By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
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With familial influences like that, it's not surprising that Semifreak's members have bonded. After years of trying to adapt to someone else's vision, in 1999 Montoya and Coffey formed the crux of the quartet -- then known as Man in the Shade -- determined to build the band around their vision rather than vice-versa. Pulcino, a onetime bassist for Tequila Mockingbird, joined the group in 2001. With the addition of Rosenberg in 2002, Man in the Shade was rechristened Semifreak, and the circle was complete.
Since the name change, the band has played thirty shows, by Rosenberg's tally. He's kept track of every performance since he joined, and he can recite the dates as if each were an epochal event on par with his birthday or losing his virginity.
According to Montoya, all of the gigs are special. "When everyone is that focused and everyone is on, it's amazing," he says.
Pulcino has no problem pinpointing his favorite: Semifreak's return trip to Herman's Hideaway in March 2002. "We were warming up for Detrimetal and Rocket Ajax," he recalls. "I think it was their CD-release party, and for 47 minutes, not one person was checking their watch or buying a beer."
Over a year later, after playing any place that would have them, the members of Semifreak had saved enough money to finally record their debut. With provincial knob-turner Bill Thomas at the helm, the fourteen-song 8 O'Clock Fixis a solid effort. While it sounds a bit underwhelming at first, after repeated listens, it becomes evident that the disc is a slow burn. It takes a while to get your head around Montoya's textured guitar work, the casual interplay between original bassist Mike Jiron's plaintive style and Coffey's straightforward drumming. The group's dark horse, though, is Pulcino, whose soaring vocal stylings lend the album cohesion and add an element of contained fury.
Though the band is excited about 8 O'Clock Fix, Pulcino recognizes that the recordings may not mark Semifreak's most memorable performances. And so, even before Fix is officially released, the primary goal is to get back into the studio.
"The thing that this band wants to do more than anything is to make another record," says Pulcino. "And we're trying to get in the studio, but we're just about to release this one, and it's not a cheap thing to go into the studio. We've got to support this one; we've got to gig. Right now, we're slowly going to get back into the studio, because the material since I've joined and since Brian's joined is different even a little bit from the record, because it's got the influence of all four of us, very purely. It's a little more in your face; it's a little edgier. It's a little more violent, a little more bloody; it's a little scarier, and we're happy about that. We really want to get that into the studio."
Because a lot of the songs on Fix were written more than five years ago, it makes sense that the guys are eager to get back to recording. Nonetheless, the new album should have a lengthy shelf life -- as long as folks are willing to absorb it. And those who do will undoubtedly become fans of the group, especially if they see the music performed live.
The members of Semifreak have assembled on the rooftop of the Riot House, right by the swimming pool. But no one's taking a dip. They're all too busy reflecting on their time in California, laughing, sharing stories -- they just spotted Lemmy from Motörhead entering the hotel -- and soaking it all in. They're about to go into full-on tourist mode; after they check out, they'll head straight to Disneyland.
Pulcino turns to the rest of the band. "Whatever it takes," he says, "we've got to figure out how we can do this for the rest of our lives."
Really? Spend the rest of their lives stuffed in a truck, driving across the country to play a handful of gigs that cost them more than they've ever been paid at home?
"Oh, yeah, man, we're going back. This ain't no onetime thing," Pulcino says, then laughs. "In fact, next time I think we'll give them double that, so we can play on a Friday or Saturday night."