Unless you’re a Whitefish High School student, you probably don’t know El Pollo Diablo yet. That’s because this three-piece punk band can’t tour as much as it might like, seeing as two of its three members are still finishing up their senior years, and there aren’t exactly a lot of Flathead venues itching to book punk rock bands named after Spanish wrestlers.
“The Paddle and Axe did say they’d have us back, but it’s just not really the right crowd” for punk rock in the Flathead, says El Pollo Diablo’s bassist and sometime-vocalist Nick Ferrington amid the camping gear, instruments and Star Wars and Misfits posters littering the band’s practice garage. “People like to go to a bar to get drunk and listen to classic rock or oldies. And we don’t play oldies. We play punk rock.”
The EPD seedling was planted when drummer Kelly McDowell got his first drum set in sixth grade. Soon after, guitarist and vocalist Roger Fingar got a guitar for Christmas, and before long the two were playing Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” ad nauseum.
Now that the friends’ repertoire has grown and additional equipment has been earned via garage sales, the band has molded into an amalgamation of old-school punk influences—Sex Pistols, Ramones and Clash—and new-school punk along the lines of Pennywise, NOFX and Bad Religion. Unlike John Q. Punk Band, however, El Pollo Diablo doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s not to say that EPD doesn’t have its cursory, if not obligatory, songs about bombs falling from the sky and stealing girlfriends—those are definitely present on the band’s debut album, Fresh out of the Oven. But you’ll also find a tribute to a Pizza Hut employee, a “tribute” to Whitefish High School’s former principal (a song that’s apparently been adopted as a senior class anthem) and the occasional beautifully bizarre non sequitur (“I’m feeling like Bill Shatner at a porno convention/Out of place without a single sense of direction”). By the time the album gets around to its sole cover, a punk rendition of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” (“I wanna write her fuckin’ name in the sky/Gonna free fall out into nothing/Gonna leave this piece of shit world for a while”), EPD has pretty much won you over—if you like punk, that is.
Given the generally peaceful mountain setting and laid-back attitude exuded by Whitefish, one might wonder where El Pollo Diablo generates the kind of angst needed to make punk rock simmer. They’re not particularly interested in politics, and aside from the annoyance of a former bandmate with a kleptomania problem, life seems to be going pretty well for the members of EPD.
Still, everyone in the band is 18, so for McDowell at least, the punk aggression comes down to four words: “I despise high school.”
The main problem for EPD, and alternately what helps fuel its fire, is that few in the greater community appear to appreciate the band’s beloved genre. Case in point: The 2003 Whitefish Huckleberry Days Art Festival.
As he hunches forward in his parents’ garage, proudly donning his Zildjian hat and shirt, shaggy-haired EPD drummer McDowell re-caps the now-infamous debacle: “I saw in the newspaper that they were having an open mic deal [as part of Huckleberry Days], so we decided to do that. We practiced really hard. When I signed up for the thing, I said, ‘You know, we’re kind of loud and fast. It’s punk and hard rock.’ ‘Oh yeah, that’ll be fine,’ you know? ‘Great.’ So we had a 10-song set going and we’re just rocking out and I look over and see that [a Huckleberry Days organizer] was messing with the levels on the PA.”
If you’ve ever been to a Chamber of Commerce-related community festival in any number of small Montana towns, you can probably guess where the story goes from here. The organizer doesn’t find punk rock appropriate art-browsing music, and the band responds in true punk fashion by playing the Clash’s “London’s Burning” (with lyrics altered to “Montana’s Burning” in honor of the forest fires raging in the blazing summer of ’03) extra loudly before getting off the stage.
If there’s a happy ending to EPD’s Huckleberry Days tale, it’s that the band was recently crowned “Royal Band” during the Whitefish Winter Carnival. But even that sweet justice is small compared to the band’s more immediate goal: a 2005 reprise of its 2004 appearance at the Billings stop of the Warped Tour.
After the summer, the three friends plan to move to Missoula, where Ferrington and Fingar will attend the University of Montana and the band hopes to find deeper punk waters and more ears open to its sonic thrashings.
“I mean, this is more of a luxury resort kind of town, you know?” McDowell says.
“And we’re here to disrupt it,” says Fingar.
El Pollo Diablo plays alongside Casual Drama, Minus My Thoughts and The Taking Tree at Area 5 (732 S. First St. W.) in Missoula Friday, Feb. 25. $3. Doors open at 7 p.m.