Trying to Play it Cool with Black Mambas: Give It to Me Interview

Illustration by Ika Lesniak
Illustration by Ika Lesniak

Hailing from southern California, Black Mambas is bringing its own brand of groundbreaking rock-n-roll from Los Angeles to Europe. Since joining Reb Kennedy’s independent record label, Wild Records, they released their self-titled debut album to acclaim stateside. Following a short U.S. tour in support of their new album, they hit the worldwide circuit, playing in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, England and Ireland.

A traditional four-piece that combines late 70s punk rock with 50s and 60s rock-n-roll. Black Mambas are Michael Price (vocals), Dorian Chavez (guitar), Billie Telephone (bassist) and Leroy Martinez (drums). Although, for fans that caught them during its European tour, Bobby Passion filled in on bass guitar throughout the band’s first journey outside the United States.

After they returned home to southern California, I had the opportunity to catch up with the band about a number of issues ranging from the departure of their original bassist to sitting down over a beer with Marky Ramone.

Heatwave: In December, you announced that Eric Martinez (aka E-Wreck) left the band. What happened? And how have things changed since?

Michael Price: Well, first of all, I think we have to give big ups to Billie Telephone from The Neumans and Telephone Lovers. Stepping up to fill big shoes. That guy, he came in to fuck shit up.

Dorian Chavez: And now he is Black Mambas.

Leroy Martinez: Moving up!

Michael Price: Well, the biggest change has been that Billie Telephone ofThe Neumans has come joined the band and we’ve been working on a new album with him. It was a sad time to say that Eric done left the band,but it was his choice and everyone’s got to live with it.

Leroy Martinez: I guess we had different ways of producing music and making of music, and everything. Different ways: different views.

Michael Price:We partied too much.

Heatwave: Eric previously characterized the band as “Chuck Berry meets Ramones.” How does that reflect your sound moving forward?

Michael Price: Well, I don’t think it really defines us or limits us to what we are and what we do. I think we’re Black Mambas and we like to fuck shit up. To be honest, it goes down to the kids. I think that is what brought the tempo and pace to our music.

Heatwave: Are some of you more Berry than Ramone?

Leroy Martinez: We are all different and come from different perspectives. I guess we say that we all have a different answer. For me, I can say I’m more Ramones than Chuck Berry.

Michael Price: Dorian is way more Ramones. He is Johnny’s interpretation of what Chuck Berry would play.

Dorian Chavez: I’m definitely more Ramones. That’s the reason I started playing guitar.

Michael Price: Yeah?

Dorian Chavez: Yeah. I watched ACDC growing up. Didn’t care much about it, but I heard Blitzkrieg Bop that’s the reason I wanted to play guitar.

Michael Price: I would like to say that I’m more Ian Dury than Chuck Berry or Ramones. [laughter] It’s not who we are. It’s what we say to describe ourselves to people who don’t know who we are.

Leroy Martinez: We are punk rock-rock and roll!

Heatwave: Speaking of the Ramones, you guys are big fans and have had the opportunity to play with Marky Ramone (The Ramones and Richard Hell & the Voidoids). Did you get a chance to chat at length? What questions did you ask him? For example, I read that you asked him a question about Phil Spector. What was the question? And his answer?

Dorian Chavez: Well, when finally got to sit down with Markey Ramone. It was short. He was there to join us on stage to do a couple Ramones’ songs. And we never even rehearsed. It was the first time we met. So we sat at the table over a beer and did “Teenage Lobotomy,” “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” So, we sat through the songs.

Michael Price: What we got from that is we tried to play all the fast ones first and Marky was like, no, let’s play the fast ones last.

Dorian Chavez: It was a small chitchat and ‘cause we were drinking down trying to loosen up in front of Marky Ramone. Every time he opened his mouth, we just shut up.

Michael Price: Just go ahead and say it all. We’re not worthy.

Dorian Chavez: ‘Cause he was DJing that night besides being on stage with two other bands. Well, us included. The whole night was a Marky Ramone night.

Michael Price: And he was playing with Gizzelle, another Wild act.

Dorian Chavez: That is when we got surprised. That is when the whole Phil Spector thing came up because Marky was to sit down to do “Be My Baby” with Gizzelle from Wild Records, as well. What we asked him, ‘Was Phil Spector was a nutter?’ No. ‘Was he a crazy fucker?’ He just kinda smirked, blew it off and said it wasn’t real. He [Phil Spector] was crazy and he was intense. That shit was intense. But he still loves “Be My Baby.” It’s one of his favorite songs. So obviously he has respect for the guy. He just said he [Phil Spector] was an intense guy. He never had a gun pointed at him…by Phil Spector.

Leroy Martinez: I read about it. He said he did.

Michael Price: He said he did. But when you and he were there, you didn’t ask him.

Leroy Martinez: He had recently just came out with it in his new book.

Excerpt from Punk Rock Blitzkreieg: My Life as a Ramone by Marky Ramone

Author: Marky Ramone

“Phil reached for his gun. Dee Dee sat up straight. Joey stopped grinning and put down his Coke. We knew what we knew, or at least we thought we did. Phil had pulled a gun on Leonard Cohen in this same room. Phil had fired a shot off in the studio during the recording of John Lennon’s album of classic cover songs, Rock ‘n’ Roll. Now he would have Johnny Ramone make history even if he had to kill him. I didn’t believe it for a second. Phil walked a few paces to his right and laid his .38 down on the wooden end table alongside the console. The .45 came out next. The firearms were even less likely to send anyone to rock-and-roll heaven on that end table than they were in their holsters, but the other Ramones apparently didn’t see it that way.” 

Heatwave: You collaborated with Johnny Witmer of the Stitches on “Baby, I’ll Give It You.” How was it working with another long-time punk rocker?

Michael Price: Oh, well, it was really good. We had so much in common. Johnny was cool as fuck from day one.

Leroy Martinez: He gave us pointers on how the tempo of “Morning Blues.” Like, I guess when we first started playing “Morning Blues” it was just a little down the notch. A little slow. He said that you should play it just a little faster.

Michael Price: Just a tad bit.

Leroy Martinez: Just to top it off just a little bit more punk rock. I don’t know, Johnny Witmer is actually really good…

Michael Price: At getting us down.

Leroy Martinez: At producing, you know?

Michael Price: I like Johnny Witmer. I’ve been a big fan of Stitches. They were, like, my first punk show I ever went to when I was 14. I remember them, Mike Lohrman and Johnny Witmer, just going there and fucking shit up. I just remember thinking this is what I want to do.

Leroy Martinez: I never thought I was going play with the Stitches.

Michael Price: Yeah, right. To fuckin’ finally get a chance to play with your heroes. And not only just the Stitches. ‘Cause we also played with Slaughter & the Dogs. We played with fucking Crass…

Leroy Martinez: Stiff Little Fingers

Michael Price: Oh, yeah, not Crass, yeah, Stiff Little Fingers. That would be really cool to play with Crass too. You know, it’s just a dream come true to play with the people you’ve always admired. Johnny Witmer is a fantastic guitar player fantastic producer he had the right ideas.

Dorian Chavez: Yeah, it was great working with Johnny Witmer. He, he introduced me to double tracking. I never thought of that. He was like just play through your solos. And I was like I don’t ever do that. I don’t think I can do that. I’m so use to doing both. He was just like go ahead and do it and we will double track. Don’t worry about it; you will be fine. Yeah, I was fine. It was a great album.

Leroy Martinez: Johnny Witmer is Black Mambas’ spiritual guru. Fucking magi he is.

Heatwave: The black mamba is a fast, aggressive and dangerous. And contrary to popular belief, it is their mouths, not their scales, which are black. What, if any, is the significance of the snake to the band name Black Mambas?

Dorian Chavez: You don’t know it is a black mamba until it opens its mouth.

Michael Price: Fuck shit up. You fuck shit up. Like, aww, pretty snake. Are you gonna pet a snake? No! Are you gonna pet us? Maybe if you try to get some action.

Dorian Chavez: Don’t provoke us!

Leroy Martinez: I guess we are like fast striking and really energetic. We just give it to you. Straight up in your face!

Michael Price: I think that is exactly what it is. Like those adjectives that you just described the Black Mamba is exactly what the Black Mambas is. We’re fast, we’re deadly, like don’t give a fuck.

Leroy Martinez: We are gonna give it to you!

Michael Price: We are gonna get you! That’s exactly what it is.

Heatwave: You also share your band name with a Blaxploitation horror film, Black Mamba, shot in the Philippines during 1970s that focuses on witchcraft and voodoo (Note: 4.2/10 rating on IMDb)? Have you seen it? What movies with which do you identify?

Michael Price: I haven’t seen it. What Dorian told me it sucks. [laughter] Terrible but that is the truth. [laughter]

Dorian Chavez: Oh, man. That movie sucks though.

Michael Price: To be honest, I haven’t seen it.

Leroy Martinez: Like Godzilla sucking?

Dorian Chavez: Nah!

Leroy Martinez: Chafa?

Dorian Chavez: It’s chafa. It’s super chafa. Like, I like chafa movies. I’m a big fan of it. I’ll sit through a bunch of nonsense shit. But that movie sucked. That movie in relation to us? None whatsoever. We are Black Mambas rock and roll and that movie is Black Mamba.

Heatwave: After joining Wild Records, the band has continued to be big proponents of DIY by making your own merchandise. Is this something you do on tour?

Michael Price: This something we do to…

Dorian Chavez: To get by…

Leroy Martinez: Regardless. We do it everywhere.

Michael Price: We print our own shirts. Everyone who wears a Black Mamabs’ shirt.


Dorian Chavez: Is wearing our sweat, pretty much.

Michael Price: Pretty much, it’s the labor of our love.

Leroy Martinez: Somebody bought my own personal shirt.

Dorian Chavez: So they literally got Leroy’s yellow stains of love right under them.  DIY ‘til you die. Do it!

Michael Price: We do it to survive. We do it because fuck paying people to do

something we know how to do.

Heatwave: The band’s emphasis on DIY seems to complement Wild Records Reb Kennedy’s emphasis on capturing the band’s live show in recording. Outside of getting together to play, how involved was the band in the recording process?

Michael Price: 100 percent. It’s our music.

Dorian Chavez: Mastering wise, we weren’t there for that part. But we were there to play. We went in with the songs. We laid them all out.

Heatwave: Now that you’ve returned to California, what’s next for the band?

Michael Price: Album number two!

Leroy Martinez: Fuck more shit up.

Dorian Chavez: Album number two, more touring and definitely not gonna stay in the states for long, and more DIY. And heading out for our-fucking-selves.

Michael Price: Definitely more DIY. More getting into it.

Dorian Chavez: There is a lot of stuff we haven’t grasped yet, but we’re gonna grab a hold of it. Fuck shit up.

Heatwave: What do you want to say to our readers? Give it to us!

Michael Price and Leroy Martinez: More shit up. Black Mambas. Rock and roll will never die. Stay tuned, we’ve got more shit to fuck up.

By Amanda Ashley

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