Jeff Pezzati, from Naked Raygun to The Bomb
On the anonymity of new bands and the “Chicago Sound”
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In the annals of the Chicago rock history, particularly in any discussion of its punk scene, few bands’ legacies loom larger than Naked Raygun. During the ’80s, Naked Raygun helped create the style of melodic punk that would define the genre in years to come. The group’s songs were powerful and catchy, but not blatantly poppy, and topped by vocalist Jeff Pezzati’s voice (and its unmistakable “whoa-oh’s”). Pezzati kept a low profile after the group split in 1991, but he re-emerged in 1999 with The Bomb. At its inception, the group emulated bands like The Jam more than Naked Raygun, which puzzled some fans. It may also help explain why, despite Naked Raygun’s prominent legacy, The Bomb has never caught on as expected. But the group’s powerful new album, Indecision, could change that. The album shows a striking return to form for Pezzati; its opening track “Up From The Floor” holds its own against anything his old band did, which should please fans confused by The Bomb’s earlier work. Before Indecision’s release, Pezzati spoke with The A.V. Club about The Bomb’s relative anonymity, the “Chicago Sound,” and his place in it.
The A.V. Club: The press material for Indecision says that you’ve “reinvented” The Bomb for this album. What does that mean?
Jeff Pezzati: Basically, a couple guys and I had a falling out, the drummer and the bass player, so we replaced them with two guys from The Methadones on a permanent basis. Mike Soucy [drummer] and Pete Middler [bassist] are not only filling in, but they’re permanent members. We had Jeff Dean [guitarist] for a while, but from the first record, it’s a whole new lineup.
AVC: You released The Bomb’s other albums on your own label. What made you decide to work with Thick for this one?
JP: I thought I could start a label and thought I would have time to do it, but it turns out it required a lot more dedication and time than I can afford to give it. I released a couple of Returnables records, a Matics record, the Green album, and split a 7-inch with Mexican Cheerleader and Shattered Angel. It was really biting off way more than I can chew in that respect, so I’ve been trying to divest myself of any future records on the label to finish off what I have and finish it as strong as I can. I’d like to try to move all those bands’ next projects to bigger and better things. Thick was very interested in The Bomb records, so we went with them, and thing have been really great so far.
AVC: You haven’t really done a lot of touring with The Bomb. Is it just tough to arrange schedules?
JP: Yeah, that and laziness. It seems like the live shows, compared to what I used to be around with any other band in the past, money’s gotten really, really bad. People expect me to play for $35, and that’s not unheard of, you know? We always used to at least break even on our crappy hotel room and gas the next day and to eat. We get $200-$300, and people think it’s a pretty darn good deal these days, which is too bad. But I think it’s because a lot more bands are coming through, and they don’t have to offer them anything.
AVC: So it’s like a promoters’ market?
JP: There’s a lot of bands touring who probably shouldn’t be. When I used to go to the Fireside Bowl a lot, I would have to play with bands all the time, and I would think, “This is a band from Kansas City, or even California, and they have no business touring. They’re just not good enough. Go bother your local crowds for a couple more years.” God bless these kids for getting out there and on the road and everything; being part of the scene is good, but a lot of them are just repetitious of the band that was on stage before.
AVC: How does it compare now that you’ve been playing these types of shows for a really long time?
JP: There are a lot more bands—lots, lots, and lots more bands—and there seems to be a lot more venues, too. Back a long time ago, there were just a couple places to play. Back then it was kind of dangerous; you would walk down the street with a leather jacket, looking like the Ramones used to look, and people would stop next to you, roll down their window and scream at you. Guys who looked like Tom Petty and that were just all pissed off about the whole thing, so it was a little bit edgy. When you did go to a town, people would appreciate the fact that you’re doing that kind of music and you were the few doing it, so you got more of a devout following. These days, it’s a lot of expected apathy because it’s pretty much the norm to hear a lot of music being played like it is today—a lot of bands, which is good, a lot of bands could come out of this. There is a lot of good music being made, but I think there’s a lot of very plain music being made.
AVC: The Bomb has always played Naked Raygun songs in its set—so you don’t feel weird about that?
JP: Yeah, I’m happy to play those songs anytime. I wish we would learn more of the good ones. These guys want to be more obscure, actually. “Home Of The Brave” and “Rat Patrol” I’d like to play, actually. We’re going to try to work up some more songs for a town other than Chicago, where they actually expect me to play those songs.
AVC: Was that something you decided early on, that you would play those songs?
JP: I never had a problem with it…The other guys in the band before really wanted to steer away from it and create a whole thing that could stand on its own, which it was gonna anyway, but they were sweating it a little more.
AVC: With all the reunion fever going on, have you considered doing another Naked Raygun reunion?
JP: We did one in 1997. People ask me all the time, but I haven’t talked to those other guys about it at all. I’m not really working on one or pushing for or against one, I’m just out there doing what I do.
AVC: What are crowds like at Bomb shows?
JP: Some people still don’t get the word out that I’m in a new band. Every time we play a place, no matter six years ago or now, they still say, “Wow, I didn’t know you were in a band.” [Laughs.] It’s so hard to get the word out. I don’t do a lot of self-promoting but... The crowds are good when we play with bands that draw a little bit; they seem to come to see both bands. But when we play by ourselves, though, Chicago is a little sparse, actually.
AVC: Do you think it’s because you haven’t been able to get the word out?
JP: There was a long time between CDs, so that doesn’t help, and we changed a lot of members, so that didn’t help, and some people don’t know what direction we’re going in, so maybe that bothers some people. It doesn’t really bother me. I’ll always play for whoever’s there.
AVC: That doesn’t frustrate you?
JP: No, I could really care less. Maybe that’s a bad attitude, but that’s the attitude I’ve had since starting music. You just play it, if people enjoy it they’ll come see it, if they don’t, then they won’t be there.