For the Jersey Shore’s alt quartet Gimme Drugs —vocalist/ guitarist Jesse Skokos, guitarist Lawrence Bock, bassist Justin Cochrane and drummer Tim Churchman—it’s all about good songwriting. Like ready-made comparisons The Lemonheads, these guys have had their salad days in punk bands, with Churchman formerly of NJ-based pop-punk outfit Let It Burn and Cochrane of Virginia’s post-hardcore stalwarts Fairweather, but Gimme Drugs is a different animal. Like a gnarled mixture of their former bands, plus a heavy dose of country and alt-rock, the infectious melodies are sad, dirty and slow-burning, the rhythms subtle and well-paced, and the storytelling-styled dark humor from main songwriter and lyricist Skokos (“I smoke cigarettes and write music, and I’m pretty good at ‘em both”) are lighthearted, funny, honest and complex, making Gimme Drugs feel like a missing Sub-Pop band from the ‘90s and perfectly poised for indie fans today to latch on to.
Citing influences like Current 93, The Beatles and Nirvana, Gimme Drugs formed in 2008 after Skokos’ project, The Lugosi Suite, fell apart. Once childhood friends, Skokos and Churchman and long-time pal Cochrane added their mysterious second guitarist Bock, whose name Cochrane recalls, “I didn’t even know for like six months!” Gimme Drugs solidified their live sound just in time to support The Bouncing Souls on a quick stint down the East Coast, including a stop at The Fest in Gainesville. But, “their audience hates us” explains Skokos, bemused. “When [they] heckle us, they don’t say ‘you suck,’ they say ‘play faster.’ We were playing to kids who are 16 and want to hear punk rock bands.“ And that’s not what Gimme Drugs is in sound, but like The Lemonheads’ Evan Dando, they’ve got the swagger in spades.
Admittedly a “drunk mess,” elusive frontman Skokos reminisces about how Gimme Drugs got their moniker. “Jeff from Modern Life Is War was getting a tattoo of a squid that said ‘Gimme Danger’ and I thought it was the most ridiculous thing. So then I got a tattoo [of] a pot leaf and this dude’s like, ‘Do you want it to say something?’ So I said, yeah, ‘Gimme Drugs.’“ And while you’d expect it to be an apt title for a stoner rock band or maybe even some clever hippies, Skokos goes on that, “Even if we are a bunch of fuck-ups, we’re not into being some stupid heavy drug band. It’s kind of aggravating, people expect to see a bunch of dumb potheads, and talk themselves into believing we are a stoner rock band even after they see us. I’d rather look at it as a social observation than we’re the band that parties all the time.” Adds Cochrane, “It’s like a science experiment.”
Boasting brilliant songwriting that leisurely unfolds and is delivered with stark sincerity, Gimme Drugs are definitely not what you’d expect to hear based on their name. Even if “some songs are true and some songs I fucking pulled out of my ass,” Skokos quips, “To me it’s all about clever words. If I walk down the street just humming to myself, and something comes out that’s like ‘find me someone pretty that I don’t want to stab’ —that sticks in my head. I want to write something that makes people laugh, I want to write something that makes people chuckle. It has nothing to do with trying to be overly literate or smart, I’m just a bad comedian.” And for better or for worse, Skokos’ dark, sharp lyrics sang through his deep voice against haunting guitar melodies makes for a dynamic that’s endearing and catchy.
“I don’t think its about the band or the arrangements per se,” Jesse goes on, “I would like to strongly rely on the songs themselves and being able to prove that they can sound good no matter if they’re played fast, slow, however—a good song is a good song and that’s that.“ And with nothing but good songs in their emergent repertoire—“Cold And Empty Hearts,” “Jesse’s A Mess,” “Your Eyes Shine Like Dying”— Gimme Drugs’ demo captures the raw talent of the band and simple austerity of the songs. “We’re just trying to play music that’s based on having good songs,” solidifies Skokos. “Songs are a lot harder to sell than stage presence, than a good act, than a good party, and we’re a hard-to-sell band. But I don’t know how to do anything else. It’s like the Hunger Artist, you know? Its like you sit there in a cage covered with hay for fucking years and everybody forgets about you, but you still don’t know how to do anything else. So we’re gonna keep doing what we’re doing. That’s it.”
Catch Gimme Drugs on Feb. 13 at O’Toole’s in Asbury Park, NJ. For more info, visit myspace.com/gimmedrugs1.