When Lux Interior and Poison Ivy invited "Jungle" Jim Chandler to join the Cramps in 2003, they could hardly have asked for a more willing co-conspirator. After all, the Pueblo native totally wore his admiration for the psychobilly band on his sleeve.
"About eight years prior to joining the Cramps, I had gotten tattoos of Poison Ivy on both of my forearms," says Chandler, who started out commuting to Colorado Springs as the drummer in an early version of the Mansfields and is now half of the New York City band Twin Guns. "That's how important they were to me. They were my favorite band, and probably my biggest influence."
Chandler later joined Down and Outs, the Denver punk band that's since evolved into the Omens (who will be opening for Twin Guns at the Zodiac). After relocating to Seattle, he was playing with garage band the Makers when he first hooked up with the Cramps for a European tour promoting their Fiends on Dope Island album. "I was just a fill-in drummer, and then things went really well and they invited me to join the band."
So Chandler moved again, this time to Los Angeles, and took up residence with the singer of another garage band called the Gravedigger Five. Unfortunately, Fiends on Dope Island turned out to be the Cramps' final album. After playing with them for a year, Chandler moved back up the coast to Portland, then back to Pueblo when his mom died, and finally on to New York City, where he's been for the last five years.
It was in New York that Chandler met Andrea Sicco, a like-minded singer/guitarist who'd grown up in Italy and shared Chandler's musical interests: surf music, spaghetti western soundtracks, Spacemen 3, Nick Cave, Johnny Thunders, Echo & the Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain, the Count Five, even Jefferson Airplane.
"He definitely was a black sheep on the Italian scene," says Chandler, "very into American music, and even Americana stuff like Neil Young and Waylon Jennings and Bruce Springsteen. So he was walking around Tuscany wearing a bandana, listening to these bands."
Of course, Chandler had to keep quiet about those sorts of influences during his time with the Cramps.
"I definitely had to learn to keep my guard up and be careful about what I did and what I said in the band," he recalls, "because they were very threatened by the Internet. They told me a story once that the singer, Lux, was in a record store somewhere and was curious about this hippie band — I think it may have been the Grateful Dead — that his previous tour manager was really into. And someone saw him in the record shop checking out a Grateful Dead album, or whatever it was, and all of a sudden it was all over the Internet.
"That kind of stuff really bothered them. They had a certain mystique, and they really guarded their image well."
Druggy and suicidal
It was in the wake of Lux Interior's 2009 passing that Chandler and Sicco, who were then playing in a band called My Happy Gun, shifted to their current lean-but-loud formation.
"There was this Cramps tribute night that a promoter friend of ours was putting on, and he asked us to play it. We had just gotten rid of our bass player at the time, so we almost turned it down, but we decided to just do it as a two-piece. It was supposed to be a one-off thing, but the response we got from the show was so good that we've just continued on as Twin Guns."
Earlier this summer, the band released its debut album, Scene of the Crime. From the title track's urban swampiness to the psych-rock of "Maybe Tomorrow" and the echo-drenched mood swings of "Druggy and Suicidal," the band's bracing originals take listeners on an entirely engaging journey into the heart of garage-punk darkness. You can also check out their artfully cool video for "End of the Ride," a song that evokes the best qualities of all-too-underrated bands like the Unknowns and Panther Burns.
Scene of the Crime closes with an unlikely cover of "She Cried," which was originally recorded by early '60s star Del Shannon and then given the "Wall of Sound" treatment by the Phil Spector-produced Shangri-Las. The song was also a hit for Jay & the Americans, and later recorded by punk icon Thunders and Patti Palladin.
"The '60s Shangri-Las, that's the version we were most familiar with," says Chandler. "I think it was originally called 'She Cried,' and then the Shangri-Las, when they recorded it, they changed it to 'He Cried.' And then of course when Twin Guns did it, we changed it back to 'She Cried.' Because, you know, we don't want to sing about a guy crying.
"I think we did it pretty true to form, as far as that kind of Phil Spector-esque beat and stuff, but we definitely have a lot more of a reverb band-buzz going on. And it's not quite so, I guess, innocent-sounding."
And while Twin Guns' amps may not go up to 11, the duo definitely knows how to sound larger-than-life. "Andrea plays through two amps at the same time, and since we don't have a bass player, I play pretty floor-tom-heavy beats to provide that bottom. A lot of people can't believe that we're a two-piece because of that wall of sound we have."