Memphis Punk Goes West 

Local punks Ex-Cult team with Goner Records and San Francisco’s Ty Segall to prep a debut album.


Andrew J. Breig


The distance between the San Francisco and Memphis music scenes shrinks as local punk rockers Ex-Cult head to California to record their first full-length album produced by Ty Segall, all on an advance from Goner Records.

"It's kind of exciting to take a band from Memphis and send them out to some friends of ours in San Francisco and see what winds up happening," Goner co-owner Zac Ives says.

The label has released several albums by the San Francisco-based Segall, who has emerged as one of the garage/punk scene's signature artists. Goner has also released Ex-Cult's first seven-inch single under the band's original name, Sex Cult. After a like-named New York record label delivered a cease-and-desist letter to Goner, the band changed its name to Ex-Cult.

Chris Shaw (Vile Nation, Achtung! zine) and Michael Peery (Hail Maria!, Magic Kids) decided to start a band over beers at Midtown's Lamplighter Lounge. During their first practice, they called guitarist J.B. Horrell (Moving Finger, Noise Choir). Shaw and Peery weren't sure at first what form the band would take.

"We knew certain things. We should make it Syd Barrett meets the Angry Samoans," Peery says.

"Or the Victims," Shaw says, citing another early punk influence.

"We told that to J.B., and he didn't look at us like we were insane. So it worked out."

Shaw (on vocals) and Peery (drums) also knew they wanted another guitar player, but nothing fit until they thought of Alec McIntyre (Di Di Mau), another local musician with whom they were already friends.

"I just got a text that was like, 'You wanna be in a punk band?,'" McIntyre says, mocking the cliché. Natalie Hoffman (NOTS, Bake Sale) entered on bass after the band's second show in February 2011.

Some months later, Ex-Cult landed on the bill at Gonerfest 8, where Segall first told the band he really liked what they were doing. Within a week, Goner released the band's debut single, "Errand Boy," a record full of head-bobbing energy and orchestrated chaos. It received a ton of good press, and the band continued to play local shows a few times a month at the Buccaneer, Poplar Lounge, Lamplighter, and Hi-Tone Café, with a brief tour at the end of October. The band has always been selective about who they've opened for — acts from Memphis like True Sons of Thunder (which includes the other Goner co-owner, Eric Friedl) and Moving Finger, Nashville's Useless Eaters, Total Control from Australia, and Segall.

This January, Goner saw the momentum the band was gaining and decided to release their debut album, featuring the band at the Goner showcase at Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival this spring. Segall again approached the band but this time with the desire to produce their album.

"Ty liked their show. They liked the way Ty recorded stuff, and they wound up talking a bunch about maybe recording," Ives says.

Shaw was nervous about asking Ives, not knowing what to expect from the label. "I thought there was going to be some spreadsheets and Microsoft Excel, but there were some beers and it was done," he says.

Goner offered the band an advance to record at a studio run by San Francisco scene stalwart Eric Bauer, where the Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Rank/Xerox have sought asylum and creative freedom.

While Ex-Cult admitted its songs are a bit more rehearsed than some of the looser stuff that Bauer has recorded, Ives thinks it will be a good fit.

"Taking the sounds that Ty was getting out of his recordings [with Bauer] and trying to meld them on top of how Ex-Cult is doing things is kind of this neat way of throwing two things together and seeing what could happen," Ives says.

That same collaborative spirit is part of what attracted Goner to Ex-Cult in the first place.

"It's a bunch of different people who had been doing different kinds of music, and it came together," Ives says. "They all brought their own kind of piece to it, and I think they created something pretty neat and unique."

Most of the album's songs have been written in the last two months, with the band building on riffs delivered by individual members. Shaw polishes the musical product off with narrative, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

"Most of the lyrics tell a story about things that young people think about: cops, being angry, feeling isolated," McIntyre says, with an ironic edge. "Plenty of murder fantasies."

The band plays high-energy shows: Horrell freaks out on the guitar, Shaw freaks out on the mic, Hoffman and Peery hold steady on bass and drums, respectively, and McIntyre fixates on the guitar strapped high to his chest before he, too, loses it.

This weekend will be the last chance to see the band live before they head to California to record.

Ex-Cult, with Cities Aviv
The Beauty Shop
Saturday, August 11th
10:30 p.m.; $3

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