Horror Hits

The Mission Creeps get deep beneath their spooky imagery

Miss Frankie Stein and James Arrr, guiding lights of the popular Tucson horror-rock band The Mission Creeps, appear decidedly un-creepy one warm winter morning at a Fourth Avenue coffeehouse.

Despite the fact that both are getting over colds, both are charming and gracious while talking about books, movies and, most of all, music over coffee, sandwiches, soup and pastry.

The Mission Creeps--who will headline a Vegas-themed concert Friday, Jan. 9, at Plush--came together almost three years ago, after Arrr and Stein had served time in other bands. Soon after they started playing together, they began dating, and they married about two years ago.

"We first came together as friends," Arrr says. "We just found we had a lot in common. We started collaborating on music and lyrics, and it took off from there."

After playing with other folks--the Sonars and the Ten Percenters for him, and the Stellas for her--Arrr and Stein wanted to "start a band that we would be fans of," he says.

Sometimes dubbed "psychobilly" by lazy critics (me included), The Mission Creeps incorporate into their music far more than what that term implies: rockabilly with a gruesome edge and punk energy. Their haunted shed includes handy tools such as reverb-rich surf music, Phil Spector's wall of sound, R&B rave-ups, blues, honky-tonk, garage rock, psychedelia, exotica, sci-fi soundtrack music, sea chanteys and, well, punk and rockabilly.

"One thing that links all of our songs is we've got that dark outlook going on," says Arrr, "but in terms of musical style, there are a lot of rooms in that house."

The basic core of The Mission Creeps is Arrr on vocals, guitar and theremin, and Stein on bass and accordion. ("And sometimes, I scream," she adds.)

Several musicians have played in the band, or just sat in, including Bryn "Mr. Furious" Jones, Goya Kenny, Becca Horton, Namoli Brennet, Dimitri Manos, Al Perry and Tom Walbank, who also draws logos and album cover art for the band. Rounding out The Mission Creeps' current lineup is drummer Maggie the Black Velvet Hammer and keyboardist-percussionist Jake the Impaler.

Stein and Arrr have nothing but praise for their bandmates, current and previous, as well as pretty much the rest of the Tucson music community.

"It's cool in Tucson," Stein says. "With all the musicians, there's never been any sense of cattiness or competition. Everybody seems to want to help each other out."

The Mission Creeps also were delighted when local DJ Kidd Squidd took the group under his wing and proclaimed himself their "mentor," Stein says. Squidd for many years has helmed the popular Mystery Jukebox from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturdays, on community radio station KXCI FM 91.3 (for which I happen to be a volunteer).

"We don't see him too often, but out of the blue, just when things get a little rough, mysteriously, he drops us an unsolicited e-mail with the most sage advice, (which is) completely relevant and extremely helpful to some situation he couldn't have ever known about," she says. "It's a little uncanny, and we owe him a great deal for guiding us through this crazy world of music."

Arrr and Stein hold down day jobs, but they've still found enough vacation and leave time to twice mount concert tours of the West Coast. They hope to do it again this summer.

They also returned recently from the Santa Fe Film Festival, in New Mexico, where the music video for their song "Creepy" was shown. It's a lovely, partially animated piece by Tucson videographer Gene Torres. (The band's videos can be found on YouTube.)

Torres also scored the band a gig at the festival's awards-night after-party. "It was really cool hanging out with all those independent-film types. I think there is always a big crossover between music and film," Arrr says.

Considering The Mission Creeps' groovy sonic and visual style, it makes sense that they'd get involved in film.

Their music will be included in the upcoming horror flick The Graves, which is slated for a 2009 release. The feature film was written and directed by comic-book writer and filmmaker Brian Pulido, a Scottsdale resident who created the popular Lady Death, among other dark-themed comics.

As in the best horror and science-fiction movies and literature, the macabre subject matter of The Mission Creeps' songs often is allegorical.

It's not hard to see beneath the lyrical imagery of zombies, spiders, ghouls and graveyards to discover subtexts that run the gamut--from tales of obsession, alienation, hubris, disease and hypocrisy to character studies of modern lost souls and the sad state of world affairs.

Yes, world affairs. The title of the song "Ghouls Among Us" compares international political and business leaders to ghoulish villains.

Arrr and Stein reference the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison and the recent "Santa slaying" murders in Covina, Calif. (Arrr's hometown, coincidentally), as two examples of our world's real-life horror.

"There aren't many better words you can use to describe that stuff besides 'ghastly' and 'evil,'" Arrr says.

So far, The Mission Creeps have released one full-length CD, In Sickness and in Health (2007), and a limited-edition EP, Ghouls Among Us. But they're heading back into the studio this spring, with a goal of releasing a new CD in May.

The Mission Creeps have been adamantly independent since their formation. In addition to producing their own music, they also handle all distribution, management and publicity without the benefit of external professionals. If you're digitally inclined, you can buy and download In Sickness and in Health from iTunes.

"We have no problem being DIY," Arrr says.

Indeed, the economic model long followed by the big-business music world is in such a state of flux that Arrr and Stein might only consider working with a major label for distribution purposes.

"We like to keep all the creative control to ourselves," Stein says. "Not just the music, but the graphic design, the artwork, the Web site design and everything else."

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