Sammytown of Fang: 'I still relate to feelings of alienation, of not fitting in, feelings of unrequited love, feelings of nihilism and anger'

Photo by Mary Dawson

Fang is well-traveled in many facets of punk rock. The Bay Area punk group started making music in the early '80s as teenagers, producing songs like “Fun With Acid” and “Suck and Fuck” and “Everybody Makes Me Puke.” As the band members matured, so did their sound, surpassing the stagnation that sometimes accompanies young punk bands. Through the years, they gained notable fans such as Nirvana and Mudhoney. But around the time these two bands rose to fame, Fang hit a tragic speedbump.

In 1989 singer Sam McBride strangled his girlfriend to death while on a heroin binge. From then on, Fang was forever aligned with the tragic side of the punk rock scene. It tied them into the public's macabre fascination with punk love gone wrong, ala Sid and Nancy, a similar scenario that happened just over a decade before. The band broke up, and McBride  was imprisoned for six years.
McBride was released in 1995 and changed his name to Sammytown. Fang reformed shortly after and has remained active to today. Sammytown is currently in college pursuing a career in the drug and alcohol counseling field. We spoke to Sammytown in anticipation of Fang's first return to Orange County in a year this Saturday and learned a punk history lesson, as well as inspiring insight into the life of the institutionalized and the addicted, coming from a man that learned first-hand, and came out on the other side, ready to help himself, and eventually others. 


OC Weekly: How has your music evolved over the last thirty years with Fang?
Sammytown: Hopefully it's better [laughs]. Hopefully more thought out and a lot tighter. When we write for Fang, I try to access the parts of me that have always been there that are where Fang came from; the anger pointed at society at that point in time really never changed. Where the songs come from hasn't changed that much. The things that have changed are somewhat the musical influences. If you listen to all of the Fang records, there's a huge variety in those records. It's all punk rock, but it touches on varieties of punk rock. 
What is it like playing songs you wrote as a young adult now as an adult? Do you still relate to the songs?
The songs we play are songs I still very much feel. We'll play songs like “An Invitation,” which is a song that I wrote when I was 15. I still very much relate to the feelings I had when I wrote that song. I love playing that song.

I still relate to feelings of alienation, of not fitting in, feelings of
unrequited love, feelings of nihilism and anger. Certainly toward the
way the system is, and the police. One of the new songs we wrote is
called here come the cops and it has a lot to do with what happened on
BART up here, where the cops just shot and killed somebody, and there
was another incident in San Francisco. The song is about standing up and
fighting the cops. I feel like people in America just bow down and let
the police do whatever they're going to do and don't fight back.

When we play older songs, it tends to get the crowd going more, which I feed off of. I love Fang. When the crowd is responding and people are going crazy, it's what I live for. When it's all working like that it doesn't matter if the song was written yesterday or when I was 15. When it works, it works.

There are others that we don't play as much, which I have a hard time relating to. A lot of the songs are about drugs and I don't use anymore. I'm a recovering heroin addict. It's not that I can't relate, because I certainly can on many levels, but I wouldn't say I'm a supporter of drug use. I very much understand drug use and everything about it but I wouldn't want to influence somebody to use drugs. Where I'm coming from now is that if you have a drug problem, there are options. It's not an inescapable prison.

Are you going to include some of those anti-drug themes in your new songs?

Our other band, the Disciples, addresses a lot of those issues. Fang's more a really in-the-gutter sort of band. That's where we came from, so I don't know if I would address those sorts of issues in a Fang song. Who knows? It's not like I sit down and fully, fully write. It's more what come's out at the time. If something that came out at that time that worked, then yeah. 

What is your setlist like these days? Is it mostly comprised of your classic songs or newer ones?
We do a bunch of stuff off our first two records and some stuff our forth record, a bunch of stuff  off of American Nightmare and we will be playing some new stuff because we've been writing stuff to record a new album. 
Awesome, tell us about the new album.
We have another band called the Desciples and most of our new songs are geared toward that. As Fang has been playing more for the last year and a half, I've been like, “You know, we need to release some new songs and put out a record. We're starting with a couple of songs and hopefully we'll get enough done where we'll have a new record out by February. 

In your eyes, what was Bay Area punk like when Fang first started and how is it now?

Punk was around before I got here. In the late seventies, when I started going to shows, '78, '79, it was an incredible scene. There were incredible bands then. Back then, because there were no rules associated with being a punk- and now there are- we all hung together. It was a far more dangerous place to be a punker because you dressed a certain way knowing that you were making yourself a target. It took a descision to become a punk rocker, and a big part of the descision was knowing you were going to get harrassed and jumped. It tended to make the scene very tight and very close because we all had to watch each other's back. I don't think that exists in the scene nearly as much as it did. There's obviously more people involved now and they don't look out for each other out of a nessecity anymore. You might not even have liked somebody but boy, if a truck full of jocks showed up, it didn't matter. You were going to get your ass beat or fight next to them regardless.

As far as the music goes, there were no rules. Nobody was telling us we had to sound a certain way. There were a lot of incredible bands that really pushed the music in different ways that have had rippling effects from the Bay Area out to styles of music now. It seems like the scene got very segmented. The more classifications there were for types of music- there was punk, then hardcore, then East Coast hardcore and political correct and peace punk and grindcore- the more these terms came about, it segmented the music scene. It caused them to not push themselves. They played a certain sub-genre and people now, if you go to a grindcore show people that go see bands in that genre won't go see bands in another genre. I think that's unfortunate. Punk rock, to me, means being open-minded.

What did Bay Area punks think about the Orange County scene back in the day?
Most of my experience with Orange County punk was when I was in prison. There's a lot of Orange County guys in prison. Early on, we didn't play in Orange County as much. There weren't that many places to play there. In the early eighties, there was this rivalry that went on, which I'm glad doesn't exist anymore. The first time we went to the Cafe Du Grande, a friend of mine and moved down there and had gotten to know people down there, and she cleared the way for us. Bands from up north would get jumped. Guys would come up from Huntington Beach with the HB Strut and often times we'd end up fighting with them, which is ridiculous. That doesn't exist anymore. Last time we went to Orange County, we loved it. 

Most of the articles out there about Fang don't focus on the band's music or it's story. They focus on your criminal history. What do you think of that?
Some of it was totally warranted when I got out of prison and started playing music again. At this point in time, it's not that that doesn't exist or that it doesn't weigh on me, that I don't have to deal with the past, but as far as to use it to sensationalize it, I think that's unfortunate. It should be about the music. I have to live on a daily basis with the consequences of my actions. I have to recognize as well that because I put myself in a position by playing music, that's part of it. I would hope that, when it does come up, it's important or me to get across that many people spend long periods of time in prison for doing whatever they've done. There's a way to get out of that revolving door system. Often times, you get caught up in that system. You get institutionalized, and you can't get out. It's important for me to put out that you can get off parole. You can live a life that you want to. That's something that gets miffed or lost when it comes down to sensationalizing.

The other thing that happens is, I take responsibility for the things that I did. I have to live with what I did for the rest of my life and I can't change it. It also doesn't have to define the rest of my life. You to take responsiblity for the past, but you also have to take responsibility for doing things differently.

Fang performs with Smogtown at the Doheny Saloon in Dana Point on Saturday. 9 p.m.

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When not running the and OC Weekly’s social media sites, Taylor “Hellcat” Hamby can be found partying like it’s 1899.

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