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Riding the wave (again)

Vegas psycho-surfers Monster Zero are back to scare the living crap out of you

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Kevin “Lord Merciless” Leonard.
Photo: Aaron Thompson

Kevin and Scott Leonard seem like pretty normal guys on the surface—family men, brothers, bandmates for most of their lives. But as they sit inside a hot mini-trailer applying removal wipes to garish-looking makeup, they admit something took their lives in an unexpectedly bizarre direction.

Kevin’s alter-ego, Lord Merciless, is a shit-talking, red-faced demon with a penchant for left-handed guitars and cheesy horror themes, while Scott, otherwise known as Spaz, adopts the role of a small, winged, skeleton-looking creature spawned in some Wizard of Oz-like hell. Their act, part of last Saturday’s Hodad Stomp show at Beauty Bar, is strange, eye-catching and totally fun to watch, but right now, it’s a real pain in the ass for the 30-somethings to get out of costume.

“It’s like a locker room in here,” Kevin says, rubbing orange paint and sweat from his face. “Then again, usually we’re getting dressed or undressed in some parking lot before gigs, so this is an improvement.”

But then, since Monster Zero’s formation in 1996, the psycho-surf band has let neither adverse conditions nor a seven-year hiatus stop them completely.

Started up when the brothers lived in Long Beach, Monster Zero popped up as surf rock rode a crest. Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack, featuring the likes of Dick Dale and The Lively Ones, had reintroduced the world to the fuzz-toned California-based subgenre. The Leonards, whose father, Steve, had starred in legendary ’60s surf group The Pyramids (their best-known hit, “Penetration,” reached the Top 20), wanted a piece of that action.

“We were in a pretty tame alternative rock group, and we decided to try out playing some surf songs during practice,” Kevin says. Stitching together fuzzed-out guitars, dyno-rhythmic basslines and demonically howling lyrics, Monster Zero began making waves in the mid-to-late ’90s. A 1996 7-inch EP propelled the group to underground fame; 1997 saw the brothers relocate to Las Vegas; and 2000 saw the arrival of first full-length The Making of a Monster, featuring Paul “Inviso” French of sometime Vegas punk outfit Fuck Shit Piss on bass.

But family commitments and creeping surf-rock boredom set in for the Leonards, and Monster Zero vanished for seven years. Then a birthday party for Kevin’s young daughter brought the band back from the grave in June 2007. Since then, Monster Zero—Kevin on vocals and guitar, Scott on drums, French on bass and Ben “Dr. Phobic” Dubler (also of Apollo 14) on guitar—has set out to do three things: record a new album (tentatively called Sunday School Singalongs and planned for release in 2009), play a few gigs and get home before wives and kids get antsy. It’s the sacrifice, Kevin says, a family man in a band has to make.

That doesn’t mean Monster Zero doesn’t have a few surprises left for local surf fans, however. As far as they’re concerned, what they’ve got isn’t a holdover from the ’90s; it’s a new band with a new attitude and, most importantly, a new chance at accomplishing what they were on track to do before stopping in 2000.

“I kind of regret that we didn’t keep it going,” Kevin says.

“But,” Scott adds, “doing it again is new and fun for us. And that’s still pretty cool.”

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