Straight Outta Lawndale
By Michael Aushenker
After Black Flag members Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski took punk’s DIY ethos further than other bands and formed their own distribution channel in the 1980s, their SST Records became a prestige boutique label for the post-punk contingent — bands like Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, The Meat Puppets and The Dead Milkmen.
And then there was Lawndale, a bunch of South Bay oddballs warping Ventures-inspired surf instrumentals.
Even for SST, this band was kinda crazy.
Even crazier is that Lawndale still rocks on, now as a Westside band, with three quarters of its original lineup in place — Culver City’s Jack Skelley (guitar/bass), plus Santa Monicans Steve Housden (guitar/bass) and Dave Childs (percussion) — and Mark Hoeschler (guitar/bass taking over for Rick Lawndale since 2009.
Lawndale is one of several acts playing the summer Punk Rock BBQ on Sunday at Liquid Kitty, co-owned by Childs. Trulio Disgracias (fronted by Fishbone’s Norwood Fisher), The Last, Black Widows, Sylvia Juncosa and House of Rabbits are also on the extended bill, a no-cover event that features $2 PBRs and free hotdogs.
“We’re not strictly surf rock. It’s a really combination of genres. The songs move really quickly,” says Skelley.
Formerly the performing arts director for Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice and the executive editor / associate publisher for the Downtown News, Skelley continues to write and currently helms a public relations firm. JSPR, that’s worked with clients such as Playa Vista and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.
Lawndale formed in 1984, swiping the name of the original experiment in suburbia down in the South Bay. It was meant as a goof on pompous city-monikered rock acts such as Boston and Chicago.
As the band’s label man and agent, Dukowski added Lawndale to countless bills.
“They fit in on almost any sort of show,” Dukowski says. “They always added something special to an event, offering an enjoyable break from vocal music. They played short-ish sets and were real nice people to deal with.”
In 1986 and ‘87, the band recorded “Beyond Barbecue” and “Sasquatch Rock” at Ethan James’ Venice-based Radio Tokyo Studios on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. From those albums emerged surreal tracks “Sasquatch Rock,” “Streets of Desire,” “Last Train to Nowhere,” “Interstellar Caravan,” “Next to the Last Frontier” and other twisted instrumentals blending psychedelic jazz, cosmic jams, country and hardcore.
Lawndale often shared bills with Black Flag and once embarked on a two-month national tour with label mates and friends Sonic Youth, Minutemen and Dead Milkmen.
Dukowski, who played with Childs in Fish Camp in the late ‘90s, considers the drummer a friend and feels Lawndale’s music has “a unique charm and uplifting feel.”
The Venice musician added that while SST Records’ P.O. Box address was actually in Lawndale, the group’s name referenced and undercut “that iconic suburbia image.”
Many leading surf rock practitioners operate on the Westside, the proximity to the Pacific and the arty weirdness of Venice probably the catalyst. Skelley has played bass for Dave Arnson and his Mar Vista-area Insect Surfers as well as sister band Los Straitjackets.
As detailed in Penelope Spheeris’ punk documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization,” John Doe and Exene Cervenka met, lived and formed their band X in Venice. From 1980 to 1985, Skelly lived in the same building as Cervenka (on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, just north of Venice Boulevard) and got to know here through readings at Beyond Baroque.
Oddly, for a guy writing and performing poetry, Skelley never felt compelled to lay down lyrics over Lawndale’s sounds.
“It’s always been instrumentals. That’s just the concept,” he says.
Due to family and job pressures, Lawndale broke up and reformed several times after the glory days of the 1980s.
As Skelley put it, “It’s pretty much impossible to make a living [as Lawndale].”
Childs escaped dull day jobs by partnering with a friend to run Liquid Kitty, and around 2002 someone suggested that he book Fish Camp, his band with Dukowski, to play his own joint. That’s how the venue’s Punk Rock BBQs began, with Childs eschewing self-aggrandizement by packing the bills with several old-school and up-and-coming bands.
Originally an annual celebration, Punk Rock BBQs became so popular that Childs now throws them on a quarterly basis.
“It’s like being in your living room,” Childs says. “It’s kind of like a perk that I get to play here. Lawndale re-formed and a lot of people wanted to see it, so I said, ‘That’s cool.’”
Lawndale thrives despite many bumps in the road. Following their 2006 reunion, Childs suffered a herniated disc that temporarily sidelined him, his kit gathering dust for a “really depressing” year as he recovered from surgery.
Childs returned to the band in full form in 2009, only to learn that Rick Lawndale had moved on. Nevertheless, with Hoeschler filling out his rhythm section, Childs is happy to be back. He feels Lawndale are better musicians than ever, and as a drummer, he relishes the challenging change-up of time signatures Lawndale’s music offers.
Though busy with JSPR, Skelley — whose 11-year-old twin boys Bram and Paul play in punk outfit The Rock Mummies and 17-year-old daughter Claire played the Lincoln Center singing in the National Children’s Chorus — can’t quit Lawndale or making music.
“We need to record again. We’ve written a bunch of new songs,” he says. “My music is my life. I can’t live without it.”
Punk Rock BBQ — featuring Trulio Disgracias, The Last, Black Widows, Lawndale, Sylvia Juncosa and House of Rabbits — starts 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, at Liquid Kitty, 11780 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A. Admission (21+) and hot dogs are free; PBRs are $2. Call (310) 473-3707 or visit thekitty.com.