Feb. 12 2013 10:45 PM

Getting hot 'n' heavy with the avant-garde

Penis Hickey’s Leah Bowden and Clint McCallum love ice cream.
Photo by Phil Skaller

As music editor at CityBeat, I sometimes feel like the belle of the ball in the San Diego music scene. Every band wants my number, it seems. Every band wants me to go to their show. I know some of them are being nice just so I'll give them a good review, but I can't help but feel flattered.

Honestly, though, it's so hard to find a band that stands out—one that I really want to go "steady" with, if you know what I mean. So many indie bands sound the same. Blues-rock bands almost always put me to sleep. Punk bands are fun, but they're so immature.

Wanna know a secret? I'm pretty kinky when it comes to music. The way I see it, the more avant-garde, the better. If you build your own instruments, or rile up audiences with provocative performance art, or own every album by The Residents, you're the band for me.

Recently, eager to get my freaky sounds on, I hung out with Vaginals, a local duo composed of multi-instrumentalists Cochina Cochinita and Dylan Li Brown. I love these two. They have their own way of looking at music—for example, they lump almost every rock band that existed from 1975 to 1995 into a category they call "new-classic rock"—and they're always coming up with strange, enthralling new sounds. 

Sitting at a long table at the Central Public Library, we talked about amazingly weird bands like Ruins and Renaldo and the Loaf. Needless to say, things got pretty hot and heavy, at least in terms of geeking out about nerdy music stuff.

Asked about their goals for the band, they said they constantly want to evolve. "We're kind of building our own musical language," Brown said. Well, then! I could've kissed him right then and there. 

But I don't hook up on the first date—I have a reputation to uphold. Not long after the three of us got shushed by the library security guard for talking too loud, the friendly duo gave me a ride to Golden Hill. 

A couple days later, I stopped by a big house in City Heights to meet up with another local experimental outfit, a drums-and-bass duo called Penis Hickey. I was lured in by their hilarious name, but what really got me was their amazing, kinky sound: grinding bursts of punked-out free-jazz paired with heavy gongs and hysterical, operatic screams. 

The date got off to a slow start. I'd had a long day, and I had trouble paying attention when drummer Leah Bowden and bassist Clint McCallum told me about their 2012 debut album, My Typical Self, a moody spazz-fest that centers on the awkward, diary-style confessions of a fictional teenage girl ("I need a man! No I don't!" goes one recurring lyric).

I perked up, though, when the conversation suddenly took a bizarre, whimsical turn, as the duo started describing how they've been holding impromptu relationship-therapy sessions for couples at their shows. 

"We'll take them and we'll put them into a room, just with us," McCallum said. "We sort of ask them questions, try to figure out what are the roots of the problems in their relationship." 

"What are their sources of tension? What are their personal narratives?" Bowden added. 

They pick couples at random, McCallum noted.

"If they're really agreeable, then it's pretty easy," he said. "And if they're not, then we kind of have to be more forceful."

By this point, the lines of reality and fiction seemed to be blurring. As the discussion grew increasingly weirder, I joined in on the fun. Invariably, I had to ask: Does Penis Hickey actually give out penis hickeys?

"We don't really discuss that," McCallum said, keeping a straight face. "That is a band policy."

"It's just totally inappropriate for our fans under 12," Bowden explained.

At one point, Bowden's boyfriend, Phil Skaller, brought out a rabbit ready to put in the oven—an animal he'd slaughtered himself after raising it in the sprawling garden out back. Penis Hickey invited me to stay for dinner. And, I mean, seriously, how could I refuse?

We spent the next couple hours chatting, and ended up feasting on some incredibly tender meat. After a long, wonderful night, I bid Penis Hickey farewell—but not before asking when their next show is happening.

We all agreed: We're gonna have to do this again sometime. 

Email peterh@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.


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