Roger Clyne celebrates 20 years of The Refreshments’ cult classic

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On a warm Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. in February, Roger Clyne walks off his tour bus to make his way across the parking lot to the Yucca Tap Room stage door. He’s followed by longtime drummer PH Naffah. The Yucca Tap Room is a small venue that holds about 200 people – tightly –  squeezed in the middle of an old strip mall. It’s where The Refreshments, one of Tempe’s seminal, albeit short-lived, alternative rock bands, got their start in the early-90’s.

“I’ve been following you for 20 years and you brought me right back to the Yucca Tap Room. Thanks!” Naffah quipped sarcastically while shaking his head.

But on this night, a show at the Yucca isn’t the start of a long journey for a young band trying to get their feet wet. Nor does it signify a band struggling to book larger gigs. Rather, it marks a celebration of seasoned veterans who have secured their mark in the music industry, if not on pop culture (Clyne and Naffah wrote the King of the Hill theme) and have returned for a victory performance.

In February, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers played a month-long residency to celebrate 20 years of The Refreshments’ major label debut album, Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy.  It was cramped. It was hot. Half the stage lights didn’t work, and as the dry-witted Naffah noted, “It smelled the same. And they still haven’t fixed their toilet problem, that’s for sure.”

The band loved every minute of it.

Every night was a sold out show with the crowd singing along loudly to every word.

“I’ve always been a fan of the dirty rock bars, a small, intimate setting, because you can really get that feedback, that energy loop where the crowd going nuts so it makes you want to go nuts. That’s what I dig. That’s just a solid show to me is when that energy gets flowin,” Naffah said.

“I thought (the shows) killed. Great to go back to a room that has that kind of a response. Anything you do in there you can feel. I love that type of intimacy,” added Clyne. “That place was a stumble down memory lane. I love everything I  can remember of it.”

With the hometown shows under their belts, Clyne and Naffah, along with bassist Nick Scropos and lead guitarist Jim Dalton, are now spending the rest of 2016 taking the 20th anniversary celebration of Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy on the road, playing the album in sequence, in its entirety, at every tour stop. On Wednesday, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, Clyne’s band of the last 15 years and one of the most successful 100% independent rock bands of the era, kick off a western U.S. run with a return visit to Salt Lake City and Liquid Joe’s.

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Mixing Violent Femmes, Rush and other weird stuff

In February of 1996, The Refreshments – Clyne, Naffah, lead guitarist Brian Blush, bassist Art “Buddy” Edwards – released Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, their debut album on Mercury Records. The album produced the radio and MTV singles “Banditos” and “Down Together” and earned the band guest spots on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and MTV’s 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield.

The 12-song, 53-minute album never came close to reaching platinum record sale status.

Yet for a generation of mainly college-aged kids in the mid-90s, The Refreshments combination of crunching guitar chords and irreverent frat-boy lyrics, mixed with south-of-the border flavoring, proved to be a landmark album. A true cult classic.

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“I just feel lucky. It was catching lightning in a bottle,” Clyne said. “I look back on it and I’m proud of it.”

But even Clyne says he still doesn’t fully understand what it is that has made the album so popular and has helped it stand the test of time with both cult and mainstream music lovers alike.

And really, he doesn’t want to know.

What he does know is that the chemistry of the band and all the different musical influences each person brought to the table worked. Naffah (from Chicago) and Blush (from Detroit) brought their Midwestern rock influences, like Rush, Styx and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Clyne said. Edwards brought his “damaged art, weirdo” stuff, like Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, Clyne said, adding that he related more to that than Rush. Clyne, the kid who used to have Black Flag and Violent Femmes stickers on his skateboard and listened to all the “acronym bands” of the era – JFA, DOA, and PIL – in addition to old school Psychedelic Furs on his Walkman, brought his punk rock influences into the band.

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The first song Clyne ever played with The Refreshments was “Carefree.”

“I totally remember the feeling. It was magic when we started playing it. I still don’t know what the hell the song means. But it was magic,” Clyne said  “I love the way it feels without understanding what it means.”

The Next Big Thing

In the early ’90s, the Seattle scene was the talk of the music world. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were getting record deals and radio play left and right.

But while flannel was trending in the northwest, about 1,400 miles away, another music scene was steadily growing in southwest around Tempe and Arizona State University. The Gin Blossoms hit big with their single “Hey Jealousy” and were suddenly getting radio airplay and touring across the nation.

“You could not not pay attention to what was happening there, because it was huge. It was a big point of pride for Tempe and musicians who were slugging it out in the bar. We’re all like, ‘It’s possible. There’s hope for everybody,'” Naffah said.

Not long after, as record companies started scouring Arizona looking for bands to sign. The Refreshments, fresh off an extremely successful showing at Autsin’s SXSW Festival, were tagged as the “next big thing.”
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Rock or Grad School

Clyne’s journey to The Refreshments arguably started when the self-described extremely shy kid growing up, took a chance at lead vocals for a friend’s band that needed a singer. He had taken piano lessons in grade school and sung in his middle school choir. But Clyne had never fronted a band before.

“They needed a singer. I said, I’ve got nothing to lose, so I just gave it a shot,” he said,

Clyne says he was about 16 or 17 years old at that time. Singing in front of a microphone inside a garage turned out to be easy, he said. It was when there were people on the other side of the mic staring back at him that performing became difficult. As a kindof security blanket, Clyne – who today is a wealth of charisma on stage – started strapping on a guitar when he performed, even though he couldn’t play and never even bothered to plug it into an amp. It was at that time that Roger started to learn chords and how to actually play the instrument hanging on his shoulder.

In 1989, Clyne formed The Mortals, a three-piece indie/alt-rock outfit. It was a time when Clyne really started to write and perform his own original music. Among the songs he wrote for The Mortals were “Blue Collar Suicide” and “Girly,” two songs that would later become Refreshments’ standards when Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy was released.

Blue Collar was “considerably different” with The Mortals, he said, particularly because no one played lead guitar. Clyne described it as a Johnny Marr/Smith’s style of song. Likewise, “Girly” had “a lot hotter pace” with The Mortals before it was given its current bounce with The Refreshments and Blush’s great guitar hook.

After graduating from ASU, Clyne took the most unlikely of rock star paths by being accepted to graduate school at California State University Long Beach to study environmental psychology/experimental design. But first, Clyne wanted to travel and write. While in Taiwan, he asked the college if he could defer his enrollment for a term. The school agreed. But a term later, when Clyne made another call, this time from Ensenada, and asked to defer again, they told him no.

So Clyne had to make the choice of going to graduate school or continue with the “exciting, seductive, mysterious” world of music.

“It was an easy choice,” Clyne said.

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Naffah had also graduated from ASU in pre-med but wasn’t ready to dive right back into the books and go to Med School. But during the time between 1993 and 1995 – when the Gin Blossoms were hitting big, Naffah was mostly frustrated because he didn’t have a band of his own. His drums were stored in his closet at home.

Because of that, he didn’t pay much attention to the local music scene.

“I couldn’t go see a band (play live) because it would just frustrate me that I didn’t have a band of my own,” he said.

Naffah’s sister, however, was heavily tuned in to the local music scene. It was his sister that introduced PH to The Refreshments by making him listen to a cassette copy of “Nada,” from the band’s independent release Wheelie, on her Walkman.

“I said, ‘That’s a pretty good song.’ It definitely caught and kept my attention for the full 19 minutes, or however long that song is.”

Naffah had actually played with Clyne at a fraternity party at ASU around 1991 and had heard of The Mortals.

A few months later, Naffah got a call Blush who told him that The Refreshments were about to be signed to a major record label, but their drummer was having personal issues and the band wouldn’t get signed unless they could find a new one.

“Maybe. I’ll think about it,” Naffah told Blush, already knowing he’d give it a try.

Two months later, The Refreshments were off to recording studio with producer Clif Norrell to record Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy.

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Everybody Knows That the World…

To fans today, picking “Banditos” as a first single seems like a no brainer. But for the Refreshments, it literally came down to a coin toss.

Clyne, although he liked “Banditos,” stuck to his punk rock roots and voted for “Blue Collar Suicide.” He felt “Banditos” sounded TOO MUCH like a radio single.

The coin toss went in favor of “Banditos,” however, and the rest is history.

“Banditos” became an alt-rock success with its memorable chorus, “Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people.” It was a line that Clyne had written in college while he and his brother were roommates.

The inspiration came one day when Clyne’s brother came storming through the front door very upset because he had just gotten into a car accident that was his fault. During his ensuing vocal rant, Clyne’s brother uttered the phrase, “This world is full of stupid people.”

“I was looking for a line, I can build on that,” Clyne thought to himself.

The appeal of the line, Clyne said, was that “It’s so true.”  And if you’re thinking it, then everyone else is thinking it, he said, noting it was probably the same thing the person who was on the receiving end of the accident said when they got home.

The first time the band heard themselves on the radio was late at night/early in the morning after a show. The Refreshments, who traveled by van then, were driving across a bridge in Mississippi when “Banditos” came on the radio. Band manager Jim Swafford, who was driving, turned it up.

“I just remember sitting in the backseat of the van listening to it and going, ‘Wow, that’s me on the radio. Pretty cool,'” Naffah said.

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Kovac’s Korner

There are several symbols from the Fizzy Fuzzy album that have become iconic for fans. On the back cover is a picture of the band standing and sitting around a sign located in Apache Junction, Ariz. advertising the abandoned Kovac’s Korner club and their roasted chicken. The sign was torn down a year or two ago. But before then, fans of RCPM and The Refreshments made pilgrimages to have their pictures taken in front of it, or to try and recreate the album picture themselves.

That photo which became infamous for fans, happened completely by accident, Naffah said. The band was actually on their way to another location for a photo shoot (which ended up on the inside sleeve) when they spotted the sign, stopped the car, got out and took a few pictures.

That picture, Clyne said, “It’s like life on the road: roasted chicken, cold beer, musicians broke down looking for a ride to the next stage. It was a happy accident.”

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Fizzy Fuzzy Girl

The front of the album has also become an iconic symbol for both Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy and The Refreshments.  The album cover is a drawing of girl reminiscent of pin-up girls on B-17 and B-29 Bomber planes from World War II. The artwork was done by the same man who designed the album cover for the American Graffiti Soundtrack.

Clyne loved it because the symbol was “uniquely American,” just like The Refreshments delivered an American brand of music.

“I wanted it to be sexy and fun, because that’s what rock and roll is,” he said.

Some fans have wondered over the years if the girl on the cover has a name. Clyne says he has wondered that too. But like the success The Refreshments achieved, he doesn’t really want to know.

“I love it that it’s been a mystery for 20 years now,” he said.

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Reunion, Touring and Tequila

In June, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers will return to Rocky Point, Mexico for their annual rock-n-roll beach music festival. At least 15 bands will be performing on four different stages over the extended four day weekend. One of those acts, continuing with the Fizzy Fuzzy anniversary celebration, will be a reunion of 3/4 of The Refreshments. Blush, who reconnected with Clyne in 2010, will join Clyne, Naffah and Scropos for two sets of all Refreshments songs. Whether a full reunion of all four Refreshments – who last played together 1998 – will happen is unknown. Edwards, now an author with three novels under his belt, has declined prior reunion invitations.

Clyne has also been busy overseeing his own brand of top-shelf tequila that his company sells. The Arizona Diamondbacks recently announced that Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila will be the official tequila of Chase Field. It will also be available for purchase at the bar at Liquid Joe’s on Wednesday.

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In addition, Clyne has been writing music for the next RCPM album. He recently debuted two new songs at a concert in Scottsdale. But Clyne is also a firm believer in full-length albums (10+ songs) and physical product. And since RCPM won’t be recording until they’re off the road, Clyne said the likelihood of completing a new album by the end of 2016 could be a stretch.

For now, Clyne and Naffah will make a couple of laps around the U.S. during the rest of 2016 to celebrate an album that, for many, had such an impact on them 20 years ago, and is still being discovered today.

“l love looking out at the crowds and seeing there are those of us who are vintage, and also the hip, young folks who are who were exposed to us by their parents and feel same thing we old timers did. Kids who are in their 20s who were 6 and 7 and had a mom or uncle play (Fizzy Fuzzy) all the time,” Clyne said. “It’s unsullied through the years. It has its own vitality that time hasn’t stripped.”

“I had no idea it would turn out to be the moderate success that it was. I didn’t know we were going to be as infamous as we were,” Naffah said. “If it helped out in any way, shape or form the people who found Fizzy Fuzzy at the right point in their lives, then I’m happy to be a part of that. But I didn’t set out thinking I’d affect people’s lives with this album. I just hoped I friggin’ play these songs right while recording them.

“It makes you step back and go, ‘Maybe we are part of that music culture that affected us when we were kids, that thing that’s out there that’s kind of a mysterious thing that you don’t really know about.’ In that aspect it makes me feel like, ‘Wow, I did leave my mark.’ But I didn’t set out thinking that at all. It was just fun. And I was good at what I did. I had fun doing what I do. And hopefully what I do translates to other people.”

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