The Exbats – Kicks, Hits and Fits

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E is for Exbats, ​their first vinyl release, earned The Exbats their bona fides as modern day masters of clever, catchy bubblegum garage punk. With their newest release, ​Kicks, Hits, and Fits ​the band ups the stakes with their best work yet as the raw, infectious energy of the bands’ early days matures into smart, melodic pop craftsmanship.
With appearances at festivals including SXSW, Dirty Penni Fest, Night of the Living Fest and HoCo Fest, and extensive touring under their belt, the band has been whipping up the charm for live audiences (and battling overzealous doormen) throughout the West Coast and Southwest for the past few years and climbing the charts at college and indie rock radio stations across the country.
It could be said that Exbats drummer and frontwoman Inez Mclain was born to play rock and roll. The talented vocalist and songwriter was not only raised on the music of bands like the Hollies, the Stones and the Monkees, but was named for the prime Monkee himself – Mike “Papa Nez” Nesmith.
Still, there’s nothing like parental intervention to give one’s destiny a little push. Inez’s fate was more or less sealed the day her father, Exbats guitarist Ken Mclain, picked up the 10 year old from a slumber party with a new drum kit in the back seat.”All kids need to learn an instrument,” Inez remembers her dad saying that fateful morning. “Do you want to learn piano from some boring old woman like all the other kids? Or do you want to play the drums in a rock and roll band?” Needless to say, she chose the band and within a couple years the two were playing at any punk club , dive bar or stage that would have them.
And so began the Exbats, a punk rock family enterprise whose early performances sounded something like (in Ken Mclain’s words) “if the Partridge Family picked up the Cramps hitchhiking” or “a demented Brill Building Brady Bunch.” Specializing in simple, two minute garage punk gems in the spirit of the Ramones and Flight of the Conchords, the pair played gigs in and around Portland, Oregon for a few years (along with a fateful pair of shows in Prague) before ditching the rat race for rural Arizona, in search of a place where they would “never have to run into a Walmart Supercenter.”
By the time Inez turned 18, she and her dad had settled in Bisbee, AZ (a town affectionately described by locals as “like Mayberry on acid”) and the Exbats had begun to find their sound. Turns out that all those years of playing, singing and “musical immersion therapy” had taught Inez a thing or two about songcraft, as had the strict template for songwriting that Ken had laid out for the band from the start. Write every song like it’s a single. Hinge it all on catchy hooks. Mercilessly purge anything unnecessary. Keep the whole thing no longer than about two and a half or three minutes long. It’s a formula that worked brilliantly for the pop hitmakers of the 50s and 60s and it still works today.
Only, instead of Sun Studios or Muscle Shoals or Abbey Road, the Exbats record at Tucson, AZ based Midtown Island Studios, the home studio of Matt Rendon of the Resonars. And instead of PG rated songs about puppy love and doomed hot rod rides, the Exbats write about things like homoerotic superhero sidekicks and television losers, rock and roll dreamers and existential angst, hexing the patriarchy and fighting the barman who’s carding you out of your own gig.
If there’s any parental influence here it’s the kind that plays a mean guitar, sings backup vocals and trades licks with the bassist (newest Exbat, Bobby Carlson) against Inez’s pounding heartbeat of a rhythm. This girl’s got fights, she’s got feelings, and she definitely has opinions, but she’s not going to yell about them, she’s going to croon and shout and serenade you and she’s going to do it with drumsticks in fists. She’s going to make her Papas proud, not just dad, but “Papa Nez” himself and Mickey Dolenz too. She’s going to summon the spirits of the Hollies and Buddy Holly. And John Lennon and Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley too. Maybe a little Wanda Carter and a little Exene Cervenka for good measure. All the while reminding you that if you just gave Harry Styles a chance, you’d realize the man is a goddamn pop music genius.
Matt Rendon (The Resonars): “Every song is a killer. They write so many great songs that there isn’t any filler. The songwriting is more finely crafted and there’s different sounds, arrangements and instrumentation than on previous releases.What hasn’t changed is their devotion to the two and a half minute pop song, writing hooks, and fun yet poignant lyrics that have a universal appeal. What has changed is their willingness to branch out and a sense of harmony that I’m not sure either knew they possessed.”
“I got hip pretty fast as to what was special about them. You get the vibe of a solid, loving relationship between father and daughter, and when you’re with them you get caught up and feel like they’re your family as well. All the songs are brilliant melodically and structurally. How much melodicism, how many hooks, how much excitement can you produce in under three minutes?”