I Swear To God They're Punk Rock; A chat with Two Inch Winky and Phratry Records

Rapidfire bursts of carefree, distorted angst are the calling card for countless Midwest punk outfits, and Cincinnati’s Two Inch Winky has spent the better part of a decade in the throes of adolescent abandon. Problem is, fans have had to settle for a series of hand-distributed CD-Rs if they wanted to take their Two Inch Winky home.

That changes on Friday, February 28, when the band celebrates its release of a joint 7” record and CD for Phratry Records, at Newport’s Southgate House Revival.

The band, it would seem, is making up for lost time: their 7” vinyl record will be crammed with no less than twenty tunes (the accompanying CD includes another seventeen songs); that’s a whole lot more than the single-tune-per-side approach most bands take.

But the release made perfect sense for Phratry, a regional record label with a knack for enabling experimental post-rock and enthusiastic punk groups. “It’s a great band and a fun release to do,” says Phratry honcho Jerry Dirr. ”(It) reminded me of … records I picked up as a kid, where there were dozens of songs crammed onto the smallest format possible, one bleeding straight into the next.”

Winky spits out succinct, sophomoric punk rock, with equal dollops of catchy (albeit brief) hooks and humorous lyrics for titles like “War on Hugs,” “I Swear to God I’m Punk Rock,” “Gorilla Vs. Kid,” and “I Was Kicked Out of the Sober House.”

At the helm for most of these is scene veteran Matt Hemingway, who recounts how the band approached Phratry to handle the release: “There really was nobody else we even thought to ask,” he begins. After considering other factors which might have factored in, he adds, “I imagine Jerry was drunk when we asked him, and later didn’t want to go back on his word.”

Either way, the record will soon hit record stores and online playlists.

As for Phratry, the Winky record marks its 62nd release since 2004 — other artists on the roster include Kelley Deal, Mad Anthony, Ampline, Knife the Symphony, and Food (a project led by Ed of fIREHOSE fame). Like all his releases, the new release goes back to Jerry seeing himself as a fan, first and foremost.

“I think what makes this different is that it’s completely void of any pretense,” he enthusiastically shares. “If you’ve ever seen Two Inch Winky live, the zero-fucks-given presentation is really impressive. From the word go, they never stop. In 30 minutes, they’ll have pummeled the audience with something like, 40 songs. It’s just really fun to see a performance like that.”

Nearly fifteen band members have been part of Winky’s storied history, and plenty of them from some of our region’s most notable independent bands: artists like The Dopamines, Black Tie Bombers, Fake Hands, State Song, Gang Green, Bloodgate and Coelacanth.

With those other projects in mind, it makes sense that the band doesn’t perform live all that often; this release might change agenda. As Hemmingway notes, “the response we get from listeners may impact (our performance frequency) more than how we may feel,” a droll reference to their sparse schedule.

But if Dirr has anything to do with it, the new record will coerce Two Inch Winky into taking on more upcoming gigs. “From my perspective,” he says, “I think they have a lot to give to people with their live performance.”

The record’s sure to be a must-have, as well. “The 7″ is just a fun format to interact with,” Dirr says, “especially with so many songs. And ultimately, this format helps us keep the selling-price low, which allows us to get it into more people’s hands. The ultimate goal isn’t to make money, but to share music with people,” he says.

“The band really pushed for this format. And while it was a challenge to cut the master and make it work, I’m glad we went for it.”

Two Inch Winky performs at the Southgate House Revival in Newport on Friday, February 28. Also performing are Casino Warrior and SOK; the show is free and all ages.

Feature by Bill Furbee