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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rocket From The Crypt's John Reis: "I Listen to Records Because They Sound Worse"

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 10:18 AM

click to enlarge Rocket From The Crypt performs at the Independent on Friday.
  • Rocket From The Crypt performs at the Independent on Friday.

San Diego's Rocket From The Crypt treated its fans wonderfully, and they responded with feverish devotion. Many even endured permanent, ink-laden scars in the shape of the band's logo. In Rocket From The Crypt, and later Hot Snakes, the Sultans, and Night Marchers, bandleader John Reis obliged fans' wishes for athletic performances, raucous live antics, voluble recorded output and a slightly camp persona. When Rocket From The Crypt disbanded in 2005, he adopted all of the music industry roles that fans gravitate toward as professions: venue owner at Bar Pink, radio DJ on the Swami Sound System, and owner of Swami Records. Ahead of Rocket from the Crypt's reunion stop in S.F. this Friday, March 28, we spoke to Reis about vinyl being the best for sounding the worst, brightening the lives of unhappy RFTC fans, and invading listeners' space. Rocket from the Crypt plays with Dan Sartain on Friday, March 28, at the Independent.

How's the state of vinyl in San Diego?

There are still lots of places to buy records, but if you like more fringe stuff, it's hard. When I was younger, it was nearly impossible to find records, and there wasn't the option of going on the Internet to hear it. Now, people are used to just getting what they want and they pee their pants and throw a hissy fit if they can't. They think music is a right. A lot of my favorite records are ones I bought because the cover looked cool, or the guy at the shop recommended it, or the guy selling records at the swap meet looked like a hobo or some kind of freak-vagabond-beatnik-dude so I would be sure to buy from him.

Neil Young's hardware player thing just came out, and basically, not that we needed a reminder, but it's just another example of why records are the best. Technology changes and changes and ... whether it's a cloud or stream, you're just renting it. You're just paying for permission to listen to it as opposed to actually having something forever. CDs, I guess you could say the same thing, but they seem more like a backup copy. A record is something that retains. It's tangible. It retains music but it can also have value beyond the music.

Vinyl seems to have more credibility as an object because the sound is physically dug into it. People tend to say it sounds better, but that's a little misleading because most kids with their first crappy stereo aren't getting the superior fidelity.

I don't listen to records because they sound better. I listen to records because they sound worse. I don't really like Pink Floyd. I'm not going to listen to Dark Side of the Moon on headphones. A lot of the stuff I listen to sounds crappy by most people's standards.

Rock music tends to cycle back and forth between a focus on guitars and more electronic elements. Rocket's catalog always reminds me of the primacy of the guitar riff.

There's an ebb and flow as far as people gravitating towards and away from rock, but not the music itself, mostly just the technology. Sometimes people embrace the new technology ... then they get burnt on that and want to hear people just playing music together, which seems more honest and real. It's how tastes change: people hear things recorded 15 years ago and think it sounds old-fashioned in a bad way. Later, they think it sounds old-fashioned in a good way.

Your radio show, Swami Sound System, did a good job integrating new and old material.

I selected music that belonged together. I thought they should all be hit songs and needed to be exposed again. Music often has another life beyond when it was created and you never know what might be the catalyst for it clicking in people's minds. I never wanted to hold music that was dear to me as a secret, like it was some club. I didn't make it. I have no ownership over it. It might make me feel special, but ultimately it doesn't make me cool and it doesn't give me power over other people. It's better to share it. That way you can actually make the world, musically speaking, a better place.

So is that why Rocket's back together? To make the world a better place?

No, no, definitely not. We're not reclaiming anything or proving anything. World domination was once in our sights, but now it's more about the time that we spend together as friends and as a band. We were a band for a long time, and towards the end it felt like a clock winding down. It was hard to muster the enthusiasm to do something that we'd already done thousands of times. We didn't want to be a lesser version of ourselves. That's why we stopped. We're playing again because we always wanted people to like us, to like our music, and to sing our songs and dance and celebrate life. We went away for a while, then people started saying they wanted to do that again. It's mostly for people who were there and want to recapture those times because now they're not happy or something.

Your radio personality had a very spontaneous and free-associative character. Does that experience have any bearing on your stage banter now?

I've always loved to address the situation in front of me. I'm trying to shape it and turn it into something else. Some people don't like that, because they just want to see you play the songs. They don't want to be recognized or noticed. They want an invisible wall between them and the band. Other people really like it when the band sees the same thing the audience does and responds to it because it's a sort of communication. Radio can be a much more powerful medium. This thing happens where people think you're talking directly to them, because they're alone at home or in a car, and they're allowing your voice into their space.

Rocket was known for prolifically releasing EPs. Among many garage rock bands today, that's become more like standard practice.

That's kind of frustrating, as a fan, because it's hard to keep up with four or five releases from one band in a year. We did it because putting out a 45 was the fastest way to put out a piece of music. It was the fastest way to go from studio to turntable. It took like 30 days to turn around and we toured all of the time so it was always cool to have something we had just finished. The output was totally relative to the amount of time we spent playing.

It sometimes feels like a way to accommodate the shrinking press cycle and keep people's attention.

Yeah, and maybe they're not touring a lot. Maybe they're just in their bedroom writing. A lot of bands recording this stuff aren't really bands either, it's just one person, which is cool because you can be more malleable. When you're a band of six people, you can't escape the sound of those same six people playing together, no matter the material and recording technique. It's inescapable, for better and for worse.

Lastly, all of the San Diegan transplants in San Francisco are wondering whether their Rocket tattoos are going to get them into your upcoming show for free?

No, because it's sold out. I don't think people got the tattoos just to get into a show for free. It was a cool perk. A lot of times we couldn't get people in if it was sold-out. People with Rocket tattoos, I don't know what to tell you, but you could come down early and try to get in. I think people with the tattoo already went out and bought a ticket.

-- @Lefebvre_Sam


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Sam Lefebvre

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