Every year, someone writes a fuzzywuzzy huggy smile story about how the Rock And Roll Rumble — the decades-running battle of the bands newly-relocated to ONCE Ballroom in Somerville — is not truly about who wins and loses, but about celebrating the vibrant and mutually supportive Boston music community.
But we all know that’s a bunch of horseshit. In truth, the Rock And Roll Rumble is all about brutality. It’s okay to lose, sure… so long as you’ve left a dozen hopeful fellow songsmiths emotionally and physically crippled in your wake. Rarely has a Rumble winner transcended to national-scale success, because the squeamish, sensitive types who reside in other cities are frequently unsettled… if not outright sickened… by what a band must do before calling themselves Rumble champs.
Out of this year’s lot, only invincible metal titans Worshipper, the pop-grunge murder machine known as Weakened Friends, and the unexpectedly violent electronic-pop trio usLights demonstrated the dearth of compassion, and unhinged lust for RAWK necessary to survive until the finals this Friday night. We salute and admire the savagery of all three, but it is sadly necessary that two be reduced to soggy heaps of bone, ruined viscera, spilled bodily fluids, and mild disappointment.
It is happily fitting that Scissorfight shall perform for only the second time in 10 years, and first in the Boston area, atop the metaphorical carnage. The recently resuscitated New Hampshire heavy rawk institution struck terror and jubilation into the New England underground throughout the early ‘00s, and forged glorious grinders with timeless titles like, “Out Motherfucker The Man,” “New Hampshire’s All Right If You Like Fighting” and “Curse of the Returned Astronaut.”
Appropriately, the power of booze commanded this reboot in 2015, nine years after Scissorfight’s abrupt and ambiguous ceasing of operations. Craft beer purveyors Smuttynose introduced a limited edition brew dubbed Granite State Destroyer in Scissorfight’s honor — prompting founding guitarist Jay Fortin and bassist Paul Jarvis to initiate a 50 percent Scissorfight reunion, originally intended as a one-night-only affair.
But soon, Scissorfight said “Fuck it — let’s get singer Doug Aubin and drummer Rick Orcutt to fill in for Ironlung and Joel Muzzey, both of whom are trapped in another dimension, and do a whole bunch more shows… for revenge.” Or at least that’s what I imagine they said.
Vanyaland caught up with Fortin ahead of the Rumble finale as he relaxed in his Portsmouth place of residence.
Barry Thompson: Scissorfight lost in the second round of the 1997 Rumble. Is it accurate to say you’re coming back for revenge with this performance?
Jay Fortin: Yeah, we thought maybe this was their roundabout way of giving us some justice after we got robbed.
Didn’t the Amazing Royal Crowns win that year?
To tell you the truth… was it them? I don’t really remember [Editor’s note: It was]. We lost to a band called Ramona Silver, and after that, I’m not sure if we paid much attention.
Don’t think I’m familiar with Ramona Silver.
I don’t think they lasted too much longer after that.
Can you guess what enabled them to knock you off?
Well, y’know, I think it was because the singer was pregnant, and it kind of looked cool. I think we won the hearts and minds of the people, just not all the judges. But it was cool, because it used to be a WBCN sponsored thing, so all the [disc jockeys] were there. Some of the local news celebrities were there, too.
Any thoughts on the old Rumble versus the new Rumble?
Yeah, back in those days, there were a lot more corporate sponsorships and bigger prizes and all that kind of stuff. It was pretty nuts, if I remember, the amount of stuff they used to give out. But I like it a little more underground, the way it is now.
The late ‘90s is now considered one of the worst eras, ever, for rock music. Did audiences look at you guys and say “Hey, waitasec, this doesn’t suck?! What do we do?!
Well, yeah, it was a weird time, and a lot of the wrong bands were getting huge. So we were just occupying our little space in the underground. People did what they will with us, I guess.
What was your favorite thing they did with you?
Well, of course, that would be come to the shows and have a good time, and maybe buy us beers, y’know? Just simple stuff like that. Pick up some Scissorfight underwear or something.
Whoa, there was Scissorfight underwear?
At one point we had quite a merchandise empire, including t-shirts and hoodies of course, but also embroidered things and baby bibs and onesies and thongs and other kinds of undergarments, y’know? We would like to build it up to that point again.
Well, we all need new undergarments. Anyway, Serena Altschul once talked about you guys on MTV News. For some people — well, me — Serena Altschul acknowledging that she knows who you are would be a life-defining moment.
Well, when we went to the MTV studios, it was, y’know, okay, here’s Serena Altschul or whatever showing us around, and I remember walking by a dressing room where a couple of the other pretty famous VJs were getting their makeup on. I think we were more freaked out that we were in the MTV studios than by any particular person there.
During your segment, Ironlung said you guys were confused for maintenance people on your way into the building. Did he exaggerate that?
That was true. We walked in and had no idea where to go. So we walked into the lobby, and one of the security guys led us to this door the janitorial guys used. And we’re like, “No, we’re a band.”
You’d think MTV security guards would’ve known what a metal band looks like.
I think, maybe, we didn’t have the typical metal band look. We were probably wearing Dickies and work clothes and blended in.
That look became hipster chic a few years after Scissorfight broke up.
Yeah, the janitor look? Definitely. That was the phase there for a while. We might’ve started it.
This is how you influenced a generation of far gentler indie rock musicians.
Yes. Whether they know it or not.
Are there any concerns about Ironlung rounding up a band and touring under the moniker “Ironlung’s Scissorfight?”
I wish he would! That would be awesome! Who knows? They’re certainly welcome to. It would be like what Black Flag is doing.
Except, from what you’re saying, maybe without the lawsuits?
Right. Without the lawsuits.
THE ROCK AND ROLL RUMBLE FINALS WITH SCISSORFIGHT + USLIGHTS + WEAKENED FRIENDS + WORSHIPPER :: Friday, April 22 at ONCE Ballroom & Lounge, 156 Highland Ave. in Somerville, MA :: 8 p.m., 21 to drink, $15 to $20 :: ONCE event page :: Advance tickets