Rocket from the Crypt
Rocket from the Crypt
The fact that Rocket from the Crypt played punk rock in the early 1990s wasn't exactly revolutionary: punk rock was practically old news on the West Coast scene by 1990. But the group's founder and lead vocalist, Speedo, was determined to build a different kind of punk band. Inspired by listening to old Stax 45s, Speedo decided to radicalize punk's musical approach by adding horns to the Rocket lineup. The results allowed the little-known San Diego band to move to the forefront of innovators in a market increasingly receptive to alternative rock. Although Rocket from the Crypt would eventually sign with a major label and have a successful video on MTV, mainstream success eluded the band through the remainder of the decade. The band nonetheless continued to build on its innovative sound and win accolades for its live performances. "Rocket from the Crypt," wrote Jim Cummer in the book MusicHound Rock, "is a band that abuses rock clichés by masterfully blending punk energy with mainstream accessibility."
Rocket from the Crypt was formed in San Diego, California, in 1990, out of the ashes of a band called Pitchfork. Speedo joined with guitarist N.D., bassist Petey X, and vocalist Elaina. The band quickly recorded its first album, Paint as a Fragrance, in 1991, and while the album was well received, the new band had already started to fragment. Both Elaina and drummer Sean, who had helped found the group, departed, leaving the three remaining members to pick up the pieces. Speedo, bored with the overly familiar guitar/bass/drum setup of the typical punk band, took advantage of the departures to bring saxophonist Apollo 9 on board. With the addition of drummer Atom, the band went on the road in the fall of 1991.
By the end of 1991 Rocket from the Crypt had integrated its new members and returned to the studio to probe new possibilities. Their D.I.Y. (do it yourself) mentality, however, assured that the band would never commit to one style or to the usual method of releasing material. Some recordings were straightforward rock, while others were more experimental. Their recordings were released as seven-inch singles at a rate of one per month, and the more economical singles proved the right approach in the face of the early 1990s recession. Before the year's end, though, they would also complete their second album on the Headhunter label. Circa: Now! was recorded in 1992 in Los Angeles, during the same time that riots, following the Rodney King verdict, were causing anarchy in the city streets. The band shut themselves in their studio and developed a handful of good old-fashioned rock songs. "Never content to play their punk rock by the book," wrote Tim Sendra in All Music Guide, "the band uses dynamics, songcraft, and the sax of Apollo 9 to add texture and power to their rock hard guitar-bass-drums foundation." Circa: Now! was well received, and major record labels began to court Rocket from the Crypt.
At the end of 1992 the band signed with Interscope. The following year Interscope reissued Circa: Now!, and the single "Ditch Digger" received airplay on MTV. In 1993 Speedo expanded the band's sound once again by adding J.C. 2000, a 20-year-old trumpet player. With a new label, television exposure, and a tighter sound, many expected Rocket from the Crypt to find mainstream success in 1994. Instead, the band went on hiatus while Speedo recorded and toured with his second band, Drive Like Jehu. In 1995, however, Rocket from the Crypt busied themselves in the studio once again, releasing more singles, EPs, and finally a new album, Scream, Dracula, Scream!, on Interscope. "It's their first major album," noted Bruno Tersago in Ultra, "and the band has proven in an excellent way that they can keep their credibility and be commercial (with their mix of punk, garage rock and Beach Boys-like backing vocals) at the same time." Scream, Dracula, Scream! reached number one on the college charts, and the band toured to support the album in the fall.
One of the oddest chapters in Rocket from the Crypt's history was the band's 1995 tour. Whereas many bands offer platitudes about "giving back" to their fans, Speedo decided to do just that. Timed simultaneously with the release of the Hot Charity EP, Rocket from the Crypt embarked on a "Free Charity" tour, which meant that fans would be allowed to see any show on the tour free of charge. Hot Charity was also the band's first release on their own label, Perfect Sound. "Hot Charity smokes from the start," wrote Ned Raggett in All Music Guide, "and takes special care not to let up." Unfortunately, however, only 5,000 copies of the album were released on vinyl. In another promotional move coinciding with the release of the EP Tattoo, the band promised free admission to any Rocket from the Crypt performance for life for any fan who had a rocket tattooed on his or her body.
For the Record . . .
Members include Apollo 9 , saxophone; Atom (left group, 2000), drums; J.C. 2000 (joined group, 1995), trumpet; N.D. , guitar; Petey X , bass; Ruby Mars (joined group, 2000), drums; Speedo (born John Reis), vocals, guitar.
Group formed in San Diego, CA, 1990; signed to Interscope Records, 1992; conducted free concert series, 1995; left Interscope, 2000; signed to Vagrant Records and released Group Sounds, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—Vagrant Records, 2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403, website: http://www.vagrant.com/. Website—Rocket from the Crypt Official Website: http://www.rftc.com.
Rocket from the Crypt continued to tour in 1996-97, but did not release a new full-length album until 1998. Once again the band was willing to move out in new directions by bringing outside producer Kevin Shirley to the project. Although the album was well received, the band faced both internal and external pressures over the next two years. The band was unhappy with Interscope, and soon began a lengthy campaign to leave the label, and in 2000 drummer Atom left the group to pursue other interests. As in the past, however, Rocket from the Crypt quickly rallied. The band signed with a new record label, Vagrant, and hired drummer Ruby Mars to fill out the lineup. In 2001 the band released Group Sounds, and in 2002, Live From Camp X-Ray. "Ten years since Rocket's first full-length [album]," wrote Raggett, "the sextet still sounds like they're on a live wire with an endless power source."
Paint as a Fragrance, Headhunter, 1991.
Circa: Now!, Headhunter, 1992.
Scream, Dracula, Scream!, Interscope, 1995.
RFTC, Interscope, 1998.
Group Sounds, Vagrant, 2001.
Live from Camp X-Ray, TVT, 2002.
Walters, Neal and Brian Mansfield, editors, MusicHoundFolk, Visible Ink, 1998.
"Rocket from the Crypt," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (October 22, 2004).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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