Charles Rowell of Crocodiles
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Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell formed Crocodiles just a couple of years back, but the multi-instrumentalists have been in musical collusion for more than a decade. The duo was once part of experimental punk act The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower; today, the San Diegoans craft poppy post-punk that coats divine melodies in layers of feedback and reverb. Last September, Crocodiles released Sleep Forever, a sophomore record haunted by the specter of death.
Aside from its title and a cover featuring children surrounding an open grave, Sleep Forever includes crucifixion, crumbling skyscrapers, the sun burning out, being “Stoned To Death,” and loads of other macabre lyrical images. This Saturday, Jan. 22, Crocodiles (who’ve been touring with an expanded lineup) play Larimer Lounge with Overcasters and Hearts In Space. Before the show, The A.V. Club spoke to Rowell about The Jesus And Mary Chain, what he learned from sharing a pipe with a homeless person, and life after (writing about) death.
The A.V. Club: How do you feel about the thematic importance of death on Sleep Forever? Where do you want Crocodiles to go from here?
Charles Rowell: It wasn’t something that was at the forefront when we were recording and writing. I suppose it takes an outside listener to pick up on that sort of stuff, because for us, it’s just about our personal lives. It just happened to be that we were dealing with family loss and friends passing away. It’s there, but it’s not a shtick or anything. I’m 100 percent sure that the next album will have nothing to do with death, because we’re in a different place now. We’re feeling really relaxed and enjoying some sort of intangible freedom. I don’t know what [the next record is] going to sound like. It could be Harry Nilsson, it could be Captain Beefheart.
AVC: Is there any relationship between “I Wanna Kill,” a song on Summer Of Hate, Crocodiles’ first album, and the reoccurring theme of death on Sleep Forever?
CR: “I Wanna Kill” was a fictional story conjured up by Brandon [Welchez]—basically, like a short story poem. “Sleep Forever,” the song, is actually quite positive. That’s just about love. There’s no relation between the two. “I Wanna Kill” is just one of the first songs we wrote, and Sleep Forever just seemed to be the right title to sum up the album.
AVC: More often than not, reading press about Crocodiles means seeing comparisons to The Jesus And Mary Chain pop up. Do you see a major link between the two bands?
CR: No, not at all. People tend to forget that what we’re influenced by is probably what Jesus And Mary Chain were influenced by. We share a common love of certain sounds and songwriting styles. We’re not influenced by Jesus And Mary Chain. We don’t sit in the studio, or write songs, and reference parts of their albums or anything like that. More so now than ever, Brandon and I write songs that are completely his and my own vision, but because we like feedback and loud guitars and reverb, it’s said that we sound like Jesus And Mary Chain.
AVC: Who are you thinking of when you say that the bands share influences?
CR: Definitely Velvet Underground, obviously. That’s probably the greatest American band ever. [Also] Bo Diddley, the things that Bo Diddley did with instrumentation and for rock music; Phil Spector; Joe Meek; the groups [where] the songs and the production are undeniable. They’re basically tools to be learned and taken in whatever direction you want. It cheapens what musicians and artists work hard at doing and make a life out of when people tag ’em as whatever—a Jesus And Mary Chain influence, or something derivative. It’s generally pretty clear when a group comes out that doesn’t know their musical history. I think that we do.
AVC: Many critics have also pointed out that Sleep Forever emphasizes melody, while Summer Of Hate was about noise. Was that shift conscious?
CR: There’s nothing conscious about it. I can’t really describe how Brandon and I work together. We show up each day at each other’s houses, and whatever we start playing just comes out. We love all kinds of music, and him and I have maybe never written a doo-wop song together, or a song that’s just acoustic guitar. We’re trying to exercise our musical muscle and see what kind of songs we can write. We’ve spent a long time making a lot of cacophonous noise, and there are plenty of attributes to those songs we made, and we still try to apply them to songs like “Billy Speed” or “Mirrors.” But we’re just trying to make the music that’s inside of our heads. If it’s more melodic this year, then it’s more melodic, but who knows. We’ve always wanted to make an album that’s all drone. Until we can get the freedom to create an album that’s all drone, we’ll make whatever else is going on.
AVC: When that free EP, Fires Of Comparison, came out last fall, there was a press release floating around that mentioned that there were no vocals because you and Brandon got strep throat from smoking a pipe with a hobo in San Diego. Is there more to that story?
CR: No, that pretty much sums it up. We played with fire and got burned. [Laughs.]