You could be forgiven for dialing up The Schizophonics’ recent sophomore release, People in the Sky, and thinking you’re hearing some lost MC5 session from 1971. Where many fledgling acts are hyper-conscious of distancing themselves from their influences, this San Diego rock ‘n’ soul power trio proudly wear them on their sweat-soaked sleeves. But founding members Pat Beers (vocals/guitars) and his wife, Lety (drums), aren’t so much imitating their idols as continuing their mission of righteous and riotous rama-lama rave-ups into the 21st century.
And that musical approach isn’t The Schizophonics’ only old-school quality. At a time when the majority of bands seem to spend all their offstage time sharing their every thought and move on Instagram, The Schizophonics have instead dedicated themselves to the original social media: live performance. In recent years, the band has earned a word-of-mouth reputation as one of the most gloriously unhinged and relentlessly entertaining live shows in the American underground, thanks in large part to Pat’s manic, magnetic stage presence. When you see him perform, it’s as if the spirits of Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown are waging war for control of his soul, as he manically works the mic with one hand and fires off fretboard solos with the other, all while his restless legs find opportunities to drop him to the floor in the splits. Over the phone from somewhere in snowy Wisconsin, Pat explains how The Schizophonics developed their unstoppable stage act—and why their revolving-door bass-player policy ultimately enhances the experience.
Spotify for Artists: What was the first band you saw that had a major impact on you?
Pat Beers: When I was really young, the first real concert I went to was KISS. It was, like, their fourth farewell tour in the late ’90s. I just assumed that's what a concert is like: The guy gets on a zip line, and there's fireballs and all this stuff. That was pretty formative in my idea of a rock spectacle. KISS gave me a sense that it's OK to be over-the-top and to try to entertain people and not try to be too cool. We're like the dive-bar version of that—we do it on a shoestring budget.
You’re based in San Diego, a city with a storied garage-rock tradition. How did your local scene inspire what you do onstage?
There's two things about the San Diego scene I always think of: the dance element and the funny stage banter. I think of bands like The Creepy Creeps, where they play rock ‘n’ roll but pretty much every song is danceable—there's this kind of party element to a lot of the bands that come out of there. And then there’s the humorous stage-banter thing that Rocket From the Crypt did—like, half their show is just listening to [frontman] John [Reis] talk in between songs. There's this punk-comedic element to a lot of it. That definitely influenced our live show. I always notice that, if one person starts dancing, it'll start to spread and everyone else will start dancing. So I try to be the first guy to do it. If I act stupid, then everyone has the permission to act stupid, too.
Do you ever have a night where you’re giving it everything you’ve got, and the audience is not reciprocating at all?
If we're having a night like that, we'll do a dance competition where we give away our drink tickets to get people going. But I go to shows, and I'm not always in the mood to stand right in front and party, so I never get mad at an audience for not responding. And sometimes, someone will look like they're having a miserable time, and after the show you realize, that's just how they rock out—they just take it in.
Was your performance style in effect from day one, or did it evolve over time?
The high energy thing was always there—when we play, I just move around. That's what rock ‘n’ roll makes me do. But it took us a good five years to develop what we were doing. In the earliest version of the band, we were trying to do a Hendrix-type freak-out thing. We watched his Monterey Pop [Festival] set, and toward the end of that show, he's playing "Wild Thing" and he's soloing with one hand, and I just thought that was so cool. I used a similar type of fuzz pedal, so I’d just let [my guitar] feed back and sustain. But then it just morphed into that style of guitar-playing mixed with Iggy Pop, where I just move around all the time. And so over the years, I just started throwing in different elements, and not really consciously. I wasn't ever like, “I'm gonna do the splits at this part!” I really try to make that part of the show kind of fluid and improvised.
When did you first attempt the splits?
We did a James Brown tribute for a Christmas show at The Casbah in San Diego and I wasn't playing guitar, so I was just trying to emulate James Brown. The first time I attempted the splits, I think I tore a ligament. It took, like, a year until it was normal. Now, I can do it better—I do a lot of stretching now.
In 2013, you went on your first European tour supporting El Vez, and serving as his backing band. What effect did that have on The Schizophonics’ development?
It was kind of like rock ‘n’ roll boot camp. El Vez is always so funny, and he has a very punk sensibility—he's kind of a troublemaker. But at the same time, he's such a professional. Every show, he would change something and, at first, it drove everybody crazy—like, “Why are you changing the show before every soundcheck?” But because we added something new to the show every night, by the end of the tour, we had this crazy complex show that you could never learn even with weeks of rehearsal. That definitely took me out of the headspace where, at the time, I was playing the same setlist at every [Schizophonics] show, because I thought if I changed it, it would lose something. The El Vez tour really made me break away from that and realize that, if you don't constantly change what you're doing all the time, it'll kind of stagnate.
Is that why you’ve never gotten a permanent bass player?
Yeah, it keeps things fresh. Originally, that started because we were touring so much, and we could only get whoever was available. For instance, one of our bass players is a teacher and can only tour in the summer. Right now, we have a bass player that came up from New Zealand—we met him when we were touring out there. But I like all the different vibes everybody brings to it. It's really fun getting people's different input and hearing what their version of the band sounds like. Sometimes, people show up and have learned all the stuff already, but I prefer to wait until we get together with the person and do the songs together. You have to get into the same headspace, especially with our stage show, because the bass player's big job is to avoid getting hit by me. I'm always moving around so much, so we have to get the stage feng shui together.