An unapologetically rough-hewn rock band whose regular-guy spirit belies the smarts of their songwriting, Criminal Hygiene take the sloppy sneer of garage punk, the guitar-fueled hooks of power pop, the swagger of hard rock, and the anything-goes spirit of lo-fi and blend it all into a sound that's reckless and cool. Known for their rowdy live shows, the Los Angeles-based combo sounded slobbish but inspired on home-brewed early recordings like their debut album, 2013's CRMNL HYGNE. The band got more precise after a few years of steady gigging, and 2019's Run It Again documented a tighter and more refined sound, but their commitment to rock & roll and their talent for songs that were rollicking but tuneful remained unchanged.
The Criminal Hygiene story began in 2011, when Michael Fiore and James Watson were students at the University of Southern California. The two friends both played music in their spare time, and they thought it was time they wrote some music together. Watson had a home studio built around an eight-track cassette machine, and a few months later, he and Fiore had a batch of songs on tape. Watson and Fiore were eager to play the songs in front of an audience, and through a friend they found drummer Sean "Birdman" Erickson, who joined Fiore on guitar and Watson on bass. Adopting the name Criminal Hygiene, the trio began playing regularly at a bar called the Down & Out, where they knocked their sound into shape. In late 2012, the band released a pair of digital singles, "Blak Water" and "Rearrange Me," and in January 2013, they dropped their first full-length album, titled CRMNL HYGNE. The album got positive reviews, and Criminal Hygiene hit the road for a tour, which included an appearance at the 2013 SXSW Music Conference. When the band returned home, Watson resigned so he could focus his creative energies elsewhere, and Michael Hiller, a close friend of Watson's, took over his pal's spot in the group.
When Fiore, Erickson, and Hiller weren't busy playing out or recording, they worked at the same pizza parlor, whose owner was a big fan of the group. In between flipping pies, the band released a concert recording, 2013's Live at the Barn, as well as an EP, 2014's Withdrawn, and another digital single, 2018's "Hardly News." Criminal Hygiene also kept up a steady schedule of live work, headlining club dates and opening for the Whigs, Twin Peaks, and Together PANGEA. The group expanded to a quartet with the addition of bassist Cameron Ward, whose presence allowed Hiller to move to guitar. The positive press for their recordings and the buzz about their high-spirited live shows led Dangerbird Records to strike a deal with Criminal Hygiene. The band went into the studio with producer Alex Newport to cut their first album for Dangerbird, 2019's Run It Again. When the group ran short on money midway through recording, their boss at the pizza parlor loaned them the money to bankroll completion of the album, proving that sometimes it's good for a musician to have a day job. ~ Mark Deming