In late 1979, we (the ALTERBOYS) were approached for an interview by D. McDeMott of the new punk fanzine CREEP. Printed in extremely small batches and with limited distribution, I doubt many people ever had a chance to read it, and perhaps that’s a good thing, I don’t know. I’m unaware of any further issues being produced (this is excerpted from vol. 1, issue 2), so if you have any info on them, please let me know. Present for the interview, were Myself, Richard Kelly, Bob Hoffnar, Richard Edson (referred to as Jetson), and Karl DeLovely. JoJo Planteen was with the band at this time, but must have been out of town or something. The interesting thing that happened was that when D. McDemott transcribed the tapes, she misattributed everything that was said, which made it even better to us. (Garrett 2002)
“The Alter boys are a non-band. People come up and say, ‘Are you in a band?’ and I say, ‘No, I’m in the Alter boys.’”
Speaking is Garrett, vocalist for S.F.’s Alter boys. Garrett is one of the scarce remaining original members of the band. Formed in April ’79 under the wing of mentor Snuky Tate, the Alter boys have undergone a rash of personnel changes through their brief history. But this has had little effect on the efficiency of the band. Rather, it is a vital aspect of the actual concept of the Alter boys.
“Originally, we had rehearsals and anyone who showed up was in the band,” explains (Richard) Kelly, on lead guitar and organ. “So we had different people for every performance. And nobody had to be there. If somebody wasn’t there who was needed for a song, we’d just write another on the spot. That’s what we were trying to do: any group of people who happened to get together, who’d go out and play were the Alter boys.
For clarification purposes, Garrett says, “All these people kept sleeping in Snuky’s room, and all were in the band at one point.”
Bassist, Bob “Dubert” Hoffnar, newest member, found this policy the key to his becoming an Alter boy. “I looked at the Alter boys and said, ‘Now there’s a band where I can get up and do anything I want and sound good.’ I had been in (the now defunct) Merz and was a rabid Alter boys fan. I was at all there shows. I thought they were the greatest band in the universe.”
See, anyone can be an Alter boy, Even JoJo, who contributes vocals and depth.
“At first it was all a lot of fun,” says Kelly. Half the time the club owners didn’t know we were supposed to be there. We had rehearsed a piece once or twice. We didn’t know where we were, and we’d get on stage and it was like chaos. We didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.”
Then, in July, the band was offered the chance to record; their response was one of taking themselves too seriously for their purpose. They hit a low moral point and lost the recording deal anyway. But by November, they had pulled themselves together and have since had a number of performances in the Bay Area.
Each show has a particular theme or motif. “If you see the Alter boys.” Warns Garrett, “the next time you see them you won’t hear the same show. We might play the same songs, but the rhythms, vocals, and chords will be changed.”
Adds saxiphonist Karl DeLovely, “At this point we’re trying to get back to that concept of having fun, away from the serious band with a set repertoire, rehearsing all the time. We’re doing shows now all based on, in some strange way, art…”
The term “art rock” loosely means New Wave music with visual qualities that perhaps borders on modern jazz. It is met with an assortment of reactions from “shit” to the only innovative thing happening in rock ‘n’ roll. The Alter boys are art rock.
“There are good art rock bands and there are bad art rock bands,” figures Kelly. “We just happen to be the best.” Adds Bob, “Art rock is about all I enjoy today.”
Since music is art, does that not render all rock bands to be art rock?
“No’” retorts Bob. “The Pushups don’t have any art. No Alternative has no art. SVT has no art whatsoever.”
boy avidly considers him/herself an artist. With the perspective of an artist,
Garrett says, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth. In the New Wave scene
over the past year there have been a lot of negative feelings and words about
art and I think it’s high time everyone face up to the fact that art is
wholesome. I was at the Art Institute once and there were people putting art
down there. It’s like going into a church and saying God is a jerk. It’s an
insult. If you don’t like art, go to
“Or go out and get a job,” offers Karl. “Go to work and you won’t have to bother with it.”
Grieves Kelly, “People have these bad attitudes, standing there and accusing us of being art rock. And it’s really ridiculous, ‘cause they’re all people who’ve got education, and a lot of ideas. They accuse us of not playing rock and roll. Do we consider ourselves rock and roll? Put it this way: we’re a group of people with real diverse interests and we play at New Wave places with New Wave bands. So I think in some general way we see ourselves fitting in with that.
The band would have arguments leading from “Rock ‘n’ roll is completely dead” to “No, it’s the only thing left on the face of the earth.” “It took until now for us to realize that all the mystical elements of the universe are contained in 2 and 4. The backbeat.” disclosed Garrett.
According to Kelly, music, per se, has very little to do with the Alter boys. Influences are not well known bands, nor even local bands (though they all like Pink Section), but instead ideas and objects, in their case the back of a box of Purina Dog Chow or a hand exerciser. If it weren’t for the hand exerciser there might be no Alter boys.
“One night I was really sick lying in my bed,” begins Karl, “I heard Snuky and Edson writing a song in the kitchen (“Frank Sinatra” their first song). Snuky then wrote real nice music to it. And Garrett came out with a hand exerciser on.”
“They said it was the ultimate rhythm,” recalls Garrett. “That it was the Sound of the Alter boys.”
The band uses the non-sounds and non-rhythms contained in their music as a vehicle for their concepts. “It isn’t really music,” says Bob, “The band is just sort of a medium conveying certain ridiculous ideas.” The group selected a band format to convey ideas because of the accessibility provided to musicians through the New Wave scene.
Or, as Karl puts it, we have to live up to certain standards of absurdity that we’re constantly trying to maintain for ourselves. We’re not just stupid musicians. We’re intelligent people. We have ideas; we have contacts with the world.
R. Jetson, drummer, adds, “I don’t think there’s any conflict between art, dancing, and the kind of transcendental humor that we represent.
“We’re the music of the ‘90s.”
Garrett: “Some guy came up to me at the Café Flore and said, ‘You’re in the Alter boys. I really like you; you’re my favorite band this week.’ And that pretty much wrapped up what the Alter boys are all about.
“It’s a lot like turning on the radio and trying to forget what you’re listening to. That’s the Alter boys. And sometimes it’s just white noise, ya know?”