Not so scary

Denmark’s macabre psychobilly rockers, the HorrorPops, are the exception to any number of musical rules.

Denmark’s macabre psychobilly rockers, the HorrorPops, are the exception to any number of musical rules.

Releasing their long-awaited third album, Kiss Kiss Kill Kill, this week on Hellcat Records, the HorrorPops sound a bit like Tsunami Bomb or a female Tiger Army and look decidedly different from your average timid Dane. This Sunday, the HorrorPops are headlining a gig at the Hawthorne Theatre-an event custom-made for those who like to keep their punk rock on the spooky side.

Portlanders who remember last Halloween’s well-attended Zombie March at Pioneer Square know how fun it can be to embrace the darker side of human nature, even if only for a night. The procession, which led hundreds of blood-thirsty, brain-hungry young citizens on a drunken rampage through downtown, is a good example of the type of energy found at a typical HorrorPops show–raucous and rowdy to be sure, but with a sense of solidarity that is often lamentably absent from the local scene.

One of the first stops on their tour since the release of the new album last Tuesday, Portland has a decent sized HorrorPops fanbase, one that is disproportionably large for a underground European band that, up until now, only had two records in their catalog. Before I heard their music, I would walk downtown and wonder why all these tough looking gutter-punks had these really cheesy looking patches with the HorrorPops cartoon-y logos sewn on their stud leather jackets.

I figured they were just being ironic in some cryptic way. But, one listen to the HorrorPops’ music, and it immediately became clear. The band is just as credible as The Crass or The Unseen and much more pleasant than most of the screamo garbage passed off as political punk these days.

Though psychobilly music is not a new invention, the majority of the public is still unaware of what the term means. A modern, though entirely bastardized interpretation on the American rockabilly genre popular in the 1950’s, it is technically considered a sub-genre of punk rock mainly because of the audience it tends to attract.

Contemporary psychobilly musicians extrapolate some of the purely musical elements of rockabilly-Elvis-esque straight-picking, waltz-beat drums and slide guitar, which they then distort almost beyond recognition. The lyrical imagery used in many psychobilly tunes stands out like a sore thumb when compared to the incredibly cliché lyrics of early Americana. Straight out of a Rob Zombie movie or creepy 1930’s noir propaganda film, prevalent themes of criminal behavior, blue-collar love and comic-book monster fantasies are not uncommon.

Johnny Cash is widely considered one of the heroes of the movement, but in lyrical and social terms, psychobilly music has much more in common with the Misfits’ Glenn Danzig or early Bauhaus than it does with the famous country singer.

Almost all psychobilly bands have an upright bass player. It is a distinctive element of the genre’s sound. And the HorroPops cement the uniqueness of this musical element.

Ostensibly, one of the first things that draws you to the HorrorPops is the fact that the singer and bassist Patricia Day is incredibly hot–not beautiful, not gorgeous–hot. Punk music is known for energy, not eloquence, and there’s really no other way to say it. Going for the pin-up-girl-meets-Satan look, she dresses like a thrift store Marilyn Monroe with a jet-black lady pompadour and tattooed sleeves. Her singing voice sounds like a trailer park Debbie Harry, of Blondie fame-angelic but still slightly unrefined without any of the un-sexy guttural snarl that has seems to plague female punk vocalists.

Kim Nekroman, the lead guitarist of the band and–unfortunately for me–Day’s husband, is a worthy individual. In addition to moonlighting as the axe-man for the HorrorPops, he founded, sings and plays stand-up bass for infamous Danish psychonauts The Nekromantix, a group that was instrumental in solidifying the popularity of psychobilly music both overseas and abroad with their minor hit “Who Killed the Cheerleader?” Apparently, the two met when Days’ band opened up for the Nekromantix at a festival in 1996 and bonded over their mutual admiration for meshing styles of music that do not historically go well together.

Thanks to Ikea’s hegemonic destruction of what little self-respect working-class Americans had left, there has been a trend of anti-Scandinavian sentiment lately. But when the HorrorPops fight back at the Hawthorne Theatre this weekend, it will be clear to see who the winner is. Nursing their mosh pit bruises and with their voices hoarse from cheering, the people will embrace socialism and dance around tiny bonfires fueled by cheap Swedish particle board long into the night. You will not want to miss this.