How KISS and tennis coalesced to inspire this future power trio[dropcap]P[/dropcap]ry back the eyelids of any band these days over a certain age and you’ll find a good KISS story, for Tre Serpenti guitarist and vocalist Mitch Vortex the roar of the greasepaint came by the way of wooden, low strung Penn tennis racket. We’ll get to that…
Formed from the ashes of California aspirations and several other musical outfits, the St. Louis, MO trio got together out of their unified 80’s power chords and 90’s Drop D tunings. With their full-length album Oxblood on the Queen starting to grow some hair on it, the band is set to release a new E.P. Smash F*cking Hits keeping their tongues firmly jammed into their cheeks. Phantom Sway took a sweltering Saturday afternoon to discuss with Vortex how Point A got to Z.
Let’s start from the beginning shall we, what lead you into music from an early age?
Like a lot of kids my age at the time KISS played a huge part in our lives and the culture and for someone who had no idea how to play a guitar, the next best thing was a tennis racket and more than likely a mirror somewhere.
Was the lure of pantomime enough to lead you to the real thing, to actually playing?
Well my family had an old organ in the basement and my sister had a steel string acoustic, so I tinkered until I realized that I could do it. I took a guitar class a bit later in 8th grade, so I was hooked you could say.
Obviously in high school being in a band is a big deal, it’s quarterback status.
Yeah it was, so for my 15th birthday, I got my first electric guitar, which was huge, and I was halfway there. The music I was into was typical of the era, classic rock and especially Styx’s Grand Illusion, to aspire to that level, it was there.
In our minds we as the audience like to think that dudes with guitars would just go home and hammer on that thing behind a closed bedroom door making a God awful noise that make your parents re-examine the purchase.
I didn’t have an amplifier so I found a way to just plug in thru our Pioneer stereo and go thru the speaker. So I’d try to figure out all these songs and it was finally hearing Hendrix that finally convinced me, he put the hook in me.
Tennis aside, was the guitar your sport of choice in school?
I played baseball but chronic asthma derailed that and the guitar it was.
Committing to your guitar, to music, to a band, that’s a big life choice. So you finished school, what came next for you?
Starry eyes you could say, I headed out to Los Angeles to see what I could do with this. Just another fledging musician heading for California at 19 years old. I gigged, joined bands, and played the Whiskey, this story’s played out a million times. But in the end, it wasn’t going to be for me, at least not in this manner. So I came back to St. Louis to rethink the whole thing.
The conundrum of the profession, deciding to leave what is considered the place you have to be, to land the manager, to land the agent, to land the deal. Takes guts to decide to move beyond that, crushes many mortals.
When I got back home, I continued to play and was able to tour regionally with bits of success (however you want to define that) but after a while I just felt it was time to take a break. For me, it was a 10-year break.
10 years is a lot to come back from, did you miss it, the chance to perform, to record?
Sure, but I was ready and lucky enough two hometown friends were eager to get something together. Vito, our drummer is seasoned, he played in King Of The Hill who had a deal with what was SBK Records. The bass player Eric is a friend from high school. We figured out we all wanted to do the same kind of stuff sound-wise, something stripped down and rocking.
Influences when you were younger focused on the classic rock of the 70’s, some radio-friendly prog (Styx) and obviously Jimi Hendrix, but at this point what was the focus of the band sonically?
Really just into 80’s guitar bands and some of the 90’s stuff especially from a tuning perspective. My vocals weren’t influenced by anything or anyone, they just happened as I opened my mouth.
Your debut Oxblood On The Queen was ripe with those sounds you describe, just raw, but also you vocals seem very street worthy, and excuse me saying, not too much technique. Unaffected like Lou Reed or maybe some of the early CBGB punk delivery.
I like to consider it obnoxious, like a roar. It fit the themes of the material, which is blatantly sexual and sex-obsessed. Plus as a three-piece we needed another loud instrument to round out the sound so my voice became that fourth instrument so to speak.
Oxblood had been on the books for a while now and the band is demoing new tracks for a new EP, the aptly titled Smash F*cking Hits because what else are you going to call it?
The tracks we’ve been cutting are still somewhat street punk numbers but we’re opening it up a bit with acoustic guitars, a long moody intro on the track ‘Winter” which is a companion piece to ‘Summer” off of Oxblood before it heads into trashy 4/4 rock. But “Slick Black Leather” is just filthy, something similar to Local H.
One track I’ve heard ‘Mine Tonight” could easily be a Stones song from Exile On Main Street if Keith had a bit more power in his riffs. Logical question, you get this EP done and out, any touring of any kind to support it?
That’s a young man’s game, I mean we could but we really haven’t thought about it. The circumstances of our actual lives don’t match up with the “band” thing. We all have legitimate jobs and children to raise. The thing about Tre Serpenti, there is never any pressure to make it a thing. We’ll record when we have songs and we’ll gig when we have offers to play. The outlet of making music is enough right now, no need to get caught up in the trappings of it all.