Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pen is WAY mightier than the sword

I know its not 'cool' to have guitar heroes these days, but FUCK YOU I still have 'em. No-one obvious, y'know. I was always attracted to the guitarists and bands who were more along the 'rampant individualist' line - Denis 'Piggy' D'Amour and Voivod, Tommy Victor and Prong, Geordie Walker and Killing Joke, Brian Egeness and Die Kreuzen, fuckin' WINO and anybody he feels like playing with, and the subject of this li'l screed, a dude called PEN ROLLINGS.

Heard of him? It's okay if you haven't, because I'm gonna EDUMACATE your asses all about him.

So. Dude started a band in Richmond, Virginia back in 1983, a three-piece called Honor Role.
He played guitar and sang. Back then, they weren't great. Kinda typical speedy local punk/HC. If you want 'em, here are their 1983 demo and their first 7" 'It Bled Like A Stuck Pig'. As i say, not great, but they got better. A LOT better.

They got in a vocalist by the name of Bob Schick, changed bassists and suddenly became verrrrry interestink, taking onboard a real post-punk feel. The live track above is 'Purgatory', from their first LP 'The Pretty Song', released on COC drummer Reed Mullin's label 'No Core Records'in 1986. I dig it muchly, but its not, like, my favourite or anything. Nuh-uh. THAT honour would go to their SECOND LP, from 1989 - 'Rictus'.

Dudes. DIG IT. That fucking GUITAR drives me NUTS. It's so METALLIC - not, like. 'METAAAAAAL!!' but METALLIC, if you catch my drift.
This was my first exposure to Honor Role and Pen Rollings, and it's funny, I have NO idea what prompted me to buy the LP. Probably just THE COSMOS AT LARGE giving me one of those moments of SERENDIPITOUS SYNCHRONICITY or somesuch, or maybe it was cheap. Either way, I was glad I got it because, in MY awesome opinion, 'Rictus' is where Pen Rollings really starts to fucking SHINE.

Just LOOK at him, jamming the fuck out. He is the MAN and he damn well knows it.

'Rictus' is one HELL of a slice of fried gold, guitar-wise. There's the track in the player above, 'Absolve', the FUCKING KILLER solo in 'Following Footsteps', 'Salty Tears' with it's totally 'Tribal Convictions' breakdown and intrusion by another band called Alter-Natives over the end part, and the weird-as-all-hell 'Skippy', a song about a dude called Skippy who cooks pancakes naked, plays disco records and reads other peoples diaries for fun. 'Skippy' has a real juddery creeped-out vibe to it that I just go crazy for.

As happens to ALL bands that kick major ass, Honor Role split up in 1989 to pretty much no notice whatsoever. However, the good people at Merge Records had the good sense and taste to compile 'The Pretty Song', 'Rictus' and two 7"s into the imaginatively titled 'Album' back in 1997.

Get it here OR, buy it here.

After Honor Role, Rollings - along with bassist Seth Harris and drummer Sean Harris (who later went on to play in Kepone, fact fans!) - formed a band called Butterglove, along with vocalist Rebby Sharp.

Sonically heavier and li'l more 'out there' than Honor Role, Butterglove managed to squeeze out one 7", 'The Lunchbox Drama' and a CD that didn't emerge until 1997, entitled 'The John Morand Session'. Its OK, it just doesn't seem to gel as much as what Rollings did before or after. Anyway, judge for yourselves, don't just take MY word for it. Bastards.

So, anyway, next up, Rollings took his AWESOMEOSITY to an instrumental trio called Breadwinner. You MAY well have heard of them, since they were pretty much THE CONSUMMATE MATH-ROCK BAND. I am TELLING you, NO-ONE could even TOUCH them. Seriously, check 'em out

See? Fucking BLINDING. Hell, have some LIVE Breadwinner too!

Hell's DONKEYS. Have you ever heard a guy with a Telecaster jam out like THAT?!?!

Tragically, they only existed between 1990-1992, managing a handful of 7"s and a comp track before fizzling out. They were collected by the good folks at, you guessed it, Merge Records in 1994 on a CD release entitled The Burner. Alas, it's way out of print at this point, so you can only buy it at collector/flipper scum prices. What a fucking CRIME.

Now we enter 'the wilderness years' for Pen Rollings. When Breadwinner threw in the towel, following the quitting of drummer Chris Farmer, Rollings quit playing guitar and joined Richmond band Ladyfinger as a drummer (!). Scope out this live footage...

Recording-wise they weren't very prolific, managing only one track (1 Trick Pony) on a compilation called 'Dixie Flatline' - which is the only Pen Rollings-related release I DON'T have, i'm afraid.
Clearly, the dude is a good drummer, but HELL, he shoulda been up there jamming those tasty licks and tricksy riffs, doing that voodoo that he do SO well.

We heard NOTHING more from the guy until 2002 - that's TEN winters of NO Pen Rollings, my friends! - when he re-emerged as one quarter of the FANCY METAL behemoth known as LOINCLOTH.

Loincloth was one of those 'pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming' kinda deals for me. Not only was Rollings back and SHREDDING LIKE FUCK, the bassist and drummer were Cary Rowells and STEVE FUCKING SHELTON from tech-math-fancy-doom colossi Confessor. Also, there was some dude called Tannon Penland on guitar, about whom I know NOTHING, aside from that he fucking JAMS it. THIS, mon petits chous, was FANCY DOOM


They recorded a demo in 2002, which is TOTALLY killer, serious FANCY MATH DOOM, and a 7" through Southern Lord in 2003 and then...........vanished. Simply vanished. Like an old oak table (sorry, English joke).

And THAT was THAT. Last I heard or saw of Pen Rollings.

I hope the guy is up to something, because, well, I just dig his style. I actually found him on Faceschmuck, but he (unsurprisngly) hasn't responded to my friendship request. Bottom line is though, the cat is one of THOSE players. Y'know, the ones that play below the radar but REALLY make an impact...and THOSE guys will ALWAYS be my favourites.

Aaaaaanyhoo, I think it's time for me to be hittin' the ol' dusty trail, so I'll bid you adios muchachos, and leave you with a link to a decent interview with the man himself from Chunklet Magazine. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Great post, man. Especially diggin Breadwinner and Loincloth. Now, how about some Confessor!

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

Confessor, you say? I think that can be arranged.......

Shelby Cobras said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelby Cobras said...

CONFESSOR: Condemned. Demos. Cobras has you covered.

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

I have OTHER Confessor and related shtuff I'll post tomorrow in a wee post-ette.

ABtwelve said...

I read the title as penis way mightier than the sword....

Helm said...

Yeah I like his stuff as well. The loincloth material was a great stopgap until Confessor put out their magnum opus, 'Unravelled'.

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

hehehehehehe...'penis'. Well, I don't know about YOU ABtwelve, but MY schwanstucker is a LOT mightier than, say, a scimitar.

Helm, Cobras, Anonymous - check out my next post, it may be of interest.

Wain said...

Lovin' the Honor Role stuff never heard it before.

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

Wain, they were a sadly underappreciated band. I think anyone who digs Die Kreuzen or even Joy Division could get into 'em.

Roger Camden said...

think he dropped a bridge humbucker into that telecaster?
or was it stock?

great stuff
thanks for the turn-on

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

I reckon he switched the standard p-up out of the tele for a humbucker. I mean, if you look at his SG, that doesn't have stock p-ups in either. If he ever responds to my facebook message, I'll drill him about stuff like that anyway.

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

In the interests of self-promotion, i'd like to point out that I have just put up a post about Die Kreuzen over at MY blog, which you may well enjoy, if you enjoyed THIS one.

Anonymous said...

he was using the emg's in the tele by the late 80's (89 or so ). last few honor role shows he was downtuned as he was doing in butterglove at the same time

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

AHA! Cool bit of info there anonymous. I figured his tone sounded a bit too hot to be standard tele p-ups, but I didn't suspect EMG's! See, now THAT makes me wanna buy the Jim Root Tele.