There was this label called Stink Box Records based in New Jersey, I think. This would have been around 96 or 97. I sent them some well concealed cash in exchange for a tape compilation, a CD compilation, and I think a Less Than Jake record that never materialized on that label. I think the label dude sent me an extra CD comp or something. This was the beginning of the era of cheapo label “samplers” where a label would just take a song or two off a bunch of releases, have some CD’s pressed, print up some sleeve type jackets, and send them out with orders. The CD “comp” I got reminded me of those in terms of production value (no jewel box, folded xeroxed paper sleeve + clear poly bag) but with a little less “listen to this and buy something from it” attitude.
I somehow wound up with a few more copies of that very same CD comp, which I no longer have. I’ve tried looking up the label since then online. The only thing I remember about it is that there was a spoken word piece by a guy named Heiko talking about the label and the comp, and if memory serves, the last track on the CD was just tone. I believe it was on there to make setting levels easier if you were going to use the disc to master new CD’s. Sort of like handing over the tools to make more of the CD to those who HAD the CD, encouraging fans to make copies, etc. I could be remembering it wrong but that’s the memory I have. (If anyone reading this knows Heiko or Stink Box Records, I’d love to get ahold of one of those comps again. I found a label by that name on Discogs, but the only CD listed there isn’t the one I had.)
Anyway, that disc was my first introduction to Whatever. A Cleveland punk band who, by this time, had already put out an LP and at least one 7″ on Dr. Strange. I would eventually track those two records down, and several others on other labels, in addition to numerous comp tracks here and there. This was way before any kind of resource like discogs even existed, so finding out a band’s definitive absolute 100% discography was usually a matter of finding the one person in the band who kept track of that stuff and asking them directly. Even then, especially with the more prolific bands, they often didn’t keep track of that stuff. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself hounding someone about what all their band has put out, and I’d have to remind them of releases they’d forgotten about.
With Whatever, it seemed like every time I’d find a new record or tape or CD or something, I’d think the collection was complete. Then I’d come across something else.
Earlier today, I got in touch with Richard, who played bass on the record posted below. I like to at least TRY to get an OK from someone involved with everything I post, if I can. He was gracious enough to say “Fuck yeah, man!” when I asked. He informed me that an Italian label put out a CD ep called Shave or Shut Up that included the songs from this 7″ and a couple others. AGAIN, WITH THE WHATEVER RELEASES I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT. I mean, it’s not like I did a ton of research or even bothered asking anyone in the band for a list, it just seemed that this thing with new things I hadn’t heard of has happened more with Whatever than with any other band in my pop punk obsession disorder.
The reality is probably more akin to me not giving them credit for being as prolific as they have been, so it’s always a surprise when I come across something new (to me) of theirs. Sorry, fellas.
I’m not sure what the other guys have been up to since Whatever. (If they even stopped being Whatever) but Matt, the drummer, opened Melt in Cleveland and if you’re ever passing through, it’s worth a detour to get to it. It’s an entire local chain of restaurants themed around grilled cheese, with plenty of vegan options. It’s been on countless foodie TV shows. Mike, the bassist who came in after Richard left, played in This Moment in Black History and White Murder.
Ok. Now that you’ve heard everything–well, not EVERYTHING everything. I’ve got another story for another time. Still waiting to get a copy of the vinyl that goes with that story first–I know about Whatever except regarding this record, let’s get back to it.
Socially Retarded was on Dead Beat Records, a label that’s still around and putting out records and is perhaps most well known for the series of Viva La Vinyl comp LP’s that came out in the late 90’s. (In my mind, the first volume is an insanely good and underrated full album comp. They kind of go downhill after that, but are worth grabbing if you find one for cheap.)
There’s something about the way Whatever records or engineers their records and Benny sings that makes them all sound super tight and slick sounding but not in an overproduced way. I don’t know enough about recording or playing music to speak coherently about this, but I once came across a demo tape of theirs which was clearly recorded cheaply and pretty early on (wish I still had that…no idea where it is now.) and even that hit pretty hard. This record is no different. 5 songs in under 12 minutes. In and out, but with time leftover in the middle to deliver catchy hooks and parts of songs that’ll be stuck in your head for days. (Or years/going on decades in the case of Happy Face, off their Youngsters LP on Dr. Strange. Whoa.)
I’ve tried before, when speaking about Whatever to friends or people who haven’t heard them before, to describe their sound. It’s tough. Between the vocals and that tautness I mentioned, I can’t think of anyone else that really sounds like them. Throaty but not gruff or twangy. It’s its own thing. Lyrics are generally pretty scathing of who or whatever they’re addressing. There’s a tension and a dark tone in the way he sings without it sounding angry. Tightly wound and ready to snap but without snapping. It occurs to me while listening to this record just now that maybe the band is less an edgy pop punk and and more a really catchy punk band. I hate arbitrary genre definitions as much as the next nerd, but I feel like that really helps define their sound here.
If you don’t know them already, have read this far, and know the kinds of thing I normally post on 1000 Yesterdays, take a chance, huh?