A guitar brings out the Hyde in this wild Imp

By David Haynes

"I'm not bizarre enough in be locked away, that's all"
- Frank Soda of the Imps

Well he could have fooled a lot of the standing-room-only crowds who came to see the Toronto "heavy-metal" rock band perform at the Southwood Inn last week.

Through the course of an evening the man put a television set on his head and then exploded it; wore a light bulb head-dress and exploded it; beat up his guitar, made it bleed, hung it by a rope and then ran a sword through it; and also threw in a little decapitation number.

And through all that he leaped, kicked, scowled, attacked his roadies, chugged audience members' beer and pumped out loud and very heavy guitar with the two other Imps, Charlie Towers and John Lechesseur, to the delight of the crowd.

It's been going on to some degree for more than four years, gaining them noteriety across Canada, a growing audience and a live album.

Onstage, the band's look is very strange, often bordering on just plain scary (Soda likes to wear a baseball cap with red horns protruding). They don't seem the sort of guys you'd like to have over for brunch some day. But offstage, they're radically different, particularly Soda.

Offstage 26-year-old Soda is a soft-spoken, thoughtful man. "I just change when I put on the guitar."

Soda says once the show is over he leaves the crazy part of him with the lights and amplifiers. "I really have two sides, I'm completely different offstage; it's like night and day." Says Soda.

He explains all the craziness, the rites, as nothing more than a good time, an outlet for an imaginative mind and an active body. Plus it sells.

"Travelling around for 10 years I've noticed people always want more than a band doing copies of the top 40. People want blood. A figment of my imagination comes out onstage." He says the resulting show is not contrived and the effects were never calculated as they often appear with such bands as Kiss and the Tubes. "With them, the show is built around them. They just sort of fit in. But with the Imps we are the show, the effects have just developed."

Soda says the old-television-on-the-head-trick was something he came up with himself, as are all the effects. "They evolved through my imagination…they're all really cheap things I made."

Surprisingly, Soda says he has never had a problem with audiences trying to get involved with the lunacy that happens onstage. "The adverse happens. People tend to just sit back and relate to what is going on in their minds. People can live their fantasies through me."

As for attracting strange types to their shows because of the nature of them, Soda says it doesn't happen but "As far as stranger sorts in the clubs, they're all strange. Everyone probably seems a little strange to each other. And they all relate to the stuff happening onstage."

Where it can get weird is with the groupies and the people who want to be buddies with Soda and the band. Soda says the groupies tend to want to indulge in some peculiar tastes while others are attracted to the band because "they're his kind of people," nice and weird.

After seeing Soda onstage it would be easy to assume he would be an abnormal person. But Soda says he takes it all facetiously. To him the show is a joke. Fun to do and fun to watch. "If I took all the demonic images and the violence seriously, my mind and body would be shot."

He's never let his mother see the Imps perform. "It'd probably bring her down."

Blowing up TV sets on his head, hanging a guitar - it's all become part of Soda's life. "I release myself through this." He's studied classical music and is capable on several instruments but a need in him to perform, throe a shock at audiences, limits him to loud rock.

Imps music has been labelled by critics as music "to weld girders by" with "brain-melt intensity" as well as "cheerily mindless rock." Some would say it's non-music, just loud, trashing guitar backed by the steady thunder of a bass and drums. It's popularly know as heavy metal and practised to varying degrees by such bands artists as Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin and a host of others. It's considered a little dated, a style which had its heyday in the early '70s.

Soda says he doesn't think there is such a thing as dated music. "New wave is just old rock'n'roll and punk is just a feeling, a rejection. What is dated?"

Besides, it certainly still has its audiences. Which is why the future for the Imps is an assault on the big money markets of the United States. Soda doesn't want to be accused of abandoning this country but "the people, there are so many of them down there who get into this sort of thing."

The band is already talking to a few companies about the necessary backing for an album and a bigger production that Soda hopes will include a huge video screen that could magnify his activities for the crowd.

Soda honestly sounds like he just wants to keep entertaining people, making them smile the best way he knows how. "To me, acting crazy has always meant a good time. And besides, you gotta be crazy to even be in this business."