Missing Monuments

King Louie and the Fire Under His Ass

The last thing you’d expect a garage-rock icon like King Louie to be doing is driving his dad to Rite Aid, but that’s exactly what he was doing on a Sunday night in October. He’d have to call me back, he said.

“Yeah, my dad…we work at a hardware store, and I was just trying to get him to the place to get what he needs,” he told me about 30 minutes later. “I’m just tired, man. Sunday’s one of those days where all week, you make plans on Sunday because it seems like an easy day, far away, to do stuff. But when you actually get there, it’s like fuck. I can’t believe I told everybody I’d do all this shit today. It’s the only day you can recharge your batteries.”

King Louie – born Louie Bankston – is the kind of guy whose productivity is mind-blowing. He kicked off in the late ’80s, then a few years after founded the Royal Pendletons, then the Persuaders, then the Bad Times, which included Eric Friedl (of the Oblivians) and Jay Reatard. He was in the Exploding Hearts too, then a number of self-dubbed acts: King Louie and the Loose Diamonds, King Louie One Man Band and now, King Louie’s Missing Monuments. He’s worked with or shared a stage with Alex Chilton, King Khan, Paul Rotzz (of Die Rotzz) and Harlan T. Bobo, to name a few.

Sure, all that over a period of more than 20 years. Since his start, he’s released something – whether an EP or LP of his own or as a guest on someone else’s – every few years at minimum. He certainly didn’t chisel out a cozy niche for himself overnight. Still, a resume like that is enviable, and an undeniable guidestone for any upstart punk rocker in their right mind.

Funny enough, the New Orleans born-and-raised musician works at a hardware store. His mother’s shop, to be precise, and his dad works there too. Couple that with all his rock ‘n’ roll endeavors, and you’ve got 15 to 18-hour days, Louie says.

“I bust ass as much as I can with my family’s business. They’re getting older, I’m getting older. It’s getting harder to just say, ‘Hey, I gotta go to Europe for five weeks,'” he explains. “But as long as I kick ass and really get done what I need to get done, I can go out and do whatever I need to do musically.”

He almost sounds like a teenager who needs parental permission post-homework to go out on a Friday night. But Louie’s almost 40 years old. And somehow, he’s doing more than just chugging along. He’s relentlessly barreling around the bends of garage and punk like his ass is on fire.

“I play drums in a psychedelic band – that takes a little of my time. I’m doing the one-man band again – that’s taking more time,” Louie adds. “It’s just: Keep on moving. If I get a half-hour of sleep before rehearsal, I turn on the air conditioning in the practice space and I sleep for half an hour, then I get up. I drink a fucking Red Bull and I keep going.”

While Louie’s best known for his power-pop-inclined tunes, he encountered a snag in that genre when he “lost some good friends.” One can only assume he’s recalling Jay Reatard’s death early last year, but he did say “some,” and he didn’t elaborate. He’d already formed Missing Monuments sometime in August of 2009, and had written the band’s entire first LP by the end of the year. The following April, Douchemaster Records dropped a 7-inch, then the full LP, Painted White, in June.

Louie hadn’t taken much of a break, especially considering the Royal Pendletons covered the Rolling Stones’ “Tell Me” on a Norton Records split with the Bo-Keys in 2008, and he lent help on harmonica to Guitar Lightnin’ Lee’s 2009 EP, Call Up the Band. But he had – and decidedly so – taken a break from crafting pop-driven jams on his own.

“It was something I had to come back and prove to myself, to me, that I could do and would still be happy doing,” Louie says. “‘Cause it was always in the back of my mind: Are you gonna do it? Are you gonna do it? Can you do it? And I think I did that. I came back, I’m happy with the record, I did it the way I wanted to do it. Now I’m getting beyond that and I’m working with this group and I’m glad to be a part of a group again.”

For an overachiever like Louie, a couple-year lull qualifies as a hiatus. If he’s calling it a comeback, then Painted White is a perfect, powerful return. It’s heavy enough on guitar to earn it a certain rock ‘n’ roll cool, but its melodies are classically power-pop. There’s not an individual track unworthy of a single release. In particular, “Girl of the Nite,” “(It’s Like) XTC,” and the title track are stellar songs that straddle straight-forward, polished pop and the rawness of garage like all good power-pop should. So from the sounds of it, Louie’s progress hasn’t been held up by any stretch.

“I’ve always believed that I just have to keep moving forward,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not the healthiest thing because I should just deal with my problems right in front of me, but I had to move forward. So I kept creating music because that’s what I do – create music. When the time was right, I just went up to the tree and picked the fruit, and that was it.”

With his current group, King Louie is moving forward in a personal way, too. He’s dropping the “King Louie.” The band is now called simply Missing Monuments – Benny (bass), Aaron (drums), Julian (lead guitar) and Louie (rhythm guitar and vocals).

“I’ve always wanted to get in a band with a bunch of my friends. It just so happened that it kind of worked out for me in a different way, being King Louie and having a band,” he says. “When we first started with the Missing Monuments, it really was just me writing songs and showing everybody how the songs go and everybody falling in line, whereas the second year we really came into all being a band.”

I recalled a conversation with Mark Naumann of Atlanta’s Die Slaughterhaus in which he mentioned releasing Louie’s next project. It was Missing Monuments apparently, but the deal went to another Atlanta label, Douchemaster. He didn’t explain why Naumann didn’t land the releases, but opted for a more positive spin and detailed why he opted for Douchemaster. Before going into it, he paused to order his thoughts chronologically. It was Jesse Smith of Gentleman Jesse and His Men, a staple of both Atlanta music and Douchemaster, who lured him in.

“[Jesse] came out and just embraced this type of music that was a little more songwriting and pop sensible. I really liked his group; I saw what he was doing. When I decided to come back into the mold and do this, he was just right there,” Louie recalls. “He saw us play and he called Bryan [Rackley of Douchemaster] and said ‘Bryan, I just saw these guys play, Louie’s new band – put out a 45.’ So we did a 45 and we just started there and they liked it. Then Jesse called me one day at work and said ‘Who are you doing your album with?’ And I said I don’t know Jesse, who am I doing my album with? And he said ‘You’re doing your album with us.’ Pretty much, within about 30 seconds, I was like, you know what, I like what happened with the single, I liked what he was doing, I liked where we were going. And I really enjoy being part of the Douchemaster roster. I enjoy being part of that roster and although it’s a rock ‘n’ roll label, the writing with the bands that they’re doing, it seems to fall into place with us. I’m not trying to stereotype a genre or anything like that, but it seemed like the right place. I felt solidarity there with how my music will be presented to the world. I thought that they could do it right, and I have no complaints.”

Louie has a tendency to be long-winded with his explanations, but it’s appropriate given how long he’s been a player in garage and punk. His plight is interlocked with other people’s histories and it’s all been so meaningful to him. It’s probably hard to keep it all straight. Every move, every memory – even if recent – seems to demand a meticulous recollection.

Despite how scrupulous Louie is with his tale-telling, the origin of his nickname, King Louie, isn’t well known. But it might be because there’s not much reason to it.

In high school, his band released on vinyl while CDs emerged and Nirvana and grunge lorded over music. A reporter from the school paper was interested, and Joe Pestilence (he’s still around too) told them who was in the band: On bass was King Louie.

“When I got the newspaper, I opened it up and it said King Louie the 69th,” he laughed.

The title stuck, and quickly spread.

“It was funny because the couple years after the King Louie name stuck, I would book pretty much all my shows. When I would want to go out of town…they didn’t have Facebook or all that crap in ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94…if you wanted to book a show you had to call them and wait for them to call you back. I’d get these phone calls at work like, ‘King Louie, is there somebody named King Louie here?'” he says in a tough-guy voice and chuckles. “And I’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s for me.’ I’d book the show, write it down and hang up the phone. Whoever was working the cash register would be like, ‘Who the fuck’s King Louie?'”

Louie never tried to shake the name. He embraced it, and latched onto a rock ‘n’ roll lifer persona he’d also never shake, even as he nears 40. He says he stays home a little more and has to “choose his battles” these days, but output-wise, he shows no sign of letting up. We’ll be hearing from King Louie until he’s six feet underground. Really, he’s blatantly set on outlasting everybody.

“Where some people are trying to run away from the power-pop tag, I’m really not,” he says. “Because when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, I can rock ‘n’ roll your ass six ways to fucking Sunday. And you’re gonna fucking give up and be dead by Tuesday.”