Depending on which day of the week you encountered
the Surfing Chickens
, they were five goofy young white guys from Nashville, aimlessly killing time at guitarist/bassist Luke Mahler's house, a quintet of gleeful noise and dissonance, or a rather raw and artsy rock group with occasional hints of great potential. Whatever your perspective, you probably wouldn't get much argument from the band, who despite whatever other faults they may have had, were certainly not guilty of taking themselves too seriously. Once named one of New Orleans
' top funk bands (despite being neither a funk band nor from New Orleans), the Chickens were a playful and mischievous lot.
Rather versatile in line-up, the Chickens were:
Luke Mahler: Guitar and Bass
Marshall Foster: Guitar, Percussion and Vocals
David Temple: Guitar, Percussion, and Vocals
Daniel Swinney: Bass, Keyboards, Electronics, Percussion and Vocals
Bennett Adkinson: Stage Presence, Percussion and Vocals
was set in motion when Adkinson and Temple
attempted to formulate the worst possible band name they could think of. A couple of years later when Foster and Mahler decided to form an experimental music
al outlet for themselves, they invited Adkinson and Temple, who brought their stupid band name with them. Daniel Swinney
was asked in as the last piece of the rather jumbled puzzle
The Chickens referred to themselves as "Funky White Boys Making Funky White Noise" and referred to their sound as "Avant Garage." Rarely were songs written, rather than born from improv sessions, with the members of the band seemingly saying "Oh yeah? Well check this out..." to each other as they implemented new twists and turns. Percussion was by committee, and the "instruments" used in this category were mostly assorted debris found lying around. Perhaps the greatest product of this joyfully sloppy method was the daunting instrumental "Line Out," although the members of the band may tell you of a brilliant rendition of "Molotov Bounce" which was sadly lost because Bennett decided to make the tape recorder his percussion instrument of choice, resulting in stoppage a couple of seconds in.
When songs were written, it was generally by either Foster or Swinney. Foster penned "Don't Feed Me a Big Steaming Load (Or I'm Gonna Kill Your Cat)," a rollicking country-punk ballad from the point of view of a man who has had enough of his unrequited love's lame excuses ("Don't tell me you got cancer/Don't say your dad died/Don't tell me you gotta wash your hair/Baby I'm too smart for that.") Swinney, meanwhile, took his shot at a brief Broadway style number about leprosy, entitled "Falling to Pieces" ("They'll need a broom/to fill the tomb /that's made for me.")
The Surfing Chickens performed two paying shows, coincidentally on the May 15ths of 1998 and 1999. The first show, at the now defunct "Bazaar" club, could be generously described as a comedy of errors. There were equipment failures, some general out-of-syncness, and Swinney began bleeding from his thumb while playing bass. Fortunately, they, as well as the people in attendance, were able to laugh it all off. The grand finale involved a keyboard demo playing as the band passed out their trademark percussion instruments to the crowd to provide the rhythm section, while Swinney led the way, drumming on Adkinson's bucket-covered head. In a turn of events teeming with foreshadowing, the club owner was apparently displeased with the Chickens' antics, and they had to haggle him to get their measly $47 (AKA $9.40 each) payout, armed with video footage to prove that the club was much more crowded while they were playing than during the performances by the alleged headlining bands. Annoyed, the band created their wildest song, the thrashing "47 Dollar Blues," lyrically relating the story of the miserly club owner.
The second show was more successful (though, as their luck seemed to go, the tape recording was completely unusable). This time playing at Guido's Pizzeria, the group was a decidedly tighter unit, deftly performing the material which had become well-known to their small cult fan base, while maintaining their original improvisational spirit, with Foster delivering a stirringly modified rendition of an earlier song, "Support Your Florida State Troopers" and the band (led by Swinney) playing an impromptu cover of Giorgio Moroder's theme from Midnight Express. The down side was that Chickens and quiet just don't mix, and Guido's was under new management. While the previous management's philosophy involved running a club that served pizza, the new guys' idea was to run a restaurant that happened to have some music. The fellow in charge of the club repeatedly yelled at the band to keep the noise down (although they were nowhere near their peak level). The band prodded the audience to make as much noise as they could, because after all, it's not the band's fault if the audience is enthusiastic. For good measure, several of the larger fans stood against the door separating the music venue from the restaurant. The show's finale, appropriately enough, was "47 Dollar Blues" during which Mahler and Temple turned their amps up to the max, Adkinson and Foster banged on whatever they could find, the audience screamed at the top of their lungs, and Swinney stood out on the sidewalk with the microphone cable trailing out the back door, belting a frenetic and guttural version of the song. It was also a short version of the song, as the club owner turned off the electricity, putting an end to the show. Little did he know that he had made the Chickens' night and given them something to brag about the rest of their lives. They took their money and walked away quite pleased.
The group drifted a bit after that climactic evening. Swinney and Mahler recorded some improvised electronic rock tracks under the name Shameless Amos. Swinney also continued his solo electronic ventures as Shovelbearer and Lemon Drop Kid. Foster and Mahler, now both attending the University of Chicago, created a few Chickens-esque pieces as The Conjuremen.
The Surfing Chickens have released one CD, entitled Demo/Live Volume 1: A MuSickAll ShockUMentally, a collection of recordings on a Tascam four-track recorder.. Though not having performed or practiced together in well over a year, some of the Chickens hold out hope of getting together some day to record some higher quality material, and perhaps, if only briefly, grasping some of the potential that has yet to blossom.