The Curly Wolf: The South Bay’s rising outlaws
by Ed Solt
It is impossible to write about the Curly Wolf without diving into the culture around the band. The band is a product of the Gasser Lounge, drummer Mike Bouchard’s classy Redondo Beach establishment, which possesses the ambiance of badass Americana centered around a lit-up shrine to the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash.
Bouchard’s infamous “Creep Machine” ‘Econoline decked in ‘70s vanning steeze sits in the parking lot. The waterhole is for the patron who doesn’t mind listening to the heartbreak of a Patsy Cline song followed by the howling of the Misfits’ Glenn Danzig while clenching a strong drink in a tattooed fist. The Curly Wolf has also been behind the annual underground vanning and biking cultural event, the “Escape to Hazzard County” camp out in Santa Barbara County.
The Curly Wolf first came together when one of the Gasser Lounge locals, Kyle, who lives down the street, encouraged Bouchard to check out the links to the videos of his cousin playing the banjo.
“I always get emails to book bands at the bar. I normally will go through the videos for twenty seconds and be nice as possible to the bands that we don’t really do live bands,” said Bouchard. “Kyle always thought his cousin was a perfect fit for Gassers. Then I get a video of this dude on a banjo. I had to have him play. Kyle was right.”
This “dude on a banjo” happened to be Grant Benziger from the San Francisco Bay Area. Benziger’s musical style stood out, an uptempo traditional country sound combined with a unique vocal delivery, hinting at a punk rock background. Benziger came down and set up shop with Matt Pliskin, Curly Wolf’s stand-up bassist, who slaps away intensely as the cornerstone of the band, at the Gasser Lounge 3rd Anniversary Party.
In 2012, Bouchard asked the Curly Wolf to play the inaugural “Escape to Hazzard County” camp out, described by Bouchard “as an event purely focused on good ol’ fashioned redneck fun.”
“They were f***ing killing it, playing on a flatbed farm truck. It was a party,” Bouchard said.
During the set, while Benziger and Pliskin were jamming, Bouchard found a metal can and drumsticks, joined them on set and started banging away. He joked afterward, “I’m in the band.”
“It felt 100 percent natural. Like he had been in the band for years with us,” said Benziger. “We were grinning ear to ear the whole time so we knew this was the future of Curly Wolf.”
“I had him at ‘Hey, man,” joked Bouchard, continuing, “We all see and eye-to-eye on music. I knew this when I asked if I could play double bass drum.” [Double bass is commonly only used in Metal, just another example of the band’s eclectic sound.]
Although The Curly Wolf has played festivals with the likes of Huey Lewis, The Doobie Brothers, and Heart, Escape to Hazzard County is where they have the most fun. The event often is referred to as “Camp Curly Wolf,’ a joke printed on a t-shirt for the second camp out. Since 2012, they have partnered with Rolling Heavy Magazine, a killer publication focused on the resurgent Custom Van culture of the 70s, to build a bigger and better event.
“We’re not trying to sell you anything. We’re not trying to impress anyone. We’re not trying to make money,” Bouchard said. “We just want to party with fun people who like vans, bikes, music, and hillbilly shenanigans.”
Besides Bouchard, other members of the band have a part in the production. Benziger handles promotion and ticketing. Pliskin is the sound/tech guy along with Paul Moses of the band Freestone.
“Matt also sets up a pretty mean private camp kitchen. Ol’ boy can work wonders on a tiny camp stove,” Bouchard said.
The recently added fourth member, who plucks with fury on the mandolin, is Billy Lupton. He works the monitor. “Escape to Hazzard County” is preparing for its fifth camp out on November 12.
“It is a perfect fit,” said Bouchard. “There’s so much that goes into an event and those 18 hour days are grueling. But the payoff is worth it. It’s that much sweeter.”
In 2013, the Curly Wolf released a full-length record, “Both Barrels.” They have currently been at work on their sophomore effort, “Calling your Bluff,” at the legendary GrandMaster Recorders in Hollywood, which produced albums for the Foo Fighters, No Doubt, Queens of the Stone Age, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Beck, and Bad Religion.
“The acoustics are incredible. I recorded my drum parts in the same room where the Foo Fighters recorded the drums for ‘My Hero,’” Bouchard said.
“It felt like we were recording in a haunted 70s pirate ship,” Benziger said.
The band builds on a sound that combines a foundation of roots country and bluegrass with rock ‘n’ roll, outlaw country, and punk.
“We cross over to many genres well, and are embraced by fans of country, punk, and metal,” said Bouchard. “We don’t stand still. Our raw energy at shows makes us better live.”
On Friday, May 13, the Curly Wolf will be releasing a cover of Danzig’s “13” in homage to its influences.
“It’s a really cool story. Danzig wrote it for Johnny Cash and he loved it and told a story about how they met in the studio,” Benziger said. “It’s a really special way to honor two of our heroes in one song, you know? Then Danzig did his version after Johnny passed.”
All roads meet at the Gasser Lounge, where band members conjoin for various shenanigans. That chemistry, a hard-living friendship, is a palpable force wherever they play.
“We are not one of those bands that only meet for shows,” Bouchard said. “After all the hours we spend together working, we are happy to hang out after for a few drinks at The Gasser Lounge.”
The Curly Wolf plays Saint Rocke on Friday May 6. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. For tickets and more info, see SaintRocke.com ER