As American as It Gets:

An Interview with Only Crime.

The last time I spoke to Russ Rankin, he had successfully turned a goof-off band formed in 1987 to the political powerhouse known as Good Riddance. They had just released Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit, a hard-hitting musical diatribe containing all the necessary punk elements: anger, politics and fun.

However, a stick was thrown into the music machine in late 2001 when Good Riddance guitarist Luke Pabich decided to attend college full time and bassist Chuck Platt as well as drummer Dave Wagenschutz began to search for full-time employment. Although Good Riddance still exists today, the momentum of the band slowed. Rankin had time on his hands, and in the summer of 2002, he began laying out plans for another full-time band with Aaron Dalbec of Bane.

The result was Only Crime, a decidedly dark and brooding outfit featuring Rankin on vocals, Zach Blair (Hagfish, Gwar) and Dalbec on guitar, Bill Stevenson (Descendents, All, Black Flag) on drums and Doni Blair on bass. You aren’t going to find Only Crime playing the 80s cover songs that Good Riddance sprinkles throughout their albums. Only Crime’s mission is purely to seek and destroy. Their debut full-length on Fat Wreck Chords, To the Nines, is a malicious mix of hardcore beats, ear-splitting guitar and Rankin’s doomsday prophecies.

“All five of us get on stage with the intent to cause harm,” Rankin said. “There’s some ill will in the music. The music has a wake to it, like a menace to it that I don’t think Good Riddance has.”

Some of Rankin’s poison screams are aimed toward the American government that has let him down. Although he certainly carries a large amount of disdain for the current administration, he’s not going to align himself with the “anybody but Bush” camp. He refers to Democratic candidate John Kerry as “Bush Lite” and will be casting his vote with Green Party candidate David Cobb.

“To me, voting for Kerry just because he’s not Bush is short sighted and it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face,” he said. “If that’s what people do and if Bush gets reelected, then we deserve it. We deserve four more years of him.”

“Some people say that a stance like mine is un-American and I disagree and say that’s as American as it gets,” Rankin said. “I think that America can do a lot better.”

Rankin explained how the media does their part to push candidates who aren’t Democrat or Republican out of sight. He watched the Green Party convention from Milwaukee at 1a.m. on CSPAN while the fat-asses and the jackasses got prime time.

“Here in America, the media is complicit in painting a picture of the whole electoral system that basically tells us we have two choices, which is false,” he explained. “And the average citizen goes to the polls and looks at the ballot and goes ‘Who are these other people? I didn’t know they were running for president.’ At the end of the day, democracy isn’t served, but the interests of power and the richest one percent of this country are stoked because nothing will change for them. I think John Kerry’s almost as full of shit as George Bush is.”

The political views and the crushing sound of Only Crime bring back a sweet, burning nostalgia for days when punk meant more than a bondage belt and some black hair dye. Rankin doesn’t like to think about what happened to punk rock, but he recognizes that his two bands wouldn’t be as successful if it weren’t for the exploitation of the music he grew up with.

“To some extent, I’m part of the problem,” Rankin said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I liked it better when being into punk rock was character-building. I liked it better when you couldn’t just go to the mall one afternoon and come out punk with a piercing, a tattoo and a Black Flag shirt.”

According to Rankin, punk’s salvation will come when it’s dead in the mainstream’s eyes.

“If you look at the history of the culture industry, they latch onto some kind of music, claim that they discovered it, bleed it dry of anything that once made it remotely cool, and then throw it away,” he said. “And that’s when I’ll be happy because then we can go back to being how we were.”

With Only Crime, Rankin will be sure to fight the good fight and make punk and hardcore as unpalatable as possible to those who would exploit it. To the Nines hit stores July 13. Only Crime’s mission is, after all, to seek and destroy; and that’s as American as it gets.

If there is one local group that would have been pirates in their past lives, Le Force fits the mold, from drummer Jud Powell’s chest tattoo of world maps to guitarist Erik Olsen’s scruffy beard to guitarist Chris Evans nursing a hangover. Their music can inspire pillaging, plundering and most of all, drinking.

[Le Force playing dress-up]”We’re pretty well renowned for being cut off,” Powell says.

Le Force plays like they drink; hard and fast; consequences be damned. They’re a shot of tequila rather than a wine cooler. I met up with the three band members on a front porch downtown to discuss their latest release, Le Fortress, on Wäntage USA Records and their plans to sail the salty sea with Satan.

Le Force have set themselves apart from other Salt Lake bands by providing a primarily instrumental band with two guitarists and no bassist. The music is only occasionally peppered with Jud’s manic screams. They let the blaring dual/duel guitars and pounding drums speak for themselves. The decision to become an intstrumetal band was an easy one.

“None of us can sing very well,” Olsen said.

“We’re just sick of doing the same formula, like two guitars, a bass and a drummer,” Powell said. “We’re just trying to go about it a different way. It’s funny, because like every show we play, everybody’s like, ‘Hey, if you guys are looking for a bass player, I want to play’ or ‘Are you looking for a singer?’ It seems at every show, we get five guys trying to do that and we’re like, ‘Uh, it’s cool. We’re just trying to do our thing.'”

Doing their ‘thing’ is garnering some attention for Le Force. When they recorded Le Fortress in 2002, they were able to gain connections to Josh Vanek of aforementioned Wäntage USA. Vanek liked what he heard and signed the band. Two years later, Wäntage released Le Fortress and the band plans to record another full-length this September.

The new album is a crash course in malicious metal. The first track, “We May Belong to You, but Our Souls Belong to Satan” begins the onslaught of doom, but the music is capable of melting into sulky melancholy with “Sometimes Everybody Needs a Tissue.”

“Two days before we went out [to record Le Fortress], we wrote [“Sometimes Everybody Needs a Tissue”],” Powell said. “We always try to do something a little bit different, kind of step out of our own boundaries. Plus, it’s so much like the emo wave. I think it kind of had a little bit to do with that too … I’m kidding.”

“It’s OK to cry,” Olsen added.

When Le Force plays live, you can expect some head-banging, someone throwing up the horns and some bitchin’ guitar. Olsen only expects one thing from his audience.

“We just want them to feel the rock,” he said.

Playing in Salt Lake has its downside, according to Le Force. They play often in their hometown, but putting shows together and making a little bit of cash can be difficult.

“The biggest issue is club owners not being fair with the groups, like letting people in for free or pinching money out of the door, shit like that,” Powell said. “I mean, shit like that goes down everywhere, but … It’s so hard, too. There’s a lot of clubs here now, but there’s very few good clubs.”

When a band plays metal, and plays it well, you can be assured Satan has a hand in it. Le Force didn’t actually sell their souls per se, rather, they lost it in a gambling bet.

“That bastard!” Olsen said in referral to Satan.

With the devil at the helm, Le Force will be hoisting up the anchors and taking off on a tour in October. Powell has been busy filming their live shows for a DVD and the album they will be recording in September is estimated to be released this winter. They are also planning the release of a 7″ in January that may be titled Seven Inches of Pure Love. The band is now capable of accomplishing all of this with backing from Wäntage USA and can expect a large distribution of their music and a larger fan base. Heave away, Le Force, heave away.

LEXICON DEVIL: THE FAST TIMES AND SHORT LIFE OF DARBY CRASH AND THE GERMS
BRENDAN MULLEN, DON BOLLES AND ADAM PARFREY

Feral House
Street: 04.15.02

Darby Crash walked a fine line between lunacy and lucidity, idiocy and genius, sociopath and scared little boy. Before anyone could find out who he really was, he intentionally overdosed on heroin and left this world in 1980. This book serves as a remembrance of a man who was an icon for the L.A. punk movement at a time when there was no such thing as a future but there was such a thing as The Germs, who infected a cult following in the slums of Hollywood. Brendan Mullen (founder of The Masque), Don Bolles (former Germs drummer) and Adam Parfey blend a series of quotes and stories from the people who were there–including John Doe, Belinda Carlisle and Joan Jett, to name a few–into a perfectly executed documentation of the L.A. punk scene. And in case you were wondering, Lexicon Devil paints a far more spirited, interesting, well-written and ultimately, more dangerous scene than New York’s punk scene in Please Kill Me. Darby Crash and The Germs are long gone, but the Circle One spirit lives on with this publication. “I’m Darby Crash. I’m a social blast.” Damn straight. -Shane Farver

INNOCENT WHEN YOU DREAM: THE TOM WAITS READER
MAC MONTANDON

Thunder’s Mouth Press
Street: 06.15.05

Tom Waits is every man. He was your pool shark, chain-smoking uncle. He is a reclusive, hill-dwelling eccentric. He is a father of three and a doting husband. He is an inexplicable musical mystery. Innocent When You Dream is a compilation of interviews that chronicle the musical life of Waits from his sound-sensitive childhood to his beatnik Closing Time days to his latest beat box masterpiece, Real Gone. The interviews, which are conducted by Spin, Playboy and The Onion, to name a few, read a lot like Waits’ music–a beautifully dark hodgepodge of circus sideshow storylines told in a gruff voice over the clanking of an old oil drum. A few poems by Charles Bukowski thrown in fit the Waitsian philosophy like a puzzle piece you lost under the couch six months ago. No one will ever truly know who or what Tom Waits is–he’s an artful dodger when it comes to personal questions–but Mac Montandon comes damn close. –Shane Farver