- Photo by Joey Smith
When Gay Black Republican first hit the Melody Inn in 2001, by all accounts no one knew what to make of them, not even the "regulars" at then-fledgling Punk Rock Night. Yet somehow, despite surviving a major transition at lead singer three years in, as well as having more drummers than Spinal Tap over the years, the political surf-punk sound they've developed has endured for nearly a decade and a half, making them legendary in the annals of Indianapolis punk rock. But it all had to start somewhere.
On Saturday, September 10, the original and current lineups of Gay Black Republican will play sets at Punk Rock Night with appearances from special guests and former members.
Cast of Characters, In order of appearance
Jeff "Pooh Daddy" Spalding (Founding Guitarist)
Tony Garcia (Founding Vocalist)
Lenen Nicola (Founding Drummer)
Rich Barker (Founding Bassist)
Doc Gremore (Current Vocalist)
Benny No-Good (Fill-In Vocalist)
Vic Cardoza (Current Drummer)
William Boswell (Fill-In Drummer)
- Photo by Joey Smith
- The current lineup of Gay Black Republican
Part One: Young Republicans
Pooh: For the longest time, when I was growing up, I was anti-joining bands because it was all drama, pure ego. I preferred just enjoying my guitar. Maybe I'd play with a couple buddies who'd come over to my house, just for fun with no serious organization. Eventually I hooked up with a buddy of mine in a band, Fancy Lizards, whose percussionist Lenen would eventually be part of GBR. The lead singer, George, learned guitar and wanted to start a band, so we called it the Chocolate George band. And that was more blues-influenced.
So one time Lenen has a party, after I had been no longer with any of my past bands. [He] says "Come on over, hang out at my house, bring your guitar or whatever!" So I did. And that's where I met Tony. He was just a lot of fun, funny to hang out with, very conversational, outgoing and artistic. Me and him just clicked, we talked about a lot of stuff. So we became good friends.
Time passes and all of a sudden Tony's like "I've got a couple buddies of mine I'm playing with that live right around the corner from you, and they're into this heavy punk rock kind of stuff. They're kind of crazy, it's kind of a mess. You ought to come over!" They were making a lot of noise. I tried to figure out a lot of what they were doing, which they didn't even know what the hell they were doing, but it was fun!
We played some shows as the Repeat Offenders. They had some songs, Tony had the lyrics down and he was singing them, we did a couple shows. So now we're at a point where it's like "OK, you've done a few shows. Either you're gonna get this going more successfully and maybe do a recording," we were all talking and thinking it might happen, and then Tracy, the drummer, she had a lot of back problems and she quit the band.
And when she quit the band, BAM. That was done.
So me and Tony were driving around a lot at lunch listening to tapes and talking that if we could get together with a couple songs we had from Repeat Offenders, I had a lot of material of my own that I'd been playing since I was a teenager. All I knew is I wanted to get an aggressive-style of band going on and I felt we had what we needed to form a punk band. But it would depend on who we could find.
Tony: Me and Rich went to Herron school together and graduated. And at the time he was in a band called Wankin' Basstereo. And I was doing poetry pits when they were cool. And I'd still read poetry for Rich and his band, and eventually it led into two or three songs that I wrote for them, and they went on to do their own thing with another band. Doc, who's the lead singer now, went into the military, and then somehow we all bumped into each other — I was doing stuff with Pooh and Lenen, and Rich came in later. But we're like, let's start a band!
So we're saying let's call it Straight White Democrat! And Lenen's like "No, let's call it Gay Black Republican!" And I said, well, then people will really hate us! We looked like a metal band but we played politi-punk. I don't remember a controversy over the name, I just know that we kept changing names every time we lost a member.
Lenen: I was asked by Tony [Garcia] to jam with them when the woman they had before me quit. The drum-kit she was using was still set up, so I had little room to negotiate. They were called Model Citizen and mostly played in the basement. I was performing mainly as a percussionist — congas, shakers, chimes, etc. After the first practice one of the guitar players declared, "Lenen sucks! If he joins, I quit!"
We practiced and recorded a group of songs in order for about a month or so until I sucked less and we got a couple of gigs. I was submerged with old school punk cassettes and Vomitar practice tapes. The goal was to get "a gig." As in, "if we can convince anyone to hire us it'll be a miracle."
When Rich and Pooh joined we took a giant leap forward. We changed our goals to be regularly playing out and recording CDs. With the newfound energy we wrote a lot of material and were excited, none more than Tony, who flourished as a front man. Tony liked to fall down to accentuate lyrics about gasoline, explosions, partying, exploitation and coming to terms with being left out of the economic prosperity of a wealthy class. After the first show Tony complained his knees hurt. I asked if falling down 15 times on the first song might have caused it.
We were kicked out of the Melody and voted worst band in the city.
We thought we'd made it to the top. Everything according to plan. The reality is GBR was thriving and continues to thrive based on enjoying the required work and being determined.
Rich: We were debating band names after I joined. It was down to Gay Black Republican or Blood Couch. We had a harmonica player for a while, Kent Clark. He was the one most opposed to the name. Harmonica was an odd element for GBR, and eventually he was asked to leave the band but went on to his own success as musician-comedian Man-Super.
We were never kicked out of the Mel when I was in the band. It might have happened when the other Jeff was on bass; he had to stop the set several times to smoke crack in the bathroom. And we weren't voted worst band. Close — we were nominated for the "What the Fuck Was That" award at PRN, and then of course NUVO named us "Most Improved Band" the next year.
Maybe NUVO called us Most Improved because we hadn't been so well received the first few times, playing at PRN. It depends who you talk to. We struggled a bit, we'd changed the lineup a bit by the time we got that Most Improved award. I think it was a matter of adjusting personalities and musicians to get the right combination. And some people who criticized us early on were listening to our first album and didn't know it was us. After they'd say it was awesome, I'd tell them that was GBR. We threw a few surprises and curve balls at people!
Tony: All the stories are memorable. I mean, any time we played it was an interesting situation. I myself, I was on the hairs and cuffs of certain demons I was dealing with, and the band can tell you that. But thankfully I'm over them. Those were my younger days. Honestly, some of that's kind of faded out for me anymore. I am 47 now, and with time goes everything else, but I can at least remember every song I wrote.
They're all great guys and I'm really glad it kept going. I didn't want the music to die out. We're not Rolling Stones caliber, but we're getting up there in age for a punk band, you know? I have no animosity toward anybody ... the timing was right for me to go. I had to go, honestly. Otherwise I might not be here today.
- Photo by Joey Smith
Part Two: Grand Old Party
Pooh: When Tony left it was depressing. We'd worked so hard to get such a big thing going, and I didn't really want to just drop it all to the side and say all that material I'd worked so hard on, just throw it away. Thankfully me and Rich were still creatively working together well, and we were able to replace them with people who wanted to keep it going as much as we did. We were inventing it as we went along!
Doc: I joined Gay Black Republican in 2006, after their third album, Enola. Before that Rich and I have been friends forever. We've been in a few bands together, stuff like that. There was an issue with the lead singer, Tony. He had a drug issue. A bad drug issue. Him and drugs didn't agree very well. And what a hard thing it was coming into the band, filling in for Tony under the circumstances. The thing was, Tony and I have always been friends!
So he was going to rehab, so Rich asked me to stand in for a show or two. They gave me a CD and said, "Hey, we're gonna do these 12 songs for this show, we've got four practices." We had issues with scheduling. So I showed up for a practice and it got scrubbed, and then we had one two nights later and that one got scrubbed before the drummer even got there. And then we practiced for like 30 minutes and then we were supposed to practice two nights before the show and it got scrubbed!
So I walked into the show cold.
It didn't go too bad because I'd told them if they played what was on the CD I'd have it. If they went off and improvised I'd be fucked. So we did the CD and that was that. Anyway, I guess it went better than I thought it did because Rich got nothing but congrats; we'd played with Luxury Pushers from Ohio, and they were very complimentary of the show. We played a few more shows, then suddenly it was clear Tony wasn't coming back. I thought they might hold auditions for a singer but they told me they thought I would just stay on.
Rich: Doc does have the energetic factor when he's up on stage. He helps fire up the entire band. And it was kind of a shift after losing Tony. Changing drummers wasn't a big shift — we've had seven or eight drummers over the years, which is funny because drummers are the hardest to find here in this city. But switching drummers is easier because you can do that without changing your identity as a band. But when you switch singers, we had mixed reactions. Some people were die-hard Tony fans and were upset or took a while to be sold onto Doc's sound. Other people were like "Hey, that's the sound you needed!" That's when we won our first Punk Rock Night award — we got Doc on vocals, recorded an album and it was like, "That's what you were missing!" But I still listen to and love the old songs with Tony, and some people to this day say it's not Gay Black Republican without Tony, that we should call it something else. And he's been out of the band for 11 years!
Pooh: With Tony, he'd pick up a microphone and if you started playing your instrument he was already right there with something. Even if it made absolutely no sense. He'd have some kind of vocal pattern going, talking through it or whatever — something was going on. Doc is the complete opposite. Doc will sit back and listen. Then once he has the ideas for the lyrics he'll start trying to sing it out.
I wasn't too sure when he came along what he would be able to do, because Tony was so good at being able to come up with such crazy lyrics and ideas. I really didn't! He's got a different flavor, but it definitely fits right in with what we were doing. And he was really game for going right at it, not worried about singing all the old songs.
Doc: We played with the Dockers all the time. We love those guys. That's one of our "bro" bands. We played a lot of shows the first year I was with them. Then regretfully we had to let Sean Copley go on drums, and then a couple months after that he died, which was really sad. We brought on Jeff [a.k.a. Creepy 13] who was playing for the Dockers at the time and it worked out really well where he just started playing both gigs. We worked very hard with him, we were doing two or three practices a week. Capitol Wave spooled up really, really fast. And then we ran into a small issue about halfway through writing the album in that I came down on orders for Iraq.
I was supposed to have finished the album while in Iraq. I was going to track the vocals from Iraq, this would have been March of '08. We did a farewell show and everything like that, which was kind of garbage. I didn't really want that, because contrary to what everyone believes, I'm not that ego-centric. Rich talked me into it but I was kind of standoffish about it. We did that show and then I ended up tearing my rotator cuff [in Iraq] and getting sent back.
So I came back, we hit the ground running and went straight into the studio and recorded with Matt Sommers; now he's the production and creative director for Klipsch Audio. We cranked out Capitol Wave, that was a blast to record, we did it down at the Stutz Building and Matt's studio. We rebranded ourselves on that CD release. We even printed up dollar bills and Rich went in and digitally edited out the $1 off of it and put GBR and there were "0"s. And on the back it was the barcode for the album and all our information, our next ten gigs. That was a pretty big show. I don't really think they turned people away, but I do know I had trouble getting a beer at the bar.
In 2014, Doc was again called back overseas, this time for a one-year deployment in Afghanistan. During this time the band was undergoing another transition, having just released a self-titled album while replacing yet another drummer. They turned to Benny No-Good of the Enders on vocals to take the helm during the transition.
Rich: [During the time Doc was overseas] I think Benny and everyone knew it was temporary. That's kind of why we recorded the album [The One Takes] with them, we just wanted to document this phase of the band with him being our fill-in vocalist. We knew Doc was coming back. But he fit in quite wel; Benny learned the songs quickly. I know it was the first time he performed without playing guitar. Usually he plays guitar and sings. So he had a lot of freedom to jump around onstage in a way he didn't get to do before.
Benny: Well, I was friends with all the guys, obviously, I mean, Rich and I were together with Punk Rock Night. So I knew everyone already. And I lucked out, because a month after I started singing with 'em we got asked to play with the Dead Kennedys. That was a pretty big thing. That was a lot of fun. I felt bad for Doc because he had to miss that but I was glad I got to do it!
Doc: When I deployed in 2014, it was a very sudden thing. I threw my hat in the ring and was gone two weeks later. So we had one gig that was outstanding. I was like, "Guys, I'm not going to be able to do this gig." Benny from the Enders, he'd been to a lot of our shows so he knew the songs. I said, "He's a good vocalist, why don't we get him in?"
They did get to do the Dead Kennedys show, though, which I was pissed. I've been listening to the Dead Kennedys since I was — since like 1980, OK? So we get called up to open up for them while I'm in Afghanistan. The fuck? Problem was I was 7K and three days away, and that was that.
Vic: I met Rich through Two Bit Terribles. I was in that band for a short time. He'd called me when Gay Black Republican was in need of a permanent drummer, we rehearsed and it went really well. But as soon as I start rehearsing with the band, three weeks later Doc says "I'm going to Afghanistan for a year!" So I did one gig at the 5th Quarter Lounge and then he was gone. So Benny wound up staying with us for an entire year. We did a bunch of gigs and recorded The One Takes with him. We did some cool shows, we had the Dead Kennedys show and Doc was pissed because as soon as he left they called and asked us to open. And we're like, "Fuck yeah!" He's like, "Fuck." And I'm like, "Dude, it is what it is." I wish he'd been there for that show. We did pretty well that night.
I like to think I add a lot of spark to the music and I elevate their energy which is, to me, what a drummer is supposed to do. I put my spin on their songs, and now we're writing new songs so I'm really excited about that! I'd played two shows with GBR back when I was with the Terribles, and I was like, "Wow, these guys are really good!" Of course I thought they needed me as their drummer! But when I got the call I was all, "Hell yeah, I'm in!"
William: I only played with them for two shows, back in 2014. I was hanging out at the Melody Inn and Rich approached me and asked me if I could learn a whole set by them in a week and a half on drums. And I've played drums for 20 years now, in metal bands and punk bands alike. And when the opportunity arose for that to happen I knew obviously it would be hard to do. But I knew this wasn't something I could turn down, because Gay Black Republican is such a legendary band in my eyes and in the Indianapolis scene.
I made a CD of those songs and listened to it nonstop on the way to work, on my way home from work, when I was at home I'd practice on my set, and we had two practices before the show as a band when it was a week away. And I was very honored to be able even to fill in and play for them.
- Photo by Joey Smith
- Pooh Daddy
Part Three:PARTY CONVENTION
Rich: Originally we thought we could pull off a reunion show and a CD release, but we figured out the CD release needs to be its own thing, and not just because the album's not quite ready. We haven't started recording; we just finished writing it. But just getting everything coordinated for the 15-year show has been a big enough project that trying to release an album at the same time just would have been way too much at once.
So we're gonna focus on celebrating our 15 years and having all the old cast members in, and having a good night at that. And then we'll release the new album hopefully later on this year.
We'll be playing a lot of new songs, some of them for the very first time, so you'll get to check that out. We'll be playing a lot of stuff, old favorites — all the current members picked a few of their favorite songs, and we're doing the old-school set with the original lineup. So that and the new songs, it's going to be a really good mix.
Pooh: We'll be playing two sets, one with the original lineup, and then we'll be letting others sit in who have played with us over the years. I've always liked playing two sets, because by the time you're done playing your first set you're warmed up mentally, physically, everything. It brings out a lot in the second that didn't come out in the first.
Tony: I'm a little older and wiser now, and maybe can't jump around like I used to. We'll see, though. Maybe I can get out there and break my ankle out there on stage or something. We're planning to do a set of nine or 10 songs. I've got a buddy who's been doing podcasts of my experiences with Gay Black Republican; he's also gonna come and record the event as well.
William: My favorite songs to play by Gay Black Republican are "Move Your Ass," "Corporate Slave," "Welcome To Hell" and the title track, "Gay Black Republican." It was nice to be able to experience that and see what it's like to be the drummer for Gay Black Republican for a few shows. Rich has already asked me to be there for the anniversary show to play a few songs with them as well.
Benny: I believe I'll be singing two songs with 'em [at the anniversary show] ... it's hard to say which one's my favorite; one of the reasons I decided to sing with 'em is their stuff is a lot of fun. I mean, surf-punk, there's not a lot of bands doing that. But I really liked playing "Surf Vietnam" — that one's a lot of fun. It has a really fast-paced, aggressive sound, and coming from the more hard-core punk bands that I did, that was a good one for me to really get into.
Rich: As far as the rest of the show, Fiber and Fastidio are fantastic bands we've played with quite a few times; they're all friends of ours. They've supported us and we've supported what they're doing. I figured it'd be nice to celebrate with some friends of ours we've played with before. That, plus I think we've got enough old members coming out, this will definitely be dragging out a bunch of old fans, people who have enjoyed our music from the beginning, who've been with us the whole time.