Blood on the Wall is not a gore-obsessed death-metal act or an obscure '70s B-movie championed by Quentin Tarantino. It's a noisy Brooklyn-based rock band that happily recycles the sounds that have been bouncing around in the heads of its three members since they were impressionable youngsters.
The trio--which consists of brother and sister Brad and Courtney Shanks on guitar and bass, respectively, and drummer Miggy Littleton--play music in a refreshingly playful variety of vintage punk and rock styles. They do so with generous helpings of distortion, drone and humor.
Unconsciously channeling all that is hip and edgy in the last 40 years of rock, Blood on the Wall roam from song to song through the Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo to Sonic Youth and Suicide; from Johnny Thunders and the Sex Pistols to Black Sabbath and Mudhoney.
The band also is not too cool to play a Bo Diddley-inspired beat, a mutated rockabilly rave-up or a gentle, acoustic folk tune now and then.
All that and more is displayed on Blood on the Wall's second CD, Awesomer, which was released last year by The Social Registry. The recording was produced by Nicholas Vernhes, who also has worked with The Fiery Furnaces, Black Dice and the Silver Jews, and that diversity shows up on Blood on the Wall's CD.
The band will share their cacophony of rock styles with fans in Tucson on May 10 at Plush.
Ask Brad Shanks, 30, about the careful planning that surely must go into the elements and activities of Blood on the Wall, and he demurs politely.
"We don't have a grand plan or anything," he says, dropping in and out on a cell phone as he and his bandmates drive through the mountains in Oregon to a recent gig. "It's all sort of haphazard."
Which might explain why after six years together, the trio has only released two recordings and is on its first-ever national concert tour. "This is the first band that I was in that ever toured together, so I guess I am a little wet behind the ears that way," he says.
The group came together in a loose fashion as well, Shanks says.
His sister was leaving the elevated train once in New York City when she stumbled across drummer Miggy Littleton selling records in the street, Shanks says. Soon enough, Courtney and Miggy teamed up to start a still-unnamed band.
When Brad, a new college graduate, arrived in New York from the Shanks' hometown of Lawrence, Kan., he joined up. Both he and Courtney, 32, sing and share the songwriting duties. Littleton is the band's elder statesman at 34, with experience playing in such groups as Ida, White Magic and The Shit.
The group stumbled across its name in similar accidental fashion, Shanks says.
"Me and Miggy were just like driving around one day"--according to legend, they had Slick Rick on the car stereo--"and we were just trying to think of names for bands. You know, like, 'Wouldn't that be a cool name for a band?' And Blood on the Wall sounded good."
"So soon, I get people coming up to me saying, 'I heard you were in a band with Miggy called Blood on the Wall,' and I said, 'Yeah, of course!"
Self-described music geeks, each of the members grew up listening to everything they could get their hands on, Shanks says.
The fanzine Tokion wrote, "Depending on which song you listen to, Blood on the Wall's music can make you feel like a kid cranked on caffeine or a kid who just chugged his first beer. Combine those feelings together with the nervous excitement of listening to records in your bedroom for the first time, and you start to get the overall feeling."
Blood on the Wall just finished up opening a set of concert dates for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, one of this year's hottest "it" bands and fellow escapees from Brooklyn.
Shanks' cell phone cut out before I got to ask him about that experience, so we'll just have to imagine he was as nonchalant about opening for the Yeahs as he is about everything else. "That was cool," I imagine him saying, "but being the headliner is good, because you get to play longer."