Everything's Peechees

The punk-rock entrepreneur behind one of the music's finest bands.

It's Saturday morning in the Bay Area, and most good little punk rockers are tucked away safe and sound in their beds. But not the Peechees' Chris Applegren: He's wide awake as he discusses the intricacies of his latest passion--Final Fantasy VII, an epic game made for the Sony Playstation system. "It's three CDs long, and it has kind of this whole Star Wars theme throughout, where these rebels fight, you know, the big corporations," he enthuses. "Right now I'm at this part where I have this submarine and I'm exploring the ocean floor. It's amazing. I started having dreams about it when I first started playing it."

In the three months since then, Applegren has only reached the halfway point of Final Fantasy's second level. But he has a good excuse for having thus far failed to complete the journey: his hectic schedule. In addition to fronting the Peechees and playing with two side projects, the Lefties and the Original Two, the lanky 25-year-old vocalist is the president of Lookout! Records, debatably the most influential indie label on the West Coast. The company introduced the world to Green Day and Rancid, laying the groundwork for the long-delayed mainstream acceptance of punk. He's justifiably proud of the imprint's accomplishments. "We haven't gone out there and become huge," he concedes. "But I think we've had, and will continue to have, a cultural effect on the landscape of independent music. And I'm really excited about that."

Applegren is just as positive about the Peechees, a band whose other members are nearly as harried as he is. When she's not attending to her Peechees duties, drummer Molly Neuman contributes to the Frumpies, a queercore combo, and works as the general manager for Lookout! Bassist Rop Vazquez is a Lookout! staffer as well (he spends his days in the company's mail-order department), and he also contributes to the Original Two, the Lefties and yet another group, Ropstyle. And guitarist Carlos Canedo divides his time between power-chording for the Peechees, toiling at his full-time job ("He doesn't like to talk about it too much," Applegren confides. "He thinks it sounds kind of boring") and indulging in his hobby, salsa dancing.

Given these commitments, it's a minor miracle that the Peechees ever got together in the first place, let alone found time to make so much good music. The act's 1997 long-player, the appropriately titled Games People Play, is typical of the act's efforts. Pumped full of gouging punk riffs, jagged pop arrangements and snotty, boho attitude of the sort found on "New Moscow Woman" and "Return of the Rocknroll Nurse," the album lays waste to 90 percent of the music being made by today's hackneyed rock-and-roll populace. In short, Games was one of last year's best platters--but don't expect the modest Applegren to admit it. The most he'll say about the disc is, "We're really happy with it."

Of course, the Peechees don't need to crow; their impressive punk-rock pedigree speaks for itself. Prior to forming the group in 1994, Applegren was part of Lookout! signees Bumblescrump and the Potatomen; Vazquez and Canedo made glorious noise together in Rice, also on Lookout!; and Neuman sat behind the skins for the seminal riot grrrl vehicle Bratmobile. According to Applegren, the four met through their participation in these earlier projects.

"Basically, it all started when I met Molly at a Bratmobile show that I went to," he remembers. "She was in Olympia, Washington, at the time, but she loved to write letters, so we started corresponding. Then I got to know Rop and Carlos when we went on a tour of the West Coast together in 1992. When we got to Olympia, Molly was flying back from the East Coast, having just finished a tour with Bratmobile. We hooked up with her there, and then she decided to come back to California with us and stay a few weeks. We all just became really good friends."

Shortly thereafter, the musicians started writing material together. The collaboration started out on a casual note. "Carlos and Rop were living in San Diego at the time," Applegren explains, "so Molly and I decided to fly down there to record some songs--for fun, really. We got together and practiced. We tried different variations, like me on drums, Molly on guitar, Rop singing. Just different things. We recorded one song with our current lineup, and it just so happened to be the best of the bunch, so we went with it."

The band played its maiden gig at a San Diego skate park, and before long it had produced an EP, Cup of Glory, and a debut full-length, Do the Math. A feisty slab of brassy, four-on-the floor punk-rock trash, Math was lauded by reviewers, but Applegren downplays its quality. "It was sort of a stepping stone," he claims. "It was recorded under extenuating circumstances in San Diego, and looking back, I'm surprised at how well it turned out. I mean, so much of the way our band works is that it's based on our individual personalities. We really had no idea how that first album would turn out. For all we knew, it could have been a mess. But now I think the two records work kind of like companion pieces."

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