The Flesh Eaters: Razor-Sharp Punk Pioneers Haven’t Lost Their Edge

Friday 19th, January 2018 / 07:00
by Karina Espinosa

VANCOUVER – The Flesh Eaters occupy a fascinating space in the history of LA punk.  They’re not so much a band as they are a revolving group of musicians helmed by Chris Desjardins, the lead singer who penned the majority of the band’s repertoire.  Poet, musician, film expert and all-around Renaissance man, Desjardins, also known as Chris D., was integral to the vitality of LA’s nascent punk culture.  He is considered as one of the most poetic lyricists to emerge from this scene, and perhaps in American punk in general.  In early 2018, more than 40 years after forming, the Flesh Eaters will reunite to mesmerize crowds once again with their trailblazing sound.

The band has gone through a series of lineup changes throughout its history, but for this upcoming West Coast tour, Desjardins is backed by fellow LA punk heavyweights John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake of X, Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman of The Blasters and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. It’s the same crop of people responsible for the Flesh Eaters’ most celebrated album, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (1981).  But while it’s common for bands on reunion tours to play from one, seminal record, Desjardins doesn’t feel pressured to pay any kind of fan service.

“For the most part, [fans of the Flesh Eaters] are already pretty familiar with all of our work.  The problem is we just have five days to rehearse before our first show.  So as much as I’d like to play from our latter records, we can only re-learn so much material,” he sighs.    

Desjardin’s frustration is understandable. After the release of A Minute to Pray, the Flesh Eaters went on to produce a slew of equally compelling work.  This includes Forever Came Today (1982) and Miss Muerte (2004), two criminally underrated albums that hold their own against the band’s 1981 release.  What’s great about the Flesh Eaters is that they resist a one-dimensional interpretation of punk rock.  Pulling from influences as diverse as African roots music, ‘70s garage rock, free jazz and blues, the band transcends the limits of genre classification.

“I think that kind of experimentation was what set us apart in punk,” Desjardins concludes.  With the band’s later work, it’s clear that Desjardins refined and even mastered his songwriting abilities.

The significance of A Minute to Pray is undeniable. The album was released in 1981, just as Reagan was elected into office and ushered in a dark decade.  Although Desjardin’s lyrics are not overtly political, they have a morbid undercurrent, evoking the most sinister strains of gothic literature and 1960s horror films. Amplified by the front man’s snarl and tormented cries, the Flesh Eaters’ music projects a grotesque vision of the world that many choose not to confront.

“It’s a vision of the kind of evil and madness that exists in humanity. That darkness, it’s always been there. We weren’t thinking in specific political terms [when making A Minute to Pray,] but I’ve always been trying to understand people who are evil and how they can justify their senseless actions.”

These kinds of sentiments resonate now more than ever and Desjardins recognizes the importance of his work in such troubling times.

“I do think we are stuck spiritually. I don’t mean that in a religious sense because everything is political and we are all so motivated by fear.  That’s why I have to be an artist.  I can’t work a 9 to 5 in an office and wear a suit and tie—although right now with these hipster trends, a suit and tie sounds like a more preferable outfit choice,” he chuckles. “I believe some of the greatest art emerges from darkness.  Art is the channel through which we can strive towards enlightenment, and that’s something we really need today.”

The Flesh Eaters will be in Vancouver for a rare, not-to-be-missed performance on January 25 at the Rickshaw Theatre.