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Feels Like Home
John Reis is among familiar faces with latest project the Night Marchers
John Reis is no stranger to swagger. The man has been not only the front man of Rocket From the Crypt and the Sultans, but a firebrand guitarist in seminal bands Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes. He also runs San Diego’s fiercely tasteful Swami Records and hosts a weekly show on the city’s rock station KBZT. After more than 20 years in music, Reis has lost none of his seedy drive or vintage garage stomp, as proven by his current outfit, the Night Marchers.
Spitting out Stones-y rock in his abrasive scrape of a voice, Reis leads the quartet through ribald, morbid tunes with names like “Open Your Legs” and “I Wanna Deadbeat You,” both from last year’s debut, See You In Magic, co-released on Vagrant and Swami.
“I really like a lot of classic themes in rock & roll,” explains Reis in his laid-back rasp. “I like singing about the same things Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis sang about, but filtering them through this Cro-Magnon, Southern California hodad that spends a lot of time looking for shells on the beach. I take those perspectives and collide them because that’s who I am.”
Whether or not he’s being a bit hard on himself, the album blisters with garage nuggets assembled from equal parts past and present. Even with its sinister tales of sex and bloodshed, See You In Magic pulls out charmers with the unabashed pop melodies of “Jump In the Fire”, the urgent soul strut “Whose Lady R U?,” the tingly ballad “Panther In Crime” and the downright huggable hook of “We’re Going Down.” Still, longtime Reis fans will relish the slow burn of “You’ve Got Nerve” and hothouse swelter of “And I Keep Holding On.”
The Night Marchers’ instant success owes much to the familiarity coursing between the players. In fact, the band features three-quarters of the original Hot Snakes lineup: besides Reis, there’s guitarist Gar Wood (who played bass in Hot Snakes) and initial drummer Jason Kourkounis. The only newcomer is bassist Tommy Kitsos, but even his old band, the CPC Gangbangs, released their only album on Swami. Kourkounis is based in Philadelphia, but the Night Marchers have the worn-in feel of a family band.
“These are not only good friends,” says Reis, “but the best people I know in terms of their ability to play their instruments and collaborate with.” Despite the difficulties of getting everyone together to record, he’s psyched on the material that’s already been amassed for the second album, calling it “a collection of spastic reactions.”
“It might not be as cohesive as the first,” he concedes, “but what we have so far is a lot more blunt.”
Reis’ confidence comes in part from how many passes he takes at songs. See You In Magic was recorded three different times: once by himself, once with the band at home, and once with the band in a studio. “It helps,” he admits, “knowing what’s going to happen. If you leave everything up to happy coincidences, you’re not giving yourself many opportunities for cool stuff to happen. You have to create your own luck in the studio by being as prepared as possible. Once you know what you want, you can be a little more aggressive.”
He’s less assured when it comes to the state of Swami, which hasn’t released an album since 2006.
“I didn’t think I was gonna do any more,” he confides, “because I couldn’t afford to. I put out a lot of records in one year and lost a bunch of money.” What he loves about the label, Reis claims, is helping young bands and reissuing lost classics, not pushing product or focusing on being Internet-savvy. “So I stopped putting out records.”
Luckily, he changed his mind, and Swami is about to release the self-titled debut from Mariachi El Bronx, a Mexican-inspired guise of LA’s the Bronx. Reis is also prepping a Hot Snakes live album and DVD, as well as a third tour-only Night Marchers single. And the band’s second album may be released solely by Swami. Until then, the Marchers are touring plenty. Aside from a six-date stint with Modest Mouse, which kicks off at the Grove of Anaheim, the band will be at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach on Oct. 30, the night before Reis’ favorite day of the year.
“I always like to play,” he says.
The Night Marchers with Modest Mouse at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700; www.thegroveofanaheimcom. Sat., 7 p.m. $35. All ages.