Initially K.A.R.P (Kill All Redneck Pricks) was a photocopied newsletter scattered throughout the hallways of Tumwater High in Washington. Written by students Chris Smith, Jarred Warren and Scott Jernigan, it railed against the ignorance and bigotry they perceived in their classmates. From those three high school misfits sprang the band KARP. And unlike most outcroppings of teen angst, these guys possessed musical chemistry and developed underground notoriety that most bands never achieve.
Legions of KARP fans started pumping their virtual fists when word spread via the internet that a documentary on the band was in the works. Director Bill Badgley, of the band Federation X (which has played many times in Missoula), asked that any live footage floating around be submitted for possible use. The call was answered and the result is Kill All Redneck Pricks, which draws from 20 hours of live footage and 150 hours of interviews with people close to the band. A lot of questions were left unanswered when the band effectively dissolved in 1998, and this film provides some answers although maybe not the ones you'd hoped for.
Those lucky enough to witness KARP bludgeon its audience with an aural sledgehammer realized that they were a part of something special. For the bulk of the '90s, the cult of KARP continued to gain ground nationwide. Their records kept getting better and they weren't afraid of packing up the van and taking their ruckus on the road, amassing fans as they chugged through basements and bars. They were a focal point of the vital Olympia music scene that had served as the stomping ground for predecessors and contemporaries like Bikini Kill, Beat Happening and Unwound. In one interview, Adam Shea, friend of the band, pretty well sums it up: "They were the perfect embodiment of what you'd want three frustrated, nerdy teenage boys to be doing."
There was something incredibly pure about KARP. It seemed as though big things were on the horizon for them. But just as the sunshine of success started to shine down on the band, dark clouds began to gather. Guitarist Chris Smith was battling serious addiction and depression, the extent of which was unknown to his bandmates and childhood friends. The jokes stopped and the band withered under the duress.
When Badgley started the filming process a few years ago, he was warned that he probably wouldn't be able to track down Smith; he'd been MIA from music scenes since KARP had disbanded. Smith spent the following years on the streets, in rehab facilities and, eventually, in prison. Badgley did find him, though, and the subsequent interviews offer an honest look at a talented, funny man who spent some serious time battling demons.
It's sad beyond comprehension that Jernigan is missing from the film. He died in a boating accident in Seattle in 2003, leaving a giant hole in a community that remembers himvia film interviewsas a funny, kind, talented man, and as a monster behind the drum kit. At the time of his death, Jernigan had joined forces with Jarred Warren once again to form the nucleus of The Whip, which was a beautiful if fleeting beast of a band.
Warren, current bass player in the Melvins and Big Business, might just be one of the most genuinely likeable individuals in rock n' roll and is an unstoppable bass-playing machine. In the film, Warren seems downright grounded. The wounds of the past obviously wear heavily, but he has carried on, flying the same flag he did when he played through an old karaoke machine in the early days of KARP.
This is a film made about, and by, people who have spent a lot of time and energy supporting a grassroots rock 'n' roll movement. It's for fans of music and fans of artfor people who make music because they see no other way.
Kill All Redneck Pricks screens at the Crystal Theatre Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 PM and again at 9 PM. $7.