by Drew Necci
Flesh Eating Creeps were a hardcore band that existed in Richmond, Virginia from 1995 until 2000. I was at their first and last shows, and a good many in between. I went to their first show because members of the band were friends of mine. By the time of their last show, I was going to see them because they were one of the best bands in town. I would have been there even if I didn’t know any of them.
Chris Terry (vocals), Brendan Trache (guitar), and Joey Fitchett (drums) were all in high school when The Creeps (who didn’t add “Flesh Eating” to their name until they’d been together for about nine months) first started. By the time they broke up, they were all old enough to drink, but just barely. In the early days, band practices and a whole lot of hanging out took place in Brendan’s parents’ basement. The half-dozen or so bands that practiced in that basement at one time or another (I was in one of them) all hung out down there listening to a lot of early ’80s DC hardcore. This was before the internet, so everything we knew about the bands we listened to came from the records themselves. Void stood out to us back then. The chaotic, distorted style of their guitarist, Bubba Dupree, seemed to wake Brendan up to the possibilities of his instrument. Brendan came up with his own formula for chaos by mingling Dupree-style pick scrapes and note-bends with subtly complex ideas about time signature that he picked up from records by the post-Descendents band ALL.
It didn’t hurt that Brendan was also insanely talented. In my late teens and early 20s, I was always in at least one band, and so were almost all of my friends. I was surrounded by talented musicians, so I had a solid basis for comparison. And yet, I can say with confidence that none of my other guitar-playing friends were on Brendan’s level. I’ll never forget the day in the spring of 1997 when he came over to my house, picked up one of my roommates’ guitars and said, “This is the new Creeps song” (it was eventually released as “Fuck Your Friends, Every Single One Of Them”). He strummed two chords at hyperspeed before dashing off two dozen-note leads in rapid succession, his fingers dancing across multiple frets and strings in the space of about half a second. I could feel my eyeballs bulging out of my face. When most of my friends would bust out with some complex guitar riff, I could tell what they were doing, even if I couldn’t replicate it myself. When Brendan would play, I could stare right at his hands and still not necessarily tell what he was even doing, let alone make any sense of it.
Chris was a young writer, just like me. He was the first member of the Creeps that I met – we traded zines at a show and started up a correspondence while I was finishing up my lame-duck last semester at a college in Ashland, Virginia. When I dropped out that summer and moved to Richmond, Chris’s family’s apartment was two blocks away from the apartment I rented. We’d get together regularly, talking about our writing a little bit, but mostly just hanging out. Chris’s early lyrics were about the pop cultural artifacts he was absorbing: Kurt Vonnegut, true crime novels, B-movies, etc. Soon though, he graduated to the sort of angry, accusatory lyrics a lot of teenagers write for their first hardcore bands. Chris’s lyrics always showed talent though, and contained flashes of incisive brilliance, as on songs like “Happy Now?!” and “I Wish I Could Say I Don’t Give A Shit About You,” where he revealed vulnerable emotions underneath the anger, and reached towards a more complex, less black-and-white vision of human interaction. These ideas reached full flower in some of the last songs he wrote for the Creeps, including “Muddy Waters,” in which he chastises himself for being insensitive towards people he cares about, and “Exorcising The Southern Ghost,” a brilliant song about trying to exist on a day-to-day basis as a person of mixed race, in a post-Confederate city where the spectre of racial division was far from banished. Chris was a couple of years younger than me, but I learned a lot about writing from watching him grow into his own talent.
Joey was a hyperactive Mountain Dew addict with a beat-up Camaro. He and Brendan had been making music together for a while before they met Chris. Flesh Eating Creeps was their third band together, and they’d grown in musical skill at the same pace. Joey understood what Brendan was doing and could write drum parts for Brendan’s riffs without trouble. But there was always a bigger problem to deal with: the Creeps’s total inability to retain a bass player.
All too frequently, practices were devoted to teaching the songs to whichever bass player had just joined the band. There were at least half a dozen over the five-year history of the Flesh Eating Creeps, which is not to mention the year-long period during which they gave up on the entire thing and ran Brendan’s guitar through low-end effects and into a second amp, in order to simulate the bass sound they didn’t actually have. This experiment came to an ignominious end when the three-piece lineup played a radio station, and the station inadvertently only miked the bass amp. Brendan was horrified when he realized after the performance how awful they must have sounded on the air, and the search for a bass player resumed.
The problem might have found a permanent solution when Steve Ritt moved to town. The former drummer for DC’s The Neurotiks, Steve’s gig as bass player with the Creeps was his first time playing something other than drums in a band. He loved it and went nuts during the live sets he played with them in the months after he joined. Since Steve had always been a drummer, he’d get behind the kit when Joey wasn’t there. Brendan and Chris noticed an immediate change, specifically in the tempos of all of their old songs, which were suddenly twice as fast. “When Steve plays drums, we struggle to keep up with him,” Chris told me at the time. After a couple of months of practices with Steve on drums, the writing was on the wall. Soon Joey had quit, Steve had replaced him, and the Creeps were once again looking for a bass player.
With Steve on drums, it was like the final piece had fallen into place. Flesh Eating Creeps took a quantum leap musically, becoming the unstoppable hardcore juggernaut they’d always threatened to be in the past. Steve not only boosted every song’s tempo to breakneck speeds, he also brought a new philosophy of live performance into the band, one that soon affected their songwriting. At the beginning of the radio session (“You’re Everything That Sucks About America”, track 9), Chris yells, “Steve Ritt strikes again, no brakes!” Steve’s idea was that technical difficulties and equipment failure would force them to stop often enough during the average performance, so if the band didn’t have to stop between songs, they shouldn’t.
To facilitate these nonstop performances, he and Brendan put their heads together and wrote segues between already-existing FEC songs, some of which were truly bizarre. For example, the half-speed guitar coda to “Rendered Spineless” and the undistorted guitar intro to “Lovelace” were merged, requiring a switch from pell-mell headlong distortion into quiet strumming with no transition at all. Then “Lovelace,” which ended on the first beat of a measure, was followed by a floor-tom hit on the third beat of the measure, and a full-band drop into “Bullshit Vein” as the next measure began. Assuming nothing broke, the closest the Creeps came to a mid-set stoppage was at the points when the entire band would hold their breath as Brendan would bend a note or feed back for a second before leading into the next riff.
New bass player Ryan Joy was incredibly talented, and could totally hang with what Brendan and Steve were doing musically, but he just wasn’t quite on their wavelength. “We’d be working on a part and he’d go, ‘Let’s play this eight times, get a groove going,’” Brendan told me. “I’d say, ‘We’re gonna play it TWICE.’” Ryan’s playing also seemed suited for something more conventionally musical than the craziness Brendan was dishing out by this point. He liked to throw in melodic, almost pop-punky bass fills (you can hear a good example of this at 0:13 into the radio session version of “The Brutal Blizzard Of ’96”, track 18), which were impressive in that he could bust them out at full Steve Ritt speed, but never quite sounded right in the context of the songs they showed up in. Ryan drifted away after six months or so – later becoming the Creeps most famous alumni as a founding member and chief songwriter in Municipal Waste – and was replaced by Adam Juresko, who would become the final FEC bass player.
By this point, Brendan’s songwriting was totally unhinged, even by his own standards. Their final eight-song session, which consisted of all new material, written at the same time and designed to flow together, was their most bizarre and most brilliant work yet. Highlights included the final guitar solo from “Exorcising The Southern Ghost” (track 2), which starts out sounding like a bluegrass band falling down a flight of stairs and gets weirder from there until it falls apart completely; the handclaps at the end of “Charlie Daniels Band” (track 7), which have nothing to do with the rhythm of the part they’re clapping along with; and the sliding bass line at the beginning of “A Clean Shirt & A High School Diploma” (track 5), which baits you into expecting a mid-tempo groove before throwing you completely with a fast part in some complex time signature that I still haven’t parsed, even though I’ve been listening to it for over ten years. These were the kinds of songs that you couldn’t make sense of until you’d memorized them – the musical instinct to nod along with 4/4 time would only trip you up.
The eight-song studio session, along with the eleven-song radio set with Ryan on bass, was prepared for release under the name “No Brakes!” as the first honest-to-god full-length release by the Flesh Eating Creeps. It never came to pass though; shortly after the eight-song session was recorded, Steve announced his intention to quit the band and move to Asheville, North Carolina for college. Chris and Brendan had had enough of the constant searches for new members, so when Steve left, they decided to break up the band.
Members of the Flesh Eating Creeps went on to play in a ton of other bands (Light The Fuse And Run, Stop It!!, Brainworms, Municipal Waste, Hallelujah, No Omega, Grown Ass Men, and more), but nothing else they ever did sounded quite like FEC. What they created was a product of years of shared musical growth and collaboration, the result of huddling in a practice space year after year, bouncing their most bizarre ideas off each other, declaring them ridiculous, and then trying them anyway.
The musical legacy they left behind is captured on this discography, and although its fully mature form only makes up the first 18 tracks, the remaining 40 are equally educational and entertaining. Songs like “Thanks, Asshole” and “Co-Ed Murderer,” while not as bizarre as “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” are still really good, and it’s interesting to note the growth of tunes like “Fuck It Up, Richmond Style,” from the 1996 four-track recording (track 50) that predates Chris having completely mastered the lyrics, to the 1998 studio session (track 21) in which its form is settled, before being completely upended by the interventions of Steve Ritt, just in time for the 1999 radio session (track 11). This is hardcore history, it totally rocks, and it was heard at the time of its conception by way too few people.
In fact, it’s funny – back in the ’90s, before anyone shared music online, cassette demos were disdained as a second-rate format. You had to get your music on vinyl or CD for anyone to pay any attention to it, and the Creeps struggled for years to do so. Then, just as they were starting to get some recognition, they broke up. Now, in an era in which the internet is the vehicle with which bands reach listeners, physical-format releases have become the strict province of fetishist collectors, with a cassette discography like this one representing the ultimate fetish object. Quite a step up from what we would have regarded back in the mid-’90s as the longest demo ever. Maybe this is the ultimate proof that the Flesh Eating Creeps were just ahead of their time.