Motor psyched

Snake Flower 2's Matthew Melton kick-starts garage rock's biker byways

Born too late, on the wrong side of the country, with the wrong rodents hanging from your tail? Considering my abiding love of Elvis Presley, Al Green, Big Star, Shangri-La Records, and Memphis barbecue, I should have perhaps switched lives with Snake Flower 2 vocalist-guitarist Matthew Melton.

The Bay Area transplant from Bluff City still retains the courtly, sweet-tea manners of a Southern gentle-rocker, despite the trouble he's seen in the name of scorching biker psych, tambourine-bashing vixens named Bunny, and dustups with such garage-rock kin as the Black Lips. When I tell him I have the hots for his native Memphis, Melton's instantaneous happiness and hometown pride blasts right through the phone line.

"Thank you so much!" he exclaims. "I love Memphis too." He should: Melton's love of raging garage-rock was honed playing in the city alongside the Memphis Break-Ups and the River City Tanlines, as well as the Lost Sounds' Jay Reatard and Alicia Trout, whom he performed with in the Bare Wires. No wonder Snake Flower 2's first full-length, Renegade Daydream (Tic Tac Totally), is so utterly bitchin': it's overdriven, romping-in-the-red hot-rod rawk for kids whose minds were forever fractured by dog-eared, rifled copies of Nuggets LPs, Steppenwolf's gnarlsome guitar tone, Roger Corman cinematic cheapie sleazies, and the Standells' heightened snot levels. Renegade Daydreams' supercharged, fuzz-doused frenzies are the choicest tidbits plucked from, Melton says, "the first batch of songs I wrote after I escaped from the South."

He didn't intend to end up in Oakland, a town he lovingly describes as comparable to Memphis in its desolation and "blankness." Two years ago, Melton was stranded in San Francisco by his original Snake Flower bandmates, including an ex called Bunny, who, he says, "ended up leaving me for an art school professor who looked like John Lennon. We were touring across country in this Volvo, and by the time we got here, we were at each other's throats."

After attempting to follow his erstwhile Snake Flowers back to Los Angeles via Greyhound, making it only as far as Santa Cruz, and hitchhiking back to the Bay, Melton decided to simply add "2" to his band name and sally forth, hooking up with and firing various rhythm sections (Paula Frazer filled in as a touring drummer in one early incarnation) until settling on bassist Carlos Bermudez and drummer Johnny Axe.

The supremely "dirty and blown out" sound of the disc, as Melton describes it, comes courtesy of mastering by Weasel Walter and all-analog tracking by Jay Bronzini (the Cuts, the Time Flys) on a Tascam 38. "You get a lo-fi sound that barely meets fidelity standards," says Melton happily. "I'm right there on the cusp. When it sounds too clean, you lose some of the soul and feel of it." In the meantime, Melton is already prepared to make his next long-player, which he'll record himself on his own Tascam 38 while refining that biker psych tag ("It's a combination of '60s garage rock and '70s motorcycle anthems — like Mad Max meets Alice in Wonderland") that a friend laid on him. He's even penned a song titled "Biker Psych" for Snake Flower 2's next seven-inch on German label Red Lounge.

Melton also seems to be finally relaxing into the Bay Area music scene, playing in Photobooth and reforming Bare Wires with the Time Flys' Erin Emslie. "It took me a long time to assimilate here," he confesses. "Being from the South, I'm very open. Here I feel like I gotta keep my guard up. But I've met so many great musicians.

Also from this author

  • Women with movie cameras

    Cheers to CAAMFest's crop of female Asian American film directors

  • Spiking the box office

    THE YEAR IN FILM: Looking back at a triumphant year for African American films

  • Not from around here

    French synth-pop giants Phoenix and Daft Punk tap into the alien within

  • Also in this section

  • Good things, small packages

    33 1/3, the ultimate record collector's novella series, turns 10

  • No thanks, Bono

    Three new albums that should magically appear on your iPod in place of Songs of Innocence

  • A show a day: Your fall music calendar

    FALL ARTS 2014 Like a daily multivitamin, your recommended dose of live shows through November