Friday, August 10, 2012
Denton punk wildman Richard Haskins experiments with low-key, acoustic gigs
During Wee-Beasties' latest hiatus, the band's frontman unplugs and calms down for solo shows.
It used to be a familiar sight in Denton bars and music venues: A 5-foot-8 man, wearing nothing but a soiled pair of women’s underwear, roaring into a microphone and moving every inch of his hairy, husky body to an ecstatic punk rock song. Unfazed, his band – a standard guitar-bass-drum punk outfit with an added brass section – plays on as their sweaty frontman, gasping for breath, charges into a crowd of enthusiastic fans, gleefully hopping and slamming into each other.
Richard Haskins, designated rabble-rouser for the notorious Denton-based Wee-Beasties, rarely dons his frontman outfit these days.
Haskins, 27, said the Beasties are currently on hiatus – the group has played about 50 “last shows ever” since forming in Denton in 2000 – because of a lack of band members and “questionable,” high-intensity, occasionally violent performances that have caused venues around the country to ban the group from performing.
Instead of underwear, Haskins wears a trucker hat that hides his buzz cut, a sleeveless T-shirt showing off a tattoo on his upper arm, a pair of torn-up and faded blue jeans and a pair of black boots.
His entire wardrobe fits in a laundry basket. He sleeps on his friend’s couch. He doesn’t have a car.
Depending on the day, he works as a handyman or a dishwasher at UNT.
Even with all the odds against him, Haskins isn’t surrendering his punk rock roots.
“Mike Wiebe [singer for Denton-bred punk band The Riverboat Gamblers] once said, ‘Richard Haskins is a rocker and he’ll do this for the rest of his life,’ and he’s right,” Haskins said. “It’s the only thing I know how to do and want to do.”
Born in Sherman, Texas, and raised in Denison, Haskins moved to Denton when he was 10 years old.
His grandmother, Edna Mae Glover, taught him piano, but when a bus driver gave the young and impressionable Haskins a Misfits CD, the fast-paced guitar riffs and punk-Elvis howling of lead singer Glenn Danzig and Co. drowned out the classical music.
His guitar-playing took on a different slant after that.
“With punk rock, I discovered my guitar can cry and scream for you,” Haskins said.
Together with a few close friends from high school, Haskins formed the Wee-Beasties in 2000. The name is half-joke, half-tribute to Los Angeles punk band The Germs and scientist Antoine van Leeuwenhoek, who discovered the first bacteria under a microscope and named them “beasties.”
The band went on tour and recorded in the summers of 2003 and 2004 before taking a five-year hiatus after a long series of lineup rearrangements and near-break-ups.
Success and Fall
During the hiatus, Haskins opened the Black Bottle recording studio in Denton, but repelled by the idea of spending the rest of his life in an office, Haskins and the Beasties reunited in 2009.
The band played shows in North Texas area and Austin, as well as two high-profile performances at the 2010 and 2011 Warped Tour in Dallas, and released a collaborative EP, Don’t Shred On Me: Volume 1 with Brave Combo in 2011.
Friction within the band, erratic crowds, Haskins’ alcohol-fueled showmanship and occasional legal problems led to another near-breaking point in 2011 after a rowdy performance outside the Courthouse-on-the-Square during the 35 Conferette music festival. Haskins said that show, which featured some of the Beasties’ more profane songs, topless fans and a pants-less, raging performance from Haskins pushed the band over the edge.
The band was not invited back for 35 Denton this year, and Haskins said the notoriety has made it difficult to find venues in Denton willing to embrace the Beasties’ anarchic live presence.
Keeping such a large band with such a fluid lineup together is in itself a challenge, said Matt Pole, guitarist for Wee-Beasties.
“Dealing with so many people in the band, things don’t always go smoothly,” Pole said.
If short-lived past hiatuses – as well as recent performances by the band – are any indication, the Wee-Beasties are far from dead, but lately Haskins has been performing in quieter settings, in front of an older crowd.
He has played two solo acoustic shows so far, but Haskins said the intimate performances have been a way to get the “depressing stuff” out of his life, and crowd reaction has been positive.
His long-time best friend Lauren McKinney said Haskins does a better job singing Hank Williams than Hank Williams. At a Wee-Beasties show, Haskins is a Tasmanian Devil in women’s underwear.
“But when he sings acoustic, it’s some of the most heartbroken, emotionally charged songs ever,” she said. “It’s a different feel.”
Whether it’s low-key, low-paying acoustic shows in quiet coffee shops or raucous, ear-splitting fests in seedy bars, Haskins said his love for playing and performing music will never fade. The man just wants to rock.
“If I make it to 50 and I’m not in prison, I’ll perform for a local show or a birthday party,” Haskins said. “It’s not because I have integrity, but because it’s the only thing I know how to do.”
Pegasus News Content partner - North Texas Daily
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