“In that they were ‘arguably’ the best American rock ’n roll band of the ’90s, it is safe to say that the Rock*A*Teens were also the most underrated American rock ’n roll band of the ’90s.” – Dan Bejar, Destroyer
Rock*A*Teens fans have had a lot to be thankful for of late. First up was the announcement their label, Merge, had plans to reissue the band’s fifth and final LP, Sweet Bird Of Youth on vinyl for the first time…but the real kicker was the news that a tour was on the horizon – their first in a dozen years. Which brings us here. This coming weekend finds the band gigging in their native Atlanta (June 6 & 7 at the Earl) with one of our favorite locals supporting – Carnivores. As such, we asked Carnivores’ Philip Frobos to sit down with Rock*A*Teens’ Chris Lopez at Argosy in east Atlanta. Their conversation after the jump…
Aquarium Drunkard: What was the spark that brought the Rock*A*Teens back?
Chris Lopez: Lots of people every year who are always like “is this the year??” Mac (Merge Records) just called and said ‘its the 25th anniversary (of Merge)’ and I finally said ‘yeah, fuck, it sounds like fun’. And because it’s the anniversary they are re-releasing a bunch of their catalog and they wanted to release Sweet Bird of Youth on vinyl so I was like ‘well we gotta get back together then’,… the whole thing was to play at their festival so we figured why not play a few more shows.”
AD: That’s cool that they’re the kinda label that doesn’t get totally caught up in their current Arcade Fire’s and still remembers the releases they enjoy.
Chris Lopez: They’re still total music fans, incredible people.
AD: So I guess the reunion has nothing to do with money then….
Chris Lopez: Ha…There is no money! There never was, and there never will be!
AD: What’s the last tour memory y’all have previous to the reunion?
Chris Lopez: “November Rain”, in the van blasting in Philly on South St. wondering “when are we ever gonna get outta here!” We played a show and we were stuck because it’s like spring break there on the weekends, people puking everywhere, traffic moving in reverse. As soon as I grabbed the last of our gear in the van some guy walks up and pukes in that exact spot. “in the cold November rain”.
AD: How was your relationship with Merge?
Chris Lopez: It was very casual – “oh you can’t do this, don’t do that,” absolutely not, Merge didn’t give a shit. We were an autonomous group. We made a record and they were like “yes we’ll put it out.” Nobody signed anything.
AD: That’s fantastic, so nobody signed anything….
Chris Lopez: Absolutely not. It was the total proverbial handshake. We make the records, they put them out, that’s it. There was no “biz” part about it, they said “we wanna put out a record that you made” so we obliged.
AD: Is there any talk of reissuing Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall (1998 Merge) or Golden Time (1999 Merge)?
Chris Lopez: Haven’t heard. Mac alluded to maybe reissuing Cry (1997 Daemon Records). But I’ve been talking to Chris Green and its kinda tied up in some distribution thing.
AD: Does Daemon Records put out new things? Are they from Atlanta?
Chris Lopez: It’s Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls label, I don’t think they release records anymore. Amy’s one of the coolest.
AD: I see you guys are playing some shows in NY, are you excited?
Chris Lopez: Yeah, we are excited, some place called Glasslands. I haven’t been to NY in a long time.
Will Sheff from (Okkervil River) is gonna open the show. They are big fans of the band. I was doing this interview last night and they were like “this person and this person and this person and this person all really love your band, how come your band wasn’t bigger??!
I don’t know dude.
AD: Yeah, whats the problem man? What happened?
Chris Lopez: It is flattering that other people in bands might like yours because they may understand you a little better.
AD: I definitely feel like one of the more rewarding things of being in a band for me is learning that people we respect dig Carnivore’s music – “successful career” or not.
Chris Lopez: At least you guys went to Europe, we never did! But really its just like the old Keith Richards quote, ya know like I listened to this music, made this music, then inspired this person make this music….just passing it along. Generation to generation, they don’t have to be fancy or anything. If there’s someone who writes songs and shit, and you like it, then someone comes to me and says they like the Rock*A*Teens, there’s no pile of gold that can beat that.
AD: Yeah, it’s an awesome process, I remember meeting you when I was 22, it was strange to meet the voice on Golden Time that I loved as a teenager.
Chris Lopez: How old are you now?
AD: 26, 27 in September.
Chris Lopez: You make me wanna puke.
AD: ha…having written records and toured for the last 5 years, the process becomes a little tiring to do the same thing over & over again yielding not many results. I’m trying not to be too negative, we’ve released 3 records in this time, you guys did 6, was it hard?
Chris Lopez: We never played to anybody, unless we were playing with somebody. Nobody knew who we were, nobody cared. DEATH MARCHES across the country. I mean we had some good times. The best show I can think of was to like 20 people in NY at some place called like North 6th, the guys who ran the place was like “holy shit that was the best show we’ve ever seen, you guys gotta come back”, and I was like I don’t think we can ever come back. Oh, also we always had good shows at the Hideout in Chicago.
Our booking agent would be “let’s book you guys a show in Arizona or El Paso…” and we would roll up and it would be at a storage facility. There were several times where we drove away from shows like “this is not for us”.
AD: That’s crazy at the time cause there wasn’t the whole myspace/facebook/DIY Internet crowd, I wonder if your agent had some kind of a DIY teenage storage facility call list.
Chris Lopez: ….and I mean we were a lot older than that kinda scene, A LOT older. We were in our thirties, not seventeen, it’s not like a whole new world, shiny crystal kinda thing. You roll up and you are like this is gonna be a shitty thing. “How shitty is gonna be? Is it gonna be REALLY shitty or not too shitty? Ah, it’s gonna be pretty shitty, what would you rather do? Well lets go like watch cable TV and drink beer at a motel, and everybody’s like “YES!”
I felt bad when we drove off from that, for a second, those kids were all staring at us, we drove right by and there was nobody else in cars. It was weird looking. If we would’ve stepped outta that van it would have gotten even weirder. It was like a total generational thing happening there. They are not gonna dig what we do, AT ALL. We were probably like their one shining hope and we were like “drop it into gear, vote wins for twelve pack and cable TV.”
AD: When did you start getting into music?
Chris Lopez: Complete obsession from when I was very very young. My friend in the 3rd grade, down the street, had a drum set and guitar. His parents were really young too, like in their twenties, his aunt would come over and she was like 16. They used to watch us pantomime to songs.
I dicked around when I was in high school and finally started playing things in my 20s, I started making up my own little ditties to the TV, then something would spark.
PF: Were you guys an ambitious band?
Chris Lopez: I have pretty low self esteem but I was always been confident in the music. It was pretty apparent at the beginning, ya know whatever was going on in the 90s, I mean I’m not fucking Rufus Wainwright, I can’t fucking sing, I just yell. Influences on the band are like Pussy Galore and George Jones and Judy Garland. We just did what we did. That’s what it sounds like, you can’t argue with that.
AD: Are there any young bands you are into?
Chris Lopez: I don’t know if I can comment on that, you just get bombarded with stuff these days, I can’t keep up with it. I’ve been into Lykke Li. I love her, her songs are kind of like Motown or some kind of 60s thing, but kinda not. But I’ve been listening to her a lot lately, I don’t know why.
This interviewer was asking me “well don’t you think your band and The Walkmen were kinda doing the same thing, do you think they were influenced by you?” I was like, I don’t think so, probably just two things happening at the same time like they do. We played some shows with them early on, they were pretty good.
A lot of modern music sounds the same. I’m like one of those dorks who looks for old YouTube videos of Elvis Costello on the Tomorrow Show playing “Man Out Of Time” or some shit like that. Or like 80s punk shit, or really poorly recorded videos of the Touch and Go bands, or what was that label out of Minneapolis that had all those disgusting bands…
AD: Amphetamine Reptile?
Chris Lopez: Yeah! Ihat’s shit, that’s what I do in my spare time. They put out some Cows, Melvins, and Helmet.
I wish I could be more artful with you, and be like “Yes, Philip, I’m listening to the new Panda Bear that’s not even released yet, he sent it to me as a file on the Internet and I’m listening to on my phone.”
AD: Did you watch True Detective? Are you a Rust or Marty?
Chris Lopez: Yes, I did! Loved it, little disappointed with the ending. I latched onto Matthew McConaughey’s existential angst, I could really relate to his character. I was not Woody Harrelson AT ALL. I was Rust. “I’m gonna need these beers, Thursdays the day that I drink. That’s why I drink by myself, I don’t wanna bother people with my stuff…”
AD: Will Rock*A*Teens be playing a pretty expansive set?
Chris Lopez: Oh yeah, from the first record all the way up to that EP (Noon Under The Trees, 2001). We are trying to learn like 30 songs so each show can be unique. Its a lot of “I have no recollection of recording that or singing that, some I’m gonna have to find a way to transcribe this.”
AD: Any plans after the shows you have booked?
Chris Lopez: We still wanna come to Chicago! Its gonna be hard to make it to the west coast. Its hard, we’ve all got lives and children, ya know.
AD: Well, we are very honored and excited to be playing with you guys in Atlanta.
Chris Lopez: That’s gonna fun as shit, it will be a great night, I’m really looking forward to it!