Substances, death, and purpose fueled Culture Abuse for their most imaginative release yet

Culture Abuse

It’s roughly 9pm on a Thursday night inside Seattle’s Funhouse, and Culture Abuse have finished sound check for one of their last tour dates opening for the enigmatic Self Defense Family, leading into the release of their 6131 Records full-length debut, Peach. Standing front and center is the band’s vocalist, David Kelling, who’s shifting his sights between the crowd before him and the sound tech located at the back of the all ages venue.

There’s just one last request he has before things kick off: “Just a whiskey coke!” he pleads, cracking a smile, “maybe even if it’s more full of coke than whiskey?”

From their perspective, Culture Abuse—which is completed by bassist Kenneth Plitt, drummer Ross Traver, along with Matt Walker, Anthony Lasalle, and the self-identified John Jr. on guitars—find their comfort in doing whatever the fuck they want, and to them that includes everything from picking up a seemingly insane amount of tour offers, to collectively living together along with their tour manager and unofficial seventh member, Chelsea Muehe, all in a 15-by-15-foot practice space in San Francisco. Surprisingly enough, their camaraderie couldn’t be more genuine as laughter frequently eases its way into our conversation while we converse at one of the venue’s booths before the show.

“I want to play the shows and be the weird band… I want to see some other shit then the same shit all day,” shares an enthusiastic Kelling. His band’s hardcore/psychedelic approach towards rock and roll results in a sound that could very well define the word “eclectic” by blatantly pulling influence from the works of Osborne, Townshend, Ramone, and Armstrong (take your pick). Much to their favor, this has not only led to wide appeal, but also an ever-expanding list of endorsements.

“We have a very reliable source that tells us Green Day has heard our band,” shares John Jr. before leading into a story of a friend who played the group’s 2013 debut EP, The Day Dreams of Nothing, for his boss, Billie Joe Armstrong. “We played a show in a bar in Oakland with Foxboro Hot Tubs,” he adds, “and they are fucking down.” Through the majority of April, Culture Abuse will be performing alongside their Bay Area neighbors and close friends in The Story So Far for a three-week jaunt hitting West Coast and Canadian markets. After a brief break in May, they will be joining the noise-rock giants in Nothing for a month-long, full U.S. tour starting in June.

Once the dust settles from this madness, they will have driven tens of thousands of miles, performing over 55 times, across 30 states and Canadian provinces; and suddenly, the globe placed at the top of the poster for this North American tour seems more prophetic than artistic.

From the title, to the art, to the sound, everything about Peach works in cohesion. A balance exists between peculiarity and familiarity, first-glance simplicity and obsessive detail, all of which is miraculous, considering the two-month time crunch the band operated under. “There wasn’t any time [for us to think of] what it was going to be,” reveals Kelling. Instead of resulting in a brief and stressed final product, it’s turned out long and relaxed; something listeners can ultimately live to, regardless of the mood or time of day.

“When I get into a record, I listen to it on repeat until I can’t listen to it ever again,” says John Jr. “I feel like that’s the kind of record we have as well: You can put it on and do something. Sing along with it, vibe with it, and you won’t even realize you listened to it four times. You’re just going with it.”

If there was any distinctive theme to Peach, it would be creative freedom and the willingness to fearlessly toss fresh ideas into the massive flavor-filled pot of jambalaya that is this debut record. In some cases, this reveals itself within long-forgotten rock songwriting conventions like the extensive drum solos on the album’s full-throttle opener, “Chinatown,” or even the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it breakdown placed towards the end of “Dream On.” The best moments, however, come when direction is found beyond the confines of the genre. For example on “Turn It Off,” listeners travel seamlessly from Caribbean beaches to the streets of New York in under a minute via smooth reggae upstrokes and semi-automatic palm-mute power chords that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Madball record.

PEACH 🍑 Los Angeles Ca. 35mm photo by @adamdegross

A photo posted by CULTURE ABUSE (@cultureabusefanzine) on

A look through the Instagram handle @cultureabusefanzine reveals a focused exhibition of the band’s identity. Everyone keeps analog cameras within reach at all times, but it’s John Jr.—the group’s elected zine guru—who takes charge in projecting the band’s vision without restraint, and that includes remaining open about anything and everything. This can most clearly be seen in the Rob Soucy-directed (and NSFW) music video for the band’s 2015 Spray Paint the Dog single “Perfect Light,” which has been described as something that “will make your jaws drop as our boys snort, drink, rock, get naked, join some weirdo S&M circus, and do all that crazy and fun shit all videos should have.” It’s easy for the “party band” label to follow them wherever they go because of this, but in their eyes, this is by no means a front. “When you’re making zines and putting together a theme, you’re coming together with a theme that’s based off of your real life,” says John Jr., “and that’s how it started: this is just what we’re doing.”

“There’s a lot of other people who are also out there doing it,” he continues, “it just so happens that they’re not traveling around the country, playing in a band. It’s just strange – we’re doing both of those things, but now we’re kind of known for it, which is fine, because when people come out to our shows they bring us free drugs and stuff, and that’s a bonus.”

Currently as distant as possible from sobriety, the band still makes sure that they’ve given this moment at hand their full attention, even if that wasn’t the case in the past. “I would get blackout drunk pretty much every time we would practice,” admits John Jr. “When we were writing Peach, we were focusing on the record and on the songs rather than ‘how many mushrooms can you eat right now?'”

The catalyst for this new perspective came upon the untimely deaths of two close friends of the band whose lives tragically ended within the past year. First came Sammy Winston who died on the fourth of July while attempting to save the lives of his roommates (this is referenced on the song “Peace on Earth”), and next came Tim Butcher, of Trash Talk and Minus fame, whose death came during Peach‘s recording process. “They’re some of the most influential people in our lives, and now we have a chance to bring this to the world,” says Kelling.

The group credits their initial success to Winston who not only encouraged the band to keep things going, but also rallied others within the SoCal DIY scene to listen to what Culture Abuse have to offer. “He’s almost the entire reason of why we’re doing what we’re doing now. We were pretty much just shitheads in the bay, hanging out, but we were hanging out with Sammy,” says John Jr. “He’d start telling everyone, ‘sooner or later, you’re going to take them fucking seriously, because sooner or later, they’re going to take themselves seriously, and they’re going to fucking kill it.'”

White Sands, New Mexico. Polaroid by @mr_slugworth

A photo posted by CULTURE ABUSE (@cultureabusefanzine) on

A shining moment on the record comes through on “Jealous,” where in between the tilt-a-whirl guitar riffs and melodic surf-rock-tinged gang-vocal whoos, Kelling wrestles with antipathy, ultimately realizing the value of gratitude and living in the moment. There’s a clear sense of free-spiritedness within his delivery of the lines that run close to the end of the track, which include “In the end of the day, I’m just happy to be here / In the end of the day, I’m just dying to be here.”

When these words are coming from this six-piece who continue to stay true to both themselves and their past as they take on the world in a trailer-less, 16-passenger van, you can’t help but nod your head along. If not for the music, then for the authenticity in a message that could easily sit right alongside the names “Butcher” and “Winston.”


Culture Abuse Tour

Culture Abuse’s full-length debut, Peach, was released on April 8, 2016 through 6131 Records. The album can be streamed on Spotify, purchased digitally via Bandcamp, or physically through their label’s merch store.

*Feature photo courtesy of Chelsea Muehe

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