With their ninth album, Live From Camp X-Ray, Rocket From the Crypt's obsessions have turned from rock, whiskey and sex to rock, whiskey and what-the-fuck-is-happening-to-the-world?
Evidence can be found behind the barbed wire of the real Camp X-Ray, where alleged al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists are being held at a U.S. military prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The album is about the fear of living in a post-Sept. 11 world, where every innocent is burdened by the knowledge that the cowboy decisions of their nation's leaders may result in a very grisly death. At least that seems to be a good explanation of a line like "protect me from politics" from the manic, driving X-Ray track "Outsider."
But they don't push their anguish further. In fact, Rocket saxophonist Apollo 9 (born Paul O'Berine) stressed his band will never pull an Eddie Vedder, where the Pearl Jam front man protested Gulf War II by impaling a George W. mask on a mic stand during an encore a couple of weeks ago. Vedder's display was greeted by great howls of protest from a sea of conservative muckamucks. Instead, folks like Apollo 9 would rather keep driving down the middle of the road.
"I still think our foreign policy sucks," says Apollo. "But it's not my place to say so in a rock song. I'm not sure that [lead singer] Speedo was putting too much opinion into X-Ray; he was just stating different points of view. Rock music doesn't have an effect on world politics. If that was the case, the Clash would have changed the world 20 years ago." Instead, the anxiety of Sept. 11 seeps into our culture. "I don't think it's just politics we're questioning now. It's questioning arts and entertainment, sports, everything in life."
So does this disillusionment mean that Rocket are going to shave their hair off and turn into chanting Krishnas? No way. Their regimen is still a healthy one, of pedal-to-the-metal punk rock packed with Stax Records-style horns, plus a lot of great jokes. In fact, you could say Rocket were doing the angry garage-punk thing—even the silly matching-outfit shtick—way before the Hives, the White Stripes and a bunch of other bands did.
Though Rocket have received consistent critical praise, they've never reaped great commercial success. Camp X-Ray has sold just 20,000 copies since it was released last year. Dismal sales figures were part of the reason the band parted ways with mega-label Interscope in 2001 and jumped to up-and-coming indie imprint Vagrant. Even more frustrating was that they couldn't totally escape their old label—Interscope bought 49 percent of Vagrant last year, and they distribute many of Vagrant's artists. But Rocket's not trucking with their old employer: Camp X-Ray is instead distributed by TVT Records.
"A record label isn't going to break this thing up," says Apollo. "They don't have a say in our lives. And we wanted to keep doing it—what else are we going to do, work at Blimpies? We're a rock & roll band; that's what we do best. This is a locomotive that keeps going, whether we have to prove it or not. We rocked hard before, and we rock hard now."
Rocket From the Crypt perform with the Spits at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067. Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. $13. All ages.
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