One look at Antiseen leader Jeff Clayton, with his chest-length graying beard and a forehead bearing the signs of one too many broken beer bottles, and it’s a safe guess that the band’s music is not used to soundtrack ballet recitals.
While there is no mistaking the punk rock group’s musical chops are as sharp as ever, it’s also easy to see by their tour schedule that the days of being the young upstarts booking hundreds of shows a year are well behind them. When they roll into a city these days, as they will Sunday night at The Pour House Music Hall in downtown Raleigh, they know that the area holds a fan base ready to receive them with open arms and banging heads.
“We try not to go do a bunch of ‘testing the waters’ when it comes to touring,” Clayton admits over the phone. “We kind of go where it’s kind of a sure thing.”
Nearly 35 years into a career that has taken Antiseen around the world and back multiple times, this is one of the only instances where the band has begun placing safe bets. Charlotte circa 1983 wasn’t really prepared to be the home territory of a group that would soon go on to be one of the most infamous in North Carolina rock music history, but to be fair, not many cities would have been. From their first performances, featuring distortion heavy songs with short running times, the band was noticed quickly in the Queen City.
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“When we first started, we came out of the gate just full of (expletive) and vinegar,” he says. “We were telling all of the other bands in the area that they were done, and that we were the new thing pushing their old thing out the door. Honestly, it’s refreshing whenever I see a new band do that now, but everyone is so concerned about hurting people’s feelings, no one really does anything like that much anymore.”
One way Clayton helped distinguish Antiseen stylistically was by embracing outside influences for the band’s onstage antics. Raised on a steady diet of horror films and Southern wrestling, the frontman phased out the band’s usage of fake blood for the real deal, cutting himself on broken shards of glass or bludgeoning himself with the microphone onstage until his forehead busted open. It was merely a visual component to accompany the audible violence that the crowds were listening to.
“Watching wrestling as a kid, it’s basically what taught me how to be a showman,” says Clayton. “I wasn’t the type of guy who could dance around a stage like Mick Jagger, or do splits like James Brown; I had to go for a different angle.”
The antagonistic vibe carried offstage, too.
“For a little while, there was a group of bands from around our area that tried to play shows together. Punk music just started becoming so full of different factions not long after that, though. Everyone started talking about what kind of punk they played, and we drew lines in the sand, and so did the other bands. It just became us against everyone else there for a little while.”
That fracturing of alliances is something Clayton laments, and he sees his old strategy for booking shows being implemented today by bands with slightly calmer temperaments. The summer concert landscape is dotted with punk and heavy metal bands fronted by teenagers, usually hailing from rural areas of the South, performing in makeshift music festivals that they staff with as many as a dozen bands at any venue that will take them.
“I think we exposed our music to a lot of different people by touring with the bands we did back then,” says Clayton. “The bands doing it today, it’s probably the only way a lot of them can even play a show, by getting together with a bunch of other bands that are like-minded and like-styles. I’d hate to have to start doing this stuff today.”
Who: Sloppy Seconds + Antiseen
When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Pour House Music Hall, 224 S. Blount St., Raleigh