A reckless dismissal of expectations shrieks through the music and art of Austin's Tim Kerr.
Beginning with the Big Boys—a band generally tossed into the lumpen mass of early-'80s hardcore—and into his increasingly skronky garage bands of the following decade, Kerr's guitar was inevitably able to summon the thrum of punk and the voodoo of funk. By the time he linked up with Mudhoney's Mark Arm and Steve Turner in the Monkeywrench, Kerr hadn't quite yet internalized the lessons of free jazz, but it was coming.
"Self-expression isn't about rules and uniforms," he says. "You're supposed to do whatever you can think of."
Releasing its first disc, 1992's Clean as a Broke-Dick Dog, on Sub Pop, the Monkeywrench turned in a batch of slight updates on garage rock's initial era. But when the band reconvened at the turn of the millennium, blues references found themselves slotted into a heavier palette.
"The second and third records [are] kind of all of us putting ideas together, as opposed to me just having a bunch of stuff," Kerr says, explaining that the troupe's first album was basically a third disc of material from another blues-punk outlet he steered during the '80s, Poison 13. "By the time Monkeywrench got back together, I was coming from a completely different place—feedback all over the place. We would finish a song when we were recording, and all of them would be like, 'I don't remember you being this noisy.'"
Kerr's widening appreciation of sound led to his seeing noisy, disruptive acts and their perpetrators as worthy of lionization—not through homage on guitar, but in portraits. For more than a decade, he has painted images of his music-world heroes, as well as figures like Rosa Parks and Jim Thorpe. There's a Basquiat feel to it all, something that approaches abstraction but pulls back at the precise moment it needs to—the same as Kerr's guitar-playing.
"I want to hopefully show people that all of this stuff comes from the same DIY thing," he says about portraits being shown at Portland's Also Known As gallery beginning Oct. 1. "Something needed to be done at that moment in time, and that person addressed it. They didn't do it to be famous."
Neither did Kerr, who, it should be noted, had nothing to do with the defunct Portland record label Tim/Kerr that flourished in the '90s. But while in the Big Boys, the guitarist did help expand what people perceived to be hardcore. And while the Monkeywrench probably won't do the same for punk, garage and blues, Kerr has continued to find himself in rarefied company, whether playing alongside Mark Arm or late Big Boys frontman Randy "Biscuit" Turner.
"You had no clue what was going to happen when he walked up on that stage," Kerr says of Turner. "He'd wake up on Saturday and get dressed up in some way you couldn't even think up and walk around the neighborhood, just to do it. He was literally a walking art piece, total Dada. Mark's visual in his own way, but he's not coming out draped in Christmas lights."
SEE IT: The Monkeywrench plays the Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave., with Audios Amigos and DRC3, on Friday, Sept. 23. 9 pm. $10. 21+.