Exbats, the - Kicks, Hits & Fits - New LP
Great set of garage pop, full of jangle, piss and vinegar, popping like Bazooka bubblegum, having fun and having a fit, light the fuse on a string of firecrackers, cold-cut upper cuts, a few knuckle sandwiches and lots of pillow fights, mostly warm as a hot dog with an old friend, popping you in the mouth just to give you a taste, spring, summer, and fall, holding on when the lightning comes, guitar fuzz until the sun shines through, sprinting and hopscotching down the sidewalk, slowing down to let you catch up. -- winch
"We write great, short-ish catchy songs about you, and us, and life and stuff. (Hopefully, you're here because you like that sort of thing). Do people still like hit songs? Like TOTP style hits? These are hits. We are Inez, Kenny and Bobby. We record with Matt. We live in Bisbee, AZ and we play shows all over the SW USA. Never dull, ever."
Arizona father/daughter garage-punk outfit The Exbats drop a needle straight into the vein of what made the world fall in love with rock & roll in the first place. Their new LP Kicks, Hits and Fits (out March 6 on Burger Records) is a witchy, punk-rock sock hop of a record that navigates teen angst, falling in love, breakups and figuring out where in the hell you fit into society, especially when you’re not yet old enough to get into the club where your band is playing. The Exbats’ always clever formula—fusing 20-year-old daughter Inez McLain’s ’60s surf drumming and punk doo-wop vocals with her dad Kenny McLain’s Beach Boys-meets-X guitar licks—has found them making fans out of (and sharing bills with) bands like the Dead Milkmen, Mike Watt, SadGirl, NO WIN, AJJ, Tacocat, El Vez, Death Valley Girls, Skating Polly, Starcrawler and more.
Each song on Kicks, Hits and Fits is a catchy rocker that begs you to sing along, as it straddles the worlds of old and new. They’re The Monkees meets The Coathangers, The Hollies meets Surfbort, The Ronettes meets Amyl and The Sniffers. They take the essence of what made The Ramones so urgent and catchy and add just the right amount of bubblegum sweetness to charm you instantly into falling in love with them.
The Exbats have been rocking together for a decade now—ever since Inez got her first drum kit at 10 years old. They played their first show when she was just 12. And for the next six years they wrote scores of songs and played out wherever they could. Eventually, they left their home in Portland and moved to a remote corner of the Navajo Nation in Pinon, Ariz. At a low point, thinking about calling it quits, they played an amazing show in Prague, rebounded and decided to push the band even harder.
Upon returning home from Europe fully recommitted to The Exbats, they caught back up with their old ally, Matt Rendon (Resonars), at Midtown Island Studios in Tucson. Rendon is an integral part of The Exbats’ sound. He has produced and engineered all of their albums: A Guide to the Health Issues Effecting Rescue Hens (2016), I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts (2018), E is For Exbats (2019) and the upcoming Kicks, Hits and Fits (2020).
These days, The Exbats live in Bisbee, Ariz., a small border town affectionately referred to by locals as “Mayberry on acid.” It’s an old pioneer copper settlement marred by a massive open pit mine that can still be seen from downtown—an anti-corporate haven that was overrun by New York hippies in the 1970s. During their frequent trips from Bisbee to Tucson for shows, they met Arizona punk lifer Bobby Carlson and brought him into The Exbats (now a trio) to play bass.
“Bobby would come to all our shows and sing along,” Kenny says. “He loves The Exbats more than anyone. He understood our no-frills, only hits and hooks approach to writing songs. He felt like part of the family almost right away.”
And The Exbats are of course all about family. Now with Rendon and Carlson in their brood, they made Kicks, Hits and Fits. This record tears through the ups and downs of brutally emotional relationships, but can also inspire living-room dance parties and car trip shout-alongs. “Funny Honey” and “Wet Cheeks” are as much a direct line to ‘60s girl-group pop as they’re about trying to help people (especially immediate family) who don’t want your help as much as you don’t want to watch them suffer.
“I can’t stand crybabies,” Inez says. “If you’re sitting around crying because you’re lonely then you’ll probably stay lonely.”
“We wrote both of those songs at the same time,” Kenny says. “You always need to fight for what you want. ‘Wet Cheeks’ started as a funny double entendre, but somehow turned out to be a meaningful song for us. It’s about people who stay indoors and can’t cope.”
Another theme of the album is handling relationship turmoil. Kenny’s mother, his step-father’s temper and the damage they both caused each other is front and center on the oddly optimistic “Put Down Your Fights,” which wouldn’t feel out of place on a Wes Anderson soundtrack. The witchy “Try Burning This One” is a thick-skinned follow-up to their song “I’m a Witch,” defiantly stating that you can’t be burned if you’re already made of stone. “Florida” is a song from Carlson’s old band The Ponies, and uses suffocation as a metaphor for a failing love. These songs lure you in with their raucous fun, while it might be many listens before you catch onto their darker subject matter.
The smile-inducing hits “You Don’t Get It (You Don’t Got It)” and “Good Enough For You” are about moving on after the romance has fizzled. Upbeat music with bittersweet lyrics is the name of the game. “Maven of the Crafts” is the only song on the record sung by Kenny. It’s an ode to his middle-aged romantic awakening with his occult sorcerous girlfriend, a sweet Lou Reed-esque, indie-folk love song.
Next come the straight up rock & roll bangers. “Doorman” is a take-no-prisoners punk anthem that confronts the aforementioned dilemma of playing clubs when you’re underage. “Hey Hey Hey” is a song of isolation in our social-media-laden world. It’s about TikTok and its culture of empty victories and ultimate meaninglessness. It has a post-Stooges Iggy Pop vibe where instead of heroin we get a glowing cell-phone screen.
The album ends with “I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts,” a sassy love letter to the Rolling Stones drummer. The Exbats live in constant homage to the rock gods who paved the Highway to Hell before them. “Billie Joe from Green Day got his hands on the song,” Kenny says, “and passed it off to Ronnie Wood who gave it to Charlie on his birthday. How cool is that! I also love that story from Keith about how Charlie punched Mick in Amsterdam when Mick called him on the phone saying, ‘Where’s my drummer?’ After he slugged Mick, Charlie said, I’m not your drummer—you’re my singer.”
It’s hard not to fall in love with The Exbats on Kicks, Hits and Fits. Its 12 songs are infinitely catchy, and at a quick 30 minutes you’ll find yourself listening over and over again. In this isolating world of TikTok, Twitch and Insta-celebrities finding fame without leaving their bedrooms, The Exbats are on a mission to meet you on your home turf, bringing you out to the dance floor just like their ‘60s British invasion heroes. And they have no plans of slowing down. They’re shooting more videos, booking more tours and gearing up for their official showcase at SXSW 2020.
“We love punk stuff like FIDLAR and Death Valley Girls.’ Inez says, “And I love a good pop song from different bands like Pulp, Flight of the Conchords, and 12-year-old Inez would tell you that nobody writes a better song than Harry Styles, but mostly we’re a Monkees family.”
“We try to bring it back to a time when people focused on writing hit songs.” Kenny says. “We want to unite the world around rock & roll!”
“The Exbats have managed to distill all that’s vibrant in the history of pop music into 2- to 3-minute anthems that recall everything poppy from The Archies to its ’70s punk heirs The Ramones.” – Under the Radar
“[They] play tunes with simple pop melodies, no-frills first-wave punk arrangements, and a cheerful sense of humor that finds room for observations on pop culture, troubles with relationships, and even family matters.” – AllMusic
“The band flips between ripping punk rock and neo-garage rock. “2027” could have been stolen from a Weirdoes or Avengers single with its charging, burning riff. Meanwhile, “Girls like these” is borne from ‘60s radio rock and could equally have been a 1910 Fruitgum Co single or an Animals tracks. For the most part, the tunes are sparse, catchy, and to the point. Both early punk and early garage rock thrived off hooks and the band unabashedly aims to make a thumb snapper of a record. And they succeed.” – Punknews
“They may be a family act but they don’t hold anything back… fast and fuzzed-out… feisty with a strong thrust of hardcore riffs and heavy drum beats.” – BTRtoday