The URINALS formed in 1978 as a five-piece parody of punk rock, at UCLA’s Dykstra Hall dormitory. The band consisted of Delia Frankel (vocals), Steve Willard (guitar), Kevin Barrett (toy drums), Kjehl Johansen (toy organ) and John Jones (later Talley-Jones, bass). Their sole performance as a five-piece was a four-song set (two originals and covers of the JAM’s "This is the Modern World" and the Jetsons theme song) played at the dorm talent show, which was held in the building’s cafeteria. The acclaim was immediate and, as a bonus, the jazz band which followed them was thoroughly outraged.
The usual "creative differences" surfaced early with Frankel and Willard’s decision to depart. The remaining trio soldiered on, with Johansen picking up the guitar in place of the wheezing Emenee organ. None of the three could play their instruments, which was considered an advantage, as it forced the band to rely upon material of a tightly focused scope. Few of the early songs ventured beyond two chords.
Their debut as a trio came on Halloween eve 1978 during a dorm-wide party. Vitus Matare, keyboard-player for LA power-punk band THE LAST, stumbled upon the band and proposed to record them. Utilizing the infamous Dokorder 4-track and a microphone designed for underwater use, four songs were recorded for release on the band’s DIY label, Happy Squid Records. The peculiar ambience of the record can be traced to the technological limitations of its recording, Kevin’s clicky-sounding toy-drum kit, and the guitar & bass being played live through the same amplifier.
As the Masque bands began to make inroads into the Hollywood nightclub scene, the URINALS worked the UCLA circuit: Dykstra Hall and Kerckhoff Coffee House. The second release, "Another EP" was recorded in a film-scoring stage at the Motion Picture/Television department on campus. Although this was a three-track recording, the superior technology available yielded a more polished sound this time around.
John, Kevin, Kjehl, circa 1979 (Photo by Al Flipside)
A scene was beginning to spring up at UCLA, with homegrown talent like NEEF, PROJECT 197 (Bruce Licher’s initial project, pre-SAVAGE REPUBLIC), which featured Kevin on its release, and ZILCH, who similarly released records. Soon to come was the LEAVING TRAINS, who, like the URINALS and the TUNNELTONES (Licher’s next band), staked out their own parking structure rehearsal space on weekends to take advantage of the free electricity and the massive sound which results when amplified distortion meets a large reflective concrete surface. (This sound is similar to that found on the "Sex/Go Away Girl" single, which was recorded in the basement weight-room of Dykstra Hall, during a weightlifting session!)
The band’s first show off-campus was considerably off campus, resulting from an invitation from Raul’s in Austin, the locus of South Texas’ punk underground. The URINALS + "Ack Ack Ack Ack" lyricist Kathy Talley dutifully loaded themselves and their equipment into Kjehl’s tiny yellow Capri for a non-stop 24-hour drive into the Heart of Texas. A two-night stand there dispelled the prevailing notion that all LA punk bands sounded alike. The local media was supportive and thankfully open to the conceptual appeal of the "sound of people struggling with their instruments," as Kjehl put it.
Hollywood succumbed soon enough, with the band supporting the GOGOs, THE LAST, and THE CYCLONES (pre-GUN CLUB Jeffrey Lee Pierce and pre-SCREAMIN’ SIREN Pleasant Gehman) at Gazzarri’s, a Sunset Strip club known for its big-hair metal bands. Once the door was opened, there was no stopping the URINALS, who played regularly in the alternadives associated with the burgeoning Hollywood scene, and soon, the beach scene.
The URINALS’ alter-ego was ARROW BOOK CLUB, which took its cue from the PORTSMOUTH SYMPHONIA, whose members played instruments with which they were unfamiliar. With ABC, the URINALS were able to straddle two worlds, that of pop/punk music, and that of a more experimental improvosational approach, such as that of the Los Angeles Free Music Society, whose ranks included LeFORTE FOUR and DOODOOETTES.
THE LAST and BLACK FLAG were both enthusiastic supporters of the URINALS, and frequently asked to have them as support. At Blackie’s (on LaBrea), the URINALS were on the bill the night BLACK FLAG was arrested on stage for disturbing the peace. Eventually, competence began to set in, and the material became more sophisticated, though its aggressive directness remained. The band felt uneasy using a moniker than no longer reflected the throwaway attitude of its early days. After much discussion, a new band name was decided upon, 100 FLOWERS, taken from the Maoist Cultural Revolution quotation, "Let 100 flowers bloom and 100 schools of thought contend."
100 Flowers in the early 1980s: Kjehl, John, Kevin (Photo by Ed Colver)
After having scrapped its 4-track URINALS album, the band, and producer Vitus, began work on its 8-track album debut, which was recorded over time at Orange County Recorders over, as the band could afford the sessions. With musical competence came disageements over musical approach which caused the band to break up, and the album and follow-up EP came out posthumously. The former was eventually released in February of 1983, one month after 100 FLOWERS had played its farewell shows at Russell Jessum’s Anticlub. An EP, "Drawing Fire," was to follow a year later.
In 1996, Urinals reformed with the intention of starting from square one -- playing their earliest tunes with directness and energy. Shockingly, punk rock was now commercial and something of a known commodity (Nirvana, Green Day, Blink 182, etc.), so the Urinals found that they had an audience. Thanks to their "historical significance" they found themselves on bills with the likes of Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Creeper Lagoon, The Cows, and Nashville Pussy. But the band knew that one must move forward or die, so they began to write new songs.
In 1998, guitarist Kjehl left to work on his solo material and was replaced briefly by David Nolte (The Last, Wednesday Week) and more permanently by Rod Barker (Ten Foot Faces, Chromoly Violets.) With Rod's involvement, the Urinals evolved into an animal with a similar skew but a different texture than what had come before. The minimalist lyrics (Leaving Train Falling James called them "punk haiku") were intact, the song structures continued to confound with their simplicity, and the tunes themselves regularly hewed to a length less than 150 seconds. What was different was Rod's contribution as a rock guitarist who knows his way around a good pop phrase and a distortion pedal.
John, Kevin, Rod Barker in 2001 (Photo by Kat)
In October of 2003, the band released a CD of new material, WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS NOT. With this, the Urinals offered two statements: their alternate-universe debut album, and a 20-years-later follow-up to the 100 FLOWERS album. It proved that the band could both refuse to grow up and age gracefully.
In May of 2005, the URINALS were flown to Beijing by the PRC to play at the week-long CHAOYANG INTERNATIONAL POP FESTIVAL. Upon their return, work began on an autobiography of the band (which continues to the time of this posting.) In October of 2005, Rod Barker left the band.
2006 saw a new guitarist, the multifaceted Rob Roberge (also a novelist and filmmaker,) and a new name, THE CHAIRS OF PERCEPTION, which was to signal the next evolutionary step in the band's history. In January of 2008 however, the band reverted to its original name, and has toured more extensively than before, including up and down the West Coast, and swings through New England, the upper Midwest, and to Austin (for SWSW) and into Canada. In November of 2014 the band played Europe for the first time. The band’s fourth album (if one includes the NEG CAP compilation,) NEXT YEAR AT MARIENBAD, was released in February of 2015.
Urinals in Kortrijk, Belgium, November 2014 (Photo by Kat)
The band's material has been covered by NO AGE, METZ, CEREMONY, THE GUN CLUB, LEAVING TRAINS (twice), HALO OF FLIES, ELEVENTH DREAM DAY, YO LA TENGO (twice), THE DISHES, THE REDS, MIKE WATT, and THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, among others.
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After 100 FLOWERS, Kevin Barrett played in GOD AND THE STATE, and appeared on their album "Ruins: The Complete Works" (Happy Squid). Following a sabbatical in the Bay Area, he returned to Los Angeles and joined RADWASTE, as one of its four percussionists. Since 1996, Kevin has been drumming in the revived URINALS.
Current guitarist Rob Roberge is a published novelist who also plays in alt.country band The Danbury Shakes and spooky-Americana combo The Violet Rays. He can be found on Facebook. See also Amazon's Rob Roberge page.
John Talley-Jones was a founding-member of RADWASTE. He later joined TROTSKY ICEPICK as lead vocalist. Following RADWASTE’s demise, John formed VENA CAVA with Debbie Spinelli (also a RADWASTE alumnus), and David Nolte of WEDNESDAY WEEK. Another project was the techno-informed recording duo UNIBLAB,with the late and sorely-missed SMART BROWN HANDBAG drummer John Glogovac. In addition the the URINALS, John is currently singing with TROTSKY ICEPICK.
Kjehl Johansen went on to a long relationship with Vitus Matare in TROTSKY ICEPICK, which eventually released a total of 7 albums on Greg Ginn's (BLACK FLAG) label, SST. From 1996 until 1998, he played in the reformed URINALS, but left to pursue his solo work. As of 2011, Kjehl has been playing in the reactivated TROTSKY ICEPICK, with Vitus, John TJ, John Frank, and Tom Hofer.
Before joining the URINALS, Rod Barker played guitar in punk/surf band TEN FOOT FACES and later, CHROMOLY VIOLETS. He also played briefly in the reactivated HUMAN HANDS. Since leaving the Urinals, he has been working on new material and can be found on MySpace.