Paint Fumes: Up Out of the Sewer
By Bryan C. Reed
When Elijah Von Cramon picks up the phone, it’s about 8 p.m. and the Paint Fumes frontman has just woken up from what he describes as a “really weird nap.”
I brush it off; dude deserves some rest.
This time last year, Paint Fumes was barely formed. “I never really played music before, but I always wanted to,” Von Cramon admits. “So last year for a New Year’s Resolution, I was like ‘I’m gonna fucking write some songs and learn how to do shit, start a band and play a show by the end of January.’”
It didn’t take long for Paint Fumes to become a staple in Charlotte’s underground rock scene. It helped that Von Cramon supplied his own venue for early gestational gigs, the defunct house-party HQ Sewercide Mansion. The nascent Fumes — formed around guitarists Von Cramon and Brett Whittlesey — met drummer Josh Johnson when they opened for Johnson’s one-man blues explosion Pinche Gringo in the Sewercide basement.
The house named after the Electric Eels song became Charlotte’s rock & roll hub, hosting locals like the Fumes and Brain F≠, as well as touring bands like Acid Baby Jesus and Jacuzzi Boys. “It was real gross in there,” Von Cramon remembers. “It was fun, but it was a free-for-all, with people like smashing bottles and shit. It was a punk-rock house.”
It was also an opportunity for Paint Fumes to build a reputation among the bands they hosted. A Milestone gig with Puerto Rico’s Davila 666 put the band in touch with Slovenly Records; praise from the Slovenly-signed Greek band Acid Baby Jesus sealed the deal.
“When we first recorded our stuff, once we got it mixed and mastered I sent it to Pete [Menchetti, Slovenly’s founder], just like, ‘Hey man, if you wanna check us out, here it is. We just finished recording this,’” Von Cramon says. “Then, like two hours later, he was like, ‘Let’s make an album.’”
By October, Paint Fumes were signed to Slovenly. On March 13, the Nevada-based label released the Fumes’ first 7-inch. “Egyptian Rats,” backed with “Waste of Time” and “Panic Attack,” is a rocket off the rails, skewering early-60s riffs with tangled leads and needle-in-the-red squall. Von Cramon howls and yelps as much as he sings, asserting more than he enunciates. (Here, it should be noted, Von Cramon’s indecipherable vocal detracts nothing; one assumes these are the thoughts of the little head.) Johnson, somehow, is most in control even as he steamrolls his kit.
“We never really think about stuff, we just kind of do it,” Von Cramon confirms. And so far, the divining rod has steered the band soundly. The single sold through its initial pressing before its release date; “We had to send back our copies that we got because they needed to fill orders,” Von Cramon says. The Fumes’ LP debut, Uck Life, will follow later in 2012.
But more importantly, Paint Fumes are ready to burn gasoline. In addition to an already busy regional touring schedule, plans are in motion for an April jaunt that will take the band through California and Mexico; then, Von Cramon says, maybe Puerto Rico in July, Montana in August, the Hopscotch Music Festival in September, and perhaps even a European tour in November. For a year-old band born in a dingy basement, it’s a new reality. For Von Cramon, it’s a relief.
“It’s weird playing in front of people I know,” he says. “It bugs me out, kind of. It’s more fun to be some random person up on a stage that no one knows. You can lose your inhibitions more.” As if inhibition was a problem for these impulsive rockers.