With Its Third LP, The Phuss Has Carved Out A New, Kickass Niche.
Just behind “sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll,” rock music's most enduring mantra has got to be “live fast, die young.”
It's a saying that Josh Fleming, Trey Alfaro and Forrest Barton of Dallas hard-rocking trio, The Phuss, are intimately familiar with, to be sure. Hell, the band's upcoming third long-player, On the Prowl sounds as much like a band of miscreants trying its damndest to live up to that maxim as it does a concept record glorifying that whole “leave behind a pretty corpse” cliche.
Between churning, '80s-esque metal licks and frontman Fleming's frequent screams — which tread a territory between Vince Neil's coked-out “Shout at the Devil” caterwaul and Dave Grohl's own '80s-mining wails on “White Limo” — it's possible to pick out several references to the “live fast, die young” notion peppered throughout the course of the disc's breezy eight tracks. For instance: Fleming admits to making ill-advised, late-night phone calls to numbers he found in bathroom stalls on “Hammer and Nail;” he laments that by now he should be dead or in jail on “I Don't Feel Good;” and, in perhaps the album's most explicit reference to the concept, he sings, “They say we all die young, we all self-destruct” on “Burn Notice.”
To hear Fleming explain it, embracing these ideas came about pretty naturally following his move from Fort Worth to Dallas last year. Not only were the harder-edged songs from the last Phuss record turning out to be the ones he liked the most, but the move itself left Fleming a bit more isolated and pissed off than he was used to.
“I was kind of going through a little bit of a hard period with how to handle moving to a big city,” he says. “I was making new friends. I knew a lot of people through The Phuss, but they didn't really know me at all. So when I moved here and I was just immersed in the community a little bit more, it took me a while to make friends. I was alone, hanging out at my house a lot.”
Soon, though, Fleming did begin to make new friends. One such newfound acquaintance in particular was J. Charles & the Trainrobbers frontman Jeff Saenz, who would end up making a tremendous impact on the way On the Prowl eventually turned out. An afternoon of small talk at the Single Wide between the two led Fleming and the band to record at Saenz's Modern Electric Recorders studio in East Dallas.
Unlike previous places The Phuss has recorded, which Fleming says were about the size of an attic, Saenz's spacious Dallas studio allowed the band to do things on its new record that it's never previously been able to attempt, — like writing in the studio and really taking the time to explore every last guitar and vocal tone.
“The way we went through this studio session was completely different than anything we've ever done, but I love how it turned out,” Fleming says. “I've made eight or nine records since I started playing in bands when I was 13 and I've never been able to write in the studio.”
And, just as Fleming and his band left behind both Fort Worth and its previously tried-and-true recording techniques prior to making On the Prowl, the band has also notably moved on from some of its most long-held influences — namely the Toadies. Not only have Toadies-esque hard-rocking, blues-based riffs been something of a calling card for the outfit the past five years, but Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis helped the band record its self-titled, 2012 LP. But whereas Fleming now says he never intended his band to sound like the Toadies, he also fully admits that it wasn't necessarily a conscious decision to evolve beyond that sound either.
“It's the fucking Toadies,” he says. “They're from Texas. If you have any type of southern drawl in your voice and you like blues-rock, it's probably going to sound like that. At the end of the day, I was never trying to sound like the Toadies. It was never an intentional thing to do that. And when Vaden got on board with us last time it was really just because he liked the music — and that was the coolest part about it.”
Or maybe dropping the Toadies-tinged riffs from its repertoire is just another way that The Phuss has further left behind its Fort Worth ties. Make no mistake, though: The Phuss has most certainly moved on. Still present are some of the hard-driving glam metal elements the band hinted at with its last effort, sure. But, now, these elements are amplified and moved to the forefront of the band's sound.
And the new album is all the better for that. On the Prowl isn't just a skuzzy party record that easily doubles as a soundtrack to sunset motorcycle rides down a crowded Dallas strip. It also showcases some of the finest moments the band has managed to date — most notably the out-of-nowhere, faux-Beatles harmonies the band drops on the disc's penultimate track, “At the Bottom.”
After that surprise — and in true “live fast, die young” fashion — On the Prowl flames out abruptly after just 24 minutes with a haunting, early Green Day-recalling, pop-punk tune called “It Hurts to Be Dead.”
That too, Fleming says, was by design: “It was a perfect ender for our record because it pretty much just sums up the entire story. I wanted it to have this super drab feel — and, at the end, I wanted it to chaotically drop off and end. And that would be the end of the record. It was a nice little epilogue.”
Indeed. After an album filled with nods to living fast, a kiss off about dying young seems the most fitting possible way for the Phuss to cap off its most-calculated, defining release to date.
The Phuss performs on Sunday, September 28 at The Prophet Bar as part of Index Festival. On the Prowl will be released Oct 14 via Magnetic Eye Records.