|The Story So Far By Irwin J. Sneed (Circa 1998)|
All right kiddies, slip on your PJ's and put on a pot of hot cocoa, cause your Uncle Irwin's gonna tell you a story. This is the story of the greatest Rock n Roll band ever in the history of the world. They're not quite as popular as those Stone Temple Pearl Garden guys, not yet anyway, but these boys are so infamous, that I'm sure a few of you have heard of them. I'm talking of course about the band Rocket from the Crypt, duh. Oh sure, you probably own one or two of their albums and you probably even have seen one of their seven-inch singles in the new bin over at the record store, since they pump those babies out damn near four times a year. In fact, their entire discography (a partial listing is on the back) consists of over one hundred albums, seven-inches, compilations, bootlegs, picture discs, and import releases. Seeing as how they've only been together a little over seven years, I'd say that's a damn proud accomplishment. Perhaps some of you slackers out there could take a lesson from Rocket's prolific nature. (But that's a whole other can of worms)
Anyway, it all began about twenty or so years ago. Most of you were just a gleam in your old man's eye back then, but tearing it up at the time on the Rock n Roll circuit was a powerhouse band from Cleveland called Rocket from the Tombs. They were a strange and wonderful group, combining the best parts of Captain Beefheart and the Stooges. They were punk before punk was Punk. That's right, way before the Offspring. And you gotta understand, too, how hard it was for these guys to make that kind of music back then. I mean, you kids today with your Matador Records and your Touch and Go, and your Kill Rock Stars, you kids are spoiled rotten! You got it all now, back then there was nothing! No indie music scene, no indie club circuit, no internet. No Nothing! But this band made their music anyway.
Fast forward to the summer of 1990. In the beautiful seaside town of San Diego, California, a band called Pitchfork is breaking up, and twenty-one year old guitarist Speedo forms a new band. Actually, he forms two. One of them becomes the powerful emo-core institution known as Drive Like Jehu (more on that later), and the other· well, I think you can see where this is going: Inspired by the pioneering spirit and the raw back-to-basics rock ethic of Rocket from the Tombs, Speedo gladly heeds the call to form the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and christens his new band Rocket from the Crypt. They quickly released Paint As a Fragrance in 1991, but nearly collapsed a mere two months later with the departure of founding members Sean and Elaina. Anyone else probably would have quit at that point, but Speedo saw it as the perfect opportunity to grow. Bored with the conventional trappings of the bass/drum/guitar rock band routine, Speedo came up with a master plan. Having listened to dozens of Stax 45's in the Spring of 1991, he imagined something so revolutionary, it was way ahead of it's time: a punk-inspired Rock n Roll band with a horn section! And on July 4, 1991, Rocket from the Crypt plays the first gig with Apollo 9 on the Saxophone, and new drummer Atom. A U.S. tour followed in the fall of 1991, and indie kids everywhere began witnessing the future of music. This was right around the time when another grungy little band was making a big splash on the music scene, bringing "alternative" music to the masses. This was also right around the time you probably started listening to music yourself. The world was a rapidly-changing place back then, and Rocket from the Crypt was getting ready to start changing it.
When we last left our heroes, Speedo & Company, they were tearing up the rice paper on their Fall 91 U.S. Tour, and were listening to the state of Alternative music being changed right in front of their eyes as radio stations across the country actually started playing cool bands for once. Could this mean that there was now a place for Rocket from the Crypt on the radio? Perhaps, but these boys were/still are so far ahead of their time that it's hard to say. But as the boys reared their van back home to San Diego at the end of their Fall Tour, the only thing on their minds was the new album they were about to create. So in early 1992, with the full custom brass sounds of Apollo 9 now fully a part of the group, Rocket logged in some serious studio time, cranking out more songs than they knew what to do with. They were animals. They just kept producing music. Some of it straightforward. Some of it experimental. They had so much music that they started putting out tons of seven-inch singles. Almost at the rate of one a month. It was through these seven inches that their notoriety began to spread. You see, the economy was in shambles back then, and kids just didn't have enough money to buy full albums of new bands they didn't know much about. Seven inches were only three dollars. All the cool record stores had tons of seven inches back then, but Rocket's seven inches stood out like a nun in a whorehouse. They had artwork that was bold, bright and outrageous. Sometimes even sublime. They had titles that put their own spin on everyday life like "Yum Kippered," "Boychucker," & "Pure Genius." They became highly desired collectibles. People started talking about this band called Rocket from the Crypt.
The boys spent the remainder of 1992 cranking out the reel-to-reels, culling an album out of the miles of recorded material called Circa: Now! Released in November of '92, Circa: Now! was a tight collection of solid gravel-voiced scorchers that made you want to crank the stereo. In fact, that was their motto: "Crank it or Spank it!" With passion, drive, energy and true-blue charisma gushing out of each recorded opus released that year, a serious buzz swelled up around the band, and, as is usually the case, the music industry came calling. Soon the boys found skinny, goat-teed A&R dorks wearing "Ren & Stimpy" T-shirts lingering around at their shows. Then the suits & the limos started coming. Before they knew what was happening, they were being whisked around from label to label, being offered lavish dinners, fat contracts, and the usual promises. They were no fools, though. They accepted the presents and dinners, but told all the weasels to wait. In late 1992, they finally made their decision to sign with a major record company, opting to align themselves with Interscope Records, a then-only-three year old company poised on the cutting edge of music with artists such as nine inch nails, Primus, and Helmet on the roster. One of the deciding factors that made Rocket want to sign with Interscope was the fact that they were given unfiltered artistic freedom. Including the freedom to record with their side project, Drive Like Jehu.
Jehu was the yin to Rocket's yang. While Rocket was in every sense of the word a traditional Rock n Roll band, Drive Like Jehu focused on nineties indie rock post modernism, specifically churning out their own unique blend of math rock and emo-core. Interscope understood this, and signed both bands to record contracts. After a brief west coast tour in late 1992 and a tour of Japan in early 1993, Rocket re-released Circa: Now! on Interscope, and embarked on a North American tour. But Speedo's mind was always moving forward. Pleased with the success of the horn section, Speedo decided to expand the brass, adding 20-year-old trumpet prodigy JC 2000 to the band just before the North American tour. With a second horn player now in the band, the sound got tighter and fatter. Response was excellent, and the band's popularity grew. Cargo released a CD compilation of some of their seven inch singles titled All Systems Go. Videos were made for the songs "Sturdy Wrists," and "Ditch Digger." Rocket started getting some radio airplay and exposure on MTV. What happened next, though, shocked everyone.
With focus on Rocket from the Crypt at an all-time high, you'd expect them to pump out a new album rather quickly. But Rocket's not your average band. Instead they decided to put the Rocket material on hold while Speedo worked with Drive Like Jehu. In the spring of 1994, Jehu released their second album titled Yank Crime. A US tour followed.
Still with me kids? I know, I know it's a very complex story. And believe me, it hasn't even kicked in yet. So we're still in 1994. Drive Like Jehu has just finished a successful run with Yank Crime. They got rave reviews and sold a respectable amount of albums. But Speedo was getting itchy to start Rocket up again. Having released a few more seven inch singles that year, they began to feel the juices flow once again towards Rocket material. So 1995 rolls around and Rocket starts logging in more studio time. They spend the better part of the year collecting songs, and recording what would to another band be a career's worth of material. Having more songs than they know what to do with, they release more seven inches and the EP The State of Art is On Fire in the Spring of '95 on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label. All of this recorded material is building up to their next studio release, but before that, Speedo comes up with another brilliant idea. In an attempt to give something back to their fans who have kept them going on the underground level all these years, Rocket decides to embark on a free (yes, a free!) US tour in the fall of '95 coinciding with the release of the 9-song EP Hot Charity on their own label, Perfect Sound. Now, I ask you, kids, when was the last time one of your favorite bands gave you a tour's worth of free shows? Did you know that the band even had to sell much of their earthly possessions (cars, jewels, etc) in order to finance this "Free Charity" tour? That's how freaking cool they are!
Also around this time they release the seven inch "Tattoo" which was only available to members of their Tattoo fan club. Another of Speedo's ideas, this is where if you get a Rocket tattoo anywhere on your body, you could register with the Tattoo fan club and are eligible for free admission to any Rocket show for life! I kid you not, this is true. How it works is if Rocket is playing a small club, they'll inform the bouncer to let anyone in with a tattoo. But if it's a bigger venue, you'd have to call the hotline a couple days in advance to be put on the guest list. I tell you what, these guys just give and give to their fans. Now, before you get all excited about this and run right out to get tattoos, I want it known for the record that I, Irwin J. Sneed, accept no responsibility. You'd better get your parents' permission first.
Now it's October of 1995, and Rocket releases the excellent album Scream, Dracula, Scream! With a title taken from a Wesley Willis song, S.D.S. received massive critical acclaim, and promptly landed the #1 spot on the college radio charts. A huge headlining tour followed in the fall of '95, and other tours were solidified throughout 1996, with opening slots for Rancid and Soundgarden, and a slot on the 1996 Vans Warped tour. The band became a promotion machine in 1996. Aside from touring, they appeared on MTV, filmed videos for "Born in '69," "Young Livers," and "On a Rope," and appeared in tons of print. Record sales were adequate, and more and more people began hearing about Rocket from the Crypt.
After touring much of '96 and part of '97, the band needed a break. So they headed back down to San Diego to rest and write new material. In true Rocket fashion, it didn't take long to build up a new collection of tunes, and in September of 1997 they headed out to New York City to record what would become their latest album, RFTC. What makes this album so much different is that they worked with an outside producer for the first time. Never one to remain in the same place musically, the band moved away from the 60s garage feel of Scream, Dracula Scream! and opted for a more traditional 50s greaser sound. With all planets now firmly in place, Rocket will release RFTC on June 2, 1998.
So is this the end of the story? Not by a longshot. With an upcoming tour with the Foo Fighters planned, thanks to the support of big Rocket fan Dave Grohl, and a headlining summer tour in the works, you'll definitely be seeing more and more of this band. But now that you know the history, you better keep tabs on them yourself from now on, because if I know Speedo, he'll probably come up with a thousand new ideas in the next year.
And so, I leave you kids with two thoughts: One, now that you know the whole story of Rocket from the Crypt, you should understand that these guys are just way too cool to fall by the wayside; which means that they are destined for greatness; which means that your kid sister will be tearing down her Third Eye Blind poster pretty soon and will be putting up a fresh new one from Rocket from the Crypt. And the second though: just remember you heard it all from your Uncle Irwin first!
from the Interscope Records publication The Rocketeer, used with permission. Copyright 1998, Interscope Records.