Do. 28.06.07 / UNDERGROUND / 19.30
The BellRays AND Guitar Wolf
Have a Little Faith
For the BellRays, the title of their latest album, Have A Little Faith, is a command, an ultimatum even. “We need more fearlessness!” firebrand singer Lisa Kekaula declared last fall when the Southern California quartet appeared in front of the Washington Monument alongside acts like Thievery Corporation for the Operation Ceasefire concert. On this disc, The BellRays lead by example, barreling through an impassioned, genre-bashing 13-song set of “maximum rock and soul,” as they, in no uncertain terms, describe their sound.
In another era, the BellRays would be blasting out of car radios. Nowadays, they’re jump-starting car commercials, where cutting-edge bands seem to be getting more airplay than on your local FM station. For many listeners, their first exposure to the BellRays came from the Nissan Xterra commercial that featured the audacious vocals and killer guitar riffs of “Revolution Get Down,” from the foursome’s previous release, The Red White and Black. It’s fitting somehow that the group has been linked to the auto industry because their sound is often compared to the hard-edged, defiant, rock-meets-R&B sound of late sixties/early seventies Detroit and specifically to Motor City artists like the MC5 and the Stooges (though Kekaula is way more Aretha than Iggy). The BellRays do reference Detroit, but more philosophically than geographically. They evoke a time when rock and roll was as much catalyst as soundtrack.
“We can deliver live,” guitarist and primary songwriter Tony Fate declares. “We don’t go out and just play twelve hits, it’s a whole communal thing. Everybody has to give something. There has to be an energy exchange. It’s not like watching a TV show.”
“At our shows the age range is so wide,” Kekaula adds. “We have a good mix no matter where we go in our world. They come to see us because they all find something to believe in. And we’re not lying. It’s like when you’re talking to somebody, having a conversation. Sometimes you get more excited, sometimes you’re really laid back, sometimes you have love in your heart, and sometimes you’re angry. That’s what we used to expect from bands, to go through the whole emotional gamut.”
The band has connected directly with its progenitors. Kekaula toured Europe and the states with the surviving members of the MC5—Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson—on their much-heralded DKT/MC5 reunion, guest starring as lead vocalist. But the BellRays are no mere revivalists; what they do is neither designed to be ironic or imitative. They synthesize punk, R&B, funk and psychedelic rock with an undercurrent of gospel and the improvisational approach of jazz. As Fate explains, “We utilize a jazz sensibility for what we’re doing. That makes the songs change every night and brings a chance element to the picture.” The result is always in—and about—the moment.
As an NME reviewer once put it, “It could be 1968, 1977 or 1989, and HYPERLINK "http://www.nme.com/artists/197485.htm"The BellRays’ music could be burning out of a sweaty inner-city basement instead of floating off across deserted Brighton beach to the Channel. That they’re here and now is all that matters. This is music spiked with attitude, but—just as importantly—it’s music to dance to. And dammit, you will dance.” A reviewer from London’s tonier The Independent heartily concurred, calling the BellRays “some kind of dream combination: a belting soul singer backed by a tight punk-soul band...there’s nothing quite like them.” Gavin Martin, in London’s Daily Mirror described their show as “an intense, cathartic and mind-blowing experience.”
The BellRays have been working in the here and now for the last decade and a half, emphasizing commitment over concept, passion over pose. The group has its roots in Riverside, California, where guitarist Bob Vennum and singer Kekaula grew up. They recruited Fate, an Indiana native who’d moved to the west coast, from another band on the Inland Empire bar scene, and Vennum switched to bass to accommodate him. “When we got together,” recalled Vennum, “we played one song and realized this stuff was going to be really, really good.” They released their first album, the R&B-laden In the Light of the Sun, on their own do-it-yourself label, via cassette. When these sought-after songs were finally reissued on CD, Rolling Stone called the work “lightning in a bottle...a mighty exhilarating ride.” The BellRays went through several drummers before Craig Waters permanently took over the spot.
“If the BellRays can do anything for music,” Kekaula says, “it’s to dispel the idea that if you see a black singer that means she grew up singing gospel, she’s the soul element of a band that has white guys in it. Because that’s not the way it is. We’ve all got rock, we’ve all got soul, and all of us coming together to do that is what makes us sound the way we sound.”
American audiences lag behind their U.K. counterparts, who have enthusiastically embraced the authenticity of the BellRays sound ever since indie rock icon Alan McGee decided to release a compilation of their work, Meet The BellRays, four years ago on his Poptones label. Kekaula herself subsequently gained even greater notoriety over there after Basement Jaxx recruited her as a guest vocalist on “Good Luck,” the grab-you-by-the-balls opening cut of their Grammy-winning 2003 album Kish Kash. Kekaula has also collaborated with The Crystal Method, taking the lead on “High and Low” from the duo’s 2000 album Legion of Boom.
With the BellRays, seeing is absolutely believing. After witnessing a Chicago show, a reviewer from the Spendid e-zine admitted, “I was so taken by The BellRays that if I was told to march out into the street and stop a car with my head, I probably would have.” The Boston Globe praised “the incendiary wail of vocalist Lisa Kekaula...the scrawl of guitarist Tony Fate, and the throbbing finesse of bassist Bob Vennum...The BellRays sock it to even the most hallowed and impassioned musical traditions with their great, yowling inferno of rock and soul.” Fellow artists, like legendary Los Angelenos X and the reformed Pixies, totally get it and count themselves as BellRays fans; in fact, the Pixies chose them as the opening act for their recent tour.
For those who have yet to discover the BellRays, Have A Little Faith is the right place to start. Though the band used to produce their work collectively, Vennum alone took over the production of this disc. Despite the in-your-face immediacy of the tracks, the BellRays actually took more time and care in the studio than they’ve previously been afforded. As Vennum explains, “It helped to have a decent amount of time to make this record—to do something, listen to it, then get some distance from it. If you’re just cramming, trying to play a lot of stuff and just get it all done at once, you’re going to overlook some things and realize that you could have done them a whole lot better.”
Clearly, that’s not the case on Have A Little Faith. Fate composed the bulk of the tracks and shows off his range as a guitarist, taking the band well beyond just loud’n’fast. Vennum and Waters supply the propulsion; Kekaula brings the amazing pipes, along with a total conviction in every word she sings. The album opens with Fate employing his wah-wah pedal for an atmospheric Blaxsploitation-style intro to “Tell The Lie,” before Kekaula literally explodes onto the mike, making it clear that you will not be hearing any decorous neo-soul today. “Snotgun” has a punk rock pace, with a glint of metal around the edges; “Detroit Breakdown” is the MC5 side of Motown rock crossed with the Ramones. Conversely, “Have a Little Faith in Me” is a moody R&B number with understated strings and female backups that recalls Stories’ seventies AM hit “Brother Louie.” “Lost Disciples” and “Time Is Gone” have a more improvisatory feel, with sinuous guitar lines and undercurrents of percussion a la classic Santana or maybe the Stones when they’re in a “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” mood. “Third Time’s the Charm” is perhaps the most surprising of all, with an upbeat Stax-Volt vibe and a horn section providing a good-humored hook. On “Change the World,” Kekaula is at her most exhortative and inspiring, the embodiment of fearless: “I want to change the world/I want to change it right now/I want to make myself better/I want to tell the truth.”
The band’s honesty is not in question; it’s everyone else we’ve got to worry about. The BellRays are on a mission, and if you have a little faith they might just change your world. That’s one way to get the revolution started.
- GaragePunk'nRoll Legende aus Japan -
Toru joins Guitar Wolf and the 3 wolves (Seiji, Billy, and Toru) have been sticking together up to now. The band starts to play at the event, “Back from the Grave” by Daddy-o-Nov. They record a song for the compilation album from Tokuma Japan along with the 5678s and some other bands.
They record a song for the compilation album, “TVVA” from an indie label, Less Than TV.
Guitar Wolf plays in the U.S. for the first time. During the tour, they are invited to perform at “Garage Shock” by Estrus Records. They release their first album “Wolf Rock” from Goner Records, which is owned by the Oblivians.
Their second album, “Run Wolf Run” is released from Less Than TV. They appear on the front cover of the American Magazine, “Maximum Rock ‘n Roll.”
Their third album, “Missile Me” is released. The album is also released in the U.S. and Europe from NY based indie label, Matador Records.