By now you must have heard of The BellRays. Or at least the term ‘Stooges fronted by Tina Turner’ which is annoying to say the least. If you’ve seen them live, the words ferocious, passionate and ever so fucking loud come to mind, and that’s all that should matter. Add to the mix an uncompromising air of integrity, and it’s evident that their overwhelming spirit onstage is reflected in the execution of their views; all three members interviewed have articulate and fervent opinions on more or less every topic tossed their way. And also the heartiest laugh you will ever hear, courtesy of singer Lisa Kekaula.
Your band are so intensely passionate, what other bands, in your opinion, share a similar spirit?
Bob Vennum (bass) – there’s a lot of them that I could rattle off; The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, underground club bands back in the states, like the Streetwalkin Cheetahs, B Movie Rats, The Beefs, a UK band called Jackson’s Corner that seem to be on the same wavelength as us. They don’t do what we do, but we’re of the same mind.
Tony Fate (guitar) – The Lost Disciples from France, you should look for them.
Bob – even a well known band like Fugazi, they just keep pushing and pushing the form, which takes a lot of passion to do. I really admire that, they really rock the boat.
Yeah, they’re not afraid to push the boundaries of what a typical band should be like, and I like the fact you can’t stick anything to them.
Tony – Yeah, it’s not trying to please a market base, it’s more or less trying to stay true to what it is that you’re doing. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t make money doing it, because Fugazi definitely makes money in what they’re doing. But they do it on their own terms.
Definitely. Even though they’re a huge band, they’re still trying to maintain certain ethics, which is really important. I hear you release your own music too?
Bob – The two releases that we have had in the US are our own releases. Everything we’ve ever done, we’ve done ourselves. Except for the one here in England, the compilation.
Lisa – But we still own everything, and we still hold the hand around the neck on that one. You’ve got to keep control!
Do you think the compilation on Poptones represents you, or the band’s history so far, well?
Bob – Well no, it only represents a few songs off the last two albums . It’s just a bunch of songs from this album, a bunch of songs from that one, and they’re stuck together. It doesn’t have a breathing quality or a flow, how we’d normally program an album.
Did you find it annoying, your loss of control over it?
All – yes.
Lisa – it was a hard thing to do.
Do you think it’s a good introduction to the band for people who haven’t heard you before?
Bob – I don’t know if it’s a good introduction, but it was the one that was offered to us, and we took it. People can hear it, and judge it for themselves. If you judge it as an album, it’s gonna fail. If you judge it as just as an introduction to what the band sounds like, it’s a success.
Lisa – It’s the title, it really is, from our point of view, just an introduction to the BellRays, until you can get hold of ‘Let It Blast’ or ‘Grand Fury’ which are the full length cds that the songs were taken from. And for those, there was a lot of thought and consideration and power to put those two albums together. Though there was also a lot of thought and consideration in picking the songs for the compilation, and we did not let them mix up the song order.
Do you think that coming from Riverside, near LA, shapes the music that you make?
Bob – I don’t think it shapes the music that we make. None of the music I listen to on a regular basis, or my musical vision, came from Los Angeles. It’s 60 miles away, and the closest place to play where there’s lots of venues and people, but that’s it.
Lisa – I think it’s a good question though, I like the idea of the question, because it brings to mind the whole thing of people who are looking at music like ‘oh it comes from this region therefore it validates this phase of rock n roll’ or whatever, and I think that’s a bunch of crap. Like, right now everybody’s talking about music that comes from Detroit, and there’s a bunch of shitty music that comes from there too! It has nothing to do with the city that you’re from. It’s just like when everyone was talking about music from Seattle. It doesn’t really matter where you’re from, because songs still come from inside an individual that is going through something completely unique to them, as a person.
Tony – Generally, it’s not a city that breeds a sound. It’s like, a band that comes out and starts doing something, and everybody starts copying them.
Bon – there’s not an LA ‘sound’ for instance, I mean, we’re playing LA and so do SOAD, and we don’t sound anything like SOAD! Everyone has their own areas and crowds that go to see them, and they don’t generally cross over.
Lisa – I remember the first time we did South By Southwest, we saw all these bands who were from LA, we were like ‘who are you! I’ve never heard of you!’
Bob – they weren’t really from LA, they just said they were! We’ve played there about 3 times, we’ve generally had a good time. It’s roughly 1500 miles from where we live, and a couple of times we’ve driven there, jumped out of the van, played a show, jumped in the van and drove back. So it wasn’t like a whole party type thing, but we accomplished our mission by playing there.
Lisa – It was a big deal to us to get it the first time we got it, because all of us have tried for years to get in there, it was really hard. And I’m thinking, 'why should it be that hard for a band that’s doing this cross section of American music to get in?' But what it was, is just another version of the same thing that we were fighting in the music industries, where people were like ‘oh well, people aren’t really into this kind of music right now, so we’ll wait a while before we let this in’ and now, ‘oh now it’s really big so we’re going to ask you to play 3 years in a row.’ Well, if they’re asking us to play 3 years in a row, that’s two years of some other band not getting to play there. You know, it’s meant to be a new music festival!
I always assumed, as I’ve never been, it was a festival showcasing new bands.
Bob – That’s supposed to be the plan.
Tony – and it is NOT that.
What do you want to do with this band, where do you want to go? Do you have any goals you wish to achieve?
Lisa – world domination.
Bob – we’d like to get out there, we’d like to diss everybody that needs to be dissed, and support everyone that needs to be supported, by what we’re doing. I think one thing we planned on doing, and what we will do … the best way I can explain it, is as something we will NOT do, and that is, we will not end up like all these great rock artists that you see nowadays. Like, we were talking about Eric Clapton before you arrived. Who put out these great records when they started and then at some point, every record is crap, and they keep churning out these crappy records for 25 fucking years. So that won’t happen with the BellRays, because we’ve seen that, and we’re savvy enough and critical enough of what we do, to know that won’t happen. I couldn’t write one of those songs if I tried, you know. If you locked me in a room for 10 weeks, I could not create one of those songs like Eric Clapton. Even if we could, we would recognise it for one of those crappy songs that we never want to hear, and we wouldn’t play it. That’s …
Lisa – self censorship.
Bob – yeah, you know, we know what we want to accomplish. If we can’t physically accomplish it, then it’s ended, give it up. It’s not like ‘oh, I guess we’ll play this now because I can’t write anything else.'
Lisa – we’ll have some staff write come in and write our songs.
Bob – we’re the band that says ‘no’.
Quality control is a good thing.
Lisa – yeah, it is! Tony has said that a number of times, and it’s a good term for bands to learn how to say, in order to hold onto their intergrity.
Bob – When we were doing the BBC Music 6 thing the other night, the Tom Robinson show or whatever, when he came on and was talking to us, he was like ‘oh, I just expected you guys to be this dour, mean band, because you’re all so serious all the time.’ It’s not like that, we have to be that way, because nobody else is! Sure, you got like, those Gallagher guys who are always saying “Fookin’ this” and “Fookin’ that”, he thinks he’s being dour, but that’s a schtick. He’s just trying to be a personality. We’re just absolutely sick and tired of bullshit, on every level of existence. Not just in music, it’s in politics, it’s in people who just walk slow, meandering away on the sidewalk. We’re sick of it and we say it. But we like to have a good time as much as anybody. We like to have fun, we are very fun people.
Tony- And M n Ms, what’s with this blue M n M ?? What the fuck is that?
Lisa – I know what Bob and … well, I don’t know what Tony’s saying. But I know what Bob is saying, it’s just about being able to voice your opinions, and we’re able to do that in our songs. We’re very secure in the way that we go about crafting, learning, honing, performing, disseminating all of our music, and if that’s the reason people are interested in us, then we know we’ve got a product that absolutely works. When I talk about our goal being ‘world domination’, it means saturating OUR market. Not being this thing that everybody loves. I don’t care if everybody loves us, everybody’s not supposed to love what we do. I figure we hit about a 5% ratio of the human population that will even understand what it is that we’re doing. Not that it’s so elevated, but everybody is just that personal, music is such an intimate thing for anyone.
You wouldn’t want ‘everyone’ to come to your shows, where a large portion of the crowd wouldn’t get it.
Lisa – no, no! I wouldn’t want to, and that seems to be the goal for most music companies, they don’t realise the value in specialty markets. They don’t understand that, hey, the people that are into rock n roll music, don’t go to TARGET every day to buy their records.
Bob - we are the band that will say, ‘we don’t buy it.'