The Beltones' Bill McFadden: I Miss the Ocean and Publix Subs

The Beltones
Cheap Trinkets
(TKO Records)

Last year in September, we had the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite local platters from the '90s, the Beltones' Lock and Load seven-inch on the sorely missed Far Out Records. It was, as it usually is within these pages, a great time to sit, listen to music, and reminisce about those wild times in South Florida punkdom. But as often happens with these BFTP columns, I was saddened over the possibility that I would never see these guys play live again.

Well, thanks to the wonderful efforts by Ms. Nayra Serrano and this weekend's upcoming Mondo Fest, I (we) will get to see South Florida's smoothest lyricist, Mr. Bill McFadden, and his fantastic Beltones! But before we get into the meat of the Cheap Trinkets disc, we had a chance to catch up with McFadden, and here's what he had to say:

County Grind: For starters, who are you, where do you come from, what do you do, and more importantly, how's the season looking for West Ham United?

Bill McFadden: I am Bill. I come from an apartment in Coral Gables that became a parking lot shortly thereafter. I help run a bar in Austin, and we are two points from first. Promotion favorites.

The Beltones were one of my favorite bands to catch live back in the Cheers/punk picnic days. It's a little hard to imagine now that the Lock and Load seven-inch came out 15, 16 years ago! Please tell us about the band's recorded output and your relations with the labels who took a chance on you (Far Out, Just Add Water, TKO, etc...).

Well the majority of it is utterly out of print, which would be annoying to me if it weren't for the fact that you don't need to buy records to listen to music anymore. I don't know much about labels taking chances on anything. Are there still record labels?

While most people go with the Stiff Little Fingers/Skrewdriver (without the hate) association, I find now in retrospect that there's a heavier element of Jamaican/Caribbean music underlining your work. Has this been a conscious effort on your behalf, or does it just come out that way?

Both? There's definitely a ton of that in SLF already. And those other guys are heavy on the rhythm and blues.

How would you compare Texan living to your years in Florida? Anything about the state you miss? Anything going on in Texas we should know about?

Well, it's way fucking hotter, so stop thinking you're sweating. You don't know what sweating is. I miss the ocean. And Publix subs.

I know that the Beltones have always been a "whenever we play" kind of band. The original lineup did put out a considerable amount of material for such a lackadaisical attitude. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's been about ten years since you last released anything. With this in mind, can you tell us the travels of personnel within the band from Lock and Load to Cheap Trinkets? Do you stay in touch; who're the new members of the band?

It's definitely on a "see you when I see you" basis. We don't have annual reunion pics or anything. I'll play with any of those guys, anytime.

I always wondered about the speeding up of the tracks from the L&L seven-inch for the On Deaf Ears CD. Why was this decision made? And why, more importantly, was the Zappa piece dropped from "Insipid Sedentary Girl"?

We were trying to hurry up and record it without the engineer passing out from whatever coke binge he was on the night before. We skipped a whole bar from the first verse of that song, and I didn't realize it until I was driving home from the studio, listening to it in the car. Changed the whole beginning of the song to avoid rerecording the whole thing. The whole thing had like a $23 budget.

I am looking forward to seeing you perform this weekend. Any plans perhaps for the Beltones' future you might care to divulge here?

Well, we're doing a weekend in the San Francisco area with the Workin' Stiffs, a show in Houston with Pist 'n Broke, and then I have to finish writing an album for Off With Their Heads.

After a pair of seven-inchers and a debut full-length, On Deaf Ears, the Beltones upped the ante with 2001's album, Cheap Trinkets. Built on the same hooks and fuzzy guitar riffs of their previous work, this album debuts a new rhythm section with Mike Mutti on bass and Will Thomas on drums. Guitars were handled by McFadden and Rob Sessions. Opener "Ain't No Life" quickly establishes those facts, and while it seems cleaner than other recordings, the second McFadden's voice enters the fray, you know this shit's gonna be gold.

His raspy, whiskey-soaked vocals continue into the faster "Set 'Em Up, Stevie" and the heartfelt and personal "Weak." The title track shows off the very things that usually get them compared to Skrewdriver (without the hate) and Stiff Little Fingers, but it all makes more sense to me, as per the questions above with their cover of Bob Marley's "Concrete Jungle." I always knew there was some reggae/Caribbean soul in these white boys!

The back half of the album has "Shitty in Pink" from the EP by the same name and the infectiously boppy "Better Than a Kick in the Head," the sweet "Lullabye" showcasing McFadden's strength with romantic fare and his personal foils. That's the good stuff; I've always found his more personal writing the best within the Beltones' canon. The album closes with "Garbage Picker," of which you can get a clip of below.

The album was engineered by Rob McGregor at Goldentone Studio in Gainesville in 2001 and was pressed by California's TKO Records. It is of paramount importance that we all know that "Dozens of animals were harmed during the making of this album. Cute, fuzzy ones." It bears a TKO 74 stamp and is available for purchase physically and digitally from and numerous online outlets. I suggest you pick it up, especially if you like what you see this weekend.

MP3: The Beltones - "Garbage Picker"

The Beltones will perform on Day 1 of Mondo Fest with the Templars, Hub City Stompers, Unit Six, Antagonizers ATL, Liberty Call, Out of Sorts, Askultura, Love in Arms, and DJ Rudeboi at Eve, 1306 N. Miami Ave., Miami. One-day passes cost $18; two-day passes cost $30. Tickets are available at Idle Hands 305. Call 305-975-0831.

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Abel Folgar