Raw Enough

The Candy Snatchers unearth their Moronic Pleasures.

Larry May and Johnny Yeagher of the reunited Candy Snatchers.

Photo by Lori Golding

We were pretty wild back in the day,” says Larry May, lead singer of The Candy Snatchers, in a rare bit of understatement. “But we all knew what we wanted. The goal was to write songs that you’d want to go out and buy.” 

Formed in 1992, the Virginia Beach band made quite a first impression—their unpredictable, often unhinged, stage performances frequently included pyrotechnics and blood-letting—when they played legendary Virginia clubs such as Norfolk’s Kings Head Inn and Richmond’s Twisters, and later toured the U.S. and Canada. But after 16 years, three albums, and more than a dozen singles, the Snatchers dissolved following the 2008 death of guitarist Matthew Odietus. 

“The Candy Snatchers were one of those bands that never made it big, but somehow made a big impression on the scene at large, as well as on up-and-coming punk bands,” AltDaily.com noted in 2010, when the group’s final release, Down At Delilah’s, was issued after Odietus’ death. “This was in large part because of the partnership of Odietus and May, two incredibly gifted songwriters with a death wish.”

But a decade after disbanding, The Candy Snatchers have never been hotter. Moronic Pleasures, a new release on Berlin, Germany’s Hound Gawd label featuring lost sessions from 1997, has earned raves from the punk bible Forced Exposure and the hipster guide LA Weekly, which made the raucous 19-song release an Album of the Week pick in May, calling it a “lost gem.” The current interest has spurred the gang to start it all up again. 

“People still wanted to hear the songs,” says May, 49, calling from his pad in Washington, D.C. Two recent tours saw the group performing in Norfolk and Richmond again, at Elevaton 27 and the Camel respectively, with Johnny Yeagher now playing guitar alongside vocalist May, drummer Sergio Ponce, and bassist Doug “Goose” Duncan. “More offers are coming in,” he says, “so it looks like we’re really going to do this.”

“It’s a little harder to do this now because everyone is in different places,” says Ponce, 49, who resides in Portsmouth. “We long ago stopped doing the theatrical crazy stuff on stage. That was in our early days, but we still rock as hard as ever.”

Picking up where they left off was a snap, May adds. “After only one practice, it started to sound pretty good to us,” he says. “And it was fun to see old friends, have a beer, party, and play the tunes.” Although May says he’s thinking about recording a new Candy Snatchers single, he spends most of his time with his current West Coast group, the Ringleaders, which just released a debut CD. “I go out to California three times a year and play shows and record with them; that’s my main band.”

The four-piece Candy Snatchers never fit neatly into a category. While they epitomized the hedonistic, excessive side of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle—fueled by songs like “Burn It To the Ground” and “Pissed Off, Ripped Off, Screwed”—there was musical complexity, irreverent humor, and a weirdly accessible melding of hard rock, punk, and rockabilly. One of the band’s secret weapons was Odietus, who was just as influenced by complicated prog rock as he was by simple punk. “We weren’t just a punk band. We never thought of ourselves as one,” says Ponce, who replaced original drummer Barry Johnson in 1996. “We were all into different stuff, including a lot of ’60s garage band music.”  

“Matthew would write these songs with all of these chord changes, and I would be bringing in these two-chord songs,” May says, laughing. “We eventually began to get influenced by each other. I started making it more complicated, and eventually he could write a two-chord song with the best of them.” 

Moronic Pleasures, recorded at Paul Johnson’s Compactor studio in Brooklyn, was supposed to be the band’s sophomore effort for Go-Kart Records. While the eventually released disc (retitled Human Zoo) certainly rocks and howls—and shares three-quarters of its tracks with Moronic Pleasures—these primal sessions may stand as the band’s definitive statement. “The silly thing is, when we listened back to it, it didn’t sound raw enough to us. Which doesn’t make any sense, because it’s plenty raw,” May says. “We ended up doing the Human Zoo album, with Dean Rispler producing. He did our first and last album too, and always did an awesome job, but there was something about the Moronic Pleasures stuff that always stuck with me and other people who heard it.”

“It was really Matthew who didn’t want Moronic Pleasures released,” recalls Ponce. “He didn’t like his guitar sound. But later he admitted to me that he liked it. He thought we should’ve released it. And now here it is.” Facebook.com/TheCandySnatchers

This article originally appeared in our August 2019 issue.

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