Punch Drunk Love: Local Band Tries to Find an Audience for Its Reggae-Infused Rock Print
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 06 December 2006 02:33

Rude PunchAt first glance, you wouldn't guess that the guys in Rude Punch are ambassadors for reggae rock in the Quad Cities. Often sporting T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps, the three band members look like typical white, early-20s college kids.

The trio - singer/guitarist Brady Jager, bassist Robb Laake, and drummer Adam Tucker - has been working this fall on its debut album and is gearing up for shows in Iowa City and in the Quad Cities over the next two months. And while the young band is at stylistic odds with most of its peers in this area, it is hell-bent on bringing its brand of Jamaican-flavored jingles to the masses.

"It's real chill ... but it's not classical reggae," said Jager. "We play rock lines with reggae bass and guitar ... use a lot of distortion." The groups's sound is a groovin' mix of rock and reggae, heavily influenced by the music of Bob Marley, 311, and Sublime. The band also cited Slightly Stupid, Pepper, Peter Tosh, and Matisyahu, as well as hip-hop, classic rock, and the psychedelic metal of Tool.

Sounding tight and well-rehearsed, the band played a smoking set on November 17, opening for Chicago Afrobeat Project at the Redstone Room. In front of a packed house, the band delivered at least a half-dozen original songs, as well as a cover of Sublime's "Santeria" that showcased Jager's uncanny vocal resemblance to that band's late singer, Bradley Nowell. "The girls will just come up to us [after performances] and say, ‘You guys are so-o-o good. ... You sound just like Sublime,'" said Jager, "You kind of hate that stuff [comparisons], because you don't want to be told that you sound like somebody else. ... But if we're playing their [Sublime's] songs, I guess thats good."

On top of their live shows, the band recently began recording its still-untitled debut album in Galena, Illinois, in a two-night musical binge that required the band to bring their sleeping bags. The trio completed 12 instrumental tracks and plans to return to the studio soon to record vocals and put the finishing touches on the album.

The band's MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/rudepunch) includes upcoming album tracks "Old Smoke Tree" and "Closer," and a live cut of "Soldiers for Hire" from a performance at the Redstone Room. The songs showcase funky reggae chords with trippy wah-pedal and delayed guitar effects, snaring drums, pounding bass, and rough vocal tracks with lyrics that tackle your usual reggae themes: love, perseverance, and marijuana inhalation. And despite being demo material, the sample MP3s on the page sound well-produced.

"We started off playing a lot of heavy metal and rock - mainly what was popular around here," said Tucker about the trio's early days. While attending Davenport West High School, the band (all now in their early 20s) jammed with each other and other people in different unnamed basement bands.

But Rude Punch's current reggae sound wasn't a part of their old groups' repertoire. "The attraction to reggae had always been there," said Tucker, "But with the people we were jamming with, it really wasn't what they wanted to do."

Those bands didn't last. "I didn't really like what we were doing anyway," said Brady. "You start to get to a certain age and you start to figure out, ‘What do I really like?' instead of ‘What do my friends like?'"

Citing their love for bands such as Sublime and 311, the band decided to move toward a reggae-rock hybrid sound. "That's probably what brought us together," said Tucker of the band's new style, "It had never been just us three focused on that genre."

"I was always into that style," said Laake. "I think when we got together. it just worked better than any of the other bands."

The band got its reggae groove started in 2004, originally calling itself Seed, which also included singer/guitarist Craig Smith. The group played the Quad Cities bar and college scene, landing opening spots in summer 2005 for Pepper and Dark Star Orchestra at the now-defunct QC Live.

Following Smith's departure in April 2006, the band decided to rename itself, fittingly, after an alcoholic beverage Tucker had consumed while on vacation in Jamaica, and Rude Punch was born.

Although the group has landed some high-profile shows recently (including a pre-party gig for a Slightly Stupid/Pepper concert this past month in Milwaukee), the trio is still working to establish an audience locally.

"We can advertise our ass off, and not that many people are going to come to the show because it seems like people don't care," Jager said. "They're going to that bar because that's where they go. We get good crowd turnouts at bars that are just packed anyways."

The band also recognizes that its style doesn't conform to current trends. At a recent XMG International musical conference in Chicago, Rude Punch found itself in competition with close to 50 other acts that Jager described as emo bands that all sounded the same. The trio lost to a band whose "name was like, six words long," Jager said. "‘Tomorrow Will End with the Lust of Forgotten Memories' or something like that. These guys are like, 25, singing about the love letter their girlfriend wrote them and how sad they are."

The band sounded bitter about losing the XMG contest but is generally upbeat. "I think right now these emo bands could be compared to '80s hair metal," Jager said. "We're confident in our music. We say, ‘Man, if we get a bunch of people here, I know they'd like us!' ... So we're just trying to get more people to know who we are and like us hopefully."

He added that once the band's CD is finished, the trio is aiming to go on tour with whoever will take them on the road. "We gotta get a van and a trailer," Jager said. "Just live in it and go."

 

Rude Punch will perform on December 29 at RIBCO; December 30 at Mound Street Landing; and January 5 at the Redstone Room.