By Dom Sinacola; band photos by Shigeo Kikuchi; photos courtesy of Long Gone John; Swami photo by Ben Clark on May 29, 2013
Read the first part of our story of Rocket from the Crypt, including a conversation with John Reis.
Below are interviews with RTFC bandmembers, collaborators, and fans from throughout their career.
SOMEWHERE BELOW SMASHMOUTH
WITH PETEY X AND APOLLO 9
Petey X is Pete Reichert, Rocket from the Crypt’s bassist and part of the band’s original 1990 lineup. Paul O’Beirne joined in 1991 alongside drummer Adam Willard, not long after Rocket released their first album, and adopted the name Apollo 9.
How did you become involved with Rocket?
Petey X: Me and John [Reis] had been playing in a lot of local punk rock bands for years. The state of music in San Diego in those days was pretty dismal. Punk shows were really violent; shows consisted of more fights than songs being played. So John, myself, and Andy [Stamets; “ND,” lead guitar] got together and started writing music. The goal from the very beginning was to play music outside of San Diego.
You get together, record an album, release it on Cargo, then sign to Interscope. Do you feel like you accomplished what you wanted to when you were on Interscope?
Apollo: You have to understand what the roster was like when we signed. It was only Gerardo and Helmet. So that was an incentive; we thought we’d be a priority. By the time we left: Sting, U2, the whole merger thing had happened. Where did Rocket from the Crypt fit in? There was no way we could compete with those kinds of…agendas.
Petey X: We fit in somewhere below Marilyn Manson and…Smash Mouth.
Apollo: Our whole A and R was gone, everything we signed to the label for was gone. It just wasn’t the same place.
Why is now a good time for the band to start playing together again?
Apollo: It just feels right now. It didn’t for a long time. I think we’ll be ready for it. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Petey X: And that’s been the biggest thing in Rocket from day one: the whole reason we wanted to play music was to have fun and the whole reason we wanted to go on tour was to have fun somewhere else.
Apollo: The whole reason we broke up was because we weren’t having fun!
You’ve been called a “band’s band.” What does that mean to you?
Apollo: We’re so diverse in our tastes. Lots of audiences have to pigeonhole you, they have to call you something. But bands are just like, “Look at that: they have a little James Brown, a little Black Flag.” Other musicians can kind of understand it more, maybe?
Petey X: Like, I know Metallica was a big fan.
Apollo: Oh, we’re all over their last record. You can hear that.
Petey X: They were asked in an interview where they got their guitar sounds, and they were like, “From every Rocket record.”
Apollo: Everyone has a little forte they’ve brought to the group. I like when people can’t peg us…because we stole from everybody. Like, Jason [Crane; “JC 2000,” trumpet] was really into jazz at one point, so he totally helped me see different things that could be done with a horn. And John allowed it. He just knows so much about different kinds of music. Fleetwood Mac? You were into Black Flag when you were 8? Really?
WITH LONG GONE JOHN
John Edward Mermis founded Sympathy for the Record Industry in 1988 and has released recordings by The White Stripes, Hole, the Misfits and Suicide, amongst many others. Known by nickname Long Gone John, he met Rocket from the Crypt in 1993. Although he no longer owns Sympathy, he has run Swami Records with Reis since 1995.
How did you first encounter the band?
It was at a club in Long Beach, where I lived, called Bogart’s. I had several friends who were close to them…and it was pretty instantaneous: I really loved them, we talked after the show, they ended up coming to my house that night and hanging out and then we made a deal and I gave them some money. Their first single was the “Boychucker” picture disc. And we had our first concert together. Specifically, me and John just got along really well. I really loved what he was doing.
Did you ever get the impression that they were receiving backlash for signing to a relatively major label so quickly?
No. I can’t imagine why. Ultimately, everyone, we’d all like to make a living being in a band. And if it offered them a little more comfort, assurance, tour support, whatever: they’d be fucking idiots not to do it, in my mind. Plus they were friends with Anna Statman, who was the person who signed them at Interscope. She was already a longtime fan, and it seems like they were getting into it working for friends. Anybody who didn’t like that transition, who didn’t see it as a necessary tool, I think they’re the ones who are the idiots.
Do you still feel intimately connected to their music?
Oh, yes! I’d put Circa: Now! into my top 10 albums of all time. It’s the perfect record. They were pretty out of step with what was going on—they were unique. I traveled with them to Japan the first time they went. I only did that with two groups out of 550 bands I’ve ever been associated with. That’s how much I like Rocket from the Crypt. Seeing the response they received the first time in Japan, I can only imagine what it was like on future visits. It’s a tired fucking thing to say that they put 150 percent into every fucking show, but it’s one of the few bands I really believe does. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything shitty to say about them.
I think they missed the fucking bus when they insisted on Interscope signing Drive Like Jehu, too, and then how John worked six months with each. I know Jehu may have been more of a critic’s darling, but Rocket was the band that was more suitable for mass appeal. You saw what happened in England; they got a lot of attention really, really quick. If John wasn’t splitting his time between those two entities, I think Rocket would’ve just been an incredibly successful band.
THE ZENITH OF THE ZEITGEIST
AS TOLD BY HOWLIN’ PELLE ALMQVIST OF THE HIVES
Pelle Almqvist is the lead singer of Swedish rock band The Hives. The Hives not only shared a tour ticket with Rocket in the late ’90s, they share similar sensibilities: large band size, sound, stage names and longevity.
In 1997, in our hometown [of Fagersta], RFTC was the zenith of the zeitgeist, if you will. Everyone there thought they were the coolest band in the world and Scream, Dracula, Scream! the greatest album. For us, they were, along with the Oblivians and the New Bomb Turks, the band in the ’90s, when we formed, that we liked the most and probably influenced us the most during those sensitive budding years.
We played a show with Rocket in 1998, if I remember correctly. Our drummer Chris [Dangerous] had been calling our booker every single week to get us gigs. It finally worked out and we drove down to Kulturbolaget, in Malmö, in Mom’s car or something. It took about nine hours or so.
We were around 19 to 20 years old and were very impressed [by RFTC]. I remember Vigilante [Carlstroem; guitarist] and Chris talking about the way Speedo’s pinky stuck out like he was drinking tea in a posh way when he played guitar…plus other such details. We love details. Anyway, they were real cool to us young guns and gave us booze, etc. We talked about that for quite some time: the American rock stars treating us like equals.
For a big band they seemed to be totally cool with each other. I think that’s what happens when you tour and most people in your band are not idiots. We are also on our 20th year and I am fine with everyone in my band.
I have run into Speedo a few times since then, which is always a pleasure. Petey prints T-shirts for us in the States, too, so I am in contact with him a fair amount. I run into Mario sometimes. They are all really great guys. As far as a tour together? Sure. A tour would be fun. New music from them? My guess right now is no—but I think they should. Obviously. We could collaborate on new music, but it would seem like a lot of people involved. That’s like 13 people or something! Too many cooks spoil the broth…or the more the merrier? Who knows?
THIS THING GETS ME IN FOR FREE, RIGHT?
AS TOLD BY CM PUNK
Phillip Brooks has been a professional wrestler for over a decade. You might recognize him as CM Punk, former WWE champion. A well-known punk rock fan, he has a Rocket from the Crypt tattoo on his left hand.
To me, tattoos are like roadmaps of every place I’ve been. And I always heard the rumors about how having a Rocket from the Crypt tattoo would get you into a show free. And while I haven’t ever experienced that, I thought it was very, very cool for a band, even if it was a rumor, to do that. I had just signed with WWE in 2005, and Rocket were breaking up, playing their last show, and I couldn’t go because I was obligated to be somewhere else. I thought it would be fitting, like a monument to Rocket from the Crypt, to get the tattoo.
I’ve seen them live more times than I can count. I’ve seen them play huge venues; I’ve seen them play the smallest dive places where they’re headlining and they’re playing for 90 minutes. I’ve seen them open for everyone and their mother. One of the best concerts I ever saw was in Chicago at the Riviera. Rocket was opening up for Rancid. I got to dance my ass off and jump around like a little kid.
I was what society would classify as a complete misfit and outcast my entire life. I was never into anything that was cool, and I never really gave a shit what anyone thought. I never followed trends, or what other people did. I couldn’t really connect. But for Rocket, it seems easier. Is it metal or is it hardcore? Is it pop-punk? It was for anybody, whether it was someone’s grandma or a 5-year-old kid. Just straight up rock and roll. There’s mixing of genres; punk rock and horns, a lot of old-school elements. They seemed to blend it all together seamlessly. Plus, they wore matching outfits on stage. What’s not to love about that?
WITH LAURA BALLANCE OF SUPERCHUNK/MERGE RECORDS
The bassist in seminal Chapel Hill indie rock band Superchunk, Ballance co-founded Merge Records in 1989 with bandmate Mac McCaughan and still runs it to this day. In the early ’90s, Merge released various seven-inches from both Rocket from the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu. Later, Superchunk loaned drummer Jon Wurster to Rocket’s touring lineup when they lost original drummer Atom.
The first seven-inch Merge released from the Rocket/Reis camp was for Drive Like Jehu, in 1992. How did you all connect?
I think they sent a copy of the [early Reis/Froberg project] Pitchfork album to the Merge PO box and wrote us a letter. (Back then when you liked another band who seemed to have a similar way of thinking as you, you would write them a letter and maybe send them a copy of your album. Yep. We also toured with covered wagons and horses, and had to use payphones.) When Pitchfork broke up and Rick and John formed Drive Like Jehu, Superchunk wound up doing some shows with them in San Diego, but also in the Southeast. I remember being impressed with how loud they were and the fact that Reis was wearing hearing protection ear muffs while they played. We definitely did some shows with RFTC, too. We became friends and wound up doing that Jehu seven-inch and also two RFTC seven-inches later.
Who approached whom regarding releasing some Rocket vinyl the next year?
I think it just happened naturally. We probably asked them, because we loved them. When we did the second one [“UFO, UFO, UFO” b/w “Birdman”], our usual pressing plant refused to do it because there was a picture of Elvis Presley on one of the labels and they did not want to get in trouble. I really loved John Reis’s graphic design style. He made excellent use of duct tape, press type, scratchy handwriting and old photos.
Right around that time, both Rocket and Jehu signed to Interscope. Was it strange that John seemingly was able to get both his bands signed and retain a lot of artistic control? The truth of the situation is likely much less dramatic, but while you guys were building Merge so you could put out your records and those of your friends, there he was seemingly working magic...
John was always working magic. I imagine there were compromises and some bullshit they had to put up with, but yeah, they did well with that situation. They made some great albums on Interscope. When I think about RFTC, I think of them as a band that knew how to rock and put on a really great show. I think that is a huge part of their legacy—along with all the people who have Rocket tattoos. They were inspiring to see play, and so much fun. And of course their songs are really great. I guess there were bands that tried to sound like them for a little while, but those bands were never as good. Rocket brought brass back into indie rock with a sense of grandeur. They were not afraid of sounding huge and anthemic. One of my favorite memories of them is that of being witness to a “fight” in their “van” (a converted airport shuttle), which ended with someone being duct taped to the floor of the van. They made me laugh a lot when we did shows together. F