By Vanessa Markov
Over the years, I’ve noticed that when established bands experiment or stray from their original paths/genres, many are quick to label them as sellouts. I won’t deny that it does happen, but it really burns my clutch when people fail to consider that artists are people who grow and evolve the same as anyone else, and that it WILL reflect in the art of an honest musician. As time goes by, we all become enhanced versions of ourselves, maintaining traits, dropping and adopting habits, and honing skills. As much as those changes are evident in our personalities, they are evident in the artist’s craft. This, to me, is the very opposite of selling out.
That said, Rebel Emergency’s latest album/sexperiment, appropriately titled “Aphrodisiology”, might surprise fans that are used to Rebel’s ska and reggae inspired modern rock. While these elements are still evident throughout the album (Just Wanna Kiss Ya, All Along), they take the back seat to faster tempos (Back & Forth, Up All Night), poppy rhythms (Picture This, Aphrodisiology), and sound-fattening effects (Once And For All, Rise & Fall). But this isn’t to say Rebel’s playful sex appeal has been lost. Far from it. The new pop angle did not take the sexy out of Rebel – Rebel put the sexy back in pop! Step aside Timberlake, step aside.
Just take a listen to Lion in a Cage feat. KO and tell me that’s not the Rebel attitude we know and lust. (Better yet, the live version features one hell of a solo by new bassist Mike Cohen.) With lyrics influenced by the Libyan civil war, this song is just a perfect example of how the new Rebel is just the old Rebel but better.
While out on a west coast tour last month, lead singer Roddy Colmer and I caught up on the phone to talk about the band’s new – or should I say, evolved – sound, the meanings behind some of the songs, and what it takes to stay afloat in a city booming with talented indie bands.
First, Roddy explains the theme and direction of the album as a whole:
“I think lyrically this album was easier because the songs kind of seem to be coming out a little bit easier. We’ve got a new bass player so we’ve got a new energy with us and a new producer, which you can tell if you’ve listened to our other albums. [Aphrodisiology] sounds a little bit more electronic. Matt [Von Wagner, the producer] is like a mad scientist in the studio; he’s always experimenting with loops and weird guitar stuff. He opened a lot of doors for us sonically; just working with him definitely opened our eyes to new tricks and new ways to record. A big part of the album was having him there.
There’s nothing forced with this album. We didn’t care what people expected of us. We were just like, ‘Let’s make the best songs that we can. Let’s not say no to anything right away and see what happens.’ We didn’t have to sound like this or that, which some bands get into trouble with, I think. Their music will get tired because they feel it has to sound a certain way, but there is a balance. You don’t want to lose that aspect of what made people like you; you want to challenge yourself and let it be natural. I knew [the album] would take a few listens, but we’re slowly getting it out there and getting feedback.”
A more in depth look into some of the songs:
“Each song was influenced by something different. Picture This was written after I saw a video of the tsunami in Japan. It made it more clear to me how small man is when nature does what it wants to do. It’s also cool to see how cities or countries come together to rebuild after something like that happens. It brings people closer together in a weird way. Same thing with ‘Lion in a Cage’ that I wrote with KO. It was influenced by the whole Libyan uprising and how much power that can have.
The events going on in the news really influenced the lyrics while we were making the album. I didn’t want to date it, I didn’t want to specify anything; it was more just capturing the feeling of that happening and putting it in a general context. You don’t want to pigeonhole an idea unless it’s very clear, but with a general idea someone can take it one way or another, something positive hopefully that they can relate to.“
Aphrodisiology is not without the slower paced songs. Roddy talks about Mr. Miagi and Letters:
“Mr. Miagi was written as a conversation between the Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi. It’s mostly the Karate Kid thanking and talking to his mentor. Mr. Miyagi sums everything up. It could be anyone talking to a mentor, but when I wrote it that name just came into my head.
Letters is a love song but every lyric was taken from love letters from World War I and the Civil War. I went through a bunch of old letters that I found online and took one line here, one line there, and combined about eight letters in total. I thought it was a really interesting way to put a song together and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.”
And finally, Roddy describes some contributing factors to Rebel Emergency’s success:
“We try to be really personable with our fans. If somebody writes us on Facebook, we’re going to write back to them right away and keep that kind of interaction. Especially these days, people have low attention spans and will quickly walk in another direction if they’re not stimulated. So keeping people stimulated, keeping content up to date, and keeping your music and live show good is important. If you keep putting out good product and people like you, then they’ll be loyal to you. It’s not an overnight thing.”
Bands, take notes! There is nothing more genuine than frequently and sincerely communicating with your fans, and the guys of Rebel are pros at this.
As for my personal favourite track off Aphrodisiology, it’s without a doubt All Along. One of the more classic sounding Rebel tunes, I listen to this song and all I can picture is someone with headphones bouncing down the sidewalk, singing to the sky with hearts in their eyes. No, it wasn’t me.
…Ok fine, it was me.
Aphrodisiology is Rebel Emergency’s second full length album and is available on iTunes here. Hard copies will be for sale at live shows, so keep in touch with them on Facebook here OR you could just go to their next show, it’s at Tattoo Rock Parlour on Nov 3.
And of course, you can always catch both new and old Rebel tunes on HnG Radio.