The world of Rocket From the Crypt, says frontman John Reis, is full of "contradictions, lies and half-truths."
It's no surprise then that the band's new Live From Camp X-Ray is not a live album, nor, obviously, was it recorded at Camp X-Ray, the detainment facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military holds suspected Al Qaeda members captured in Afghanistan.
And given lyrics about fear of attack (the anxious opener, "I'm Not Invisible"), air-raid sirens being the sounds of summertime ("Can You Hear It?") and violent paranoia ("Outsider"), it's tempting to assume the swaggering, seething 28-minute album is a spittle-spraying statement about post-9/11 America, but that'd only be half the truth.
Much of X-Ray's intensity, Reis said, came simply from listening to a lot of great punk rock recently — bands like the Clone Defects, the Vibrators, the Wipers and Crime. The rest was born of frustration.
"It's a bummer that our reaction [to 9/11] is to go and kill people," he said. "This vengeance attitude is wrong, but by the same token I can understand people who aren't that bright, they wanna get some kind of results.
"I wanted to take a stance," Reis said of the angry music and in-your-face album title, "and I wanted it to be a little more powerful than just, 'Oh, I don't feel good today. I feel glum because planes crashed into buildings.' "
X-Ray's themes of alienation and frustration are familiar topics for the San Diego sextet, Reis noted, "but in light of everything that's happened I think it's kind of brought it out even more."
And it's not just politics that Reis, a.k.a. "Speedo," and his bandmates — guitarist ND, bassist Petey X, drummer Ruby Mars, trumpet player JC 2000 and saxophonist Apollo 9 — vent about on their seventh studio album. On the ricocheting "Bucket of Piss" Reis sneers, "Masochist wanted/ Inquire within/ Your time's worth nothin'/ So punch the clock in/ ... No one cares about you/ So go spit in some food."
"It's a really weird thing to be singing about, [but] ... I hate bad service at restaurants. I hate the fact that people don't care about what they're doing," he said, explaining that much of the blame is on the shoulders of those who've transformed the service industry into mostly low-wage, benefit-free jobs consisting of robotic tasks.
Lamenting the ignorant masses on "Dumb Blind and Horny" — which matches a charging, Ramones-y guitar foundation with velvety backing vocals and a saxophone freak-out climax — Reis angrily describes how "Idiots in heat cruise stucco caves/ Fight for a rotten piece/ Claw their way to the bottom rung/ Just to ride in the back seat."
"Bring Us Bullets" is a surging wave of drums and guitars that tosses about tambourines, horns and a few elongated "whoaaah"s before giving way to one of the most panicked-sounding guitar solos ever laid to tape. Between sarcastically singing, "Shoop, shoop" and demanding ammunition, Reis decries the living conditions faced by the Kumeyaay Indians.
Though there are successful, casino-owning Kumeyaay in San Diego County, there are others south of the Mexican border living in huts with little electricity, no running water and no help from their rich Stateside namesakes. Rocket From the Crypt played a benefit show to buy blankets for them one winter.
"We drove the blankets down there, and the people were so excited that anyone just cared about them, much less knew about them. So people were thrilled, and we just started talking to them. We were talking about, 'Hey, the next time we come down there, is there anything you want us to bring?' And the first thing a guy said was, 'Yeah, bring bullets.' Then it got kind of quiet, and he's like, 'Oh, oh, oh ... for hunting.' "
It took the band less than a month to write and record the 10 songs on Camp X-Ray, which hit stores last week. The therapy session was captured at the group's recently finished Drag Racist studio, which allowed the band to make an LP that was "a little meaner sounding" and had "more of a bottom end" than 2001's Group Sounds (see "Rocket From The Crypt Strive For Group Sounds On New LP").
"It definitely has more of a thud to it, which was something we were really trying to achieve. We were trying to get down. That was at the forefront of our minds."
You can see Rocket From the Crypt get down on "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn" Monday night at 11:35 p.m. on CBS.
Rocket From the Crypt tour dates, according to Vagrant Records:
- 11/22 - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Club
- 11/23 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
- 11/24 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
- 11/25 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 11/26 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 11/29 - West Hollywood, CA @ Roxy Theatre
- 11/30 - Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst
- 12/1 - Eugene, OR @ W.O.W. Hall
- 12/2 - Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
- 12/3 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
- 12/4 - Portland, OR @ Berbati's Pan
- 12/5 - San Francisco, CA @ Slim's
- 12/7 - Pomona, CA @ Glass House
- 12/8 - San Diego, CA @ Canes