Asylum Street Spankers give God a ride on a new gospel tour
When a band that’s known for its comical forays into drug- and sex-themed tracklists puts out a live album of gospel tunes, heads are going to turn. “Doesn’t that seem like the natural order?” jokes Asylum Street Spankers’ founding member and washboard enthusiast, Wammo. “I don’t think anyone in the band is very religious, but there’s more to gospel than just religion. Musically, these songs are amazing!”
“These songs” are gospel covers, plus two original songs (written by Wammo) on Asylum Street Spankers’ ninth release, humbly entitled God’s Favorite Band. It’s no subtle endeavor, but the Spankers are no subtle ensemble.
For nearly 16 years, Wammo and vocalist Christina Marrs have been leading the wildly elaborate seven-piece in its explosive show of roots rock and swing jazz that’s made the band a landmark sight to see in their hometown of Austin, Texas—and beyond. Picking and plucking old-timey strings, pummeling sarcastic banter, and, yes, spanking fans, the Spankers (named after a state asylum in Austin) unleash the kind of irreverent vaudevillian performance that’s happy to push limits. Now, they’re adding the traditional “Wading in the Water” to a repertoire that includes originals like “The Scrotum Song.”
When the Salvation and Sin Tour comes to Santa Cruz on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Don Quixote’s, Asylum Street Spankers will perform songs off the new album for a more repentant first half, before ending the show with their older songs that celebrate more wayward topics.
Before committing a live CD and subsequent tour to a new cache of religious songs, the Spankers were playing Sunday brunch gospel shows in Austin. The performances began as Marrs’ idea (“She’s the big gospel singer in the band”), and Wammo credits her for turning him on to the fact that gospel encompasses plenty more than simply religious commentary. But, it’s Wammo’s own original lyrics that stand out as signature Spankers fodder for their fans on “Volkswagen Thing” and “Right and Wrong.” While your typical gospel act sings about what drives God’s will, the Spankers sing about what God might drive. Yes, as in cars.
On “Volkswagen Thing,” Wammo discusses the kind of ride he thinks God would want to have if He (or She) ever came down from the heavens. The impetus for the song stems from the songwriter’s need to secularize those gospel brunches—perhaps out of guilt for his weekend sins. At the time, he would come home late from his Saturday night gigs in Houston, landing in Austin at 5 a.m. in order to be up and ready to sing gospel at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. The remnants of the previous show weren’t easy to shake off.
“I was too hung over to be hypocritical,” Wammo admits. “I wasn’t going to sing all these songs about God and Jesus while I’m sitting there drinking Hair of the Dog from my last night’s romp. So I wanted to come up with a gospel song that I felt comfortable singing to stay true to my own roots.” He mulled over the question ‘If God came down to earth and wanted to stay anonymous, what would he drive?’ and found his answer in the Volkswagen Thing, which he says came to him “because it’s truly one of the ugliest cars ever made.”
Though a celebrity in his own right, the hard-stomping multi-instrumentalist gets to indulge in a flashier life than the Almighty. “I drive a 1965 Imperial that stands out like nothing else,” he says. “But then again, I’m not God.”
Asylum Street Spankers perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door. For more information, call 603-2294.