Killing for Company
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult has tried to sell its soul to the devil only once, in 1994, when the Chicago band made a cameo appearance alongside Brandon Lee in The Crow. Two of its songs even showed up on the soundtrack.
For a moment, the horror/camp mavens rode Hollywood's motion picture wave, landing songs in The Flintstones and BASEketball. Both flicks flopped harder than John Goodman diving into a pool sideways. But that didn't really matter. TKK's illustrious, underground career would have been marred by corporate-sponsored success. So after gnawing some gristle off a brontosaurus bone, the band returned to its more obscure roots with no regrets -- or alienated fans.
"I'm glad it didn't go any further either," says Buzz McCoy, keyboardist/programmer for TKK, reflecting on what could have happened if the band had gone mainstream like silver-silhouette mud flaps on an 18-wheeler. "There are a million bands you see on MTV that have one song and you'll never hear from again. So we thought, 'Why are we working so hard to be thrown into this mess?'
"It would have taken away from the cult mystique of it all."
While the silvery sheen of Hollywood may have pushed along the band's career, it was the delightful tackiness of old B-movies that united McCoy (real name: Marston Daley) and vocalist Groovie Man (Frank Nardiello). The two horror-flick aficionados met in 1987. Originally, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult was to be a movie about a runaway teen joining a demonic cult. But, McCoy says, "It took the form of a live band instead of a celluloid piece of film." The band's focus on strippers, sin, and Satan (basically everything Rob Zombie subsequently stole and enshrined) made it industrial, dance-club favorites during the late '80s. It earned a cult following with pheromone-dipped, electro-disco and debauched, tongue-in-cheek style. The band always balanced sleazy with cheesy. The sampladelic "Kooler Than Jesus" took this method to an irreverent conclusion. "It was like cutting up Barbie dolls and rearranging their parts," McCoy comments, "creating our own icons and our own religion out of all of that. Some people get it, and some people totally misrepresent it."
During the band's early years, Thrill Kill Kult wound up on Tipper Gore's list, becoming a target for over-zealous religious groups. "It was actually a little flattering," McCoy remembers, "they just took our imagery and circled all the demonic pieces of artwork. It was pretty funny." Even funnier is the idea that someone could view songs called "Devil Bunnies" and "Lucifer's Flowers" as serious threats to the culture.
The madness began when McCoy moved from Boston to Chicago, settling into an apartment across the street from Mann. "We'd borrow a video camera and start filming stuff," McCoy recalls. "[Like] pouring blood down drains. We'd go to [Mann's] basement, set things on fire and film that too. Dumb things like that." In time they conjured up the teenage demon-cult angle. Since they needed a soundtrack, McCoy composed some music on drum machines and synthesizers in his bedroom.
Hanging out at night in Chicago's dark downtown clubs, the two started recruiting friends and strangers to help out. They teamed with the Bomb Gang Girlz, a decadent group of backup female singers. At the time, McCoy and Mann held jobs at Chicago's Wax Trax! Records, then home to Ministry, Front 242, and Revolting Cocks. The two couldn't sell the label on producing a B-movie, but Wax Trax! took a chance on a three-song demo. Then came the band's 1988 full-length, I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits. "To everyone's surprise, it sold a lot," McCoy remembers of the debut. Confessions of a Knife followed a year later in the same vein -- not scary, but not completely camp.
The band's biggest hits came with Sexplosion and 13 Above the Night, which included the 1991 club anthem "Sex on Wheelz." The experience with Interscope, a then-maturing major label, didn't completely sour the band, since TKK kept control over artistic issues and enjoyed a bigger promotional budget. Lackluster sales, however, meant the label and band soon parted ways. "We had a lot of control while we were signed, and we walked away with our music," McCoy says. "Now it would be a completely different story." The Kult turned to Rykodisc for 1995's Hit & Run Holiday and then to short-lived Red Ant for 1997's Crime for All Seasons.
At the suggestion of Underground Records/Pigface maven Martin Atkins, TKK started Sleazebox Records. It's now home to five artists. "At first I was hesitant because of all the extra work, since I'm busy enough as it is," McCoy says. "We had enough fans and a fan base to generate enough buzz sales if we did it ourselves, so we thought, 'Why not?'" Under Sleazebox, the band released 2001's The Reincarnation of Luna, last year's Golden Pillz: The Luna Remixes, and Elektrik Inferno Live.
McCoy says the next My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult album will "sound like R. Kelley wearing a fetish outfit. It's got a hip-hop kind of beat, but the slowed-down groove kind, and on the other end, it's really psycho. It's got a more soulful, mellow kind of pace instead of that piped-up dance thing." McCoy can't help but laugh at his optimistic prediction that industrial music is slowly staging a comeback. "It's sort of comical to see people dress up like we did 15 or 20 years ago again," he says. "If I was in high school in 1980, I wouldn't want to be dressing like it was 1960."
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