The Angry Samoans - Biography
The Angry Samoans formed in 1978 out of the remains of short-lived joke-punk band VOM. Comprised largely of rock critics, VOM played perhaps a dozen LA area gigs and released one EP before breaking up. During their brief existence the band earned a reputation for their hilarious, scatological lyrics, and the onstage antics of lead singer Richard Meltzer; these included audience baiting and throwing live worms and cockroaches into the crowd.
That sense of humor and lyrical vulgarity carried over to the Samoans. Formed by drummer Metal Mike Saunders (who has been credited in some quarters for popularizing the term “Heavy Metal”) and guitarist Gregg Turner, both rock writers published mainly in Creem magazine, the band took the psychedelic rock sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators as their primary influence, along with many of the garage bands enshrined in Lenny Kaye's Nuggets compilation. Other influences were the hard rock bands of late-sixties Detroit, specifically The MC5 and The Stooges, as well as the satirical proto-punk of Queens band The Dictators. The band name was supposedly chosen to sound frightening and powerful; band members had seen immigrants from Samoa in Los Angeles and imagined what these large powerful looking people would be like if angered. (Interestingly, Samoan rap band Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E released a CD in 1996 entitled Angry Samoans.)
In its early incarnation, the band also counted Saunders’ brother Kevin and Jeff Dahl (later of VoxPop). With Saunders moving over from drums to guitar, the band sported a powerful three guitar front line, playing short, tight punk rock songs with often obscene lyrics.
Their first EP — Inside My Brain (1980 Bad Trip Records) is seen today as one of the very first hardcore/speed core records. Lasting less than 10 minutes total, the EP cover featured a gory film still that highlighted the band’s interest in what later became known as psychotronic films. This was an obsession they shared with Elevators’ singer Roky Erickson, who titled several of his own songs after horror movies. The most controversial track was “Get off the Air,” a blistering verbal attack on KROQ DJ, Rodney Bingenheimer. The song supposedly led to the band being blacklisted in the LA area because of Bingenheimer’s influence in the local music scene. The CD version of the EP also features “Too Animalistic,” a live version of a VOM song.
Their first full album, Back From Samoa (1982 Triple X Records) lasted all of 17-minutes. As with the earlier release, the songs were loud, fast, aggressive punk rock- “Homo-Sexual” was the controversial song on this release. Some saw it as an outright expression of homophobia, despite the lyric “Homosexual/I’m the same;” others saw it as a poke at Germs’ singer Darby Crash. The record also featured a cover of the Chambers Brothers 60s hit “Time Has Come Today.” The video for the song, featuring a cameo by Joe Chambers as the President of the United States, was supposedly the first video by a hardcore punk band to be played on MTV.
Still finding it difficult to get regular gigs in Los Angeles, the band departed LA for its first East Coast shows, only to be stunned to discover a crowd of nearly a thousand waiting to see them at their Boston gig. Numerous bands from the nascent Boston hardcore scene had been influenced by the Samoans’ high-speed songs and sarcastic lyrics, and had come in droves to see them in the flesh. Despite this newly found fame, the band seemed to go into semi-hibernation after returning from the East Coast, playing relatively few shows. They didn’t release another LP for five years, when they returned with Yesterday Started Tomorrow (1987 Triple X). The album saw the band largely abandoning their straight-up hardcore sound, in favor of their Nuggets/garage rock influences. The album even featured a cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” The lyrics were mostly free of the jokes and expletives, and showed a new sense of nuance and maturity, particularly in Saunders’ “It’s Raining Today.”
Within a year they released STP Not LSD (1988 Triple X) which was mostly in a similar garage rock vein. Songwriting and lead vocals chores were shared more equally among band members, although Saunders still remained the de facto leader, as well as retaining pride of place on the album covers and singing the bulk of the material in live performance. The album’s one cover was a version of Alice Cooper’s “Laughing At Me.”
Galligan had departed shortly after the release of Back from Samoa. Bassist Todd Homer followed in 1988 and Turner departed in 1992. Turner left California and relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He released one album with the band Thee Mistaken, and two to date with his current band The Blood-Drained Cows. He teaches college math. Bassist Homer, who had briefly fronted the Samoans under the pseudonym The Queer Pills, for an EP released in 1981, leads an eponymous free jazz outfit based in LA.
Not much was heard from the Samoans for the first half of the 90s. About 1996 Saunders and Vockeroth assembled a new Angry Samoans and began playing semi-regularly once again. They didn’t release any new product until 1999’s The 90s Suck and So Do You (1999 Triple X), with Julia Altstatt from San Francisco’s Gargoyles on bass.
Saunders continues to write rock criticism for The Village Voice and other publications. He was an early and very vocal champion of Green Day, who often opened for the Samoans at 921 Gilman, the long-running all-ages performance space in Berkeley, CA.
The Samoans music remains influential, with artists as diverse as Green Day, The Foo Fighters and Yo La Tengo covering their songs. Saunders has kept the Angry Samoans alive to the present, with original drummer Bill Vockeroth the only other original member. They have toured Europe and continue to play at least several shows each year, mostly in California. They remain a very popular band on the first-generation punk rock circuit. Their first EP and first three LPs — all the best stuff — is available on The Unboxed Set (2005 Triple X).