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That One Song

Venus Throw, “Secret South”

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Venus Throw is Bruce Smith, Dirk Laguna, Bill Motley and Eddie Brown. Photo by Ash Daniel
  • Venus Throw is Bruce Smith, Dirk Laguna, Bill Motley and Eddie Brown. Photo by Ash Daniel

Music history is teeming with lost albums, shelved indefinitely by record labels for whatever reason. In the case of “Raised Right, Gone Wrong” by Venus Throw, the album was recorded at Sound of Music, then deliberately placed on the back burner by guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter Bruce Smith. Unable to convene keyboardist Johanna Moorman and drummer Herbie Gimmel for more than a handful of live performances, Smith decided not to release the swamp-rock band's first full-length until he could support it.

With their blessing, Smith moved on with a new lineup, featuring Dirk Laguna on bass and vocals, Eddie Brown on drums and Bill Motley on keyboards. And after three years Venus Throw resurrected the record, complete with art by illustrator and comic-book creator Robert Ullman.

Style: Tell us about that one song. ...

Smith: I was a student of history as a kid. If you think about it, aside from Boston, and New York, and Philly, and later D.C., more history took place within 40 miles of Richmond. As a white kid [growing up] in the suburbs of Richmond in the '70s, we learned one version of history. We got the “revere [Gens.] Lee and Jackson, the glory of the Confederacy, the glorious defeat.” And that's what “Secret South” is about: Who writes the history? What is truth?
When you go to college, you learn a
bout the horrible economic system of slavery that it was all based on. Then you have to go back and question your values. You end up with this really mixed view of [history]. A hundred and fifty years [after the Civil War began], there are still plenty of scars that haven't been dealt with. The song talks about a female character who tries to leave, but you really can't leave it. You have to deal with it.

How did John Morand's production influence the sound on “Raised Right, Gone Wrong”?

He was totally essential on recording the CD. The songs were already written and arranged, but there's a lot of really awesome sonic touches on there that he thought of. On “Secret South” he suggested Johanna use a stylophone, which is one of those little keyboards that you play with a metal pin. It's used on “Space Oddity” [by David Bowie]. He has a lot of fun stuff like that. On Bossy Little Thing, an instrumental, there's a sound that's almost like a musical saw. Other things, like having an Indian drone machine under “12 Glass Soldiers,” you may not notice it, but when you do it's really cool. He got Johanna to holler on my song about the singer of the Gun Club, “Goodbye Jeffrey Lee,” and she's really shy. He really brings out the best in you as a musician.

What is a “Venus throw”?

It's the winning Roman dicing throw. If you were a dice player in Rome, the best throw you could get was the Venus throw, with the idea that love conquers all. It was named after a noir mystery novel by Steven Saylor who writes a whole series set in Rome.

What is your first musical memory?

My grandmother could play piano by ear really beautifully. She'd go to a movie and come back and play [the soundtrack]. She used to get in trouble though, because when she was taking piano lessons from the nuns, they would say, “Learn this song,” and she would be too lazy to read the music. She'd get someone to play it for her, but then she'd put it in the key she liked. So she'd come back and play it in the wrong key and they'd whack her with a ruler. When I knew her, my grandmother had really bad arthritis, but she would play for me and it was moving to see her try and play something and still sound good.

What should we expect at the Kid Congo Powers show?

When [Kid Congo] was with the Gun Club, he was one of my major influences, so I'm extra excited about that. I know Sean [McClain] and always enjoyed Chrome Daddy Disco, which he just put back together. They're very Cramps and a lot of fun. There are rock bands, but Sean was looking for rock 'n' roll bands and I like to think all three bands have the roll, which involves hip shakin'. That's what Venus Throw aims for. When we play live, it's mostly hammer and tongs. It's all going to be danceable and decadent.  S

Venus Throw will open for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds and Chrome Daddy Disco on Feb. 17 at Bandito's. The show is free and doors open at 8 p.m.

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