DIY or Die

The BellRays maximum rock

"You read all these things about how to get into the music industry, how they tell bands that you've got to have a great-sounding demo, that it's gotta sound a certain way," she says. "Our album has broken all those rules. People from all over the world have sent us e-mail thanking us for Let It Blast. It's honest, good rock & roll, and I don't think sound quality matters. I think that's something the industry has pushed on everybody, where they think that everything's got to sound slick and has to be up to their standards. . . ."

Fate cuts in. "But they're cranking out so much crap they've got to have it sounding really slick so people won't notice how crappy all the songs are," he says. "The industry has just pushed the idea that you have to have a certain technology to be at this level or you can't gain acceptance."

This is the part where you enter the realm of the Militant BellRays, when their healthy suspicion and flat-out disdain for the record-industry machine is in full effect, where you're reminded that before "indie" got co-opted by conglomerates (just as "alternative" did before), the word meant independent.

The BellRays say they would like more than anything to see the music reclaimed from the clutches of label marketing and A&R departments, and they are also wise enough to know that if they ever signed a deal, it would almost certainly entail a potentially fatal level of creative compromise.

On this matter, they say they will not give in, their reasons ranging from artistic freedom to cold cash.

"We've had labels call," says Kekaula, "but getting signed to a major is not what we're doing this for. And I think that's another thing that makes us stand out, that we will not compromise."

They say they aren't about to sign any deal unless they can walk away with a contract that's worth more than the 10 percent to 15 percent the standard industry contract offers.

"We're doing all the work," Kekaula points out. "All somebody else is doing is putting up the money to package and move this product. We've done all the market analysis ourselves by getting our asses out there and selling it, and then they're gonna tell us that all they'll give us is 15 percent? You'd have to be an idiot—in any business—to jump into that."

Vennum chimes in. "We're the band that says no, while all the other bands say yes. They're the ones who'll do what everybody else does and do what everybody tells them to do, who kiss ass and are afraid to be independent. They think they've got to be connected to something, like a label or a scene. It's like a game, and they think that playing it is important when it's not. It's just being true to yourself, not having someone else dictate what it is you should be doing. If you're doing any kind of art at all, you shouldn't be looking for fans; they should come to you."

Kekaula lets out a deep sigh. Closingtime at Spires—the waitress comes around and sternly asks us to pay the bill. The cleaning crew is here, and someone's pushing a pissed-off-sounding vacuum around.

Kekaula restarts herself. "The BellRays aren't here to change the world, just the part we live in. But I have faith—we're gonna sell a million records."

When Kekaula tells you this, you want to laugh, but the silence and seriousness of the other band members seated around the table tell you that you'd better not. Then Kekaula flashes you a glare that's just as intense and ball-breaking as the persona she projects onstage.

"If we gotta sell 'em one at a time, we're gonna sell a million records," she says. "We ARE. It's not just an attitude; it is a FACT."

The BellRays play with the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs and Midnite Rapture at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-6634. Fri., 9 p.m. $7. 21+.
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