"Sorry for the slight delay," apologizes Puppy frontman and guitarist Jock Norton, when Revolver tracks him down in London after a few tries. "It's laundry night, and I was literally running back to my house from the laundromat when you called!"
It's not just any laundry night: Tomorrow, January 12th, Norton and his bandmates — bassist Will Michael and drummer Billy Howard — will be heading out as the support act on Monster Magnet's European tour. On paper, pairing cheekily melodic British lads with grizzled New Jersey space lords seems like an odd fit, but Norton sees some definite similarities between the two bands. "They play fun rock really well," he says. "Not jokey rock, but it's very fun, and that's what we really go for, as well. Their facial hair is definitely cooler than ours, though," he laughs, "but maybe we'll get some tips from them on the road."
Since forming in 2015, Puppy have gotten used to being the odd men out. Wherever they play, they tend to be either the poppiest band on the bill, or the heaviest, though their hard-riffing, deliciously catchy music seems to win over even the most dubious audiences. The Goat, the trio's new full-length debut, is a frothy, fist-raising cocktail blending various chunks of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Metallica, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr., topped with infectious choruses and infused with heavenly harmonies. On songs like "Black Hole," "Entombed" and "Demons," the guitars are turned up to eleven — but so is the sense of unbridled, unapologetic fun.
"I don't think it was a conscious decision to mix all of that stuff — metal, grunge and alt-rock — but that's what we grew up listening to, and those are all really important bands to us," Norton explains. "I think the balancing act is trying to make it make sense. If you didn't have the term 'grunge' to describe Soundgarden, you'd go, 'There's a bit of punk in there, there's a bit of metal in there,' you know what I mean? You might struggle [to categorize them], but that's because they put their thing together in what was, at the time, such a new and interesting way. And I think that's something we take inspiration from."
Another palpable influence is Weezer's 1994 self-titled debut (aka the 'Blue Album'), which The Goat echoes in its economical, song-oriented attack, as well as its steadfast refusal to engage in any rock & roll mythmaking whatsoever. "The Blue Album was a big album for us," Norton explains, "because it's so songwriting-focused, and because they were able to do so much with simple instrumentation. We've always kept things pretty spartan, in terms of instrumentation; we're trying to get a lot out of a little, rather than throwing the kitchen sink at it…
"I was a big classic rock and metal guy when I was growing up," he continues. "When I was fifteen, I had a plan in my head where, as soon as I finished college, I would move to L.A. and be in a Mötley Crüe–style band, and everything would be great! But when I was sixteen, I heard Weezer. They came from the same place as us, in that they were KISS fans; but rather than trying to be tough guys who lived up to this rock & roll image, they kind of flipped it, like, 'Well, actually, we're just guys playing Dungeons & Dragons.' And I was like, 'So am I!' [Laughs] I think that was a real turning point for me, like, 'Fuck, I can just be honest about it!' As much as we enjoy that element of posturing in other bands, we couldn't pull that off in a million years. I mean, I bought some cowboy boots when I was fifteen, and immediately regretted it!"
Indeed, Puppy's look is definitely more low-key skate punk than Sunset Strip rock god. "Between us, we probably own the entire Dickies clothes catalog," Norton laughs. "We've all skated at one point or another, and I'm sure that's sort of stuck around in terms of what we wear. I think that's how we feel most comfortable; and being comfortable with the way we look, onstage and in our videos, that's a big thing for us, as well."
The band's unpretentious sense of humor comes through loud and clear in their videos, which are directed by Michael and Howard. The clip for "Demons" is a hilarious send-up of TV self-help infomercials, in which the three musicians shill for a fictional Scientology-like cult called The Grand Order of Ascension and Transcenedence [sic], while the video for "Black Hole" slyly morphs from an innocuous compilation of band-on-tour footage into a Satanic snuff film.
"We were coming up with ideas for 'Black Hole,' and it was like, 'Yeah, let's do a tour-diary-meets-found-footage-horror! That would be fucking sick!'" laughs Norton. "To be honest, I think a large part of the creativity for these videos comes from filming them all ourselves, while navigating the fact that we have no money. It's like, 'We can't make it look like it was shot really expensively, so we'll make it look like found-footage, and spend all the money on prosthetics for an evil goat-man!'"
Norton says his personal favorite is the band's video for "Arabella," in which he and his bandmates appear on a kids' TV video game show called Mystery Mansion, where they have to solve various clues in order to pass safely through a CGI haunted house. "Will came up with the idea," Norton explains. "There was a show in the U.K. called Knightmare, where you'd navigate these really crap early-CGI dungeons, and we were like, 'Oh yeah, something like that would be really cool.' For two weeks before the shoot, we were essentially coming up with an entire Eighties game show, writing all these riddles and stuff!"
Norton's affection for the "Arabella" video makes perfect sense, given that gaming has long been his escape of choice. "Video games are my main pursuit outside of music," he says. "Possibly level with, actually, though no one has offered to give me money to do it, yet. But I'm still holding out for that; playing, developing — any role possible, I will be there! I always thought being a games tester sounded good, because you're just like, 'Yeah, that was good, I really enjoyed that,' and then you get paid and go home. I want to do that one! [Laughs] So if you know anyone in the industry, please give them my number!"
Norton's latest gaming obsession is a newly-acquired Virtual Reality headset, which he's been using to play Resident Evil 7. "It's like the scariest thing I've ever done," he laughs. "I have to have a spotter in the house with me. I can't be alone while I'm doing it!" But while Norton's been known to take his video games with him on tour — "I'll bring three games devices and, like, no trousers," he says, "I always prioritize the wrong things" — he laments that the VR headset will have to remain at home while he's off opening for Monster Magnet.
"I was asking our driver if we could hook it up in the van, but apparently that's not possible. I'd only got it over Christmas, so I haven't had a lot of time with it, and now we're off on tour — I'm pretty annoyed about the timing," he laughs. "It will definitely be a sad farewell!"