In his early teens John Beers was “certain that punk rock sucked.” He’d seen the Ramones on television and thought all their songs sounded the same; and he thought Patti Smith singing, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” was “kind of scary.”
Heavy metal was Beers’ thing. But a few years later, he saw Dead Kennedys’ “Kill the Poor” single in a Northern Virginia record store and, amused by the title, “had to buy it and see if it was any good.” It was great.
Dead Kennedys led Beers to the Sex Pistols and The Damned, and eventually Minor Threat, Government Issue and The Teen Idles—bands that played the short, simple, anti-establishment songs of punk rock, but faster, harder and more aggressive. Hardcore punk.
“I’d found what I had been looking for,” says Beers. Hardcore “spoke to me in a way that heavy metal, with the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll did not. The rock ‘n’ roll part? Hell, yeah. But everything else? Ehh.”
When Beers got to the University of Virginia in 1982, he started writing lyrics. A chance meeting with bassist Colum “Eddie Jetlag” Leckey at WTJU led not just to co-hosting of a hardcore punk radio show, but to a band. Leckey knew a guitarist, Charlie Kramer, and another student, Tristan Puckett, agreed to play with them on one condition: that they play fast.
“So we did,” says Beers.
In 1984, The Landlords released Hey! It’s A Teenage House Party! on Beers’ Catch Trout imprint, and Sam Richardson, a young punk musician who grew up in Charlottesville and now runs Richmond-based punk label Feel It Records, says it was likely the first local punk album to be pressed on vinyl.
The record isn’t just a piece of C’ville music history; it’s crucial to American hardcore punk history, says Richardson, which is why Feel It Records reissued the album on vinyl this month, remastered from the original tapes recorded at Inner Ear Studios and complete with a 12-page booklet, liner notes and a digital download code for 17 bonus tracks. And on June 30, all four members of The Landlords will reunite at Champion Brewing Company, the band’s first gig in more than 30 years.
In the mid-1980s, the local punk scene was small; “acoustic guitar crap” ruled most stages, says Beers. (So, not much has changed.) Muldowney’s Pub, a gay bar on Water Street, was the first venue to welcome hardcore, booking Lackey Die (widely regarded as Charlottesville’s first punk band), The Landlords, Beef People and Baby Opaque, as well as regional acts like Scream and Death Piggy (eventually morphed into GWAR).
As hardcore started to gain momentum throughout the country, the high-capacity venue Trax booked big-name acts like Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys, Corrosion of Conformity and Government Issue, and The Landlords opened for many of them.
They toured a bit, playing at storied New York City club CBGB (there’s a soundboard recording of that set). They wrote songs about things that pissed them off—“No Good Woman” and “I Want It” vocalize Beers’ disgust with the reasons people use to justify rape, and silly songs, mocking made-up holidays (“Every Day’s A Holiday”) and poking fun at the ridiculous, ubiquitous “woah woahs” that had taken over the punk scene (“The Scene Stole My Walkman”).
Hey! It’s A Teenage House Party! received a fair amount of acclaim in 1984, but eventually The Landlords lost steam. Beers and Kramer had a noise punk side project, Happy Flowers, that took off unexpectedly.
At the same time, Muldowney’s closed, the local hardcore scene had waned, and, in perhaps the biggest gut punch of all, The Landlords failed to find a distributor for its second album, Fitzgerald’s Paris.
In 1987, The Landlords called it quits. Beers and Kramer continued for a few years with Happy Flowers while Puckett and Leckey joined other bands. (Today, Puckett and Leckey play in Cajun punk band Jolie Fille, and in We Are Star Children and Girl Choir, respectively).
Two decades later, Richardson, who was playing and booking punk and hardcore shows at Dust Warehouse (now Firefly), heard about The Landlords and Lackey Die. He hunted down a pressing of Hey! It’s A Teenage House Party!, and eventually founded his Feel It Records label in 2010 with the release of a Lackey Die 7-inch.
Beers heard about the Lackey Die joint and “secretly hoped” Richardson would ask to release Landlords material. Richardson did just that, driving to Beers’ Atlanta home for the Hey! It’s A Teenage House Party! tapes and the ones for that unreleased second album. (Feel It released Fitzgerald’s Paris in March 2016, 30 years after it was recorded.)
Richardson is committed to preserving Virginia punk history whenever possible. “I can’t believe how much cool stuff is out there that has either been neglected, or forgotten about, or kept in somebody’s closet for years,” he says.
And the music is good, too—Richardson was “blown away” by The Landlords’ lyrics, energy, “unique aesthetic,” and the quality of the recordings.
The band is pleasantly surprised by how well the songs on both albums have stood up over time, that they’re still relevant in today’s social and political climate, for better or worse. Another revelation is how well they stuck to The Landlords’ lone rule: play fast.
“I’ve been in a training regimen to try to play that fast again” for the reunion show, says Puckett.
“I just hope I can keep up,” says Beers.
“These things are so fucking fast,” says Leckey, laughing. “I have no idea how [we] pulled it off. It must have been temporary insanity.”
Bands like The Landlords, Lackey Die, The Beef People, Scream and Death Piggy helped shape Virginia punk, but the music didn’t end with them. Here are the bands that Sam Richardson, proprietor of Virginia-based punk label Feel It Records, recommends you listen to (and go see) now.