Pledging to never play a venue with a stage, singer/guitarist John Reis formed San Diego's Rocket from the Crypt in the summer of 1990 after becoming disillusioned with the hardcore punk band he was in called Pitchfork. Joining with then-current Rocketeers bassist Petey X and guitarist N.D, in addition to departed drummer Sean and backing vocalist Elaina, Reis and company released Paint as a Fragrance in 1991.
Rocket from the Crypt. 1988. The story is a common one. The son of a Portuguese fisherman rediscovers punk rock and rock & roll and moves to Tijuana in order to find musicians who's instincts haven't been replaced by the sedate notion of what it takes to be successful in the world of professional music making.
Rocket from the Crypt. 2001. "Rock n roll's ambassadors of goodwill", "…the best live band in the world", "…the most important band since the Stones", "the top of today's punk hierarchy", "…the hardest working group in America", "…a band who's profound stylistic and musical influence on today's pop culture is inescapable", "The most important American band since CCR", "the last of the Mohicans"….Ladies and gentlemen, Group Sounds. Rocket from the Crypt's ninth full-length album. 13 blasts of the most explosive and dense rock & roll ever committed to tape. The new "Wall of Sound" is erected only to be kicked over. Bricks continuously toppling over without mercy. Passionately out of control and adventurously violent. Past promises are made good and old allegiances are unapologetically broken. Once again, give it up for the band….
As with any piece of precision machinery, tune-ups are required. February 2000 saw Rocket from the Crypt free from their obligations at Interscope Records and without long time drummer Atom, who left the band to pursue other interests. First, to find a home. Because of the legacy of integrity that surrounds the band, a slew of music industry assholes posing as cocksuckers vied for a courting position. Rocket from the Crypt met with Vagrant Records and the choice was clear. Attracted to the label because of their sincerity and independence and money, the business relationship was consummated with the traditional "receiving the giant check ceremony" at the El Cajon Music Trader and Video Exchange. Now, to find a drummer. Applicants flocked from all over the world. They came from Sweden, Arizona, New York, England, Seattle, Tokyo, and on and on. Many were good, some were great (some totally sucked) but still the perfect match was nowhere to be found. During the interim, members of Rocket from the Crypt began to focus on other talents outside the band. Apollo 9 embraced the thrills of fencing, PeteyX dedicated himself to the ways of Tantra and the sexual arts, JC2000 recorded a solo album and traveled the Midwest with a Belgian puppeteering troupe, ND went into the business of international pharmaceutical distribution and played with the elusive, local phenomenon that is Beehive and the Barracuda's and Speedo guitared it up in the Hot Snakes and the Sultans and still had time to finally complete his doctorate studies in hypnotism. Enter Mario Rubalcaba. Mario's drumming single handedly (yes, he has one arm!) propelled the short life of post hardcore, abstractionist Clikitat Ikatowi into cult status. Later he played in bands The Blackheart Procession and most recently The Oily Seniors. Dealing with his handicap has been a life long process and frequent anger and rage therapies have been prescribed. One specialist suggested hypnotism as a possible tool to help him relieve his frustrations. As fate would have it, Speedo and Mario first met not at a bar or record shop, but in the confines of the Naval Amputee Treatment Center. Although the sessions bordered on the bizarre and nasty, a friendship was born. The two decided that they should take their work into the rehearsal studio for further straightening out. On October 31, 2000 at 6:14am Mario Rubalcaba answered his call as the new drummer for Rocket from the Crypt. The evidence is in. The band has never sounded more alive.
Group Sounds finds Rocket from the Crypt at their crossroads. Not that I know what that exactly implies, but it does sound good. Rocket from the Crypt are the true romantics of the young, dumb and numb and are now caught between the ironic new millennium catch phrase of "old school" and that is what is considered stylistically modern to the disposable "now". Millionaires playing it tough and cashing in on cheap stylistic impersonations of youth rebellion have set the tone across the world. Rock & roll in blackface has inspired a lethal retaliation. The blasting reaction of Group Sounds. Is it no coincidence that now with the state of rock & roll dangling by it's fingertips. Rocket from the Crypt divinely interrupt the heinous wail of mass marketed pap with an urgent plea begging you to demand quality in your life. Wake up children, listen, listen, listen. Listen to the drums, boom, boom.
Conceptually, Rocket from the Crypt wanted to make a record that refused to adhere to generic sonic consistency from song to song. Group Sounds is the product of 4 attempts to capture the bands new sound. Before Mario's presence and without a drummer, the band decided to document their last 2 years of music making with Jon Wurster from Superchunk behind the kit.
First in Los Angeles, the band started off with a conventional approach to recording. It was here that Group Sound's youth anthems of tomorrow were captured. The uncanny ability of Rocket from the Crypt to elevate the pop form to a furious, stream of consciousness scorch, has never been so elaborated upon. Dig "Heart Of A Rat" with it's infectious repetition and summertime, bonfire appeal. "This Bad Check Is Gonna Stick" invites you to repent now or be steam-rolled by the inquisition. A bonafide party jam that is blowing up in the parallel universe. "Spitting" is a streamlined attack that inflicts crisp lacerations without pain. Long time collaborator Gar Wood, can be heard singing on the chorus cementing the broken melody. These three tracks were then mixed by Mark Trombino and readied for their inclusion. Next, it was off to Memphis, Tennessee to get wicked.
Locked inside Easley Studios with Stuart Sikes at the controls, the band consumed large quantities of BBQ and let the thick Memphis air soak into their bones. Everyday walking the sacred ground of Stax, Elvis's grave, and the streets that so many of their heroes walked inspired a likely homage to the fierce independent spirit of soul expression. The band's already massive sound is doubled by it's own echo ricocheting off the high ceilings of Easley. "Venom Venom" is pure Ethio-punk burn. Frantic beasts riot on a short-wave broadcast. Apollo 9 and JC2000 take turns stoking the fire with stabbing counter play. The majesty of the horn section abandoned in favor of a free expression skronk. "S.O.S." invites you to sit in with the band and listen to the air between the instruments. If spaciousness in sound is a bit of a foreign concept to these thugs, no proof is found here. Immaculate arrangements blanket the cold instruments. "Out Of Control" is a reality based rocker that funnels the "everything on 10" approach into a compressed gel that is the DNA of rock n roll expressionism. Hey-Nan-EE-Nan-EE. "Carne Voodoo" is a manic caterwaul that celebrates the marriage of lethal guitar hammering and Fela-esque horn syncopation. Unable to reflect, the mirror is broken and the shards of glass are given to the children to play with. This is their music. "Ghost Shark" has the band once again joined by rock n roll legend Jim Dickinson (Rolling Stones, Stax, Big Star, Flat Duo Jets) on piano. Jim plays Jack Nitzsche to Speedo's Lee Hazelwood and everyone descends into a tale of lost sacred ritual. Unapologetically over the top. From Memphis it was back to San Diego to join forces with their new drummer.
In order to abstract the pure and undiluted new Rocket sound, the band had to build their own recording studio. Attracted to the immediacy and sonic credibility of ghetto blaster recordings, they searched for ways to incorporate this aesthetic with an approach that would offer more clarity. A vision was taking shape. Using the ghetto blaster to record the bass and drums an auxiliary 8-track tape machine was synchronized in order to capture the guitars and horns. The sound was insane and the ground-breaking approach paid off. From there the tapes were taken to West Beach Recorders for producer/mixer Donnell Cameron to make sense of. Having recorded over half of the bands recorded output since 1991, Donnell's approach brought in a sense of a familiarity and fortified the creative comfort zone. This session documented the band at their most poisonous. "Straight American Slave" asks only to burn all hypocrites at the stake who open their homes and adore caricatures of alternative lifestyles on television and then demand for them all to be burned in hell for their subversive unnatural acts. It's also an amazing dance floor stomper and I give it a 10. "White Belt" lyrically vaguely alludes to the novice experiences of honky stress while musically leaving nothing to the imagination. Similar to the stop and start chug of the Music Machine, the hiccuped pulse of the interlocking rhythms has all the kids calling this one a real "knee buckler". "Dead Seed" bubbles then screeches until the anvil is dropped. A cyclical, swirling, mess of guitars envelopes into a meaty, pre-hick fixated Byrds chime. The chorus drags everything to a climatic crawl like a tug boat dragging it's anchor on the sea floor. "Return of the Liar" is basically "Back in the USSR" without the chicks and backed by a 60's frat thump. A fuzzed out bass gathers low-end steam and builds the pressure. All cowbell, torn toms and call and response, Rocket doesn't throw a party and sneak out the back door before it's over. Finally, "Savoir Faire" fries whatever grease is left. The mechanical lurching of the instrumentation mimics the sound of equipment on the verge of malfunction. In the break, Apollo 9 strangles his saxophone and the entire mix implodes. These are the Group Sounds. The perfect combination of everything you could ever want.
Rocket from the Crypt's continued dedication to the craft of rock & roll missionary work will commence 2001. Once again the band will continuously circle the globe peddling their wares and trying to change people's perception of this dying art. Eager to prove their reputation, as the best live band in the world is more fitting than ever, the rock in roll challenge is on. Listen, listen, listen, boom, boom, boom.
Though the album caused a lot of people to take notice, a lineup change ensued; Atom Willard became the drummer, and Apollo 9, a Reis drinking buddy who played sax in high school, joined as saxophonist. After the successful independent Circa: Now! was released on Cargo Records in 1992, a major-label bidding war resulted in Rocket from the Crypt signing with Interscope Records (in addition to Reis' other band, Drive Like Jehu, which features another former Pitchfork member, Rick Froberg). Interscope then re-released Circa: Now! in 1993, and the single "Ditch Digger" spent some time in MTV's Buzz Bin. Eventually, a sixth member – JC 2000 on trumpet – was added in 1994, which preceded the release of a new 10" record, The State of Art Is on Fire, in 1995.
By the end of the year, the group released its most acclaimed album to date, Scream, Dracula, Scream. RFTC followed in 1998, and Group Sounds was issued on Vagrant in early 2001. Rocket from the Crypt was a rock & roll machine throughout the early 2000s. Their garage punk style was as fresh as those following the punk revival trend. In 2002, Rocket from the Crypt emerged with the raucous, rowdy sounds of Live from Camp X-Ray. Then, after 16 years of playing together, Rocket from the Crypt played their farewell show in San Diego on Halloween 2005.
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