The Subtractions existed for just over a year, starting in the fall 1979. The band played sloppy fuzzed-out proto-punk and teen-angst anthems with titles like “Fresno Dead.”
The band never released an album and unless you were a friend, or happened to be at one of its many gigs, you’ve probably never heard the name. But the band laid the ground work for entire generations of do-it-yourself punk musicians in the Central Valley. They not only brought original music into the local bars (where cover bands ruled the day), they also booked their own shows, renting out union halls and ballrooms and inviting out-of-town bands to play.
“There were many name bands by then, like the Dead Kennedys from San Francisco and Black Flag from Southern California, but in Fresno and Central Cal., nothing,” says Rickey Reneau, who played guitar in the band, along with Dale Stewart, Wayne Garabedian, Richard Wineland and Marcus Marootian. “Our main objective was to start a scene here.”
That scene actually came later, in ‘84 or so, with bands like Nazi Bitch & The Jews, The Frigidettes, Cambodian Kids, S.A.D. Boyz and Capitol Punishment.
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By then, the Subtractions was on its way to historical obscurity, only to be rediscovered thirty-five years later by the magazine Savage Damage Digest and the Chicago, Illinois label HoZac Records, which just release the band’s “It’s Exposed: EP.” The four-song 7-inch was culled from original recordings the band did in 1980. To celebrate the release, Subtractions are gearing up for a one-off reunion show, Sunday, Nov. 22, at Tower District Records in Fresno.
Q: Subtractions have been called Fresno’ first punk band. How did you guys start playing and what was the scene like at the time?
A: Reneau – There was no scene at that time. I put an ad in the Valley Music News looking for people into punk music. I met Dave Propp, who introduced me to Richard Wineland. The three of us started a project called The Slaggs that never got off the ground. It fizzled out when Dave Propp moved to Portland. Then, a girl I knew introduced me to Marcus and Wayne, suggesting we start playing together. I brought in Richard. We would shop for music at Tower Records, where we met Dale working behind the counter. He joined up and we started out playing “talent nights” at a club called Wild Blue Yonder. Soon our friends started coming to see us and we became the local punk attraction – actually a sub-attraction!
Q: Local garage rock bands were pretty common in the ’60s. Was that the case when you guys started playing? Or had the local scene died off some by then?
A: Marootian – There was no scene at the time in Fresno other than a few new wave bands who did mostly cover songs. Most of the band at that time didn’t or couldn’t write their own original material.
Garabedian – I don’t remember any ’60s bands around at the time, and the bands that were in the commercial vein, you had to search and find them. Later on, more off beat bands resided and tied up the scene in the Tower District.
Q: Most people associated California punk with Southern California or the East Bay, but you guys preceded even those scenes, some. Did you have any idea that this thing would become a movement at all? Did you feel separate from that, being in the Central Valley.
Garabedian – This came about because we were young, full of energy and it was fresh. Punk played as a deliberate change to the established scene.
Reneau – We didn’t feel separate from it living out here. The first punk records I bought were the debuts by the Ramones and Patti Smith. Then a friend played me the Sex Pistols – and that was it. I’ve always dug the quick, poppy songs over the arena-rock bands like Styx and Supertramp.
Q: It seems like a lot of “lost” bands are popping up these days (I’m thinking A Band Called Death). After 35 years why do you think Subtractions is being rediscovered?
Reneau – Because there’s still a punk movement, there are still people that love this music. It’s just like old rockabilly or old country and western.
Q: Is this a new start for you guys? Is this a one-off deal, or is there a thought of getting back at it?
Marootian – It really is a shock to us that anyone would be interested after all these years. This is definitely a one off show for our band, so come and see us while we can still stand on stage.
We want to see all the new musicians who have taken our torch and run with it.
Marcus Marootian, singer, the Subtractions
Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee
- 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22
- Tower District Records, 302 E. Olive Ave.
- Free, all ages
- 559-478-4034, www.towerdistrictrecords.com