By Jim Morrison
“Big Al” Staggs of the long-loved and long-absent band Left Wing Fascists likes to say that the group’s latest album, “Oxymoron,” avoided the usual studio fisticuffs of decades ago because the parts were recorded separately.
Longtime guitarist Scott Carlisle created the music in rural North Carolina, where he now lives. Months later, Staggs recorded the vocals with producer Stacy Heydon at a studio in California over three days.
“In the past we would get together in a room and bang it out and it would come to fists,” Staggs says. “This time around it came to fists, but it was usually on the phone. But it was good. It wasn’t a negative thing in my mind.”
But that doesn’t mean the sparring is over, even as the album hits Amazon and other outlets as a download and hits Birdland Records in Virginia Beach as a limited edition physical CD.
For fans of old songs like “I Drive a Yugo,” “To the Beach,” and “Beer Gut,” the new disc will be a welcome trip back to the ’90s.
The 10-song album features Staggs’s driving vocals (improved since throat surgery in 1999) and his off-kilter look at life in songs like “Win Her Chicken Dinner” about his fiance, “She’s Bananas” about an ex (“It’s an unfortunate situation; I can’t talk about it”) and “Catphishing” (“A true story. It was weird”).
It also features knifing guitar work. Whose work depends upon who you ask. Carlisle says he guesses 40 percent of the original guitar demos he recorded remain. The rest is by Heydon, who had a brief fling recording on a David Bowie album 40 years ago and has played on numerous Iggy Pop records in addition to producing and engineering work.
Nonsense, says Staggs, who claims 80 percent of the guitar work is from Carlisle, who supplied the music for eight songs (among the other two is a version of the late Robbin Thompson’s “Sweet Virginia Breeze” on speed).
“The problem is that it’s kind of a hostile takeover in a way,” says Carlisle, who claims he was frozen out of input on the disc.
Staggs says he understands how Carlisle feels. “I basically took his baby and now I’m having to raise it,” he says. “He basically had these songs. I put lyrics to them. We were in agreement all the way. ”
They both agree that Carlisle recorded music and sent eight demos to Staggs. Staggs says he was blown away by how good they were and reached out to Heydon, who moved to California decades ago after producing the two Left Wing Fascists records, to see if he’d be interested. He was.
The group has not played together for two decades with the exception of reunion shows at the NorVa with Waxing Poetics. Left Wing Fascists formed in 1987 and quickly gained a fervent local following. Their first album, “A Mother’s Nightmware,” was issued in 1991. A second album, “All Fired Up,” was released in 1995. The band stopped playing soon after. There are no plans, Staggs says, for future shows.
None of the other members of the band from its heyday appear on the new album. So is it really a Left Wing Fascists album? “I feel like it’s still Left Wing Fascists because it’s Scott and myself,” he answers.
Staggs spent the summer writing lyrics for the songs. He created a Kickstarter campaign that raised $2,300 from 32 backers to help produce the album. Carlisle believed the release would be issued in April 2016.
But the deadline changed so the album could be in buyers’ hands before the holidays. “The deadline was frustrating to him,” Staggs says. “We were on deadline and he was wanting to send 25 great guitar parts.”
Carlisle says he indeed did want to spend more time on the guitar parts. “I created songs where they showcase my guitar work,” he says, adding that it was originally conceived as a solo project releasing a few songs with lyrics by Staggs.
“Rush, rush, rush, rush, rush killed it for me,” Carlisle says. “The songs didn’t have enough seasoning.”
He says he never heard final mix-downs for the album. Staggs says they were available on Dropbox for him. He needed to get the album out by Black Friday.
“He wrote these great songs,” he adds of Carlisle. “We just ran out of time. Scott’s frustration is the way it (the recording) was done.”
Both men say they don’t want to attack the other. “Scott should be very proud of what he’s done,” Staggs says.
Carlisle plays with a group in North Carolina. He’s contemplating a move back to the Norfolk area. He says he still likes the songs he wrote, but they need to be re-recorded to sound the way he wants them to be. He doesn’t understand why the project was rushed. “There’s no rainbow of money waiting for us,” he says, adding that he wanted to make a record he’d be proud to listen to in ten years.
Staggs will be playing a few of the songs with his current group, The Moaning Lisas.
Downloads on Amazon, he says, appear to be going well although he did not have recent figures. The album reached number one on Amazon’s hourly Adult Alternative chart for a bit. How did it end up labeled as adult alternative? Staggs doesn’t know, but he’ll go with the number one ranking. On a recent morning, it was number 1987 in Alternative Rock.
Staggs is hoping for another reunion show with Waxing Poetics. Paul Johnson of the band played on the record. But he says it won’t happen unless Carlisle agrees to play.
For Staggs, a school teacher these days, it was a great experience recording again with Heydon. “I had the time of my life,” he says. “That man pushed me to levels I never thought I could reach.”