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Peasants is a band the way Ed Wood was a filmmaker, the way Rosa Lopez was a witness for the defense.
“The Grog & Tankard wouldn’t even let us play there,” boasts the powerless trio’s unskilled keyboardist Connie “Mama Casio” Murtaugh, in the most brutal self-analysis any local musical group could issue.
Murtaugh’s bandmates in the serf combo are Jim Vallette on lousy accordion and Paul Bogart on assailable acoustic guitar, lame-ass banjo, and an extremely irritating didgeridoo, an Aboriginal wind instrument that resembles drug paraphernalia more than it does a music maker. (“It looks just like a big bong,” Bogart concedes. “That’s probably why I picked it up.”)
Peasants has been together for nearly a decade, and was started when all three members worked for Greenpeace. (Murtaugh and Bogart still do.) Vallette and Murtaugh deny ever having any musical ability, and marvel at Bogart’s relative adequacy.
Bogart’s mother, however, is obviously a better judge of talent than either of his bandmates.
“There are six kids in my family, and one day when I was real young my mom, who’s a music teacher, tested all of us to see if we had any musical ability,” he recalls. “I was one of only two to be shunted aside and told not to bother playing anything.”
Not a bad résumé line for a guy whose oft-stated goal is to be a part of the baddest band around. Peasants has already come close to self-actualization: Spin magazine highlighted the group in a 1993 roundup of the worst bands in the U.S.
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The mag’s editors were taken with Peasants’ first collection, The Best of Bill Walsh, a low-concept concept album every bit as cohesive and gripping as a two-part episode of Baywatch.
“Cheap keyboards, bad accordion, weak acoustic guitar, and faltering vocals intertwine in this opus,” exalted a keen-eared Spin reviewer, by way of explaining why TBOBW was more worthy of abuse than the submissions of fellow worst-band entries like Buttgravy, Headwound, and MC Dump.
The real-life Bill Walsh, who is also a Greenpeacer, was “pissed off and scared” after discovering that his co-workers had chosen him at random among the staffers to be their debut album’s topical thread, says Bogart. Those emotions seem justified, given that many of the uniformly poor cuts mock the relationship between Walsh and his dog, which, as luck would have it, was run over and killed in the midst of the sessions that led to TBOBW. Particularly objectionable is “7-11,” a brutal ditty that purports to present Walsh’s mind-set as he strolls the streets for the last time with his about-to-be-road-pizza pet: “I’ll just let my dog go free here for a minute/What could happen at this hour?”
Recently, Spin announced it was holding a follow-up contest and, once again, Peasants is on a mission. Turn down your Miracle Ears, America: Peasants is back in the studio, praying for a sophomore slump.
“We’re out to prove that TBOBW wasn’t a fluke,” says Bogart. “We were bad, but we could be a lot worse. We haven’t hit our stride yet.”
Peasants is now fabricating its new basement tape at a farm in Catlett, Va., owned by that rarity, a friend of the band. Members hope the ambience of the venue comes through in the recordings. “We all shoveled manure before our last session,” says Bogart. “I think it helped.”
The quality of the band’s freshest material—at least two dozen “previously unreleased” tunes are already in the can—supports Bogart’s boast. One song, “Superthrive,” is so appalling that both Bogart and Murtaugh were visibly angered when Vallette popped an extremely rough take of the cut into the cassette player in the middle of an interview.
“I got all the lyrics for this from a bottle of plant food!” vaunts Vallette over the din, in a self-satisfied tone George Martin might use when cataloging the studio tricks employed during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.
Vallette, the least willing of the three Peasants to accept the combo’s shortcomings, offered up evidence that the band’s renewed quest for anti-virtuosity is off to a good start. “Connie got a new Casio that’s twice as big as her old Casio,” he says.
Equipment acquisition notwithstanding, Bogart and Vallette don’t seem to have totally forgiven Murtaugh for causing the cancellation of one of Peasants’ few scheduled gigs. It seems she caught an untimely case of self-respect.
“I faked like I broke my hand and couldn’t play,” Murtaugh admits, “because too many people showed up to see us that night.”
Also threatening the band’s bad chemistry is the interpersonal relationship Vallette recently entered—a phenomenon his mates claim is even more novel than a live Peasants performance. “Jim finally got a girlfriend,” bemoans Bogart. “So we’ve got a Yoko thing to deal with now.”
“Yeah, but it took me 10 years to get one!” counters Vallette. “And even so, we still get together to rehearse.”
Wait a minute…this band practices?
“Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” stammers Vallette. “We hang out together and drink,” corrects Bogart.
Befitting such a bad band, Peasants has no upcoming live dates, no official release date for the second album, and no copies of The Best of Bill Walsh left in its inventory. However, for $6, Bogart will dub and Vallette will personally autograph a cassette of the songs that brought them infamy. Mail orders to P.O. Box 73866, Washington, DC 20009, or call (202) 234-2847.