A lot has changed since Bruce Hotchkies formed Thunderfuck and the Deadly Romantics in Hamilton nearly 15 years ago - notably the band's relocation to Scotland for a decade but what Hotchkies wanted to accomplish with the band remains the same. This weekend marks the return of a new Hamilton based incarnation of the band after so many years and with a brand new album that musically and philosophically picks up where local fans might remember they left off.
While the latest incarnation of the band features drummer Mike Durham formerly of Elevator 22, Mortal Annoyance/ Top Dead Center guitarist Jim McLean, former Britney's Krack bassist Ryan Cannon and TFADR co-founder and BK co-founder Johnny Bud Timmins, the biggest change is the world where the Deadly Romantics exist is with the cultural shift that's occurred over the last two decades.
The last fifteen years has seen the rise of the Me Too and Time's Up movements and the salaciousness of older Deadly Romantics songs like "Fucked By Rock and Roll", "Rock Whore" and "Porn Star" seem a little out of step with the times - but Thunderfuck is not about being with the times. They exist in their own rarefied stratosphere where "How Do I Taste?" is as one might expect graphic, lewd and vulgar. Some might say the lyrics are sexist, misogynistic and beyond reproach but the opinionated Hotchkies began the band as the embodiment of everything he loved.
He'd already worked in the music industry in Canada handling artists like Anne Murray and otherwise, even released an album of sloppy middle-of-the-road ballad material that flew pretty much under the radar. Originally, Britney's Krack was an outlet he found to rip off Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and play punk rock versions of pop songs in a very drunken and crude manner with Timmins, Cannon and vocalist James Spalding. But it wasn't Bruce's lyrics, it wasn't his voice. With his alter-ego Thunderfuck he formed the Deadly Romantics to rip off music he liked a lot more like Zodia Mindwarp and the Love Reaction and offer songs that spoke from his evil, depraved, black heart.
"The band that I had the most limited success with was Britney's Krack," recalls Hotchkies on twenty years ago. "I'd put a lot of blood sweat and tears into that. We'd gone off to New York to play a bunch of gigs and stuff and it was an absolute disaster and basically we came back and split up. But Mickey DeSadist got in touch and wanted us to open for the Forgotten Rebels at the Underground because he liked what we were doing. I remember playing to a sold out crowd and the crowd was into it jumping around, having a good time and I'm thinking to myself, "Jesus Christ - I'm playing Britney Spears songs.' It wasn't where I wanted to be. I've always had a dislike for cover bands and tribute acts and here was me doing exactly that The next day I talked with Johnny Bud and told him an idea of what I wanted to do. I really wanted to rip off a band from the UK called Zodiac Mindwarp, I wanted their big biker, party image and all that stuff and he suggested Ludger Bourassa as a guitarist for the band. I did that and the rest is history."
The last incarnation of the Hamilton version of the Deadly Romantics would also feature Mark Datskiw and Marsh Wilkinson but would only last a year in Canada before Hotchkies announced his move to Scotland packing up his wife and kids to start a new life without this band. He'd continue on forging his dream though with new members and would continue creating the rough and tumble hard rock that the casual Judas Priest or Iron Maiden fan could like or the more refined tastes of more obscure hair or gutter metal. If it were just standard dirty riff rock there might not be as much to talk about but the song titles alone from the new "Dirty, Sleazy Rock'n'Roll" like "Anal Annie", "Get My Hole" or "Spray My Love" are all talking points.
"Now, you might say we were trying to be a harder edged Steel Panther but back in the day musically but I've always been very vocal and very opinionated although I guess I've learned to shut up over the last fifteen years," says Hotchkies. "Back then, I loved Hamilton and the local music scene but I thought a lof the bands were taking themselves too seriously. That's fine but I came from a school of bands like Alice Cooper and Kiss who were very much about entertainment. If someone's going to pay ten dollars to see you, they want to see a show, they don't want to listen to your heart bleeding on the stage. We provided that for a certain crowd and we still do to a certain crowd. We're never going to be filling stadiums but we have a really good time when we plya gig whether it's to six people or six thousand. The band has been able to do that spectrum across North America and Europe.
"In the beginning, I was kind of naive and I've learned what I find funny might not be what everyone else finds funny but it's music, it's entertainment," adds Hotchkies. "If you're the kind of person that likes to go out on Saturday night, have a few beers and then get offended by what you're looking at, you should probably just not go out. Originally, it was about the shock value of it all and we had the burlesque girls dancing with us while we played and it was all purely because I didn't think people in Hamilton had seen anything like that possibly ever and certainly not on the club level. We put in a hundred and fifty percent and we never walked out of a gig with money in our pocket. It was always an expenditure to do a gig but that's what we wanted to do. A lot of people will probably admit to having heard of the band but they wouldn't admit to liking the band - which to me is job done."
While they made a name for themselves originally in Hamilton, the move to Scotland proved quite good for continuing the Deadly Romantics notoriety.
"When I moved to Scotland that was 2007 and things didn't start happening for the band until 2013 so that's six years of trying to make things happen," says Hotchkies. "Currently, we're at 28 members that have been in the Deadly Romantics and about 20 of them were spread across those six years. But after I found a group of guys that understood the music, the image and our goals, some of those guys happened to be well connected in other bands and other areas of the music industry. Our bass player was from Warrior Soul and Love/Hate and having him opened up a lot of avenues for us. I knew the guys in Dogs D'Amour and the Choirboys and all of these other bands people In Canada haven't heard of but they were consistently touring Spain and Scandinavia. We ended up getting more work and then toured Croatia and ended up headlining this biker festival and headlined a Saturday night to thousands of people.
"It was a lot easier in the UK because every member of the band was doing very well in other respected bands so it was getting to a point where we could do a spring and a fall tour and we'd organize a schedule very easily," adds Hotchkies. "We were all in different towns across the country some of us 500 miles away. We weren't meeting and rehearsing weekly but the band was very professional and be able to do things with little rehearsal. We've been meeting every week for the last couple of months and that's 9 more rehearsals than the UK outfit would do."
The Scottish incarnation of the band dwarfed anything previously achieved but as luck would have it, Hotchkies life outside the band would see him, his wife of twenty-two years and two children move back to Southern Ontario and buy a house in Burlington. The Deadly Romantics were officially over for Hotchkies.
"Originally, when I moved back here I was ready to move on to the next chapter with no idea of what I was going to do musically but I didn't think I'd be doing the Deadly Romantics," says Hotchkies. "Johnny brought up the idea and I said if you put a new band together and play Deadly Romantics songs, I'll come and sing, knowing that the guy I'd known for twenty years he wouldn't do it but then the fucking guy ended up doing it."
Now percolating in the underground for the last two years, the new and improved Canadian version of the Deadly Romantics is back and with a brand new album produced partially in the UK and in Canada with a host of players including the likes of Ginger St. James and Greg Brisco. Most importantly, the band's mandate is galvanized and the music is as hard and the lyrics and presentation of their "Dirty, Sleazy Rock'n'Roll" available on the UK Cargo Records label remains as difficult for some to take.
"At 18 years old in 1987, Bruce Hotchkies was not a bad kid and I'm the same person that I was then and I'm not doing anything differently," says Hotchkies. "I never had a problem with anyone for anything and dealt with people like they were equally but I'm horrified by those people who are like me but they're not standing up and saying something about it now. Things aren't right. We sing about stuff that goes on between consenting adults - it's not about sex trafficking or child abuse - and if you have a problem listening to a song about anal sex then something's wrong with you, not necessarily the band singing it.
"There's a famous alternative club in Toronto we played at fifteen years ago and tore the house down - it was a brilliant night," adds Hotchkies. "Recently, I sent our new CD to my buddy that own's said famous alternative club and he got back to me and said, "Just got your CD - is this serious?" I explained the band and confirmed how serious we are. He would discuss booking a show but advised that 'this could be trouble in Toronto'. A city that touts itself as one of the most metropolitan cities in the world isn't sure if they can have a band like the Deadly Romantics play one of their alternative night clubs because it might offend people. If you didn't have people that offended people you wouldn't have had people like Richard Pryor or Dennis Leary. Think about Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin wandering Vegas grabbing ladies asses, could you imagine them today? It's ridiculous."
Fans that are attracted to the imagery of the band will find something to be attracted in the music and songs like "Drink This Party Dry" are just about having a good time getting drunk at a party. The song "Me Too" is Hotchkies own experience being sexually harassed in a club but with a different response.
"I'm not a spokesperson for anything but I went to a bar one night and some girl came by and shoved her hands down my pants and tried to stick her finger in my butt - I just didn't make a big deal about it," says Hotchkies. "It's totally autobiographical and totally true so me, too. That's what the song's about"
Thunderfuck and the Deadly Romantics return to Hamilton for the first time in twelve years for one of the year's first big shows of the New Year. With plans to do more gigs including a UK tour in May with this incarnation of the band, it's a New Year and a new version of the band but it's the same ol' Thunderfuck that you can come to expect.
"I feel completely at home in Hamilton," says Hotchkies. "I'm now fifty years old and I've lived in a lot of different towns in a lot of different countries and I've never had the pull to a city like I do with Hamilton. I don't know why it is but Hamilton will always be my hometown. However, I am so glad I had my midlife crisis in Glasgow and I never have to see those people again. I went off the rails for a while and people are sometimes still wandering what the next thing I'm going to do is.
"But we've done nothing in Hamilton since 2007 and now we're coming back with a vengeance," adds Hotchkies. "It's about time we show the people of Hamilton what rock and roll is really about. Dance and DJ culture isn't killing live music, it's that too many shit bands are playing. When we play this show, the snowflake generation is going to be so offended that we'll never get another gig or the band will grow and grow and grow. This band is not going to stagnate.I don't want to say the stuff we're going to do as part of the show unless someone decides to cancel the show. We want to make shows, we don't want to do gig nights. Come see the new kings of rock and roll."
Thunderfuck and The Deadly Romantics plays this Saturday January 18 at This Ain't Hollywood with April. Doors open at 9 pm and tickets are $10 in advance via thedeadlyromantics.bigcartel.com or thisainthollywood.ca