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The Tough Shits: Fun, Witty and Well-rounded.

May 31, 2012

Text by Brian Wilensky. Image by G.W. Miller III.

Not too many bands in Philly have had their lyrics stolen by Bruce Springsteen. And there probably aren’t too many bands in the city who are self-diagnosed, manic-depressive Scotch snobs who are down with performing in drag when the opportunity presents itself.

The Tough Shits wrote, “Hard times come/Hard times go,” before the Boss wrote the same line in his new song, “Wrecking Ball.”

“We’re going to make a YouTube video to prove it, too,” jokes singer Mark Banfill.

Actually, their entire first LP, co-released in February on Burger Records and The Colonel Records, was recorded well before “Wrecking Ball.” They laid down the tracks two years ago for The Colonel. Then, well, nothing happened.

“Our good friend Bryce at Colonel paid a lot of money to fund the recording and that was cool,” says guitarist Nick Carlisi. “But for whatever reason – we’re not even sure, it never came out.”

Luckily Avi Spivak, who did the album artwork for the self-titled album, got tired of it being stagnant. So Spivak took it upon himself to send it to Burger Records.

Burger ate up the album’s witty, garage/pop tunes like “Early Grave,” which pokes fun at suicide, and  “Holding a Seance,” about being light as a feather, stiff as a board. The album’s more than ideal closer, “Hombre de la Cocaina,” (English translation: cocaine man) is bilingual and it refers to exactly what it suggests.

Burger helped them get gigs around the country after the album dropped, including a show at the Iron Bear, a “bear bar” in Austin, Texas where the band performed in drag.

“We took the drag thing really seriously,” says drummer James Horn. “We spent a hundred dollars of band money and painted our nails and stuff. The other bands basically just wore ratty, old dresses.”

(The Tough Shits want the rest of the details of that night kept off the record.) Other nights on their national tour weren’t so great.

“Being on tour is kind of like being manic depressive,” says Banfill. “And I think it’s because we all kind of are.

The first show on tour was kind of shitty because we were excited to be on the road, so we got too drunk and stuff started breaking. So the next day we were just like, ‘Ugh, why am I doing this?’ But then we played a great show and it’s all good again.”

Their last show on the tour, in San Francisco, was significant for the Tough Shits, they say, because folks remembered them from their tour about five years ago.

Carlisi, who says he doesn’t know much music happening now, cites the Beach Boys as major influence. When they signed to Burger, he says he learned “there is some good stuff out there.” Others in the band may know the new stuff but they certainly don’t seem to like it.

“I looked up that video of Lana Del Ray on SNL,” says Banfill. “It wasn’t really that bad. Sure, it was awkward but it wasn’t really that bad. And then, soon after, that Bon Iver was on and holy God damn it, it was some of the most boring, dumbest, shittiest shit there is.”

In Bon Iver’s defense, Banfill and guitarist John Heald have some high-end taste. In Scotch, at least.

“Try the Highland Park 12,” Banfill says. “It’s God’s nectar.”

Heald seems to be all business about his Scotch because he says some others are “less than superlative.” But the Tough Shits’ collective personality isn’t some high class, special night out affair. And they reflect that in their music.

“What you look for in a band is what you look for in a person,” says Banfill. “You don’t want to be with someone who’s serious. You want someone who’s fun, well-rounded and witty.”

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