John Carpenter is not a cinematic figure, although you could make a case for his arrestingly scuzzy blues-rock being the stuff of film noir. But because of his famous name (and because of the sudden preponderance of bands like Abe Vigoda, Philip Symour Hoffman and Nicole Kidman nicking names from A- and B-listers), you weren’t sure what you were getting when Carpenter started playing around L.A.
||| Download: “The Captain”
What fans got was John Carpenter, Johnny on his MySpace, a baby-faced assassin with a Gibson as his weapon of choice, fronting a trio with a madman drummer who goes by J. Explosive, making music that sounds like trouble – vintage psych-blues with ragged riffs styled from Hendrix and dire vocals straight outta Scott Walker. Five minutes into his riveting sets, you’ve forgotten there’s any other John Carpenter.
“I’ve never wanted to change my name,” say Carpenter, allowing as how two generations ago his grandfather did that, changing the family from Zimmerman, “but yeah, I guess it has made me hard to find.”
Carpenter moved to L.A. from New York a couple of years ago after “playing in a bunch of bands that never really went anywhere,” and worked in earnest on his first full-length, “Fairy Tales Forgotten,” released early this year. He’d grown up in Jersey with friends who took their guitar playing seriously. “We were guys in white T-shirts playing revved-up versions of Buddy Holly songs,” he says. He did time in a gospel band before going solo about five years ago, channeling varied influences such as Walker, Echo and the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, Hendrix and the Velvet Underground into his own raw take on the blues.
“I’ve kind of always operated on the fringes,” he says. “I had a lot of friends in the noise scene, but because what I was doing was a bit different we never quite fit in there.”
Some local support has helped raise Carpenter’s profile in L.A., and already he is working on a follow-up to “Fairy Tales,” which he suspects might even be more muscular than his debut. “I’ve got a full album’s worth of material,” he says. “I’m not too sure, but I think it will be heavier.”
||| Live: John Carpenter plays at 9 p.m. Dec. 21 as part of Buzz Bands LA’s Holiday Happening at the Echo.