I recently had a very special opportunity to sit down with the legendary lead singer/songwriter of The Unclaimed, Shelley Ganz, and guitarist, Patrick Cleary (most recently of Cashew and Cleary), and we discuss the past, present, and future for the most recent manifestation of The Unclaimed.
For those uninitiated, The Unclaimed were among the first bands to ride the initial garage rock revival wave back in the 80’s. Featuring Shelley Ganz and Sid Griffin as its chief songwriting force, the band released their initial EP in the fall of 1980. Roughly a year later Sid Griffin left the band to form The Long Ryders while Shelley continued playing shows, and writing tunes with The Unclaimed. The band has gone through many iterations, but through it all, Shelley has continued to pursue his passion for his thoughtfully-crafted brand of garage rock and roll that he affectionally dubs, “60’s punk.”
Not wanting to spend too much time on the past while briefly revisiting the initial spark of the band’s inception, we began the interview talking about Shelley’s experience attending boarding school in New York, and in the course of it, he briefly described his experiences with music at a young age:
Shelley: Boarding school was a place I certainly didn’t wanna be, and all I had for any measure of comfort and relief was the oldies radio station, which was WCBS FM New York. And quite literally that’s how I learned about sixties and garage music, in particular. I had that transistor radio glued to my ear incessantly, otherwise I would have jumped out of a window!
NS: How old were you in this period?
Shelley: This was between 13 and 16
NS: Perfect time to get into music!
Shelley: Well I was aware of music prior to that, but when you’re younger and at home you have other things to do. But when you’re in this dreadful environment and there’s nothing to do, other than avoiding bullying staff or older classmates, all I had was this radio. And they just played some of the most bitchin’ rock and roll! They played mid-to-late 50’s very cool doo-wop. And they played it incessantly. Non-stop, around the clock. I became like Linus and this was my security blanket! It was a perfect comfort.
NS: You started the Unclaimed right after high school, right?
Shelley: There were bands prior to the Unclaimed, but they weren’t established or anything. It took a few years for the Unclaimed to come about. It was after high school. This was while I was in college. I’d meet people at college and put up posters. I advertised in the local paper at the time called The Recycler, and I would get people who were in bands back then, like people from Iron Butterfly. Someone from Iron Butterfly called me, and then I’d get [other] people like that who were interested; but they were about 10-15 years older. And then some guy who played with Blue Cheer came to a practice! I believe he was the last drummer of Blue Cheer and he came to a rehearsal or two. So this was in the earliest days. There was certainly an interest and a need, but that was it.
NS: Around what time period was this all going on?
Shelley: I started doing this right out of high school, so this was around ’75 or ‘76.
NS: Being so far removed from that point in time, I think it’s really telling that you were ahead of the curve when it came to the eventual resurgence of this kind of music in the eighties with the garage revival.
Shelley: All I ever adored was Garage and Bubblegum, and good Invasion. So that’s all we ever set out to do. Even though we attempted to put it together around ‘75 or ‘76, it did take years to put it together. But once rehearsals began it came together quickly. But it did take years to find the right people.
NS: And you worked with Sid Griffin originally. How exactly did you meet him?
Shelley: I ran an ad in The Recycler, and it was something like, “Interested in putting a 60’s punk band together…into The Count 5, The Seeds, The Standells, Syndicate of Sound…etc. If you have similar interests, please call,” and that’s it. It was very direct and, you know, very “60’s punk” as opposed to the 70’s “gunk” that was going on at the time.
NS: Did you call it, “gunk?”
Shelley: “Gunk” yeah. No relationship whatsoever to the 70’s violence and mayhem of the day. I mean we would get attacked by the 70’s Skinheads, literally. We would be on stage and get attacked!
Patrick: Would they like rush you and try to tackle you, or try to throw shit at you?
Shelley: Well, I’m thinking of one gig in particular. It was in San Diego and it was quite infamous. There was this rather large show, which featured The Bangs, and Salvation Army, and us. It was a huge show. There were a ton of mods, and there were these scummy skinheads that were there. I don’t think they did a thing when The Salvation Army and The Bangs were on. Then we go on and they start fighting with us, so go figure! And they’re throwing stuff and dousing us…I was soaked in beer, and my bass player gets punched, and it turned into a riot! So either we provoked them, or it was the hair; or a combination of things. But it was a full-blown riot! But the worst part of it is that once the riot ensues, I become aware that the Highway Patrol is outside, and I said, “Please come in, there’s a riot inside!” So he comes in, and the idiot who put the show on tells me that the Highway Patrol is the “enemy” and the punks were the “security.” It was staggering and stunning — the mentality of the time.
Patrick: Kind of like your version of Altamont.
Shelley: It was an updated Altamont. It was just a horrible situation with this kind of narrow-mindedness and stupidity.
NS: So speaking of back then, one thing that I read about The Unclaimed was that you all purposely covered really obscure 60’s garage music.
Shelley: That’s entirely correct. Just like how The Rolling Stones, when they began, were a blues cover band, you could say that the Unclaimed were a 60’s punk cover band. So I found the most obscure covers I could find. I would give homage to Dave Gibson, the late record collector. He was responsible for the Boulder Series, much like Pebbles, Boulders, Nuggets, and all that. He was also responsible for our first EP.
NS: The Moxie record?
Shelley: Yeah. He sold me a stack of very obscure collectibles for literally a dollar a piece. I mean it was like nothing. It was like air. The way he was giving them away. And the singles were ultra, ultra rare. And that was our first set, and so on. So that’s all we did.
NS: So who’s in the band right now?
Shelley: So there’s Patrick Cleary, who you’ve had the pleasure of meeting. And there’s John Worley on bass, and there’s the brilliant Shaun Bryant, who fell from the stars, and there’s myself.
NS: How’d you guys get back together, and what brought that on?
Shelley: Well the Unclaimed, after too long of a hiatus, reformed in 2013. Mike Stax had his 30th anniversary for his Ugly Things Magazine, and he was kind and generous enough to invite the Unclaimed to perform! We hadn’t performed in awhile, and my friend, Dave Provost had been asking me to play again. We had been talking about it for awhile, and he said he could put a band together. So he came up with a bass player, a drummer, and he’d be on lead guitar. And at that same time Mike [had] invited the Unclaimed to play, which was terrific! An unusually great guy, and very supportive and generous. So all these things coalesced and came together at the same time, and at the right time. So that’s where it got kicked off.
NS: So after that show, did you guys come back and start gigging out on a regular basis, or did that take some time to develop? At what point did you decide to make it a more regular thing?
Shelley: Well that show was on Memorial Day of 2013. It took a couple of months for various reasons. We started to play some shows, and then we recorded a few songs, but there was some internal dissension with that group. So that group lasted about two years, and that was that. It took about two years to find this gifted individual before you (nods to Patrick).
Patrick: I was introduced to Shelley via Scott “Bassman” Halper, ‘cause Scott and I had played together in bands like The Digs and Silver Phial, and he invited me to a rehearsal. We played with this kid drummer who was like 16 years old or something. And it went okay, but the drummer couldn’t make the next rehearsal, so he dropped out. So Shelley and I started playing together, working out the tunes. And Shelley knew John Worley. In fact he met him at this really early show in Santa Monica. And John was a fan and friend of the band since then. So Shelley just rang up John, and then a friend of mine, Double E, recommended I contact Shaun Bryant. So I gave him a call and he was just ready to play, no questions asked, and joined us!
Shelley: Shaun descended from the stars!
Patrick: Shelley and I had been working together for a year, just playing together rather regularly, working out guitar parts for the songs. And when we got together with John Worley in his garage rehearsal studio, it just started taking off from there!
Shelley: It did! And Shaun already knew a number of songs perfectly!
NS: So with the most recent reformation, you guys have now been playing together for 2, almost 3 years?
Shelley: Yeah, about two years. But we had our first show in August of ’18 at Echo Park Rising.
NS: What has it been like to work together?
Patrick: Well, I just really love the songs, and I’ve never really played lead guitar in a band. The Digs was where I wrote the songs and played rhythm guitar, but I never really had a consistent partner to play lead guitar and work on the songs to really bring it off properly. And in Silver Phial I was the only guitarist, so I was playing more lead parts, but not “lead guitar,” you know? And in Cashew and Cleary, that was more collaboration. So I’ll play lead on Cashew’s songs and on my songs I play rhythm and sing lead. With Shelley…I was familiar with garage rock, like certain bigger name bands, like Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Count Five, and Tthe Standells. But I didn’t know that there was such depth and really amazing songs by no-name bands from everywhere that really turned my head around and got me deep into the guitar vocabulary of that kind of music. I have a playlist of 178 songs that Shelley has sent me.
Shelley: Patrick is like Einstein on lead guitar! I mean he’s astonishingly creative and unbelievably intuitive. I’m not a lead player in any way, shape, or form. I can come up with little things here and there. But Patrick is just like this giant mind that can conceive of these things and put them out. Just the other day we were working on this new song called, “I’ll Always Cry For You,” and he came up with a part, and I don’t wanna give it away until it’s out there, but it’s reminiscent of something from another era. It’s just brilliant! Sheer brilliance, and that’s our boy Patrick!
Patrick: Well, ya know, I have a great palate to work with, with these songs. I call Shelley the Irving Berlin of garage rock. It’s just crazy changes and interesting parts. Everything’s hooky and the mood is very strong on all of them. They’re just epic tunes.
Shelley: Thanks Patrick! And I just wanna say that, a couple bands ago, there was a guy, a great lead player who was very, very creative. And Patrick is very reminiscent of this individual. He played on the album that was released as Under the Bodhi Tree by Attila and the Huns. And we released it that way because, at the time, I had written a song called “Attila the Hun,” and I thought it would be cool to have the band known as Attila and the Huns with their latest song, “Attila the Hun!” At least that’s what I was thinking at the time. Well, anyway, we’ve now perfected our rocking-est tune, “Attila the Hun,” which is current. And what Patrick does on that song is nothing short of shocking. We’re going to re-record it soon, cuz it’s even hotter now!
NS: So is that in the process of being recorded right now?
Shelley: Well, we started it, but in the interim, we improved upon it. So, it’s even better now, so we’re going to have to re-record it. It’s something to look out for, “Attila the Hun.”
NS: I’ll definitely keep my ears peeled!
Shelley: It’s a ripper!
Patrick: We’ve probably got the most dancing reaction out of that one at the shows.
NS: So is that song going to be on your next release? (The band has recently recorded a four-song EP that is currently scheduled for release on Groovie Records)
Patrick: No, we’ve got this idea to put it out as a bonus track on Under the Bodhi Tree when we re-release it under the artist name, The Unclaimed.
NS: That actually brings me to something I kept seeing in a couple of interviews with you, Shelley. In a couple of earlier interviews (from the 80’s) you mentioned that you weren’t really happy with the production quality on the records you all were putting out. I think you said they were good performances, but the recordings themselves didn’t really capture what you wanted the band to sound like. How have you felt about the recording process and the sounds you’re able to capture now?
Shelley: Well, we have a lot more to say about it, for one. The sounds are a lot better, they’re a lot more vivid, they’re a lot more satisfying. So, yeah, I’d say I think they’re certainly a lot cooler. Not to jinx it, but Rodney Bingenheimer’s show on SiriusXM has been playing, “You Never Come,” so, if that’s any indication, it does sound like it’s cool and satisfying. I attribute it to Patrick’s re-recording of the lead parts. You know, the fuzz is very strong and very vivid, and the tremolo, etcetera.
Patrick: Yeah! Shelley came up with this lead riff for the verse part that was really cool when played with the fuzz, [which] the other guy wasn’t doing. Like [Shelley] was saying, it just changed the whole dynamic of what the song is because it’s got these unique lead parts. And then in the bridge it totally changes setting to a clean tremolo sound and it sounds like angelic harps playing. (laughs)
NS: (laughs) That sounds rad! So, I’m really curious, with The Unclaimed being part of that first wave of garage rock revival that happened in the early 80’s, what are your thoughts on the most recent resurgence of the garage sound? Has it been on your radar at all?
Shelley: Not so much. I have vaguely heard of some of these bands, but I’m not very familiar with their material.
NS: I find that almost more interesting than if you were more aware of it…I mean you go back to the beginning of your career, and it seems like you’re tuned into what’s going on with the first garage revival, and you’re in there when it’s happening. And whether or not you’re conscious of it now, there’s been another revival of garage rock and here you are again. You’re still tuned to it.
Shelley: For better or for worse. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s all I ever listen to. I mean, I think of The Avengers’ “Be a Caveman” as not just a song, it’s kind of a categorical imperative. It’s a way of life!
Patrick: You know our logo, right?
NS: Yeah, the Neanderthal guy, right?
Shelley: That’s our icon! We take that very seriously. We all kneel before that before practice.
NS: Wait, do you really?
Shelley: We kneel before it. Before practice and afterwards!
NS: Oh man, it sounds like you guys have a lot of fun!
Shelley: Yeah, and you know, often we’ll wind up grunting at each other.
Patrick: John Worley’s our emcee comedian guy. And Shelley’s the stone-faced caveman, and Shaun is the gnome-ish drummer. He looks like the drummer from Q-65.
Shelley: Yes, but the grunts are real. So, we’ll just point and grunt.
Patrick: (laughs) Yeah, seriously! Like in, “I Found a Girl” it goes, “dun-dun-dun-UGH!-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-UGH!-dun-dun,” — that’s John Worley’s part (“UGH!”).
Shelley: Grunts are a big part of the vocabulary.
NS: So are you still doing that thing where you try and play obscure covers that no one’s heard of.
Shelley: Yeah. I mean we could do an entirely original set, but it’s fun to do one or two of the classics.
NS: So do you purposely do the classics, or do you still try to catch your audience off guard, and throw them something they’ve most likely never heard of?
Shelley: Well, frankly, they won’t know either way.
NS: Fair enough.
Patrick: There’s so many new original songs that are as good as the obscure covers that we do. So they’re camouflaged by the quality, you know?
Shelley: Generally, if it’s brand new, I will say, “Tonight we are debuting a new song” (pronounced “de-butting.”)
NS: So obviously garage music is your bread and butter. Is there any new garage music that has got you inspired, or pushing you in any new directions?
Shelley: Well, the new garage music is what I can find that is new to me. I mean, just digging up old garage rock records. I’m always finding new garage on the internet, and that’s why I say, “Hey Patrick, check this out!” And it’s just mind-boggling. I mean just the other day I posted The Relics “Inside Outside” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-7qarBdY18) and, you know, it was just magical!
Patrick: Oh, the tremolo, yeah!
Shelley: Yeah, it’s just incredible! Hopefully it’ll never run out.
Patrick: What’s special about our band though is there are a multitude of styles that we do. One is what we like to call “hick-a-billy.” Then there’s some fuzz-ragers, and some tribal stuff.
Shelley: And bubble garage!
Patrick: Yeah, bubble garage! He wrote “Betty Cooper,” which has that twang, but also that sweetness.
Shelley: Jingle Jangle.
Patrick: Yeah, that jingle jangle sound. And that’s really rare in the genre, or category of bands. If we’re able to make a new record, like a whole 12 song LP, we could really show the depth and breadth. It’s a unique catalog. But as far as new music and other bands, there are so many good ones just in the LA area. Like the Creation Factory and The Night Times.
NS: Are you still rocking the turtlenecks?
Shelley: We wear nothing BUT turtlenecks! I’m wearing a turtleneck right now
NS: Are you really?
Shelley: No. That would add a lot to my cleaning bill. But we are dedicated to the Illya Kuryakin look.
NS: Who’s that?
Shelley: He was the Russian spy on Man from U.N.C.L.E. And he wore the black turtleneck.
NS: Is that where it came from?
Shelley: Well, it’s tongue-in-cheek, but it was kind of like the “spy” look from the mid 60’s. There were a number of bands who wore black turtlenecks. I mean even The Beatles took a picture in black turtlenecks. Of course, the most famous were probably The Music Machine in the black turtlenecks. It’s just a sleek look. You can’t go wrong with black! So yeah, we’re in the black turtlenecks, absolutely.
At this point in the interview I asked Shelley if the turtleneck getup was an homage to the Beat Generation (Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bourroughs, etc.), and he reminded me that the black turtleneck “style” was more often associated with the Existentialist movement. This tangent led to the revelation that Shelley was a Philosophy major in college, which reminded me of something I had read in a previous interview Shelley did where he spoke about Buddhism…
NS: I was actually reading an interview or two that you gave where you made a couple of references to Buddhism. I think you were making a point about authenticity. You mentioned a story about this monk who tries to be the Buddha, but he can’t. And the thing is that the Buddha is the Buddha, and the person who’s trying to be the Buddha, that person should just be himself. So it’s like an allegory on being authentic. So I was wondering. Do you draw any of your own, personal ethos from Buddhism, or any kind of philosophy?
Shelley: Well, that’s a really good question… Well, the Attila and the Huns album is entitled, Under the Bodhi Tree, and that entire song is actually a treatise on Buddhism.
NS: So is the entire album is about Buddhism?
Shelley: No, just the song. The song itself is a treatise in Theravada Buddhism.
Patrick: “Under the Bodhi Tree” is the song.
Shelley: The song itself is a philosophical understanding of Theravada Buddhism. It’s very succinct, but if you read the lyrics it will, in a nutshell, explain Theravada Buddhism to you.
NS: I’ve never heard of Theravada Buddhism, mind going into it a little bit?
Shelley: There’s Mahayana, there’s what they call “Hinayana,” and there’s Theravada. Mahayana means, “The greater vehicle,” and Hinayana is what the Mahayana call, “The lesser vehicle.” What they’re referring to is the greater and lesser vehicles to enlightenment. The Mahayana’s feel that the Hinayanas can only enlighten a lesser amount of people because of their approach. Now, the Mahayanas call the Theravada [Buddhists] “Hinayana,” because of their approach, which is whatever their approach is. The Theravadas are what is referred to as “The Doctrine of the Elders.” And that’s what Theravada is, the Doctrine of the Elders. The Elders are what I like to think of as the “Original Thought” Buddhism. And it’s very succinct. It’s not prayers or magic, or the chanting. That’s what I write about in this song. I think, as far as a treatise, it’s the coolest thing I ever wrote.
NS: So was that interest in philosophy influential or related to your love of rock and roll/garage music?
Shelley: No, I think they’re separate. But it did permeate in certain areas because I also wrote “Walk on the Water,” and [the song] is just pure skepticism. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the song, but it’s total irreverence. I wrote that a long time ago. I wouldn’t write it now. I mean I think that way now, but I wouldn’t write it now. But I was just out of school then. It’s pretty in-your-face.
NS: Speaking of then vs now, it seems like rock and roll, in whatever form it comes, is more of a niche now than it used to be then. It’s not in the “mainstream” radar. Does it feel that way when you’re playing out?
Shelley: No, it doesn’t feel any different. I mean when we’re in the club and people come to see you, you feel welcomed either way. I don’t think it matters what’s beyond the club. I think when you fill a club, I think that’s all that matters. When we played The Monty Bar, the club was densely packed, and it felt great! And you don’t really think about what’s beyond the club.
Patrick: Yeah! We were on the bill with Ron Silva’s band, the Gargoyles.
Shelley: And they did a great job!
Shelley: And they played a lot of obscure, garage covers. And they did them brilliantly
NS: The crowd was really digging it?
Shelley: Oh, WE were digging it. And I’m like Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial. They did a superb job!
Patrick: Yeah, they did a Don and the Good Times song. They also did “Much Too Much To Bear” by the Who, off their first album, which is one of my favorite songs. So I felt like the gauntlet was laid down, but we rose to the challenge and got people up and dancing.
NS: I read somewhere that you started your own label, Hysteria. What was the story behind that?
Shelley: Our 6-song, 12-inch EP that followed the Moxie EP was on Hysteria Records. The reason it’s “Hysteria,” was an homage to The Hysterics. The Hysterics were one of the greatest garage bands of the sixties. And they were out of the Inland Empire in California.
Patrick: They did that song, “That’s All She Wrote.”
Shelley: They did “That’s All She Wrote,” which is unbelievable. They did “Everything’s There,” which we use to do. They did two others, which were also brilliant. So the Hysterics were really remarkable, and it was kind of an homage to call the label, “Hysteria.”
NS: So Hysteria was your record label?
Shelley: Well, as much of a label as it was. We were the only record on it. But you know what, that record was re-released in Holland about four or five years later on Resonance (London-based underground music label). We could re-release that EP, but we’re just kind of waiting for the right opportunity.
NS: Would you have any interest in releasing either your music or other bands’ music through Hysteria, or another record label of your own?
Shelley: Well, other bands? Probably not. But it may come down that we may have to release our material on the newly revived Hysteria. But we’ll see if it comes down to that. Hopefully we’ll get, you know, some real label cuz we’re not really record merchants. Even when Hysteria was out there, other people took care of the label, so to speak. They grabbed the records and they sold them and they promoted them, etc. It was just a name. We did not do the record work.
NS: Anything you’d like to put out there for the people at 53rdandthird?
Shelley: Yeah, come to our shows, have a great time, and girls, grow out your bangs, it’s a hot look. If you’re adventurous, wear mini-skirts! That’s another hot look. And we have a new song that we’re about to work on soon called “Mini Skirts and Bangs,” and you can’t miss with either! It’s the Mary Quant look. Can’t beat it!
NS: Where’s the best place for people to find your music?
Patrick: Probably Youtube.
Shelley: Youtube, and sometimes Rodney Bingenheimer plays it on Little Steven’s Underground Garage
Patrick: Yeah, if you wanna hear the new stuff it’s only available on select internet radio shows, including Becky Ebenkamp and Nikki Kreuzer’s show, “Bubblegum and Other Delights,” on Dub Lab.
Shelley: And Richard Wigg and Glennis on WFMU. The Sunday Night Show on Rock and Soul Ichiban: The Wig Out Party!
Patrick: Goldie’s Garage on Little Steven’s Underground on Sirius FM network. They’re playing all the new stuff that’s unreleased.
Shelley: It seems like the song that is generally played most often is “You Never Come.” And that’s “C.O.M. E.” I don’t wanna be provocative. It’s a very satisfying fuzzer. So I hope you’ll listen and dig it!
You can catch The Unclaimed playing out on June 22nd at the Highland Park Bowl in LA with The Ichabod Five. Facebook event linked below.