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The Bellrays like punk cred, but like paying rent too

Photo courtesy of Plush
The Bellrays, a half-punk, half-Motown, all rock 'n' roll band from Riverside, California says listening to their music is like, "getting kicked in the balls by James Brown."
By Kevin Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Bellrays guitarist Tony Fate sounded groggy and surprised the Wildcat had called him for a scheduled morning interview. He decided to oblige, however.

The Riverside, CA, 10-year-old band has built itself on word-of-mouth and press buzz through local and national gigging. And they didn't slap a "the" in front of their name to get the attention either: a decade is a long time.

The band now shares a European label, Poptones, with The Hives. Like the black-and-white clad Swedish garage rockers, Poptones opted to release a compilation of their previous two albums instead of the pair. "Meet The Bellrays" has done well overseas, and now the band has briefly returned their attention stateside.

They play Tucson on Friday just before a European tour that will extend until late November. Their latest stateside release, "Raw Collection," is a set of hard-to-find tracks that mix soulful vocals on top of punk energy.

The Bellrays, however, would rather do the describing bit.

Wildcat: You guys are described as Îrock În soul.' That's a categorization but it was done by your publicity company · what does that mean and how do you guys describe yourselves?

Fate: Yeah, well, we came up with that · just because other people · if you leave them to come up with something, they'll come up with something even worse. And that's a fair approximation of what we sound like if you have to put a little nametag on it.

Wildcat: But you guys have been described as jazzy yet punk, so obviously you guys don't limit yourselves to where your music goes · jazz and punk seem completely different · if you're looking at them from a categorica standpoint·

Fate: Yeah, see that's been the death of music is categorization. In the old days people didn't listen to categories. There weren't categories. It's only in the modern era that people have been following that. And now you have these kids that grow up thinking, ÎOh well, punk rock looks like this and sounds like this, therefore we will be punk rock.' And then they limit themselves automatically. It's retarded. I don't know why people do that. James Brown was very jazzy. And you listen to the Motown Records in the Î60s? Those were a bunch of jazz cats playing on those and you can tell by the voice-ings · it's very sophisticated chord voice-ings and harmonies · that's jazz right there. It's put to use in a different format. But you don't see that nowadays. People limit themselves on purpose.

Wildcat: You guys don't limit yourselves then?

Fate: No there's no reason for it. I mean we've had a lot of people say things to us like, ÎYou know, if you guys would just cut out the jazzy stuff and the noisy stuff and the avant-garde stuff, you guys could make a whole lot of money. Well, then we wouldn't be The Bellrays. We'd be just another paint-by-numbers, cookie-cutter band and sound like everybody else.

Wildcat: And you guys aren't interested in that?

Fate: Well, no. I mean, when we say things like this · it's like we're a bunch of weirdoes. People think we're weird because we don't want to be like everybody else. To me, that seems like the biggest crime of all: that people think we're weird. That should be what every band wants to do, is establish their own sound and their own personality. But do you see that happening?

Wildcat: Not really·

Fate: You don't. You see 10,000 bands that all sound and look exactly the same. I mean that is weird.

Wildcat: What would you want to happen for this band?

Fate: Well, uh · I'd like to see us get a higher profile in the underground. And maybe even have one or two hits in the above ground. That's a mixed blessing. Like the Offspring had that a few years ago. They got really big above ground. That also means that you start playing these bigger and bigger places and the subtleties of your music get kind of lost in these big arenas. So I'm not sure about the above ground stuff, but I would like to have an impact there.

Wildcat: That's not your main goal though?

Fate: I just don't want the band to become this circus-act in town. I don't want to have to play a big 20,000-seat place just because that's the only place we can play because our music has a lot of subtlety to it; I think it sounds good in a smaller place. And we like to get closer to the audience that way too.

Wildcat: But then obviously if you do break it big, you won't be able to play those places, so it's kind of like a catch-22 I guess. Not even break it big, just the more fans·

Fate: And in that case we'd be making a lot more money and I wouldn't argue with that either. Because let me tell you, I mean, having your punk credibility is one thing, but paying your rent is another.

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