"I don't think it's dead. I just think it's small," reassures Ryan Mattes, vocalist for loud and proud rockers The Last of the V8s. "For a while, people were saying the uprising of rock was coming back again. And it is; it's just that it never really went anywhere. But I'm comfortable with where it's at right now, underground."
That's seemingly the case nationwide, from what Mattes has seen. "When we go out on tour, in every town we play in, there's good rock bands, and they're all underground like us," he says, just two weeks before his band's next road trip. "L.A.'s got a good scene. Seattle's got a good scene. Kansas City is getting a better scene, and Lawrence has got a better scene for it lately, too. And I'm glad to be part of it. That's the best part."
The Last of the V8s has been part of the city's rocky landscape, in one permutation or another, since guitarist Steve Murphy and drummer Kriss Ward founded it as a two-piece. Cretin 66 guitarist Jay Zastoupil eventually weaseled his way into the band, as did former Hurricane promoter Shane Dolbier. These four enlisted at least one singer that didn't work out before colliding with Mattes.
"I actually eavesdropped into this band. That's how I got into it," Mattes reveals. "I heard this little guy talking about how he couldn't find a singer. I said, 'Shit, I'll do it.' They made me yell and scream in the middle of Fred P. Ott's in front of a bunch of people before I could actually be told where they practice and what day."
Still, some time passed before The Last of the V8s got it completely together, a period Mattes characterizes as "off and on, like a bad relationship with an annoying girl." Murphy left for Washington, D.C., and rather than find another guitar player, the group reformed as a quartet to play a show with the Candy Snatchers in December 2000. After playing on the band's 2001 debut, It's On (which -- sorry, Moaning Lisa -- is actually the sexiest cover to come out of KC; observe the naked shapely tattooed Venus holding a shiny metal V8 logo over her nether regions), Dolbier left the fold. Aaron Mersman then took up bass duty, and founding member Murphy returned to Kansas City, making The Last of the V8s two guitars' strong once more.
"It's added a lot for a stronger, better sound," Mattes coolly boasts, noting that this lineup is set to record a 7-inch soon. "Everything is real smooth in our band. Everything works out real good as long as we don't get too drunk and testy by the end of the night." The boys -- excluding Mattes, who claims to be "a talentless ass-monkey" -- collaborate on the music together. But like one of those proverbial ass-monkeys pounding out the works of Shakespeare on a typewriter, Mattes does have some talent at turning a phrase -- he and Ward pen the lyrics.
Sometimes those lyrics include explicit shout-outs at the devil, a reference at which some God-fearing folk might take umbrage. "Don't you think that shit's funny?" Mattes asks, laughing it off and making it clear where he stands on demonic subjects. "That's the one thing I'm not, is 'In Cahoots With the Devil.'" He does, however, point a finger at Ward, who might consider tunes such as "Rocket Ride Straight to Hell" serious business. "Kriss means it," Mattes insists. "I think it's funnier than shit, so I just go along with it. He's down and dirty with the devil," he adds with a few chuckles.
Regardless, it's not as if there isn't a precedent for musicians' blessing Satan's pointy little head. "It's an element of rock, it's an element of blues, it's an element of country," Mattes lists before conjuring the ghost of Robert Johnson. "Who was that old blues guy that they said sold his soul to the devil? [Musicians aren't] exactly model citizens." However, references to the cloven-hoofed will now take a back seat to other debauched pursuits, lest The Last of the V8s' highway to hell leave the group with tunnel vision. "I put my foot down and said, 'No more devil.' It was getting to the point where every song we'd write would be something about the devil, and it was just like, 'Quit it!'"
If ever at a loss for depraved subject matter, the band needn't look past its own exploits on the road. "In Texas, some girl came up to me and was like, 'Let's go outside and do this,' and I said, 'I don't want to do that. Why do you want to go outside right now?' And she said, 'Because my boyfriend's on stage,'" Mattes recalls of a night at Emo's when The Last of the V8s got thrown on the bill at the last minute with a band that spent its set playing Poison covers. "It was awful."
Mattes is similarly critical of his own performance at the band's show last September 26 at the Hurricane. "Not one of my better moments," he says of the crazed affair that earned the Pitch's coveted Best Out-of-Control Performance award. "Where is my plaque, by the way?" he asks, demanding a reward for an outburst that saw him swinging his microphone stand with mad abandon, kicking beer bottles off the top of a speaker stack and giving his disciples an evil glimpse of the full moon. "I don't have an attractive ass," he admits. "I don't need to be showing people my ass."
Then again, no one ever said rock was pretty.