by Melanie Crew
Artie Mondello, dodgy, low-down guitar slingin’ transmitter of mischief and raunch, along with his partners in crime, The Delusionaires [Nadeem Khan on upright bass, Winthrop Fist (a.k.a. Dennie Carter) on drums and Lil’ Jimmy Ivy on tenor saxophone] will be causin’ a ruckus of a one night stand at The Star Bar this Saturday, Jan. 31, at 9 pm with garage rockers Tiger! Tiger and smut slingers Bad Friend!
Artie, northern by birth and reborn into the land of debauchery (the Dirty, Dirty!), the king of raunch has been delving into the nitty gritty since ’93, with turns in bands such as The Exotic Aarontones, The Vodkats, The Del Spektros and the still-active Mondellos. The Delusionaires formed (initially) in 2000 and have shared the stage with Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, the Dex Romweber Duo, Shannon & the Clams and the King Kahn & BBQ Show. They also have graced the stage at the 2003 Hukilau and were a featured act in the 2014 Coney Island Mermaid Parade Ball. Their ample releases to date include their 45 “Pistol Whipped”/”Fifth Kiss” (Dec. 2000) and LP “Destination Poon” (June 2003) on their own previously-named Zanzibar! Records; LP “Flooze Party” (Jan. 2013) by Beaverama! Records and their most recent 45 “Scrump”/”The Worm Whispers” (Spring 2014) on Baltimore’s Hidden Volume Records. In sum, The Delusionaires have earned that below-the-belt reputation they’ve fought tooth and nail for (Actually, it seems they’re pretty much a natural in that department!) and which works perfectly for our ears here at ATLRetro!
Photo Credit: Jim Leatherman L-R: Dennie Carter, Jim Ivy, Nadeem Khan, Artie Mondello
ATLRetro caught up with Artie for a quick interview about his take on Las Vegas Grind; The Delusionaires’ maniacal craving to deliver a night of debauchery, drankin’ and booty shakin’; his retro rock ‘n’ old-school influences; and everything else we could think to ask about the naughty little band that could!
And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Artie, get an earful of The Delusionaires’ “The Scrump” and “She Crawls on Her Belly Like a Reptile.”
ATLRetro: The Delusionaires’ sound, in essence, has been described as having a “Las Vegas Grind”-style with a twist of the low-down and dirty that’ll make your mama cry and your daddy beg for more. What exactly is “Las Vegas Grind” and how would you describe the band’s sound?
Artie Mondello: LAS VEGAS GRIND was a series of comps that Tim Warren [Crypt Records] put out starting in the late ’80s, collecting sort of the slime beneath the underbelly of American popular music. You could simply call it “stripper music” but not, like, David Rose’s “The Stripper”; that’s way more uptown than what we’re talking about here. This stuff is completely devoid of any socially redeeming value, and I mean that as a virtue. All the hyperbole that the early critics heaped on rock ‘n’ roll and R&B – like, you know, leering degenerates shambling through moronic chord changes against drunken jungle drums – is actually true here. They’re records played by drunks looking to get drunker and hopefully laid, usually written in about the same time it takes to listen to it, and forgotten by everybody involved by the time last call rolls around. Very much like a cheap pulp novel – lurid, crude, prurient and totally artless. Of course, that’s everything in the world we hold dear, and that’s The Delusionaires‘ sound. The time-honored strip joint lineup of a sleazy tenor sax, thudding bass fiddle, flailing drums and greasy guitar. No attention whatsoever to song craft or polish. This isn’t music meant to be listened to; it’s for dancing, if not dirtily, then at the very least drunkenly.
Photo Credit: Aloe Vera, L-R: Jim Ivy, Dennie Carter, Artie Mondello
As the guitar player and someone who admittedly subsists off a “cultural diet of monster movies, stag films, horror comics and Hollywood tell-alls,” can you let our readers know what exactly drew you to play music and when you picked up your first guitar?
I got my first guitar when I was 18, for Christmas from my parents. I’d never displayed any sort of musical talent whatsoever and had no designs on ever being able to play an instrument. But, when someone gives you a guitar, you kinda have to learn it! Family, friend and foe alike would rue that day for years to come, ’cause if there was anything everyone could agree on when I was growing up, it was that I should never be allowed anywhere near a musical instrument. That was actually the main reason I did learn: just to be an asshole. That’s pretty much the entire reason I started actually performing, too. If there was anything less popular than my guitar playing, it was my singing, and I’m just enough of a dick to do both onstage just because everybody says I shouldn’t. I always maintained that I don’t have any talent, just a helluva lotta balls.
Photo Credit: Jim Leatherman, L-R: Nadeem Khan, Dennie Carter, Jim Ivy, Artie Mondello
Even though the bulk of the retro rock revival pretty much died off in the late ‘90s, The Delusionaires seem to have made a niche for themselves in Atlanta’s thriving surf-sleaze-nitty-gritty underground music scene. What draws you to the mischievous underbelly of Atlanta’s music scene?
People here tend to drink a lot and they tend to shake their ass when they’re drunk. That’s the magic equation right there. Plus, with 3/4 of the band living out of state, we don’t get to play here all that often, which gives audiences plenty of time to forgive whatever we did at the last show.
You’ve been a member of several musical outfits [The Exotic Aarontones, The Vodkats, The Del Spektros and the still-active Mondellos] since 1993. What sort of maniacal mojo does The Delusionaires have that even after 15 years of breakups and reunions, makes you want to keep dishin’ out that “swampland sleaze”?
My guess is that one of us ran over a gypsy and we got cursed to spend eternity together. Outside of that, it’s the work of two factors. First, we’re lifelong friends, co-dependents, drinking buddies and essentially brothers, so there’s only so long we’re gonna stay apart. Second, and most significant, we just plain love playing this stuff. It’s not like a genre we choose to play; it’s not calculated, there’s no effort to create a certain sound, it’s just literally what comes out when ya put the four of us together. It’s my favorite sound in the world, literally the sound that’s running in my head all the time. That’s probably why we can exist living in two different states, never practicing and never planning anything out. This slop’s so natural to us, we don’t have to learn it. It’s just what we are.
Photo Credit: Gretchen Wood, L-R Nadeem Khan, Jim Ivy
Who would you say are your top three musical influences?
God, there’s sooooo many, and what makes it harder is that a lot of ’em I don’t even know the names. Probably more than anything, I’d have to say the soundtracks to TV shows and exploitation movies circa 1950-1965, just that kinda generic rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues that usually didn’t even get credited. The movie, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (dir. Joseph Green, 1962) is a classic example; just the awesomest, sleaziest incidental music you could ever ask for. Also, the main title to THE DEVIL’S HAND (dir. William J. Hole, Jr., 1961) – I could listen to that for six hours straight. Throw in the AIP teensploitation flicks and just about any bottom-rung television show that got rerun in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and you’ve summed up at least half of every musical influence I’ve ever had.
Another major influence is the stuff Sam Phillips recorded in Memphis in the ’50s, not so much the Sun Rockabilly stuff (which is still a huge favorite and influence on me, don’t get me wrong) as the blues and boogie sides he cut, mostly to lease to other labels. It’s just phenomenal, almost frightening to hear. Crude as can be, with the minimum number of personnel he could scrape together, cheap amplifiers literally self-destructing over the course of the song, the musicians not only obviously, but audibly drunk. Anything with Pat Hare on guitar is just better than sex, pure psycho genius, and if there’s any dirtier, drunker, more louche sound than Willie Nix‘s records, I’m man enough to tell you I couldn’t handle it. Greatest stuff on earth.
Narrowing it down to a single person, I’d hafta say Link Wray, no question. I was never a lead player, never practiced any licks or anything, and discovering Link taught me that I didn’t need to feel bad about that for a second. I’m still no great shakes on guitar, but I’ll tell ya, I’d be totally unlistenable without the lessons I picked up from his records. No question.
The Delusionaires’ earlier releases, Dec. 2000’s 45 “Pistol Whipped/”Fifth Kiss” and June 2003’s DESTINATION POON LP were both released by your own record label, Zanzibar! Records. Tell our readers a little bit about your record label and what they’re up to now.
We created Zanzibar Records solely to put out that first 45, which we always knew was something we’d have to do ourselves because there was basically zero demand for it. 7″ singles were an all-but-dead medium back in 2000; I mean, nobody wanted ’em, least of all from a marginal outfit like us. Only an idiot would’ve wanted to put out a Delusionaires 45 at the time. And, of course, we had four idiots. Anyway, it wasn’t all that ruinous; back then, you could press up a couple hundred singles on red wax for like $500, and as there was no other expense involved in the record – I recorded it in my kitchen on used tape and “mastered” it through my VCR – it didn’t, like, ruin our lives. A couple years later, we had the bright idea to record an album, which probably was an even stupider idea, ’cause by that time, we were really pariahs on the scene. But again, it was something we wanted to do, for our own kicks, at least, and we dusted off the old Zanzibar label again. But that was the extent of the Zanzibar Records line, one 45 and one CD, and a whole lotta cornball “promotion” to make it sound more impressive than it was. I woulda loved to have made it an actual, active label, but honestly, I could barely afford to buy records, let alone release them.
Fast-forward to 2012, when we recorded the second album, which was the stupidest idea yet — the band wasn’t even officially together, and with me in Atlanta and the others down in Orlando & Tampa, there weren’t any plans on changing that. There really weren’t any plans on even releasing it, but Nadeem [bass] insisted it needed to come out, on vinyl to boot. Obviously, nobody was gonna volunteer for that kinda sacrifice, so we again put it out ourselves. Unfortunately, an actual, legitimate label named Zanzibar Records had popped up in the years since we’d split, so Beaverama! Records was born. I’d love to do more releases on this one, like, what they used to call “Adult Party Albums,” but as usual, I can’t even consider something like that when I can’t even afford to fix my windshield wipers.
Photo Credit: Jim Leatherman, L-R: Nadeem Khan, Jim Ivy, Dennie Carter
We at ATLRetro dig your gig posters! And love the twisted throwback to ‘50s and ‘60s pop art echoing the darker side of Hollywood. Can you tell our readers who the artistic genius behind your show posters is?
Heh, thanks! No genius behind ’em, just me, screwin’ around with stuff till I like how it looks. I’m not an artist or designer or anything. It’s just fun, especially since we’re the only ones I’m looking to please. I’ve done a couple posters for other people’s bands or events, and man, did they suck. Total disasters.
If you could put together a dream line-up of bands to play with [still around or not], who would it be and why?
That basically already happened a couple years back, when Bryan [Malone] at The Star Bar put together a bill of the Dels, Dex Romweber and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. Seriously, that was like the bill I would have doodled fantasy posters of in my notebook in high school. Outside of that, I think my dream line-up’d be The A-Bones, The Royal Pendletons, The Trashwomen, The Brentwoods and Les Sexareenos, with the Dels backing Barrence Whitfield. Now, THAT’D be a festival even I’d go to…
Anything tantalizing planned for your rowdy throw down this coming Saturday at The Star Bar?
Photo Credit: Terran McCanna – Anonymous fan drawing left onstage in Jacksonville, FL
The Delusionaires never plan anything out. I don’t remember the last time we even had a set list that wasn’t just a cheat sheet with a bunch of random titles. We never go into a show having any idea how it’s gonna play out. It’s not by design, it’s just that we’re that disorganized. The one time I remember us actually plotting something out was the night we strung up a trapeze in the old Bodhisattva Social Club, and that was a catastrophe.
Actually, I lied, we do have at least one thing planned for Saturday – Buffi and Susanne from Tiger! Tiger! are going to sing a couple of numbers with us, I think, and we’ll hopefully get Shane to play second sax on a couple as well. We did this at a show in St. Pete a few months back, and it was insane, just sick in all the right ways.
What’s next for you and The Delusionaires?
As usual, the Dels have almost nothing planned, just waiting to see what screwy new misadventure pops up. The one solid item in our future is a micro-tour of the Eastern seaboard at the end of June, centered around the Midnite Monster Hop in NYC on June 27, and even that hinges on none of us dying before then. I myself am playing a solo set as a one-man band in St. Augustine on Valentine’s Day, as part of a record release party for the amazing Kensley Stewart. Like pretty much every gig I do, in any of my bands, the set itself is just a MacGuffin, basically an excuse for me to go places and do things that I’m too lazy to do otherwise.
Photo Credit: Terran McCanna, L-R Artie Mondello, Jim Ivy, Cecilia Bravo (Fluffgirl Burlesque Society)
Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?
God, if anything, they probably already know too much. Maybe that, no matter what we might tell you after the set, we actually are all married.
What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?
Q: “Here, ya wanna take the rest of this keg home and finish it off?”
A: “Why, yes. Yes, we do.”
Actually, that did happen once after a gig, and it was a disaster…
Photos provided courtesy of Artie Mondello and used with permission.