ludwig and Scott Pickering. He’s also recorded with locals Roscoe Disposal Co., Goburn, Motorboat and 2lb. Spread, and drummer Markymoon battered away at his kit for acts such as Zen-Luv Assassins, Professional Againsters, Roscoe Disposal Co., 2lb. Spread, Cathedral 45 and Final Solution.
Next week, the Puffins play a release party on Friday, May 17, at the Beachland Tavern to celebrate the release of their cantankerous debut album, Old, Loud and Puffy
The Puffins came together a couple of years ago when Markymoon simply posted something on Facebook saying that he was looking to start playing music again. The guys who would become his bandmates responded, and the band was born.
“We were just going to play in the basement and drink some beer, but something clicked at our first rehearsal, and it sounded really good, so we booked some shows,” says Baker one afternoon from Boss Dog, the Cleveland Heights brewery that’s near his home. “I got back in it. As far as the band’s name goes that was me. I had gotten an email asking for money to save the Tufted Puffins. I went and looked at the bird, and I thought it was too good of a band name to pass up. It’s basically that. I really don’t even know anything about Puffins.”
Baker, who grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, actually started his musical career on trumpet. While at Kent State in the '80s, he joined the Juice, an “improvisational punk weirdo band.”
“I was practicing in my room at the dorms one day, and this guy next door heard me play and wanted me to come to a party and bring the trumpet,” he says. “There was a drummer there, and we got really wasted and started jamming. Somebody offered us an opening night, and we were a band after that.”
After that group dissolved, Baker moved to Cleveland but didn’t play in any working bands.
“I just did pick-up shows for a while,” he says.
One day, a friend of his who was moving to Europe insisted that he buy her guitar before she left the states.
“I had never played guitar, but I bought it off her, and within three months, there was a battle of the worst bands at Pat’s in the Flats,” says Baker. “We put together Sleazy Jesus and the Splatter Pigs, and we won. That was the big launching pad for all the punk bands I’ve been in.”
In Sleazy Jesus, band members dressed like what Baker describes as “disco gang Latino people.” The band had a drum box that it ran through a 100-watt amp.
“We did all of our songs to that,” he says. “One of the guys would make margaritas and hand them out. It was pretty notorious for the stage shows.”
That group lasted about a decade and even put out a 7-inch. Baker and Brown met for the first time in that group.
Baker took a long hiatus after Sleazy Jesus but says he’s been happy to get back into the Cleveland club scene with the punk-ish Tufted Puffins.
“I don’t know if we’re really punk,” says Baker, who’s old enough to have experienced punk’s first wave. “When the punk scene started, it wasn’t what it is now. It was just a lot of really weird bands that had the same attitude. It wasn’t a style of music. It was just whatever was pushing at the norm. Punk now is hardcore guitar riffs. I’m partial to American punk, especially the stuff that happened around here like the Dead Boys. That sound does it for me. I do like British bands like Stiff Little Fingers too. I think the Puffins are more rock ’n’ roll than punk. Our song structures are more rock ’n’ roll-isa, and there’s a lot of melody. The energy is definitely punk.”
Last year, the band issued a four-song demo to get gigs and then released a few singles. Prior to recording the full-length the guys visited several local studios before deciding upon Noise Floor Studio.
“There’s lots of really good studios here,” says Baker. “The last place we looked at was Noise Floor, which is in this little shack that looks like a hoarder’s house. There are instruments everywhere and old carpeting. It’s all chaotic, and it just felt perfect. The price was really reasonable. [Owner] Mark Klein has a big history of doing some of the best records to come out of Cleveland. He’s really good with his equipment, and he got just the kind of sound we wanted out of it.”
Chris Keefer, who recorded a Sleazy Jesus single back in the day, mastered the album. Gritty rockers such as "It Ain't Right," "Good Times" and "Dead by Now" possess the kind of manic energy for which the Stooges and MC5 were known.
Baker wrote one of the album’s songs, the anti-anthem “In America,” 25 years ago.
“I could never get anyone to play it in a way that was right,” he says of the song. “These guys just nailed it. Tom [Huff’s] guitar on that is just incredible.”
Another highlight, “Messin Up My Mind,” features heavy percussion.
“The energy of that song is great,” says Baker. “It has church choir sounds and all kind of percussion. It was a blast to record.”
“Dead by Now” takes a nostalgic look back at the Kent music scene of the '70s.
“I love the old local music scene,” says Baker. “Now, we’re like old guys, and it’s not our music scene. It’s a really good music scene, and I like a lot of the younger bands, but they don’t want to hang out with their grandfathers. I understand. It’s still been good for us. We’re playing a lot. I’ve always played music really aggressively, and I still just throw everything into it. It’s such a high to get that adrenaline going. That’s what I miss in most of the music now. There’s not that full-blown energy. I like bands that sound like they’re falling apart because they’re going so fast, and they sound like they could just disintegrate. That’s the sweet spot for me.”
The Tufted Puffins, Craig Bell Band, Bar Trash, 8 p.m. Friday, May 17, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $8, beachlandballroom.com.
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