By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
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But what doesn't make sense, and what's strangely missing from most stories you'll read about the band, is what was going on before their 369 days.
"I don't think they have anything to be ashamed of," says Lit friend and Vegas compadre Craig Reinhardt, when asked about Razzle, the cheesy metal-riffic Sunset Strip band that preceded Stain. You will hear these exact words from no less than four Lit camp members, leaving you to wonder: What's there to be ashamed of? In the wake of record credit-card debt, blow, the S&L scandal, and jelly shoes, bloated butt-rock is probably the least heinous artifact of the 1980s.
You quickly get the feeling the subject is forbidden. You look for a way in. But lo! Opportunity knocks!
"Hey, look, Jeremy," you say, poking Jeremy and pointing to a sign that reads, "Razzleberry's."
"Oh, yeah," says Jeremy noncommitally.
Kevin swoops in. "I had some pie the other day. Guess what flavor it was? Razzleberry!"
Consider In-Pursuit-of-Razzle-Take-One to be a raging flop.
Jeremy Popoff, eldest son of a radio-DJ father, attended Anaheim's Cypress High School for three years "and then every other school for the rest of [hislast] year," ultimately getting his diploma through independent study. "I felt like I was wasting my time at school because they weren't teaching me how to be in a rock band, and that's all I really cared about," he says.
At 15, he joined a band called Dreams, which he describes as "Cheap Trick meets Blondie or something" but which you've heard was vaguely cheese-pop-metal. Meanwhile, younger brother A.Jay had begun jamming with junior-high friend Kevin, high school friend Allan, and another friend from high school named Sean. It wasn't long before Jeremy left Dreams to join his kid brother.
"I was kind of involved with them just because they were my friends and A.Jay's my brother," he recalls. "At one point—this is probably '87—I sort of bailed on what I was doing and started playing with those guys, and that's how it started. Razzle's the name that A.Jay and Kevin came up with."
(A word or two on ages: you've been told that Jeremy and Kevin are 27, A.Jay is 25, and Allen is 29. Perhaps this is true, but you just have this gut feeling that it's not. Jeremy says he joined Dreams at 15 and that he left that band and joined Razzle in '87, which, if he's truly 27 now, would also be when he was 15. Plus, Lit's close friend Steve Lynch, drummer of Burnin' Groove, who used to play shows with Lit, says in passing, "Jeremy's a little older than the rest. He's like the older brother." Oh, what a tangled web!)
According to Jeremy, Razzle quickly built a following through "hardcore guerrilla promotion." "Within a year, Razzle was probably one of the top-drawing bands on the Strip," he says. "We'd sell out the Roxy and the Whiskey and Gazzaris. Every time we'd play, it would be sold-out early.
"We were making money," Jeremy adds. "We'd walk out of there with a couple of thousand bucks, and back then, that was pretty insane."
In defense of ridiculous clothes and hair ("Their hair was, like, all one length and looking really healthy and nice," Club 369 promoter Randy Cash is quick to tell you), remember that this was the late '80s, and the music climate was, well, different. Sebastian Bach—Skid Row's skinny, doe-eyed, longhaired, leather-panted front man—was the reigning sex symbol. Bon Jovi was selling 20 million records. Orange County didn't have nearly as many clubs or the reputation that brought the industry to those clubs. Bands that wanted to make it played the Sunset Strip, and most young bands that wanted to play the Sunset Strip had to buy a chunk of tickets and sell them themselves—a practice known as pay-to-play.
"We'd have friends' bands that called it pay-to-play, but we were so good at promotion and had such a good following that we didn't even have to push our tickets. They'd just sit in a pile, and usually by a week before the show, they were long sold-out," says Jeremy.
Still, to struggling bands, pay-to-play was seen as a method of ensuring survival of the richest, not the most talented. Bands that did it were often resented, though Jeremy never says so.
What he does say is that the Sunset Strip scene grew old. In 1993, Razzle—now with hed(pe)'s Chadd (now Chizad) playing second guitar—decided to start over. "For the last year of Razzle, we were feeling like we had sort of outgrown what we were doing. I mean, not the music—the music was always changing and growing—but just playing the Strip and having that whole group of fans, and I don't know," he says, his voice trailing off. "There was just something about it that we weren't stoked on." So the four musicians (they parted ways amicably with Chadd) called it quits for six to eight months and re-emerged with a whole new bag: Stain.
"They came to me, and they had this demo tape, and they said, 'We really want to get going. We want to make this club our home,'" says Cash.