Wheezing Maniac Interview

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Wheezing Maniac was a mysterious, short-lived band with enigmatic lyrics that was active in Southern California in the late eighties. Now Putojefe Records released their full discography in one release Shade Through the Night Door LP and we had a chance to interview Wheezing Maniacs drummer, Marvin Munson.

Hi Marvin and first thank you for interview opportunity. First, what was the origin of Wheezing Maniac – how did it come together?

The guitar player, Mike Byrd, I knew forever. He died in 2020, RIP Mike. He would drift in and out of my life since kindergarten. In 6th grade he told me we needed to join the Safety Patrol so we could go on the field trip to Disneyland for service to your school. We both joined late, but we got there in enough time to go on the Disneyland trip. It was a long bus ride from El Centro where we lived. I got sick that day, but I didn’t want to miss the trip because that was the whole point of joining, so I just went anyway (in those days parents gave you more freedom) and I got sick and barfed outside Sir George’s restaurant in Orange County, and everyone knew about it. Now I live close to there. In Safety Patrol you had to monitor the hallways and tell the kids not to run or break the rules, so we started out as sort of junior cops, but then it swang the other way for him where he was getting into rebellion and punk rock. He’s the first person to play the Sex Pistols to me. We couldn’t believe they were saying ”fuck” on Bodies. I still love that band. In Safety Patrol the ”uniform” was just a sash you wear over your clothes like you see pictures of old timey policemen wearing. 

Then when we were a bit older he started playing guitar and I was on drums, and I used to jam with him and Al Tapia separately. Al Tapia…now that dude was another story entirely. He was a punk rocker in another sense, not outwardly, but he had zero care of what society’s expectations were. He’s wearing all denim in the inner sleeve. So Mike Byrd sort of gravitated towards him because he was like ”whoa, what’s going on here with this dude? He listens to Three Dog Night and likes the tv show Dynasty. Maybe we should get him in the band.” Probably not an exact quote, but you know. Then we sort of formally became Wheezing Maniac, and melded my two jamming situations. After we did some recording, we would just anonymously mail the tape to people from our high school, but not even people who would like it, but just like intentionally sending it to people who wouldn’t get it, with no return address on it. One time we drove up to a stranger at a red light and tossed a copy of the cassette in their open window. I still feel bad about that. We could have made them crash. I guess they were stopped at the time though. I still have a lot of the Safety Patrol in me.

And then Dave was sort of in and out of the picture, so that’s why you don’t see him in the album pics. He would be off doing stuff with the church groups, and then I’d wake up in our apartment one afternoon and he’d be standing over me with a book of poetry that he wrote himself called ”My Personal Collection.” I would have forced Mike to make that the basis of the next Wheezing Maniac album if we’d gotten that far. Dave always came through on bass live though, and he pulled off that killer vocal line on Seasonal Inspector.

Of course for us, skateboarders, your music came familiar from skateboard videos, How did Wheezing Maniac end up being on Hokus Pokus soundtrack? Did you guys have skateboard background?

Here’s the weird thing, we DID skate, but it had no connection to why the band existed, the scene, or anything else. I mean skateboarding was always sort of associated with punk rock, but Mike was into it really early, like when people were skating to Black Sabbath and DEVO in 1980. Maybe our music lends itself to skating because it was made by skaters? Who knows, but I stopped skating by about age 19. Mike too, though he still followed it. Larry Harmon from Genetic Disorder zine gave a Wheezing Maniac Tape to H-Street and it went from there. I didn’t even know we were on the video until much later. I thought like 10 people had heard of Dollar on a Platter, but it was thousands. We used to go out and skate with Larry at something called the Holtville Bowls, which were just large irrigation ditches that no longer had water in them. It was the Imperial Valley, where a lot of the agriculture in California comes from, but it’s a desert, like a real desert with sand dunes, so they have to pump in this water through a series of canals, and then sometimes when they stop using those the concrete structures are left standing and empty, and they make good skate spots. I never got that good, though I did manage to skate a pool once at an abandoned hotel.

Where and how was Wheezing maniac formed and when and why you moved to San Diego?

We grew up in El Centro, California where we started the band, but there were no clubs to play in El Centro and we moved to San Diego, which is the nearest big city. We then later moved to San Pedro, California, where the Minutemen were from, but by that time Mike started playing with other people and I started playing with other people, and it sort of died out. But we never said we were defunct. We never really said ”okay we’re breaking up,” we just drifted off to other things. I wanted to record another Wheezing Maniac album when we got older. Before he died Mike sort of cryptically said ”I want to, but now is not the time.” I didn’t really know what that meant, though I had suspicions, and then he passed away. Usually those reunion albums suck anyway, when the bands get back together after years, but maybe this would have been good, who knows. I can’t think of any bands who pulled that off though. Mike had a whole tape of demos he recorded with amazing songs, and I would have probably wanted to do a bunch of those if we had recorded again.

How do you describe the scene and those late 80s times on the west coast /San Diego/ skateboard / punk scene?

I never really felt part of a ”scene” too much, since we were transplants from elsewhere. I had stopped skating by that time.There were some other bands around, like F.U.N who we did the split single with, and we hung around some people. Maybe we were our own scene. There were other local bands playing around for sure, but I would mostly see the bigger punk bands like 7 Seconds, or Social Distortion if we went out. We hung out with Chris Rail who later played for The Disasters, which was ex-members of Mad Parade. Mad Parade used some of those Disasters songs later I believe. That wasn’t in San Diego though. 

Did you have any specific influences for wheezing sound? Wheezing Maniac has a little bit more experimental sound than other more “classic” punk oriented bands.

 So for context, you probably want to listen to the song For Love by Herman’s Hermits and see if you hear the influence on Dollar on a Platter. We were listening to a lot of Devo and the Stooges and punk rock. Mike was more into metal than I was, and you hear that influence in some of the stuff, namely Don’t Come Close. It’s a mish-mash of influences. There wasn’t any main writer in the band. Kiss Your Face would probably be the Velvet Underground influence and Lunkhead would be Creedence Clearwater Revival. When we just got in a room and played together though it came out as punk rock because that was a big part of our youth. It wasn’t conceptual, it was organic. We probably would have solidified into a certain genre as it went on.

Marvin Munson

Wheezing Maniac was a short lived band, what happened?

We weren’t really getting the ball rolling with that band, so we joined other things. We were flying blind, we didn’t know what we were doing or how to get anything going. It’s just divine providence that it ended up on Hokus Pokus. We had no clue how anything worked, but we would usually get good praise from people ordering the mail order tapes from Maximum RocknRoll. People seemed to like it.

Do you still own your first (and only?) 7”, quite rare to find nowadays?

I do! Yeah, people will hit the Instagram account asking about it, if it’s available anywhere. No one in the band was happy with the quality of the pressing though. I think Jello Biafra ordered some back in the day, unless that’s a false memory. The full length of Shade Through the Night Door sounds way better and has all the songs. 

How did this re-release come together? What about band members after Wheezing, did they have any other bands where they played?
 
Daniel from Putojefe records got ahold of me and asked if I wanted to do the full-length, and we went from there. He’s been great. After Wheezing Maniac I played in F.H. Hill Company, Stuntdriver, and The Dropas. Mike played in a couple of great bands called Undercity and Little Puppet, and also The Dropas. I’m going to try and put Little Puppet on Spotify soon, and there’s one Dropas song up. Al went to college and didn’t play music anymore. Dave just played in the church groups and a band called Trinity.

Can you remember any other bands from that era that should be re-released / released? 

There were tons of DIY bands in those days. I would go into the record stores like Off the Record and locals would have tapes and 7″ for sale. Bands like the Soul Brothers, John January, and Santa Clause from San Diego. But as to whether anything should be rereleased, I guess that depends on the demand. Some bands out there, while great, never develop a following and get lost in the fog of history. The only reason people know us is from Hokus Pokus.

Thank You for the interview!

Shade Through the Night Door LP on Putojefe Records contains all 17 original songs the band ever recorded, enhanced by an impeccable remastering job which has given these tunes an invigorated new spirit.

And now go and buy it from Putojefe records HERE

Wheezing Maniac can be found from Spotify etc also.