Legendary Canadian Horror Punks Forbidden Dimension Are Finally Playing New York City
We spoke to Jackson Phibes, P. T. Bonhan, and Virginia Dentata about KISS, the Misfits, and spending 25 years in the horror business.
Calgary, Alberta, otherwise known as Cowtown, is oil country, teeming with actual cowboys and known for the Stampede, which is like the Coachella of rodeos. The city is also home to the best horror rock band you’ve probably never heard — the Forbidden Dimension. Often mentioned in the same breath as the Cramps and the Misfits, and held in the same regard by fans with spooktacular taste in music, the band has been recording and performing for almost three decades. They have an extensive discography, including the just released two-CD compilation from Sounds Escaping, Every Twisted Tree Watches As You Pass. There’s even a tribute CD that came out on the band’s 25th anniversary.
Over the years, the Forbidden Dimension has seen many lineup changes, but the one consistent member is ghoul rock elder statesman Jackson Phibes. He started the Forbidden Dimension in 1988 as a one-man band, but has worked with a rotating cast of other members with inspired monikers such as P. T. Bonham, Rudy Rue Morgue, and H. P. Lovesauce. Phibes is the mad scientist who mixes such influences as EC comics, Roky Erickson, spook shows, and Johnny Thunders, into a fuzzed out, trashy, psych punk brew. Lyrically, Phibes writes sonic penny dreadfuls about haunted houses, flying saucers, femme fatales, cannibals, the living dead, voodoo … all the good stuff.
While Phibes and company perform frequently in Canada, there have only been two shows that took place on U.S. soil; Las Vegas in 1996 and Nashville in 2012. The lack of touring has kept the band a deep, dark secret that only dedicated monster mashers who seek out moldering rarities are aware of. That’s about to change, as the Forbidden Dimension play their first New York City gig, at the Midnight Monster Hop at Otto’s Shrunken Head on Saturday, August 27.
Noisey was able to talk with the current lineup of Jackson Phibes, P. T. Bonham, and Virginia Dentata (who happens to be married to Bonham) about some band history and the upcoming gig.
Noisey: Because of the fuzzy hard sound and lyrical devotion to all things vintage horror, you're often compared to the Misfits and the Cramps. How do you feel about that, and are there other bands you feel you’re more akin to?
Jackson Phibes: Yes, I've always been way more influenced musically by the sound of sixties punk and seventies hard rock (like KISS).
P. T. Bonham: It would be sad if people looked at all this work and thought it "a clone band" of anyone. There are elements from many different sources, as Jackson Phibes is an accomplished burglar, but there is no one single theme.
Can you each tell me which of your songs you would select to introduce someone who’s never heard you before to the FD sound?
PTB: “Crawling Eye,” “Festering Violet.”
Virginia Dentata: So many to choose from. There's over 150 really good songs! “Creepsville,” “Trilobite Lady.”
P. T. and Jackson, you two started out together in [pre-Forbidden Dimension band] Color Me Psycho, then parted, then P. T. would periodically rejoin, then you had another band together called the English Teeth, and now you're playing together in Forbidden Dimension again. What is it about this partnership that's so enduring?
JP: He’s the funniest one, so why would you want to hang out with somebody else if you're not getting paid?
PTB: Phibes is really good songwriter and never tells me what to do except for requesting a certain cymbal sound. I'd like these songs whether I was in the band or not. Plus, he is polite and courteous and, being small, easily transportable.
Virginia, how did you end up joining the band?
VD: They seemed a little sad because H. P. Lovesauce was always busy and couldn't make practice, and since I was just upstairs baking scones anyway, it kind of worked out?
JP: We had to twist Virginia's arm a bit to come down to the basement and play at first, but she learned “Annabel” and “Graveyard Line,” and it sounded awesome. A week later I had to call H. P. to tell him that we needed to get her in the band, and then she learned about 40 tunes in a month, all tabbed out and rehearsed so we could play two sets and a wedding at Halloween.
PTB: In all deference to H.P. who we love and loved playing with, the biggest difference is that Virginia is very committed to the band. H. P. was always a little preoccupied with other things. Like pants.
Why have you not toured more extensively?
JP: We toured a lot back in the Cargo Records days, all over western Canada repeatedly. Nowadays, we're doing it more for fun and like sleeping in our own beds. World domination was never the plan. After the NYC gig, though, we’re playing Nashville again on October 1 for the Horror Hootenanny.
How are you feeling about the NYC show?
JP: Looking forward to seeing all our friends! Same with Nashville, it's a pen pal reunion.
PTB: Quite mental. I guess if you live in New York, then maybe it's no big deal. But to a bunch of rustic types like us, playing there is amazing.
Jackson, you’re otherwise known by your mild-mannered alter ego, artist Tom Bagley, and your work has decorated every release and flyer. Can you describe the style of your artwork?
JP: I started off trying to get a gruesome underground comix style going, but I also like the funny, happy art on old cereal boxes, so over the years, the two schools have kinda met in the middle. I actually go into a lot of detail about the art side in the CD booklet for the Every Twisted Tree Watches As You Pass comp.
Can you tell me about that comp and how it's different from other releases?
JP: It's got all the seven-inch records and comp appearances, as well as many unreleased studio recordings spread over 2 CDs. The mastering is loud so it sounds really good, even on the stuff that had to be taken from vinyl sources, and there’s a 24-page full-color booklet.
Do you have any new recordings with this lineup in the works?
JP: Yeah, another full-length album. It's all recorded and is getting mastered as we speak.
From the very beginning in the one-man band days, this has really been a labor of love for you. What keeps fueling your compulsion?
JP: I've just always really been a vintage horror fan and a vintage rock fan, so I think I'm trying to make a perfect storm of the two things for myself. Also, when the band started, there weren't a million horror bands around, so it was kind of uncharted territory. That changed eventually, so now it's more challenging trying to create a new original take on the genre.
Do you think you had something to do with that change?
JP: No, it was probably just the Misfits reforming and Jerry Only swamping the world with his merch assault.
It sounds like the band is basically your lifelong love letter to horror. Are you committed to continuing Forbidden Dimension?
JP: You know it! And you can do it all year round, not just at Halloween, because gruesome and terrifying know no seasons!
Did you ever imagine you’d still be recording and playing with the same project 28 years later? And that there would be a tribute album in your honor?
PTB: I think he was counting on it.
Christine Colby is dabbling in horror business on Twitter.