With members scattered between North Miami and Pompano Beach, and the demolished Hollywood Sportatorium a fading memory, the band has drifted into regional obscurity. Part of Stickshift Lover's home-field disadvantage stems from various BSO arrests. But we won't go into that. The band hasn't been able to catch a break.
Yet when we caught it during a remarkably candid period of restful relaxation at a well-appointed studio near the Aventura-Hallandale Beach border, optimism was in the air. "I feel that the last few years, we're making a comeback," insists Metal Wolf, the group's singer, "because people are starting to realize the Lover's for real."
This is a band with stories. After a few beers and some friendly fire, tongues slip. Inhibitions sag. And the Metal Wolf prowls. Eyes darting from side to side like a meth freak seeking his next jump-start, the Wolf fixates on New Times' young, female photographer, who happens to be wearing a diamond wedding ring.
"Where's your husband at?" he barks. "Where's he at? What does he do? Clean urinals?"
"Because he needs to defend you tonight."
Later, as a floor fan blows his tresses back in Farrah Fawcett splendor, he points at the increasingly uncomfortable photographer, throws his head back, and sings: "You fuckin' call me/Little baby, you're gonna get the Wolf tonight/Come to my house/I'm gonna unleash it upon you."
When the photographer manages to pose all five members against a backdrop for a group shot, bass player Duke Rumble is conspicuously agitated. Trying to distance himself from his crazed cohorts, he folds his arms and stares at a wall. Moments earlier, in another wing of the studio, he'd quietly introduced himself and passed off a disc from his new solo project, Bonneville. "If these guys knew I was doing this," he hissed, "they'd beat the shit out of me."
And Rumble's fiancée, who has shadowed him with a disapproving frown all evening, has started to wear thin on the Wolf.
Are any of the members married?
"No!" the Wolf booms. "If they were, they'd be ex-members. There is a member who is getting married. Which is why he's gonna be an ex-member. But we're not gonna discuss that, because this is about good times, right?"
The good times have been few and far between lately for Stickshift Lover. Only in Southeast Asia does the band enjoy a rabid fan base. While appearances at foreign metal showcases like Satay Fest 2003 pay the bills, the band members are sick of getting the shaft from the industry at home.
"All the major labels were interested at one time," the Wolf explains. "But then they got scared."
Scared of what? Of the sexism, racism, and homophobia that runs through Stickshift Lover's lyrics like peppercorns studding a salami stick?
"No," he continues. "They're afraid of selling millions of records, because they know we'll sell 'em. And they're just afraid of the rock. Of the metal."
Boasts aside, their predilection for lyrical offal has had much to do with the band's oppressed status. Case in point: SL's recent demo tape is led off by a song called "Feel the Wind Blow," which deals with the issue of close-proximity flatulence. Or try "Rehab Woman," which, despite revealing a softer, fluffier side of the Wolf, veers sharply toward misogyny. In addition to scarfing down the singer's drug supply, the titular subject was a major ho-bag, he reveals. At the end of the song (based on a true story), the Wolf has to drive her back to the treatment center and dump her off. Other song titles include "There's a Party in Your Mouth and the Metal Fuckin' Wolf's Coming!"
Anything relating to sexual conquests is fair game, the Wolf explains, but deeper issues are a no-no. "That's rude," he says. "With politics and religion, you never know who you're going to offend. So we keep our beliefs to ourselves. But one thing we won't keep to ourselves is what's locked up behind the seams, my man. At the zipper door." He points to his Spandex-encased crotch.
Perhaps because of the Wolf's super-sized frame, no one in the studio so much as blinks when he repeatedly refers to his prodigious member as "the Porpoise" or "the Porp" for short.
"We get no respect, no love," the Wolf complains. "On a worldwide scale, we're being denied our rights. If metal bands could get reparations, we'd be millionaires by now." Further hampering Stickshift Lover's progress has been its refusal -- no matter how high the stakes -- to play second fiddle to another band. In the past few months, the band has turned down opportunities to support former Motley Crüe singer Vince Neil at a series of South Florida dates.
"We don't open for anybody," the Wolf claims. "I don't care who it is. Vince Neil. Great White. White Lion. Europe. Who else? David Lee Roth. They all wanted us to play with 'em, but we said, 'Look, we'll do it, but you're opening, asshole. We don't open; we headline. '"
"Nobody can follow us," drummer Pounder Bachs insists.
"The record labels want to deny us our right to glory," the Wolf continues, noting that media companies throw support behind bands like "Creed, Staind, and Limp Bizkit -- all these retarded fuckin' bands. Yet they want to deny Stickshift Lover the gold, the platinum, the fuckin' zinc album that we could be producing.
"What happened to just putting on a tight pair of pants with your stugots about to bust the seams? And a bad-ass pair of boots?"
Local pretty-boy Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional fame is one of the band's supporter; he turned up at a notorious gig at the Factory in Fort Lauderdale last December. He's asked SL to accompany his band on a series of national dates as well.
But the Wolf turns up his snout at the request. "I can't take a 23-year-old suburban white kid whose girlfriend broke up with his gay ass because he wanted to play video games instead of bangin' her."
The Metal Wolf is no stranger to name-calling. A recent local magazine piece reported the front man is carrying 300 pounds, which rankles him no end. He swears he tips the scales at a mere 255. "I'm a big man," he says. "I accept it. This is a body that I've built on many years of hard work, dedication, and training. I'm proportioned correctly, and I have a lot to offer. Giving me an extra 45 pounds..." he makes an imposing fist and waves it in this reporter's face.
His biceps are massive, tattooed pistons that look capable of inflicting heavy damage. "You don't get this shit from just sitting down, eating, drinking, and smoking the wizeed," he says, pulling his shirt back and flexing his big guns. Does he have an exercise regimen to share?
"It's very simple. I wake up in the morning [and] I do about 45-50 minutes on the toilet. Just to get my cardio going. A Meat Lover's [pizza] here and there. A couple of Diet Cokes. Carbs are killers. You know that."
Many of the obstacles in SL's path have been placed there by the members themselves. Situations calling for tact, sensitivity, or diplomacy have consistently been mismanaged, blowing up in the band's face like a short-fused cherry bomb. No respect for a band that just went platinum in Finland -- not to mention a large part of both Estonia and Latvia. What gives?
"Bring back the danger," goes the Wolf's call to arms. "Bring back the fun. If you come to see Stickshift Lover, you're going see an awesome show. Lights. Smoke. Fog. Fire!"
No telling when or where the band will attempt to mount its regional return. "If not this year, then next year," the Wolf sighs. "The rock runs deep in our blood." But when it happens, he has some advice: "Come to a Stickshift Lover show and get some reality for once in your life."