Arts Desk

Falling Off Allege: How Online Accusations of Rape Helped Break Up Drunkdriver


On a message board last week, one commenter posted a picture of a smashed Drunkdriver record.

Fan Death Records co-founder Sean Gray came across the rumors last Monday night, accusations he’d encountered before, researched, and cautiously dismissed as hearsay: Did Jeremy Villalobos, the drummer for two of the Maryland label’s bands, have a history of sexual assault?

The rumors had circulated in whispers since 2005, ever since Villalobos parted ways with Wives, the Los Angeles punk band whose other members soon after formed No Age and put that city’s noise rock on the map. And the rumors had followed Villalobos across the country to New York, where he began drumming in a number of skuzzy, noisy groups, including Pygmy Shrews and Drunkdriver, which, until its breakup last week, seemed to be on the cusp of wider attention outside the noise and punk-rock circles in which it made its name.

Pygmy Shrews were set to play Fan Death’s annual showcase, DNA Test Fest, which takes place this Saturday at Sonar in Baltimore. And Villalobos, in Gray’s experience, was a good guy playing in an exciting band. “Drunkdriver was a good band, it was a special band,” he says. “They were able to go from circle to circle, in terms of punk kids, in term of hardcore kids, in terms of indie kids. That’s a very rare thing for bands to do.” The seven-inch single Drunkdriver released last year on Fan Death is the biggest seller in the label’s history, Gray says.

Last Monday night, after several message-board threads had begun to explode, Gray and Fan Death’s co-founder, Chris Berry, asked Tracy Soo-Ming Neale, who helps run the label, to craft a statement. The next day, after several bands playing the showcase and on the label expressed discomfort being near Villalobos, Gray decided Pygmy Shrews would not play Test Fest.

On Wednesday, they cross-posted Neale’s statement on several boards: “The crowd Fan Death Record tends to cater towards is an especially male-dominated one, and I speak from personal experience when I say that it can be daunting to get involved when you feel like the odd girl out. One of the reasons why I’ve been happy to help Sean out with label stuff over the past nine years is because our personal politics line up pretty well; we both agree that women need a place to feel safe and empowered, and he’s proud of the women who take the initiative to get involved in music.” What was most important to Fan Death wasn’t Villalobos’ history; it was the comfort of its bands. “It’s a tough situation, and I think nobody wins,” says Gray. “Our stance is we have to protect our bands and the people who are involved in Fan Death.”

By the end of last week, a thread at generated more than 1,500 comments; they ranged from outraged to offensive to confused. One user posted a picture of a broken Drunkdriver record. Another wrote, “WHAT IS SO FUCKING HARD ABOUT GETTING A NEW DRUMMER THAT ISNT A RAPIST.” By midweek, the band had called it quits; by last Friday, it had canceled its record release show at the Market Hotel in New York, which was scheduled for this past Saturday. Gray says the Internet rage was a large factor in Drunkdriver’s breakup.

Michael Berdan, the singer of Drunkdriver, posted a statement (comment No. 1485 on the thread): “i won't lie and say that i don't care about jeremy. when he's told me what he's told me in the past, i really want to believe him. still, i know that a number of people involved in his past have absolutely no reason to lie to me and if this is true, i absolutely cannot live with myself. The thought of it disgusts me and breaks my heart.” He wrote that he couldn’t continue in the band with a clear conscience. As of last week, a new Drunkdriver LP was still set to drop on April 16 on LOAD Records.

Pygmy Shrews also released a statement of sorts, updating the information on its MySpace page for April 3, the day the band had planned to play at Sonar: “masturbating and crying in a corner so that everyone stays safe at DNA Test Fest.” (That text has since been taken down.)

Timmy Hefner first heard the rumors eight or 10 months ago. A booker in Austin, Texas, who organizes the annual Chaos in Tejas festival, he had booked Drunkdriver before. “I’ve heard so many rumors in the punk scene and I take them with a grain of salt,” he says. “But I didn’t blow it off because it’s a serious matter. I brought it up with Berdan, the singer, and he kind of gave me their side and I kind of left it at that.” He eventually scheduled the group to play a showcase at last month’s South by Southwest. Then, in early February, he was alerted to a comment on a blog post on the Web site citing Villalobos’ alleged history of sexual assault as the reason he was kicked out of Wives. Fourteen comments later, someone claiming to be Villalobos replied:

This is Jeremy from drunkdriver. I am not a rapist. This is based on an accusation from when I was 15 years old. Years after that when I was 23, a friend of mine and I got drunk and slept together. We were on tour and a friend of her’s overheard about the incident from when I was 15 (from that girl’s best friend) and put this story together like so.

After all this Dean and Randy were by my side. I got irresponsibly blackout drunk in Texas and was inappropriate, woke up with my clothes on but I definitely did not rape anyone or do anything that could be called rape. I was a drunk asshole that night. NEVER was the word “NO” or any force ever used in ANY of the instances.

After years of being there for me, Dean and Randy of Wives couldn’t continue being in a band with me and that was the end.

According to the statement, Villalobos visited New York City not longer after Wives disbanded and decided to stay there. “Had I stayed in LA I’m sure I could have defended myself,” he wrote, “but I most definitely did not flee here.”

When Hefner read this he called No Age drummer Dean Spunt and got his take: “I don’t feel like it’s a rumor,” Hefner says. “[Spunt] gave me three separate incidents…the third incident got him kicked out of Wives.” With South by Southwest about a month away, Hefner called Berdan to tell him Drunkdriver could no longer play the showcase. “He understood, and I think he’s been put in a corner. He’s only ever been treated great by Jeremy,” Hefner says.

According to Berdan’s statement, the New York–based indie-rock promoter Todd P dropped Drunkdriver from his Monterrey, Mexico, festival MtyMx at the request of No Age, who refused to play on the same bill as Villalobos. Todd P did not return a request for an interview, and No Age declined to comment.

Reached earlier this week, Villalobos wrote in an e-mail that he would not answer questions about the allegations of sexual assault. “Answering and explaining my story on the record is ultimately what has been much more hurtful than helpful,” he wrote. “This is a personal and legal matter and I hope you understand why I have to be cautious of everything that is said and take no offense to what I am saying.”

Asked why Drunkdriver broke up in a subsequent e-mail, Villalobos wrote, “Berdan quit. He told [guitarist] Kristy [Greene] and I one thing and the internet another about why he left. Its very sad and disappointing. There are/were no interchangeable members of the band, so when he quit we broke up. Kristy and I are closer than ever and we are very proud of Drunkdriver.”

“We were just a band, and bands are only distractions from things that happen in real life. To many people this is just escapism that doesnt effect their day to day routine. Someones 3 months of drama is someone elses real life and a lot more harm was done than good to many other people than me. Ultimately a ‘scene’ that we were not involved in or embraced by ended up effecting the band. We have gotten a TON of support from people from a lot of different ‘scenes’ but I dont really know what it says about them besides that a lot of different people liked this band for the music we made.”

Database searches turned up no criminal history for Villalobos.

Some of the commenters claimed to know the women involved in the alleged incidents of sexual abuse. “I think a lot of people involved with it thought Jeremy was playing in some silly local band,” says Hefner. “I think a lot of people involved got bothered when they realized the band was getting popular.”

While stressing she doesn’t know any details and therefore couldn’t speak to Villalobos’ character or actions, Neale says that Villalobos hasn’t satisfied his detractors. “He has to explain himself,” she says. “He hasn’t said much, and when you don’t say much people start to fill in the blanks.”

Gray says he’s disappointed with how unproductive the thread ultimately became (threads on other boards were as explosive if not as long). “It’s a mob mentality in the sense of ‘Let’s rally behind something and get this job done.’ When that stuff happens, once the job is done, people leave and disperse, and you know, that’s it. It’s really not conducive to figuring out what do you do from here, to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” That goes for preventing rape, he says, as well as discussing it. “Did they do the right thing for the victims? I don’t know if people are asking that question.” But he thinks Fan Death did the right thing. “There’ve been lines drawn and people are pissed off at us, and that’s OK,” he says. “I know we have this reputation, especially in the D.C. area, of being assholes. There’s a difference between us saying that D.C. bands suck and this.”

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  • michelle

    i've seen shit like this happen in punk scenes before. rumors don't follow you like this--hardcore, substantial allegations will.

  • PK

    Punk sucks. Nobody cares.

  • charles
  • women

    1) it is absolute disingenuous bullshit for jeremy villalobos to claim that 'a scene he isn't part of' did something to him. he is a punk band, and he is referring to a community of people from the punk community largely located in his city or within 3 hours of his city, with the rest living in cities where his current band and past bands have toured. also, his actions broke up his band, not 'a messageboard' or 'a scene'.

    2) sean gray can rest assured that the discussion was not unproductive- if not for the thread, none of this would have been brought to public attention, a survivor's resource and support list was spawned for many women (and men) within the punk community who have been sexually assaulted or raped, and many productive discussions about dealing with rape and assault in the punk community are ongoing. the conversation has also changed the tone of interactions and given strength and support to many women who otherwise felt outnumbered or unsupported.

    3) it is also disingenuous not to include rape reporting statistics, if you are going to include the fact that the perpetrator does not have a criminal record. bad journalism.

  • ben

    the only victim here is Jeremy Villalobos. this has been an unfocused, irresponsible witch hunt and it has left everyone feeling raw and disappointed, no matter what they choose to believe.

    who are you, "women", to claim you know why his band broke up? what makes you a reliable source in this situation, able to safely imply that these dangerous rumors are true? it's just this kind of anonymous self-righteous soapboxing that has led to so much turmoil and negativity.

  • Colin

    I don't feel raw or disappointed at all. In fact, I feel pretty good about the fact that a rapist isn't going to go on tour and be around a lot of women who don't know that he does that shit.

  • Northwesterner

    Colin, are you for real?

    1. there are rapists going on tour every day of the week in every genre. I personally know 3 godfathers of US punk rock who admitted to sexual assault in the 70s/80s and worked things out with their victims. Jack from TSOL admitted on film in the movie American Hardcore that he was a rapist. Some of these guys were skateboarders during the era of quaaludes. What, you mean that one guy's one band broke up? Nothing you wrote makes sense here. What happens if he goes to trial and is convicted and goes through court-ordered counseling, AA, etc. Is his slate clean then? When is it ok for him to be in a band? What about the Beatles?. Every member of the Beatles, Stones, Led Zep, etc had sex with underage girls. These underage girls appeared in magazines like Rock Scene with full understanding that they were having sex with rock stars at 15. Elvis Presley almost exclusively dated girls around age 16 and started dating his future wife when she was 14! You feel good about this result? You tell me the boundaries.

    2. "Women" at 7:58. Weren't all those resources spawned by Riot Grrrl in 1991? Did no one feel like connecting with those groups? No one knows how many rapes are reported and estimates are seriously vague at best. How many people did you know who realized only in college that they had been date raped in high school? I knew 2 women who had that realization.

    When I was a teenager rape had to be through force. Now rape also can occur when the victim cannot consciously consent to sex. That is you know a positive change, but the rules definitely changed. Look at 16 Candles when Anthony Michael Hall is excited that the girl he was with passed out. Excited why? Because he's a rapist? no, because back then the definitions were looser.

    I tend to believe that if three women had three similar accounts then

  • Colin

    The weird namedropping stuff aside (actually we're talking about a specific case in a specific community, not all sleazy bro activity in the 20th century), I think it's pretty clear that the drummer from Drunkdriver doesn't consider what he did rape (c.f. the crewcial thread), nor does he feel bad about it (c.f. the crwecial thread), nor is he going to actually do anything about it (c.f. acting like a screaming child about all this and telling different people different stories). "When is it okay for him to be in a band" is in my view a weird question to ask, as if the poor baby's band broke up through no fault of his own, instead of 'because he's raped multiple women.'

  • Rick

    What does anyone expect the tenor of an internet accusation-fest to become? Who can sort out any facts when such a thing erupts? Let the dust clear first. This new Drunkdriver LP on Load is so tremendous, I'm not gonna wait to enjoy it.

    For the band and especially the drummer, there is a better way to deal with this that run and hide from it, though. Some act of contrition if the accused feels any guilt would be a good step. Even if he'd rather blame alcohol for the questionable actions he'd fessed up to, then he could at least address that.

    The singer's not wasting any time distancing himself from him, so that's maybe the most damning sign. But the silence of the female guitarist on the matter is kinda quizzical to me. Why has no one asked about that? Why was she comfortable enough to be in a band with him for so long?

  • D

    Colin, you addressed nothing I asked. Nice side-stepping. What do you have to hide?

  • teen_cthulhu

    the singer left the band for personal reasons, he was sad to hear about what happen but it piratically had nothing to do with him leaving the band, why the fuck would someone post rape accusations on a fucking message board? and even if she did get raped its her dumb as fault for passing out drunk, you don't want to get raped? then don't drink until you black out you dumb cunt.

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  • Elle

    how about this #11? you don’t want to get accused of being a rapist? then don’t have sex with girls who don't (or can't) give consent.

  • Douglas

    The issue here is not whether this person actually committed a rape, the issue is that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a COURT OF LAW, not in a court of blog posts. Based on my research, there is no statute of limitations on the criminal prosecution of rape. Therefore, if anyone has any direct evidence against him, they would be helping society more by reporting this evidence to authorities rather than defaming someone on the Internet.

    Rape is a very serious allegation, and it IS taken quite seriously by the criminal justice system. This idea that the there is a “blind-eye” in regards to charges like this is an obsolete concept. The D.A.’s that I have met, more times than not, have been liberal feminist women who take any allegation of sexual assault very seriously. So, if you have evidence, have this person charged.

    IF you do NOT have evidence, it would be wise for you to realize that by calling him a rapist in a “written publication” (i.e. blog or message board,) when he has not been found guilty of such crimes, you are potentially setting yourself up for a civil lawsuit. Do yourself a favor and Google “libel per se” before you start accusing someone of something on the Internet.

    You might say “go ahead and sue me, I don’t have any money.” Well, someday you might, and it would be taken away or garnished. If you think you are anonymous, you are not. During the discovery process in a lawsuit, your IP address will be found and traced to you via court order to your Internet Service Provider. What is an IP? It is your digital “finger prints.” You are NOT anonymous.

    Look, I do not know this person, nor have I ever listened to any of his music. I came across this issue over a conversation at a bar with someone who had heard of it. However, to put my two cents in, this person’s career is essentially ruined. If I were him, I would sue as many of you as I could for loss of future wages at the least.

    If you are the owner or moderator of this blog or site, I would suggest reviewing the posts and removing any potentially libelous content. I am not quite sure of the legal precedent here, but do you really want to be party to a potential lawsuit? Attorneys are not cheap!

  • Katy Otto

    Incredibly irresponsible coverage of assault issues. Please folks, read some things on for a glimpse at some ways to talk about assault in ways that are more humanizing.

  • brendan

    Remember when the Modest Mouse guy was similarly witch-hunted about ten years ago?

  • Foobar

    Colin is going on a witch hunt against Villalobos to assuage his own guilt about sodomizing young boys at summer camps. I talked to a bunch of penis-whackers on ChatRoulette and five guys said that Colin had molested them years ago. Remember if you hear it from a bunch of people on the internet then it must be true.

  • A

    Rape is a very serious allegation, and it IS taken quite seriously by the criminal justice system. This idea that the there is a “blind-eye” in regards to charges like this is an obsolete concept. The D.A.’s that I have met, more times than not, have been liberal feminist women who take any allegation of sexual assault very seriously. So, if you have evidence, have this person charged.

    Douglas: DAs may or may not (debatable) "take any allegation of sexual assault very seriously", but that doesn't mean they're going to take a case to trial that has no chance of winning, whether it's just or not.

    I have ACTUALLY WORKED with assault survivors and the criminal justice system, and our "innocent until proven guilty" system, unfortunately, does not mesh well with the reality of most rape cases (acquaintance rape cases that boil down to her word vs his word). The overwhelming majority of cases I've seen have been dismissed by the DA--not because the survivor was not assaulted--but because there was no way to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt unless the rapist admitted to his crime. (See also: the Ben Roethlisberger trial; note that the DA kept referring to the young woman as "the victim" when he stated that he couldn't bring the case to trial. I don't think that was a mistake).

    Regarding libel: you must prove that a statement both does harm to the reputation AND is untrue, assuming that the person is not "of great public interest," in which case you don't even HAVE to necessarily prove that your statements are true. In this particular community, Villalobos IS of great public interest. I wouldn't let a libel suit keep me up at night, in this instance.

    I paid attention in media law.

  • anomalous

    this is so funny! you americans are so dumb! rumors!! haha!!

  • Mike

    To me this came off as dragging someone's name through the mud with nothing conclusive to back it up. Maybe hearsay passed around within a group of people should remain hearsay rather than receiving a treatment that sheds little light on much of anything.

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  • Jeremy

    An allegation of rape is an allegation. If he is not in jail, get off your fucking soap box and let him hit his drums...