Arizona trio keeps
that beatnik beat alive via a steamy stew of surf twang, lo-fi garage and punk
BY FRED MILLS
The BLURT staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s The Rebel Set, from Phoenix, Arizona.
By way of introduction, here are a few influences the band
lists in its bio: The Ramones, Dick Dale, Link Wray, Rocket From The Crypt, The
Drags, The Tornados, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Holly Golightly, The Raveonettes,
Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy, The Buzzcocks, The Rezillos, The Ventures, The
Original Surfaris, Lee Hazelwood, Nancy Sinatra, The Ronettes, Al Casey, Hubb
Kapp and the Wheels. And the quick studys among you out
there in BLURT-land may already be nodding your heads approvingly and saying,
“Case closed!” to yourself: surf, check; garage, check; punk, check-check-check!
But as always with a terrific band, the
whole is usually far greater than the sum of the influences – as a quick listen
to such choice tracks as the surf/spy-vibes of “Teenage Killer” or the
Theremin-powered “Martian” reveals. In the former, Dale and Eddy get dragged
outta the reverb silo by an angry mob of Cramps and Panther Burns fans and get buried
up to their necks in the local graveyard (not an easy task when you factor in
the rock-hard caliche soil of the Arizona desert); meanwhile, the titular
murderess – all of 17 years – slinks away smirking as an unholy twang slowly
recedes in the distance. One suspects a B-movie script may one day be culled
from the lyrics of this song (hold that thought). And for “Martian,” following
the spooky Theremin intro that’d make Joe Meek proud, the band ploughs into an
interstellar spaghetti western theme that’s simultaneously minimalist and
The Rebel Set’s been around for about
five years now, issuing the Teenage
Killer EP in 2008 and following that up this past April with the Poison Arrow full-length. The trio has
toured steadily throughout the Southwest, additionally gracing several regional
compilations, and with plans to expand their touring reach, there’s a good
chance the rest of the country will soon be able to get a firsthand taste of
their raw, unfiltered twang. (And sharp attire, too – these guys don’t fuck
around in concert, donning suits and often utilizing classic film footage as
part of their stage presentation.) Oh, and about that band name: it was lifted
from a 1959 B-grade teensploitation film, The
Rebel Set, directed by Gene Fowler, Jr. and starring Gregg Palmer.
According to IMDB.com, it concerns “three beatniks are brought together
to rob an armored car, only to face betrayal from amongst their ranks.” Classy!
Joe Zimmerman – guitar, vox
Jeff Doing – drums
Kaffer – bass
Check out The Rebel Set’s MySpace and Facebook pages for
info, tour dates, song samples, links to videos, and more. Meanwhile, founder
and frontman Zimmerman sat down for the proverbial BLURT grilling – which
included, not insignificantly, his thoughts on the recent (and apparently
ongoing) flap his state’s controversial illegal immigration law.
BLURT: You formed in Phoenix around 2006 – how
did the band come together, and what influences do you feel have been key in
developing your sound?
ZIMMERMAN: The band started out
with a friend and I just playing in my living room for fun. I hadn’t
done anything musically in a while and was pretty reluctant to start playing
out again but we wrote a few songs and things sounded pretty good so we figured
we’d give it a try. The line up kind of evolved over the first couple of
years. We went through eight drummers in a fairly short period of time
before we got Jeff. Chad
joined the band late last year when our previous bass player Mike [Benson] had
to leave to concentrate on his day job.
I’ve always been a big fan of old surf
and garage rock as well as the 90’s lo-fi garage stuff. Chad is into a
lot of Midwestern indie bands and a lot of jazz and blues stuff; he plays
guitar in a band called Thankful Birds that is more reflective of those
influences. Jeff’s tastes are really all over the place and we are all fans of
early punk and new wave stuff.
Tell us a little about
your debut EP and the full-length, and maybe some insights into how the songs
Our debut EP has some of the
first songs we ever wrote on it including the title track “Teenage Killer.” The
opening part of that song started out as something I came up with really early
on when we didn’t have many songs. It is one of the few songs that came
together at a practice with the whole band there. I’m not really good at
“jamming” so to speak, and I tend to work better alone.
Most of our songs I sort of half-way write and then I’ll
record them and give the recordings to the rest of the band. They’ll pick out
the ones they like the best and figure something out for it. By the time we
actually play the song together it already sounds pretty good. I guess it is a
pretty unusual way to write songs but it seems to work for us.
As for as the songs on the album, “Teenage
Killer” would obviously be one [that I like best] since we released it on the
EP and the album. We also like “Martian” a lot, and I especially like it
because I got to play Theremin. I think “Congo” is pretty good. I also really
like “14th Floor.” It is the last song on the album and I was really torn
as to whether or not it should be. I think it makes a good closer, but I
thought that maybe it should have been in a more prominent earlier spot.
I’m going to take a wild
guess that, judging from your listed influences, you’ve got a healthy stock of
covers you can pull out for a setlist. I never met a band of your musical
disposition that didn’t have a big record collection, by the way…
You are right about the big
record collection but oddly enough we have only ever played one cover, and that
was a song for a compilation of Phoenix bands
covering other Phoenix
bands. We aren’t opposed to the idea of playing covers. In fact, I would
like to play a few, but any time the subject is brought up we can never
agree on any. I’ve been wanting to cover a Drags song for a long time. I
think they are great and that we could probably do one of their songs well.
Sooner or later it will probably happen.
What’s a Rebel Set concert
like? Obviously from your photos you play against a backdrop of vintage films.
We like to play movies behind us
whenever the venue is able to accommodate it. We are named after a movie so it
seems appropriate to incorporate that into our shows. Chad tends to
dance around like a madman. We generally try not to look like slouches when we
get on stage, that usually means wearing suits. I guess we kind of believe that
if you are going to get on stage you might as well make yourselves interesting
to look at.
Where have your touring
travels taken you? Anecdotes?
We’ve done most of our traveling
around the Southwest and west coast. One of our favorite places to play is Las Vegas. We’ve
played some of our most memorable shows there and it has provided us with some
of our most memorable anecdotes. On the last night of our last tour we played
in Vegas and decided to spring for a hotel room. We were woken up early the
next morning to the sound of the guy in the next room freaking out after receiving
a phone call from his girlfriend informing him that she had slept with his
brother. It was made all the better by the fact that the guy had a voice that
sounded just like a Muppet.
What’s coming up for the
We are planning on heading east
in the fall which we haven’t done too much of. Of course, east to us means
Texas and the Midwest.
We’ll also be heading back to some of our more familiar places on the
west coast and from there, who knows?
I spent my time in Arizona, living in Tucson from 1992 until
2001. At the time, Tucson was often
characterized as the quirky/artistic/rootsy music scene and Phoenix was more basic and blue collar – punk,
metal and hip-hop the dominant genres. How would you characterize the Phoenix scene these days?
It might be true that there is more punk, metal and hip hop
in Phoenix than Tucson
but there has always been a lot of quirky and artistic bands in Phoenix. I think that Tucson being a college town and considerably smaller than Phoenix makes the
artistic scene a lot more noticeable. Phoenix
is so big and spread out that it makes it hard to find where the good stuff is
going on. There is some interesting stuff going on in downtown Phoenix but anytime a part of town starts to
get “cool” developers decide it would be a good idea to drive out the
tenants that made that area interesting to begin with and turn it into a
The Phoenix scene is a lot
more diverse than it is given credit for. Some bands I would recommend checking
out are The Love Me Nots, Sister Cities, Green Lady Killers – and one from
Tucson that we really like is the Mission Creeps.
Lastly, the immigration law controversy. Conor Oberst is
just one prominent artist who has urged an Arizona boycott, yet just recently
regional promoter Charlie Levy wrote an open letter to the music community
about how such a boycott might inflict more collateral damage on the music
scene than do actual good. Since I used to live in the state, I can understand
both stances, so as a resident yourself, what’s your take?
Basically this is a bill written
by a known associate of white supremacists and supported by a bunch of
politicians who are trying desperately to pander to the so called “Tea Party”
movement. It was signed into law by our unelected governor who probably wasn’t
even going to make it through the primaries let alone the actual election prior
to gaining the support of the Tea Baggers with this bill and other ridiculous
decisions involving bringing guns into bars.
definitely are a lot of problems caused by people crossing the border illegally
in this state, but they have more to do with drug cartels than with people
coming across looking for a job. This bill doesn’t do anything to solve the
In regards to the letters between Charlie
Levy and Conor Oberst, I definitely see the desire to boycott here but I tend
to think that it would do more good for artists to come here and speak their
minds. As far as canceling something like the 2011 Major League Baseball All
Star game, that may make more of an impact financially on a lot of right-leaning
business people and cause them to think twice before voting for these people
again. Perhaps the cancelation of events like that in combination with people
like Conor Oberst and Zack De La Rocha coming to Arizona, speaking their mind
and possibly donating proceeds from their shows to people trying to overturn
this bill would help to get this overturned.