Clay Reed's rock n' woes

Alleged police drama comes with the territory for Subsonics' lead

Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time around the Atlanta rock scene could probably identify Subsonics’ black-clad vocalist and guitarist Clay Reed in a lineup. His vampy, punk façade reeks of the dangerous rock and roll archetype. For years he’s kicked around near the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue and North Highland Avenue between the Majestic Diner, the Highland Inn and the Righteous Room — where he’s known to spend most of his time hiding out in the back corner booth.

But Reed hasn’t been seen out and about much lately. Since September, every Subsonics show in town has been canceled, and the band declined an offer to go on a tour of Spain in March. Apparently, Clay wasn’t in any condition to perform after an alleged confrontation with an Atlanta police officer working security at the Publix supermarket at on Ponce.

For weeks after the alleged incident, Reed bore marks from the alleged attack, according to bandmate Buffi Aguero. His face was bruised and swollen, and he walked with a cane. Reluctant to draw attention to himself over the incident, he mostly stayed out of the public’s view while quietly letting his wounds heal.

While other bands might be consumed by negativity over Reed’s incident, the members of Subsonics laugh about their road-weary tales. Shrugging off accusations that they’ve never toured enough, they prefer instead not to take themselves too seriously. Reed even shakes his head at the garage-rock label, saying, “I always thought of us as a basement band. That’s an entirely different location and an entirely different sound than what you’ll get in the garage.”

No two ways about it, Subsonics are an Atlanta rock and roll institution. Since 1992, the trio of Reed, drummer Aguero and current bass player Rob Del Bueno (formerly of Man… or Astro-man) has fashioned a stealthy legacy of noir surf-punk jangle that thrives on the dark side of the urbane South. The band’s songs are sultry and seedy. Both their sound and image draw from the legacies of avant-garage and rock and roll outsiders ranging from the Velvet Underground to the Stooges. But their playful, sinister aesthetic is distinctively their own, and after six albums, eight singles and so many years spent in the trenches, they’ve pretty much seen it all.

These days, Reed looks better but he’s still on the mend. Subsonics will finally return to the stage at the Star Bar on March 13 when they play their first show since the incident at Publix, opening for the Dex Romweber Duo. Clay may be well enough to play the show, but he has no interest in dwelling on the events that kept him down. “I don’t want to talk about getting beat up by a cop,” he simply states.

According to an Atlanta police report, Officer E.E. Johnson was working his extra job at Publix on Sept. 18 when he was notified that Reed (who was wrongfully identified in the police report by his middle name, “Sterling” Reed) was acting suspiciously in the store. After approaching Reed, who failed to stop at first, Johnson asked if he had any weapons on him. Reed then began to move away, based on the report, and struggled with Johnson before being restrained.

Clay had a run-in with the man,” claims Reed’s attorney, Michael B. Seshul. “A cop who was working security thought that Clay was shoplifting. He was not, and the cop proceeded to beat the shit out of him for saying ‘get your hands off of me.’”

At the time of his arrest, Reed was charged with obstruction of a criminal investigation. His attorney says the charges were later dropped, and Seshul has since filed a civil suit on Reed’s behalf. “Obstruction of justice means that Clay was either fleeing from the cop or fighting with the cop, but the cop was standing on his fucking shoulders.”

Since the case is in litigation, APD Maj. Pearlene Williams refused to make a comment. When reached by phone, Publix’s Atlanta Media and Community Relations Manager Brenda Reid also offered no comment concerning the incident.

In the meantime, Subsonics is preparing to return to the stage. The show at the Star Bar is the band’s first step toward resuming business as usual. For Reed, the downtime hasn’t been a total loss. There’s even preliminary talk about a new and long overdue Subsonics album in the works, but the details are still in the planning stages.

Last year the group released a limited European tour split 7-inch EP with drummer Aguero’s other band, Tiger Tiger! It was the first new material the group had released since its last full-length, Die Bobby Die, was released via Slovenly in 2005.

“We need to get to work on some new songs,” Aguero says.
But, as Reed replies, “All the songs we play at this show will be like new songs since we haven’t played them in so long. But the new album has already been written,” he adds. “You guys just need to learn how to play it.”