Last month, the Guana Batz played a sold-out Belly Up show opening for Mike Ness. Last week, the Escondido-based band accepted an opening slot on two dates of Rancid’s upcoming fall tour.
Guana Batz bassist Johnny Bowler admits that the 26-year-old British-born psychobilly band nearly passed on this career surge.
“When Tiger Army first asked us to open for them [three years ago, Batz lead singer] Pip [Hancox] said, ‘Who is this Tiger Army?’ ” says Bowler. “He said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ”
Formed in 1982, the Guana Batz were part of a British psychobilly scene centered around a London venue called Klub Foot.
“We always had a strong cult following,” says Bowler. “We’d tour Europe about nine times a year.”
“Psychobilly” in ’80s Europe meant a mix of rockabilly and punk influences.
“I was 15 when the Stray Cats came over,” says Bowler, who now gives stand-up bass lessons. “The punks used to fight the rockabillies before 1981. The two scenes merged in the early ’80s.”
According to Bowler, the psychobilly scene died when Klub Foot closed in 1988.
“That’s when the Manchester DJ scene came in and kind of took over. Bands weren’t happening as much. The crowds started to thin out. The venues disappeared.”
Hancox moved to North County in 1992. Bowler followed four years later. Both started families and played locally on occasion.
“We slowed right down. We’d play maybe four or five times a year. But we would go back to England to play reunion shows.”
In 2001 they formed a rockabilly band called Bonneville 7, “…but Pip lost interest. He had a very short attention span back then.”
Three years ago, singer Nick 13 of L.A.-based Tiger Army had his agent see about resurrecting the Guana Batz to play with them at the Wiltern in L.A. Hancox rejected the offer. After Tiger Army headlined the Warped Tour last summer and asked the Guana Batz again, they said yes.
The Guana Batz have recorded six studio albums.
“Our last one was 12 years ago. We’ve been working every week to get a new record done this year.”
Alex Pappas, formerly of Finch, is the Guana Batz’ current drummer.
“He was born a year before the band,” says Bowler.
The Guana Batz appear July 5 at Irvine’s Hootenanny.
– Ken Leighton