Claw Toe Cometh: “It helps that I’ve never improved as a guitarist since I was a teenager”

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

Boasting a “Boris Karloff-style vocal delivery” and punk and post-punk influences – Claw Toe offers wickedly humorous songs that seem to spring from the same seedy hotel and with the same deranged characters as the 1982 horror classic Basket Case. Darius Hurley, the Batavia, Illinois-based musician/artist/comedian/record label founder behind Claw Toe, chatted with us before his show Saturday, Feb. 22 at Circle A with Aluminum Knot Eye and Madison’s Space Tugboat.

Will this be a solo performance or are you bringing anyone with you to Milwaukee to perform? This will be a solo performance. I got sick of waiting for permission from my bandmates’ other halves to allow them to play shows. The WAG’s had far too much power of the Claw.

How would you describe your songwriting approach? What inspires you? Inspiration, like lightning, can hit in a few ways. A beat, a bass line, a guitar lick or a written line. So, when an idea for a song hits, I record it to a 4 track. It’s rare for it to sound exactly as my imagination makes it sound, but once it’s put through the filters of musical creation - what kind of equipment I have available, what interesting effects do I want to add, and what level of musicianship can I apply – it will become an entity unto itself. Like having a child. It helps that I’ve never improved as a guitarist since I was a teenager.

Your most recent release was last spring’s digital-only EP Even Tho' U Ugly (Ur Still Mine), which had some new and archival material. I especially like “No Words,” “Panic Attack,” and “Real Life.” How did you choose the songs? Are you working on anything else for release? The songs on that EP were written but never originally intended for release, mainly because of their personal nature. I’d passed a few tapes out and received some encouragement, which led to their eventual release. Even Tho' Ur Ugly You’re Still Mine is the punch line from a very old joke about a guy who wanted to experience the pain of pregnancy, a very large cork and an escaped monkey from the local zoo. Maybe I'll tell that one at the show. I do have new songs that I perform live, and as my act develops, I expect there will be some new releases.

Do you have any upcoming releases on Criminal IQ, the Chicago record label you started in 2003 with Jon Babbin? What are some of your favorite releases you have put out? Criminal IQ is now past tense and stands for a place and a moment in time. I keep the label active as I still have stock and like to trade and sell records to the many stores we now have in Chicago, but I haven’t been inspired as yet to revive it with a new act. I have a few favorites from that label. The two Holy Shit! full length records stand out, the three M.O.T.O. releases, VEE DEE's first album is totally great. I guess my favorite would be the first Functional Blackouts record. That was the first record I produced along with Jimmy Hollywood, who now owns the Vanguard in Milwaukee. A lot of love and effort went into that record and the results were outstanding. I created the moniker Minimal IQ Records for the past two Claw Toe releases and will maybe get around to releasing some dumb comedy to go along with the dumb punk.

In addition to being a musician and record label owner, you are also an artist and comedian – and father of two. Which of your talents has come in most handy as a parent? Do you have any trouble balancing all your passions?I found a long time ago that I work really hard on things I love and being a stay at home dad has given me time to pursue all of this. It can get confusing, so I tend to focus for a few years on one thing until I reach burn out or boredom then go to the next thing. I will usually return to whatever I was working on at a later date and, with a bit of renewed vigor, pick it up again and take it on from there. I’m at a point now where much of this is combined. I’m an old fart now so if I want to take a rest during a Claw Toe show I'll slip in a bit of comedy or banter with the audience. Plus, I used a recent painting as cover art for the last EP. I’m not sure which artistic endeavor helps the most with my kids, but comedy certainly helps!

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