I THINK I HAVE STEATORRHEA: ON THE ROAD with PRIMPCE


Alex Brownstein-Carter—the drummer, lead singer, and co-founder of local DIY art rock project Primpce—thinks deeply and obsessively about his bowel movements. It’s been a point of contention in past relationships, he claims. “Stop talking about your poops; it’s weird,” his exes were always telling him. I can empathize.

The brown thoughts seep into Alex’s art, too. On “Steatorrhea,” a standout on Primpce’s 2016 debut album (The Best Thing to Get to Do is to Learn to Inspire You) he worries he has the song’s eponymous CONDITION, in which one’s feces contain excess fatty deposits owing to decreased absorption of fat by the intestine. The band’s current set opens with a lengthy, spoken-word poem comprising a graphic list of bodily ailments, delivered in the second person. It ends: “A man will stab your colostomy bag and grab your wallet and run.” Poo is everywhere.

David Sigler, Primpce co-founder and guitarist, split the writing and recording labor with Alex on the album. His classical background and knack for counterpoint help set Primpce apart from the parade of post-punk acts jabbing their angular guitars together ad infinitum. To round out their live band, they brought on Joe Ceponis, a childhood friend of Alex and David from Montgomery, Alabama who runs Bear America Records in the Bywater, teaches Sound Recording at NOCCA, and makes Primpce’s neck-spanning, syncopated bass lines look easy in real time. They also added a final puzzle piece with Eric Buller, a St. Rose native who plays his beat-up red Fender Stratocaster like a madman. Still, it’s Alex who wrote the lyrics, booked the tour, and designed Primpce’s bizarre onstage apparel: boxers, neon lime green tall tees, and pink construction hats with hi-vis pink and green back flaps. It’s his gruff voice that’s turned up highest in the mix and his (previously) bearded visage that sits front and center at the drumset, reminding the crowd that its bowels are never safe.

Recently, Alex has been making the transition to veganism. It’s helped him cut down significantly on the shit-talking in his daily life, but a month-long tour takes its toll on the digestive system. Primpce went on such a tour in July, making its way up the East Coast, through the Midwest, and back down south through America’s heartland. I joined them in Nashville for the final leg.


 

NASHVILLE

I got in before the band, so I waited for them for about an hour at a coffee shop near the house where we were staying. Nicola Scutt—a freelance graphic designer and a friend of the band—had joined a day earlier in St. Louis along with her new kitten, Uomo, in her ‘98 Forest Green Saab. Her arrival created some much-needed space in the sleek 2018 navy blue Dodge Grand Caravan the band had rented for the tour. I’m allergic to cats, but since Uomo was still a baby, he hadn’t accumulated enough dander to give me a serious reaction. During our week together, Uomo and I developed a mutual respect, but I tried not to get too close when I could help it. He’s very cute, though, which is more than I can say for most cats.

The show was at Betty’s Grill, a dive in the Sylvan Park area, not far from Vanderbilt. After load-in, we entertained ourselves with an arcade bowling game and an autobiography of Si Robertson from Duck Dynasty entitled Si-cology, which we found on a corner table.

Primpce was third on a four-band bill. The first band was a local act called Cacophony, who market themselves as noise rock and “jazz cabbage,” but are basically just an emo punk group. They made a point of letting the crowd know they hadn’t practiced in about a month and, true to their word, they sounded rough. The next act was Luca, a Christian post-hardcore group from Chicago. They had a cool look but sounded pretty average and relied too heavily on their lead singer’s theatrical jump kicks.

The Betty’s gig fell in line with the grand tradition of DIY shows in which the bands all play for each other. There was also no door guy on duty, so the bands took turns. I stood guard for a few uneventful minutes during Luca’s set, until a man wandered in claiming he’d just been released from the hospital after being shot. He looked like he was in pretty bad shape, so I brought him to the bar, got him some water, and let him use my phone. He spent about 20 minutes mumbling into it incoherently until I asked if he wanted me to call someone for him. He asked me to call Vanderbilt Medical Center, where he thought his wife, who had also been shot, was staying. They didn’t have a patient by her name, so we were back to square one. Eventually, he was nodding in and out and Kelly, the bartender, was forced to call an ambulance. It arrived as Primpce was setting up, casting the band in an ominous, red-blue glow.

The Nashville show was the first time I’d seen Primpce play in over a month. They’d tightened up their set considerably. In case you’ve never checked them out—and you probably haven’t—their songs are weird and mathy and have parts that fit together jaggedly (they get frequent comparisons to Captain Beefheart), so it took them some time to smooth out their live show. The guitar parts, written mostly by David, are especially tricky because their contrapuntal interplay makes them both contingent on each other’s success. At Betty’s, David and Eric sounded perfectly in sync rhythmically and harmonically. David was standing stage left, though, which was a bad move, as he is mostly deaf in his right ear. So even with the band fine-tuned, there were some sound issues. David kept asking to be turned up and his high end got shrill. This caused the rest of the band to turn up so they could hear themselves, and the mix was thrown off. Still, the songs sounded great, especially “Randall,” a track I hadn’t heard live before. It’s got this great, bluesy breakdown at the end that really kills.

The final act, a local band called Zobrodome, was solid. They’ve got a sci-fi lore thing going on that isn’t doing them any favors, but they’re all talented musicians, especially their bassist, who plays very technical, precise riffs on a fretless electric.

After the show, we hung around at the bar for a while with Kelly, who turned out to be an incredible claw and hammer banjo player. We were on the hunt for a weed plug and he thought he might be able to hook us up, claiming he liked to smoke “that booger green shit; the stuff that smells like cat piss.” His efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

The next day was an off day, so we checked out the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center and Greenway, where you can hike some scenic trails and swim in the Cumberland River. We watched a father hoist his teenage son over and over onto a pole in the river so he could do flips off it. They were an impressive pair.

After Shelby Bottoms, we ate at the famous Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which is where our stomach problems began. Prince’s has a simple menu, offering its famous fowl whole, halved, or quartered, at six different heat levels: Plain, Mild, Medium, Hot, XHot and XXXHot. I was the only one brave enough to take on the XHot and it did not disappoint. As a proud survivor of the Bayou Beast wing challenge at Bayou Hot Wings on South Claiborne, I fancy myself a spice enthusiast, and this chicken quarter was spicy. It was served over white bread, which should have provided some solace, but the sauce was piled on so thick that the bread was completely soaked through. I was thankful for my restraint in foregoing the XXX and my forethought in ordering potato salad, which gave me some much-needed relief.

In the moment, I handled myself with poise, putting down my meal in respectable time and with minimal sweating (more than I can say for some of my tourmates). But even I could not have prepared for the painful adventure that awaited us at the other end of our digestive tracts.

MEMPHIS

We drove halfway to Memphis that night and stayed in a Motel 6 in Jackson, where I got acquainted with Primpce’s favorite road TV program, Guy’s Grocery Games. We woke up early to check out and the six of us took turns handling our business in the cramped bathroom. I did not envy that toilet.

We made it to Memphis around noon and met David’s cousin, Caleb, at the Crosstown Concourse, a mixed-use space housed in a hulking high rise that used to be a Sears. The department store closed in 1983 and the building was left vacant until 2015, when it was fully renovated and converted into an ultra-modern mall/art incubator/living co-op. Outside, we tried out our collective first Bird scooter, a national phenomenon soon to hit New Orleans. Supposedly, they’re a huge public nuisance, but they’re a lot of fun to ride.

Next, we hit the Bass Pro Shop, not only the largest of its kind in the universe but also the sixth largest standing pyramid on Planet Earth. It’s got an aquarium, a resort hotel, a wetlands education museum, and the largest gun collection I’ve ever laid eyes on. I walked away with some buffalo jerky and Alex bought a Lonesome Cow Call whistle to use in future performances. Finally, we hit up Goner Records, a Memphis indie staple and second home to New Orleans greats like Quintron, Miss Pussycat, and Benni. None of us bought any vinyl for fear it would get ruined in the van, but we had fun perusing. Before the show, we ate some famous Memphis fare at Central BBQ. With the Prince’s chicken still lingering in my body, the pulled pork actually helped settle me down a bit.

The show was at a bar called Murphy’s and, due to some unfortunate booking and promotion, Primpce was the only band on the bill. They initially planned to open for themselves with an improv set, but once we got there and saw the bar half full of regulars, they decided one set would probably suffice.

The sound was solid at Murphy’s and, having ironed out the issue that plagued them in Memphis (David stood stage right this time), Primpce sounded great. A recently divorced man at the bar got so excited watching Alex play the drums, he immediately called up a lady friend when the show ended to come check out the new drum set at his place. “It’s only a 45-minute drive!” he pleaded.

After the show, we hung around outside with the show promoter, Gally Sheedy, who apologized profusely that she hadn’t been able to pull a bill together. She was very sweet. The Primpce boys are a few years older than I am, but somehow, I was the only one who got that Gally’s pseudonym was a reference to Brat Pack star Ally Sheedy, so I got to be smug about that for a while. David’s other cousin, Josh (Caleb’s brother), put us up that night and I took the floor, since the band had been kind enough to give me a bed spot the past two nights. It was bad timing because Josh owns a cat named Archie and unlike Uomo, he’s fully grown. I spent the first half of the night sneezing and the second half locked in the bathroom, trying to flush the rest of the XHot sauce out of my system.

MONTGOMERY

Three of the four members of Primpce grew up in Montgomery, but only Alex still has immediate family in town. We stayed with his mom, Rhonda Brownstein, a lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center who lives in a beautiful house in the upscale neighborhood of Cloverdale. Rhonda is a doting Jewish mother of the highest order and made me feel right at home. She had a dinner spread waiting for us when we got there. We inhaled the meal and got drunk on her nice wine. We debated going to a local bar but, by the time Rhonda went to bed around 11, we realized it was probably close to closing time. Montgomery is an earlier town than New Orleans.

After a late start the next day, we got breakfast at Chris’ Hot Dogs, a Montgomery staple for over 100 years. They serve their dogs and burgers with a signature chili sauce, which we all opted for. Alex, trying to get back on the vegan train, got onion rings with a cup of the sauce on the side. I enjoyed the sauce so much I added some from Alex’s cup to the puddle already slathering my dog! It was admittedly an ill-advised move, just as I was finally beginning to recover from my Prince’s-induced misery.

Back at the house, while I tried in vain to purge my saucy soul in Rhonda’s lovely restroom, Alex took to a different restroom to shave off his beard. It was a pretty big deal, since he’d had it for over two years and it had gotten pretty massive. (See before and after pics.) He claimed he was just ready to see it go, but my theory is that Rhonda convinced him; every mother loves to see her son’s face.

The show that night was at The Sanctuary, an old church that’s been repurposed for DIY events. The opening act was Hadals, a local harsh noise four-piece whose harshness was maximized by the church acoustics. Hadals features two live drummers, metal chains, and other industrial knick-knacks, as well as an impressive conglomeration of analog synth gear, all played as loud as possible. There were some great moments when the rhythms all meshed and created giant sound walls, but a lot of the set just felt like ear torture and I found—as I usually do—that one drummer would have sufficed.

Primpce put on a terrific show for the hometown crowd, though the acoustics didn’t work in their favor. The church was bigger by a long shot than any room I’ve ever seen them play, and their levels were way off. They’d been working on playing more slowly to get the weirdness and complexity of their contrapuntal arrangements across to their audiences, but the muddy mix made these efforts almost negligible. Still, they battled through on raw musicianship.

The lighting was bizarre in The Sanctuary, with a projector screen positioned at the front of the stage, semi-obscuring the band with its brightness. Primpce used it to broadcast a mirrored compilation video of excerpts from religious conspiracy theorist Trey Smith’s Nephilim series. It was fun to look at, but made their set almost impossible to shoot. By a happy accident, Eric was the only member of the band who caught the spotlight, which put his idiosyncratic dance moves on full display. During “Tingle Key,” the penultimate track of Primpce’s set, Eric got his moment in the sun, the closest the band comes to a full-fledged guitar solo. He accompanied his spastic licks with jerky spins and leg kicks that look sort of like a young child’s pee-pee dance. It’s great.

The show ended and the boys were instantly rushed with people from their past. A serious crowd had gathered to see them play. Old friends, high school music teachers, past idols, and former collaborators from the small but dedicated Montgomery DIY scene came out of the woodwork. Many were fans of Alex’s old high school band, Shining Path. It was touching to see that an excellent band searching for traction in a new city still has a strong base of good people to show them love when they visit home.

NEW ORLEANS

The first three-and-a-half hours of our drive back to New Orleans were uneventful. I rode in the van with Alex and David. Joe rode with Nicola, Eric, and Uomo in the Saab. We van boys stopped at Arby’s, one of the only fast food restaurants I’d never eaten at; and boy, had I been missing out! The French Dip is a phenomenal sandwich and should be required eating for all red-blooded Americans.

In the middle of Mississippi, I got a call from Eric saying the Saab had broken down, stranding the rest of the crew about an hour behind us. We went back and forth on whether we could feasibly fit six in the van with all the gear and realized we physically couldn’t, so they had to AAA all the way back to New Orleans, riding in the cab of the truck. Apparently, they had an enlightening argument on gun control with their driver, who very much disliked being tread on. Luckily, the Saab wasn’t totalled.

Primpce’s New Orleans homecoming show was the next day at Santos. They played first on a three-band bill with Pearl and the Oysters from Gainesville and locals Tasche and the Psychedelic Roses. Pearl and the Oysters featured Pearl on vocals, omnichord, trumpet, and flute, and an Oyster each on bass and keys. They were down a drummer, so their keyboardist had to work double duty on a drum machine. But they were still able to pull off a gorgeous, Wendy Carlos-inspired set. Tasche was characteristically trippy and great.

The mix was phenomenal at Santos and Primpce sounded the best I’ve heard them. The slow-down came across this time and the guitar parts sounded spot-on, with Eric’s Strat perfectly complementing David’s Les Paul. By the end of “Waxed in the Shade,” their final song, I was sad the trip was over, but happy to return to my normal pooping schedule.


Primpce plays Santos October 25 with Casual Burn, Animal Time, and US Nero. They will also support Matron at their album release show, October 27 at Siberia. For more info, check out Primpce.Bandcamp.com and @primpcetheband on Facebook and Instagram.