Never Practice: The Landlords’ Lost Post-Hardcore Period Surfaces

Sam Lefebvre

the landlords fitzergald's paris

American hardcore flourished in and around urban centers and small towns alike, with the most pronounced perversions often forming at the margins. Sam Richardson, proprietor of Richmond, Virginia punk distro and record label Feel It, yesterday announced the first-time release of one such anomaly: Fitzgerald’s Paris, a previously unheard full-length teeming with disparate tendencies that Charlottesville hardcore outfit The Landlords recorded and shelved before disbanding in 1987.

Fitzgerald’s Paris, recorded between 1985 and 1987, was intended as a followup to The Landlords’ respected 1984 LP, Hey! It’s a Teenage House Party! And in many ways, Fitzgerald’s Paris is the more interesting of the two, capturing a seemingly transitional but ultimately stymied period of creativity. The first side features frenetic, punchy hardcore distinguished by its use of irony and deft, zippy leads on songs such as “My Head Throbs”, while the latter half skews more towards the feral noise-rock of contemporaries in other cities such as Live Skull or Killdozer. “Stigmata”, for that matter, careens like Scratch Acid. And the memorable, unnerving jock mockery of “Press the Bar” seems to implicitly liken weightlifting to self-flagellation practiced by unthinking zealots (it was inspired by some of their peers at The University of Virginia).

Feel It, which, incidentally, boasts the most robust selection of contemporary punk fanzines going, earlier released another lost Charlottesville hardcore record by Lackey Die, who never formally issued recordings during their early-1980s existence. The archival release of Fitzergald’s Paris includes an insert featuring flyers, unpublished photos, and links to download live recordings. There’s also a package deal that provides even greater context for the city’s scene, including a dead-stock copy of The Landlords’ 1987 Our Favorite Songs! EP and the latest issue of Maximum Rocknroll, #394. The storied San Francisco punk fanzine includes a recent interview with The Landlords conducted by Richardson himself.

Richardson, who grew up in Charlottesville, writes in the introduction that he “never expected there to be much of a local punk or hardcore lineage” in his hometown. Naturally, there was, and The Landlords not only stood at the center of it, they typified the ways in which more remote scenes often produced the most maverick material, as Richardson’s archival work now illustrates. As he writes, “[Fitzgerald’s Paris] is a vibrant, warped ride through the mid ’80s, as hardcore was beginning to fade while weirder, noisier bands championed by labels like SST started to take over.”

In the discussion, Richardson elicits an engaging narrative of Charlottesville’s punk scene from the group. The Landlords, who formed in 1983 at UVA, attempted to play their first gig at a Holiday Inn talent show (the organizers pulled the plug). Hey! It’s a Teenage House Party!, released the next year, received warm fanzine reviews and, perhaps better, a dumbfounded assessment from the student paper: “Financial problems haunt the band. Their instruments are well-worn and their stage dress is informal.” Their first album even found an unlikely audience in Poland; punks attempted to send The Landlords their own records, only to have the then-Soviet outpost’s government censors replace the vinyl with “politically acceptable” music before shipping, as the group recalls.

In Charlottesville, they go on, a small punk scene gestated at the lesbian bar Muldowney’s Pub, then grew into a larger tavern, Trax, which provided The Landlords an opportunity to open for groups from nearby Richmond such as Death Piggy (which became GWAR) and national touring acts such as The Dead Kennedys and Agnostic Front. They also played in Charlottesville with many Washington D.C. bands, but struggled, as they remember it, to establish a beachhead in the nation’s capital without a connection to the eminent Dischord Records.

The interview further sheds light on the group’s sense of humor, revealing for instance that the tuneful backing vocals on the wonderfully-titled “In Which the Scene Stole My Walkman” were a sarcastic homage to Naked Raygun. And the scribbles on the cover of Hey! It’s a Teenage House Party! were, not surprisingly, the work of a six year-old (they seem to regret that). Finally, it explains the band’s demise, which effectively shelved Fitzgerald’s Paris for three decades: members John Beers and Charlie Kramer’s concurrent project—the longer-lasting, avowedly absurd and petulantly childish Happy Flowers—began to take precedence, to the surprise of the duo themselves.

“The Landlords…practiced all the time, busted our asses writing material, and tried to constantly to get gigs, all to ever-increasing apathy,” Beers tells Richardson. “Ironically, it was the Happy Flowers that kinda killed the Landlords. Happy Flowers made up everything as we went along, never practiced, and got tons of attention, including a recording contract with the best label in the country, Homestead Records.”

Both versions of Fitzgerald’s Paris are available via Feel It. Richardson also announced the latest EP by the contemporary punk outfit NASA Space Universe.

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