Rocket from the Crypt

If you can resist the talent of John Reis then you are a stronger soul than I, and I don’t want to know you. Because really, what’s not to love? Reis emerged from the San Diego music scene in the early 1990s, playing with both Drive Like Jehu and Rocket from the Crypt (where he performed under the name Speedo). Where Jehu was only active in the 90s, RFTC’s career spanned fifteen years, ending in 2005. Along side RFTC, Reis played in the Hot Snakes and the Sultans, started the Swami label and put out a solo record under the name Back Off Cupids. But above all, it was Reis’s time with RFTC that made him a staple of underground music, and his notoriety now borders on legend. After a few years of coasting under the radar, Speedo has returned in a big way. A live CD/DVD of Rocket’s final show has just been released by Vagrant Records, and the Night Marchers, a new project featuring members of the Hot Snakes, is slated to hit stores any day now. Speedo spoke with SLUG about the final Rocket from the Crypt show, the new band and his role as a “professional rock-n-roller”.

So much of RFTC’s mythology is wrapped up in their live show. They were always spot on. They were a six-man rock band in shiny outfits, with more balls than would seem possible to fit into their tight slacks. This was standard fare, and exactly why a live DVD makes so much sense. Recorded on Halloween in 2005, RIP features songs that span Rocket’s entire career. Highlights include “Don’t Darlene” and “Ditch Digger” from 1992’s Circa: Now! and the now mythic 1-2 punch that is “Middle” and “Born in 69” (from 1995’s Scream, Dracula, Scream!). A personal favorite, Jumper K. Balls, was interrupted mid-song when a toy gun thrown from the crowd hit Speedo in the face. He soldiered on, chalking up the incident as what happens when half of your audience is dressed up for Halloween. Two dozen songs and three costume changes later, the final nail was hammered into the rocket-shaped coffin.

Fans have been waiting for this DVD since it was recorded. When asked about the rabid nature of Rocket fans Reis responded with a sigh. “It’s just music; it’s not anything that’s really that important. You play with people, you have fun, you make music and then you move on. All this romanticizing of the band, of how it has to be like this or like that, these are rules that were made up by people who have small brains—who don’t really get that life is short and you have to claw and tear to get what you want out of it.” And it is true that the band is overly romanticized, but this may be because RFTC has become the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to this live album, a disc of unreleased songs from 1997 to 2000 is also in the works. This disc, the third in the All Systems Go series, will get even more material into the hands of Rocket fans. “These are songs we recorded during practices. All of them are good, and most of them great.” It seems that even the participants are holding on to the past. It’s difficult to know when to move on.

But Speedo has moved on, and he’s back behind the microphone. His new band, the Night Marchers, seems to pick up where Rocket left off. Without the horn section, and seemingly with less glitz, the new project is a much more straight forward rock band. And while it shares drummer Jason Kourkounis and guitarist Gar Wood with the Hot Snakes, it is far less primitive musically, and much more listenable. Reis didn’t have much to say about how the band formed, but he is happy with the sound of the forthcoming disc. “You’ve got to hear it on a system. It’s a record that’s made to be played out of a corvette while driving down the coast.” He went on to describe a unique test marketing practice, where random beach-goers were loaded into a sports car and driven around while the disc played. “We played 20 songs for them, and the 13 that got the best response made it onto the record.” The next few months will find the Night Marchers at SXSW (Reis’s first trip to the Austin-based music festival), and a bicoastal tour is also in the works. While there are no current plans to play the beehive state, Reis looks forward to his next visit. “I love my friends in Salt Lake, and I hope to be seeing them soon.”

Speedo, we love you too.