I’m Bringing Wrestling to the Ambient Game: Tanner Garza Talks Chris Benoit and ‘The Last Ride of Pegasus Kid’

Posted by on November 30, 2017

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I’m sure I can’t be the only English ‘80s child for whom memories of pro-wrestling are faintly distressing. Unlike our American counterparts, who I imagine thrilled to the sight of honed and bronzed towers of rippling masculinity performing scarcely believable athletic maneuvers in front of thousands, I seem to recall we were served a few musty old human/sea lion hybrids slapping against one another in what I think was a hastily decorated barn for an hour every Sunday evening. Even now I can feel my stomach churn a little at the thought, although I suppose my parents cherish the memory of little Steven sat in front of the telly watching two big men grunt and sweat everywhere, with my evening meal in my lap. My mouth is aghast with wonder in their reminiscences, I bet, when in actuality I was struggling to process the twin sensory assault of a plate of liver and onions and the idea of Giant Haystacks’ moist gusset getting too close to my face.

Perhaps it’s because we had a black and white TV, but everything about “the wrestling” in the UK back then just looked a little dirty somehow — certainly it was a far cry from the gloss and glamour of that which it aspired to across the pond, of which we really knew very little. It would be remiss to say WWE has no following in the UK because the TV hours dedicated to it and the upcoming arena tour plainly state otherwise, but the podgy pantomime stuff we were brought up on probably affected our view of the scene as a whole; to this day the idea all Americans think the action is “real” is used by Brits a method of demonstrating our perceived intellectual superiority as a nation, and it’s likely we’ll offer up an early Louis Theroux documentary as supporting evidence.

Suffice it to say pro-wrestling does not often invade my headspace, and even less so my record collection. I have Beat the Champ, of course, and Killer Mike’s Pl3dge has that track Ric Flair on it, and Action Bronson raps about Barry Horowitz on Dr. Lecter, but I think that’s about it — I’m afraid to say that when I think about wrestling and music together, I think about bombastic Jim Johnston themes and The Rock clowning around with Method Man, none of which has the tendency to stick around long with me. But two recent (and very different) listening experiences combined to change things a little, and both commemorate the same tragic man: Chris Benoit. The first was an episode of my favourite true crime podcast, The Last Podcast on the Left, which aired ten years after the wrestler died by his own hand after murdering his wife and child; the second was the release of an EP a couple of months later by Tanner Garza titled The Last Ride of Pegasus Kid.

Even a cursory glance at Garza’s Bandcamp betrays the Texas noisemaker’s passion for pro-wrestling. Photographs of his releases often include plastic wrestling toys, and there are numerous references in his back catalog, not least 2015’s “The Ballad of Bruiser Brody” and FUNK — a noise tape released in 2013 by his short-lived Uncle Meat project (featuring another musical wrestling fan in GX Jupitter-Larsen) which paid tribute to Terry Funk. The Pegasus Kid, I know now, was one of Chris Benoit’s early stage names, back in the day when he was fighting in Japan, and Garza’s newest EP is an ambient homage to a young family whose lives were cut disastrously short one June weekend in 2007.

I first got to know Tanner a little when I worked on Always with him, a two-tape set that was released on my now defunct label J&C Tapes in 2015, and I’m pretty sure the subject of wrestling probably came up throughout our various communiqués but, y’know, I’m English. Now, with a true crime obsession to handle and The Last Ride drifting through the house, I realized I wanted to know more about how exactly a fake “sport” could possibly captivate an artist to the point where it had become one of his main inspirations.

“It kind of bugs me when people relate wrestling to art,” Garza starts, which might be the interview equivalent of starting a bout with a flying headbutt. To illustrate, he sends me a video of him and a friend wrestling one another during an Uncle Meat performance to the bemusement of everyone watching. “Some people were pissed off by that,” he remembers. “There was this girl at the show and, I kid you not, she started yelling ‘THIS IS NOISE! THIS IS SERIOUS!’ She was so furious she threatened my best pal.” Surely you can sort of understand the reaction though, I ask, consider the reputation wrestling has? “[Wrestling]’s carnie shit,” he continues, “but it’s beautiful. And noise music allows itself to become performance art.”

Since the Uncle Meat days, Garza’s focus has shifted towards making primarily what he calls “melancholy-ambient” music. “I don’t really perform live anymore,” he explains, “so I’ve turned my sound upside down. I used to hit record, edit minimally, [and it was] done. Now I’ll spend weeks on a project, introducing chopped and screwed techniques, Frippertronics and xenochrony into the stylings of Tanner Garza.” It all changed, he says, around the time his son Bronson was born in 2016, and his methods were already adapting around the time Always was released when he talked to me about his fascination with Robert Rich’s Sleep Concerts. Not long after the birth he told QRD he’d taken his “sleep music aesthetic to the next level” so that his son could “have calming sounds.” I tell him the rate of his output has always astonished me, considering the way my own life changed after fatherhood. “I had a slow period there for a while,” he says, “but if I don’t create, my depression starts to show.” Bronson, in case you’re wondering, was named after the actor Charles, and not the infamous UK prisoner. Still, Bronson Garza’s a tough-sounding name. “My wife honestly thought he was named after the criminal and she had no idea who the actor was,” he tells me, “but I always have liked the name a lot. I wanted [my son] to have a very strong name; my name is too neutral and kind of sucks next to my surname.” Bronson Garza, I say, is a definite wrestler’s name, and Garza mentions the two-year-old has already been baptized in the way of kayfabe: “I took Bronson and my wife to see Lucha Underground and it was great! It’s so easy to get caught up in the atmosphere.”

Garza says the aim with The Last Ride of Pegasus Kid was to channel “the emotion of being on top of the world and then have it all crashing down,” reflecting Benoit’s incredible rise and fall. At his peak, the Canadian was rated as one of the all-time greats, winning belt after belt including the World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE United States Championship, but the combination of permanent concussion, drug abuse and depression exacerbated by a litany of deaths in his circle of friends culminated in the murder his wife and son on 22 June 2007, before he hanged himself days later. A post-mortem neurosurgeon’s report stated the 40-year-old’s “brain was so severely damaged it resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.” Although WWE broadcast a tribute to the wrestler in the immediate aftermath, the company quickly distanced itself from Benoit when the truth emerged and went so far as to practically erase him from their history. I say I find it disturbing the WWE didn’t take more responsibility than they did but Garza thinks wrestling is in much a healthier place now, and they did all they could in extreme circumstances. “That whole era is basically not discussed because the World Champion is also someone that committed familicide,” he says. “The backlash [against WWE] was pretty huge and they responded with a new wellness policy for their talent immediately; drug tests, physicals, CT scans, the works.”

I tell Garza I think his slow, downbeat music works so well with wrestling as a subject precisely because the competitors (and, I risk, the spectators) are clearly lonely people who use their brutish occupation as a method of masking psychological weaknesses, and he agrees. “Oh yeah, for sure! I think my music is melancholy as shit and Benoit was a lonely man. He was a very odd individual. He would punish himself with thousands of squats if he thought he’d messed up in a match. He would only ever refer to his wife as his fiancé. But I always find myself drawn to the weirdos. I’m bringing wrestling to the ambient game!”

The Last Ride’s track titles give little away about their content, but they do betray a nerd’s knowledge of their subject. “You Better Believe It, Super J-Cup ’94 (*****),” for example, refers to a pivotal show in Benoit’s early career and one named by The Wrestling Observer Newsletter as “the most incredible single night of wrestling ever.” The track itself is sparse and halting, as if its creator is trying to pinpoint a moment in the faded video footage from which Benoit might be plucked and rerouted. “Super J ’94 is pretty insane to watch even now,” Garza enthuses. “The last match with [The Great] Sasuke is undeniably one of the greatest, and it was shortly after that that Benoit made his way back to America and made a name for himself. Thanks to that event.” Similarly haunting is “Irrevocably Broken,” whose waves of dreamy loops are fractured subtly by crispy electrical glitches that must refer to the wrestler’s failing state of mind, and the Disintegration Loops-esque “A Long Way from Edmonton” which reinterprets Benoit’s entrance theme, looking back through cracked lenses at his early days from the ruins of that June weekend. “I made the music on the tenth anniversary of the crime,” explains Garza. “It was heavy, but quick. I didn’t want to spend too much time recording. I had to stay inspired by who it was intended to be for — Nancy, Daniel, and Chris Benoit.”

Benoit’s long-suffering wife and child are honoured here too, in the form of “D.C.B.” and “‘Woman’ Was a Great Name.” The latter refers to Nancy Benoit’s bizarre nom de guerre, which she chose herself during her marriage to Kevin Sullivan aka The Taskmaster. Nancy ended up leaving Sullivan for Benoit when a kayfabe affair grew legs — the news was broken to Sullivan on WCW Saturday Night with Benoit revealing via sex tape that “my bishop just took your queen.” “‘Woman’ to me is so… ambiguous isn’t the word,” says Garza, struggling to express his opinion of Nancy’s ring-name. “That name was always striking to me because in day-to-day life it’s just a word. But when that’s your ‘name’ it becomes something very specific… but not.” He tails off: “Personal feelings…”

Garza never hesitates to get his geek on about his favourite subject. He litters our conversation with excited, unprompted asides about his favourite fights (“A personal favourite is the 1991 Villano III vs. Wild Pegasus mask vs. mask match”), his all-time lists (“My Top 4 are Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Terry Funk and Cactus Jack”), and his childhood watching his Mexican grandparents’ hero, El Santo (“a crazy, athletic, awesome thing”). But the Benoit tragedy clearly still means a lot to him. “[The creation of The Last Ride was] somber throughout,” he remembers. “I had it planned for a long time. I knew the dates. Yeah. The crime really shook me. I stopped watching any wrestling for, like, five years, because I just couldn’t for whatever reason. Benoit was one of my favourites for sure; everything he did was so believable. And that’s insane. I mean, obviously… I made the EP in [the Benoits’] honour and it’s mind-boggling that after 10 years there still aren’t any real answers… but this could lead to a ramble, so I’ll stop.”