Talking to 17-year-old Cullen O’Connor about the keys-and-drums punk band he and his brother Emmett started, Archie and the Bunkers, you realize just how long these young men have been playing together. “When our band started I was the bass player for 4 or 5 years,” says Cullen. “We were trying to start a band that was bass-n-drums, but it just wasn’t working for us.”
Cullen was all of 13 when the idea hit him that the organ could be a cool change from the bass. “My brother, who is the drummer, was a little skeptical about it, but then he heard a band called The Screamers, who are a California synth-punk band, and he was more open to it,” Cullen recalls. “So we got this hundred-dollar crappy keyboard that just had some preset sounds on it and we started working with that.”
Not long after the keys-and-drums experiment began, Emmett and Cullen’s dad suggested that the budding organist check out some Jimmy Smith. “A few weeks later, I went to the record store and got a Jimmy Smith’s Greatest Hits!record, and that changed my life,” Cullen says. “My mind was blown.”
Last month, Archie and the Bunkers released their second full-length album, Songs from the Lodge (Dirty Water Records) and an EP called Archie and the Bunkers Play The Damned (In The Red Recordings). Here, Cullen shares insights and a couple examples of their inspired, inventive, raw music.
Can you explain where those loves meet in your music: punk and jazz organ?
I got a Hammond organ that I could get a great sound on, and I wanted to have a punk format but combine that with some jazz technicalities and sounds—playing fills that are sometimes jazzy and solos that stay in a blues scale. I think we did a good job of creating something new and really fun.
So, how long have you been playing keyboards?
I started in 2014, so four years.
Wait, so that was the first time you ever played a keyboard?
Yeah. I taught myself to do this.
No piano lessons when you were a kid?
I maybe had lessons for a year when I was three or four, but I didn’t remember anything. I taught myself the blues scale and I just spent a lot of time experimenting because it’s such a fun instrument.
What kinds of keyboards do you have now?
In the basement, our practice area, I have an Acetone Top 5, which is on the cover of our first record, and I have a Hammond T-212 with a Leslie speaker. I also use the Nord Stage 2, and a Wurlitzer and a Rhodes, but I can’t afford to tour with those. On tour, I take a Casio CTK7200. It makes a great sound live and it’s super reliable.
Where did you make your new records?
The album was recorded in Cleveland at Crushtone Studios with Jim Wirt [Incubus, Hoobastank], and we did the EP of songs by The Damned in Detroit with Jim Diamond [Fleshtones, White Stripes.].
Can you talk about creating a song on the new album that gives people an example of how you guys work?
I would like to mention two songs that vary a lot from each other. On our first record we did a song called “Joanie,” which was an instrumental jazz blues song. That was recorded with just drums, a Hammond B3 and a Leslie, and one mic in the center of the room, one take. That was also recorded by Jim Diamond.
On the new album, the song “You’re My Pacemaker,” we actually did that because I love the sound of the cheap Casio when it gets distortion on it. That was funny because no one could tell what it was. I have people ask, “Are you playing a Rhodes on distortion? Are you playing a Farfisa?” No, I’m playing a 200-dollar Casio. The sound of that song is just the drums and the Casio and some vocal doubling.
Who’s the lead singer in your band?
It’s different on different songs. Usually the person who writes the song sings it. On the latest album it’s a 50-50 split, but on the last one I was 13, so it was like: My voice cracks. I’m gonna pass.
For more info visit https://www.archieandthebunkers.com