Columns | Rancid Vat: The Most Underrated Punk Band In Existence

by John Stahlman

I'm here to talk about Rancid Vat.

In case you bastards are illiterate, I'm talking about the punk band that came out of the hell hole of Portland, Oregon (not that I think it was bad, but the band hated their city of origin, so it is best to describe it in a term they would like).

Not Rancid.

So this article will in no way mention the band Rancid again, because no way in hell are they underrated. Rancid Vat, on the other hand, is.

Formed sometime in the '80s the band has gone through many line up changes, with the husband and wife duo of  Phil Irwin and Marla Vee. Despite their unique and ahead-of-their-time sound, this band has never gotten the respect they deserved throughout their three eras (being the Portland, Philly, and Austin line-ups). Maybe it's because they did their own thing and rejected (and still reject) trends throughout their 30-something years of playing.

The first era was the Portland line-up of Phil Irwin (guitar), Marla Vee (drums), Eric Larsen (bass) and Steve Wilson (vocals). They started out as a noise rock group (due to Phil not knowing how to play traditional chords at the time) and got their name from dicking around with a Ouija Board, asking "spirits" what to call their band.

Eventually the band developed a very sludgy sound, reminiscent of the Seattle grunge bands that came into popularity in the next decade. Most of their lyrics were extremely nihilistic, with songs about murder, rage, and also contempt for the punk music scene at the time being trendy. Personally, it's a breathe of fresh air to listen to a band that goes back to the old themes of "no future" and "fuck off", since it seems more relatable for those trapped in a music scene that has been taken over by rules.

Not only this, but they have also written songs praising their favorite wrestlers at the time, and even covered wresting theme songs and music groups that they played with (such as Antiseen).

One of the main interesting aspects to the band's sound during the Portland days is Steve Wilson's vocals, which are extremely atypical in punk music: he sounds like a very menacing and mentally unstable John C. Reilly.

Songs to check out from this line up include "Apathy" (my favorite from the band), "Face Full of Teeth" (Antiseen cover, but it out-does the original), "Deeds of the Damned", "HHHH", and "When the Rolls Called Down Under".

After creating a bit of buzz, the band got a chance to move away from Portland, and they relocated to Philly, while unfortunately leaving Eric Larsen (who was previously fired) and Steve Wilson behind.

However, the Philly line-up became a force to be reckoned with. With the Cosmic Commander of Wrestling (RIP) fronting them, it added a more chaotic element to their sound with his extremely raspy and intense voice. This was actually the line-up that got me into them, and I wish I could've witnessed seeing this version of the band live.

Recommended songs from this line-up include "Hostile City U.S.A.", "Rock N' Roll Fraud", "Loser Leaves Town", and "Live Radio Fiasco" (includes a cover of Adrian Street's "Breaking Bones").

After some success touring with long time friends Antiseen, and other insane acts like the Murder Junkies and Hammerlock, the band again relocated, this time to Austin, Texas, and recruited Texas Studd as their new vocalist (as the Cosmic Commander decided to remain in his hometown of Philadelphia). Although a bit weak compared to the other previous vocalists, he does a pretty damn good job.

Recommended songs include  "Die Hipster Die", "Imagine What I Could Do To You" (another Adrian Street cover), and "We Hate You All The Way From Texas".

Despite the line-up changes, they always had a "no bullshit" approach to punk rock, let alone rock music in general—An element that has been missing for some time, and is probably why they do not get the respect they deserve, or even taken seriously due to their noise rock origins—Which is bullshit, since everything they released does not sound dated, at all, and elements from even their earliest material can be heard in modern day bands.

John Stahlman is the current bassist of the punk trio Omission and has also been in numerous other bands in the northwestern Pa scene, including Paint Thinner, TxSxOxDx, Made Not Born, Wydell, and Choke The Bastard (now Vermin Warfare). He has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and majored in Broadcast Communications with a minor in Public Relations, if that has any merit to it anymore. While at college he hosted a few radio shows at the campus' student radio station WDRQ1620 AM, most notably the Underground Vault, which played local music, and also covered the Biological and Health Sciences department while writing for the student newspaper The Source. Stahlman is currently unemployed, in debt, and has gotten to embrace even more of his nihilistic punk rock view of life.