Raygun’s winning from the very beginning, and he cheers up. He manages to finish most of these holes in a couple of strokes. While his hapless bandmates get hung-up on obstacles, or on busted putts where the ball rolls around the lip of the hole, Raygun thrives. It takes me a minute, but I warm up, and I start to creep up on him. Stereogum’s Scott Lapatine doesn’t play, but he keeps score. By hole six, I start to think maybe I can win. I want to win.
We don’t chitchat much while we play. The BoDeans’ mid-’90s alt-pop hit “Closer To Free,” the theme song from Party Of Five, comes up in conversation somehow, and we all idly sing it while playing. I’m not a golfer, and neither is anyone in Chat Pile. A couple of us have been to a driving range once or twice, but nobody has played mini golf in years. We’re on an equal playing field here, and we’re all feeling at least a little bit serious.
At the ninth hole, I wonder if maybe we can finish the course out so that I can catch Raygun. It doesn’t happen. Scott adds up the scores, and Raygun has me beat by two strokes. (On Scott’s score sheet, I’m tied with Cap’n Ron, but Cap’n Ron has taken to giving Scott some arbitrary number whenever he finishes a hole. I don’t say anything about it because I don’t want to violate the sporting nature of the activity.) When the scores are announced, Raygun is ebullient. He requests that I refer to him, in print, as “the Tiger Woods of Chat Pile.” He’s mostly joking, but he’s not entirely joking.
Across the street, comfortably ensconced within a blessedly air-conditioned Starbucks, the members of Chat Pile reflect on the strange turns of fate that have led them to become globe-trotting career musicians. “Trying to do something full-time in the music industry in this day and age, especially at like 40 years old, seems like the dumbest choice ever,” says Stin. “But I don’t know, the way we’re looking at it, it’s so rare. It’s like lightning in a bottle when people pay attention to your band or care about what you’re doing. It’s a slap in the face to the universe to not at least try to see how far you can make it. We’re going to give it a go, and if things fizzle out in a year or two, there’s always jobs to go back to.”
The Chat Pile guys have all been making music for years. In all that time, they’ve been inhabitants of the Oklahoma City underground, and they never expected to go much further than that. “For a couple of years in my late twenties, I didn’t even pick up a guitar,” says Luther Manhole, the band’s guitarist. “I was listening to music and keeping up with music, but I couldn’t find anyone in town. Anytime I met somebody in town who I wanted to play with, it ended up not working… I was like, ‘No one in Oklahoma City listens to the same shit I listen to or plays the way I want to play,’ and then, serendipitously, [Stin] and I decided to jam one time because I met him through my cousin.”
Raygun Busch lived near the other Chat Pile members, and he liked what he heard of their practices. Pretty soon, they invited him in. “I had been waiting to be the singer of a band for a long time,” says Raygun. “I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s fuckin’ do it!’”
Chat Pile came together in 2019, and they quickly proved themselves to be extremely good at naming things. A chat pile is a phenomenon with real regional significance; it’s a toxic gravel-heap that comes from lead mining and that led to the total desolation of the town of Picher, Oklahoma. Raygun Busch’s own stage name is one of the all-time great snotty-punk pseudonyms. (It took me a minute before I realized that it was phonetically “Reagan Bush.”) When Raygun came up with his name, his bandmates followed suit. “He had that in the chamber, and he had to have an excuse to use it,” says Stin. “We were like, ‘OK, we’ll all have Dead Kennedys names.’”
Those pseudonyms have a practical reason to exist, too. Luther Manhole explains, “When I had my normal day job, I didn’t want people calling, like, ‘Send my body to Arby’s!’”
That’s a reference to “Rainbow Meat,” a song from Chat Pile’s grimy, punishing debut EP This Dungeon Earth. On that record, Chat Pile arrived fully-formed. The band cranked out loose, juddering scuzz-rock-riffage while Raygun Busch caterwauled over the top, yowling out tortured-mind fragments, dispatches from a society that’s already mid-collapse. On “Rainbow Meat,” Raygun’s narrator fantasizes about becoming a “human flesh slider combo” after his death: “Cut me into thin slices! Cut me into microscopically thin slices! Of meat! At Arby’s!”
Elsewhere, things get even darker than that. This Dungeon Earth ends with “Crawlspace,” the song where Raygun takes on the persona of a psychopathic Oklahoma City cop who considers himself a pillar of the community and who fantasizes about cutting open bodies – both yours and his own. A few months later, Chat Pile came out with their second EP, Remove Your Skin Please. That’s one’s got “Dallas Beltway,” the song where Raygun sings from the perspective of a father who’s just murdered his own children and who’s driving the titular loop over and over, with their bodies stuffed in the trunk. Implausibly, “Dallas Beltway” now stands as Chat Pile’s hit, the band’s song with the most streams.
None of the members of Chat Pile have children, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for Raygun Busch to write lyrics as jarring and visceral as those. “It can be kind of psychically damaging sometimes,” he says. “It’s just antisocial darkness.”
When Chat Pile self-released This Dungeon Earth, they hadn’t played a single live show. Oklahoma City, Stin points out, has “an actual art culture that people aren’t aware of.” But because the music scene is small, it’s not easy to find like-minded bands. “These kids over here make shoegaze, and these kids over here are into power pop, and there’s not really a cohesive thing happening,” Stin says. “Right now, beatdown tough-guy hardcore is really huge.”
These days, Chat Pile play DIY shows with all sorts of bands. Early on, though some local venues weren’t remotely interested in booking them. “There’s a crappy venue called the Speakeasy,” Raygun Busch says.
Luther Manhole cuts in, speaking directly into the phone that I’m using to record the conversation: “The 51st Street Speakeasy! Off Western!”
Raygun continues, “Only douchebag bros go there, and they said our music was not welcome. Truly! I played there a couple of times in my old band. All our friends played there.” He shrugs. Later on, Raygun says, the Speakeasy tried to book Chat Pile. They were not interested. This band holds grudges.