— by James Montgomery
Eugene is home to the University of Oregon's Fighting Ducks, Hungry Bear Hemp Foods (all deliveries done by bicycle!), and a bistro owned by a former road chef for the Grateful Dead. It is not, however, home to any military installations. Which is why it's kind of weird that one of the city's most bombastic exports — four 20-something buddies who met in middle school — would choose to call themselves Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers.
"Our favorite band was Radio Birdman, so we got our name from them," frontman Marty Larson-Xu said. "One of their tours was named Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers, and we were like, 'Yes! That's it!' And then ... for, like four years, we were the worst band ever. We didn't even have songs."
That was back in 1997, when Larson-Xu, guitarist Kevin Sciou, bassist Evan Seroffsky and drummer Oliver Brown were just a bunch of kids fresh outta middle school. They had a penchant for sloppy punk from Detroit (the Stooges) and Australia (Birdman) and the gritty garage rock from their home state (the Sonics). The only problem was they lived in Eugene, where the term "punk" is a foreign concept.
"It's your typical small-college hippie town, not really open to rock and roll or anything like that," Larson-Xu sighed. "It's really boring, and you have to find sh-- to do yourself. And so a lot of the songs I started writing were about being frustrated with the smallness. I draw a lot of inspiration from our hometown, from growing up in Eugene."
And so they started banging out their own brand of suburbs-are-hell punk rock, which led to a string of West Coast dates opening for acts like the Donnas and the New Bomb Turks. A few of the shows featured the Soldiers' inspired pyrotechnics.
"We had an outdoor show where we had these missile canisters we bought at an Army surplus store, and we filled them with towels and gasoline and lit them on fire," Seroffsky said. "Then they got so hot and out of control that we had to kick them off the stage and this huge ball of fire went rolling into the crowd."
"This was before the whole Great White thing," Larson-Xu added. "We've got a whole lot of stories like that."
When they weren't trying to burn down someone's backyard, the Soldiers were holed up in the studio, working on two vinyl-only EPs for San Francisco label Gearhead Records. Before they knew it, the self-proclaimed "worst band ever" was playing showcases for major labels — which led to some unforeseen (but totally predictable) problems for the Soldiers.
"The labels wanted us to change our name," Larson-Xu said. "They didn't like the Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers. So I told them, 'Um, we're not changing our name,' and I had to write a theme song for us, so we could keep [it]. That song's called 'Anthem,' and it's probably my favorite, because it goes, 'We're the mother----ing Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers' And that's it."
Apparently, the Warner Music Group got the message, because it inked the Soldiers to subsidiary East West and will release the two Gearhead EPs as a full-length called, um, The Two EPs. It's 37 minutes of sneering, fast-backed punk typified by "Anthem" — which, conveniently enough, is also the first single.
Over a din worthy of the Stooges' Funhouse, Larson-Xu howls, "We're the mother----ing Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers" while the rhythm section of Seroffsky and Brown keeps the whole thing jerking along with a sufficiently serpentine groove. The track sounds like it was recorded on masking tape, dropped on the floor and then flushed down the toilet. The end result is skuzzy, sleazy punk tailored for drinking, fighting and tattooing (Iggy certainly would approve). It's also decidedly un-Eugene, which is exactly how the Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers want it.
"Back in the day, kids in our high school would be like, 'God, the Soldiers suck. They're never going to get signed,' " Larson-Xu said. "And now that we did, they all pretend like they supported us. But we knew everybody thought we sucked. Now they're all supportive and crap. Do I sound arrogant? Are we tooting our own horn? Good.
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