When the Memphis garage punk band Ex-Cult embarked on their first headlining tour in June, which took them out West to 15 cities in 16 days, the group’s lead singer, Chris Shaw, was more than a little nervous.
“We had to get to the venues so early there were times when you get the feeling, ‘Is this going to be the show no one shows up to?’” recalls Shaw, whose band had previously toured the East with their mentor and Goner Records label mate Ty Segall. “We did that tour with Ty, but this was our first headlining tour and our first time on the West Coast at all. So we didn’t really know what to expect.
“I knew people had heard the album out there. We got some press when the album came out, but it was kind of like unchartered territory the whole time.”
Turns out Ex-Cult had little to fear. The tour was a success, packing houses every night, and now the band is preparing to make their first headlining run on the East Coast.
They kick off the tour with a hometown performance at the Buccaneer Lounge Thursday, with bands OBN III's and the Sheiks also on the bill. The show is a release party for Ex-Cult’s new 7-inch single, “Mister Fantasy” b/w “Through the Blinds.” Spin.com (the website of Spin Magazine) will have a sneak preview of “Mister Fantasy” beginning Friday.
“Ex-Cult has been doing great,” says Goner’s Zac Ives, who signed the band less than a year after they formed in 2011 and issued their Segall-produced self-titled debut album late last year. “They’ve been one of the most active bands we’ve had in a long time.”
Shaw and friend Michael Peery formed Ex-Cult, originally titled Sex-Cult before a cease-and-desist letter inspired a name change, over drinks at Midtown’s Lamplighter Lounge. The teaming seemed unlikely on paper. Shaw had previously been the singer in the hard-core band Vile Nation, while Peery was best known for his work with the idiosyncratic pop band Magic Kids.
The mix got even stranger as they drew in guitarists J.B. Horrell of punks the Noise Choir and Alec McIntyre of the math rock outfit Di Di Mau, and bassist Natalie Hoffman of indie pop band Bake Sale.
Looking back, Shaw says that, though the band was always intended to be a punk band, it still draws creatively on its members’ diverse musical roots.
“One of the reasons why Michael and I are such good friends is we would always show each other different types of music,” he says. “He would show me a random ’70s glam band or Krautrock band, and I’d show him some weird ’80s hard-core band or ’70s postpunk band. So it was kind of a trade-off of always showing each other new music.”
Soon after forming, Ex-Cult caught the ears of Ives and his Goner partner, Eric Friedl of the band the Oblivians. The label released Ex-Cult’s first single, “Errand Boy,” and gave them a coveted spot on their 2011 Gonerfest.
“We got excited about the fact that we all knew those pieces from different kinds of bands, and when they came together it was a neat deal,” says Ives. “It was fun to get behind a band in Memphis that seemed like they had something going and wanted to get out of town and was motivated to get a recording done. It was fun to see that energy in a Memphis band.”
It was at Gonerfest that Segall discovered Ex-Cult. The prodigious San Francisco musician, a darling of the indie rock crowd, brought the band to San Francisco to record the debut long player, and his imprimatur has undoubtedly been a big part of the band’s success so far.
Still, Shaw considers Ex-Cult’s debut an immature work. He says the band’s new recordings — which include “Mister Fantasy,” produced in Memphis by Doug Easley, and a pair of unreleased songs they just cut with Segall in San Francisco during the recent tour — to be the band’s first fully realized recordings, with a moody, postpunk aura missing from earlier efforts.
“The album was pretty much every song we had, so some of them are really old, and others, I think it’s apparent we were still trying to figure out how to play with each other,” he says, explaining how the demands of intense touring have tightened the band immeasurably. “The new songs are pretty solid. I think we have the sound pretty much done.”
Ex-Cult record release show
Thursday at the Buccaneer Lounge, 1368 Monroe Ave. Doors open at 9 p.m. Cover: $7. Call 901-278-0909 for more information.