By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
Just ask Rodney Mitchell, a guy who's been taking his lumps for years playing music in what he calls "nobody's underground" -- the limbo between obscurity and fame that most people know as the world of independent rock. Frustrated and finally fed up, Mitchell had what amounted to a nervous breakdown a couple of years ago: crying, punching mirrors, curling up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor -- the whole thing. "My pointless vanity had finally broken me," he admits, clearly not proud of the downward spiral he'd taken. But it was at that precise moment, that lowest ebb in the tide of his life, that salvation came. In a puff of sulfur, Lucifer, the Archfiend King of Hell, materialized before him with pants around ankles, contract in hand.
Exactly one blow job and sex change later, Rodney -- now known as Rhonda Delight -- was transformed into the biggest pop diva the world had ever seen.
This Faustian tale is from an album called Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In: The Story of Rhonda Delight, a noise/hardcore/rock opera written by the Bloomington, Indiana, outfit Racebannon. At first glance, it would seem the opera is over before it's even begun: The cover of the CD is a picture of a fat lady singing, a beefy, platinum blond chanteuse with a fur coat and streaked mascara wrapping her greasy red lips around a microphone. But look closer: That's no lady.
"That's our singer, Mike, as Rhonda Delight," says guitarist James Bauman in a warm, Wabash drawl that's not quite Great Lakes, not quite Dixie. "And that's him painted up as the Devil on the inside of the CD, too. We wanted the record to have that androgynous feel. Mike's really into that kind of thing."
Bauman, Mike Anderson, drummer Brad Williams and bassist Chris "Sal" Saligoe make up Racebannon, a group that has been emptying stomachs and filling underpants across the country for over six years now. Its schizophonic opus, In the Grips of the Light, was one of the overlooked masterpieces of 2001, a gorgeously chaotic wreck of an album that starts out like Hendrix getting a spinal tap and ends up like DJ Spooky with epilepsy. Still, In the Grips was a mere stretching exercise before the spazz-core decathlon that is Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In. The record files Racebannon's toothier edges down to a single, scalpel-sharp point; hunks of Zorn-like improv and free-jazz pandemonium are crammed into the opera's complex structure. Its texture is jagged, its density incessant. A trepan to the cranium would probably be more soothing.
"If it's hurting, it's working," states Bauman simply. "That's kind of our idea."
Speaking of pang, few things in the world sound as painful as getting your dick kicked in by Beelzebub. But is the title of Racebannon's new album just a metaphor for being beaten up? Or is it a double entendre, some kind of dirty slang for Rodney/Rhonda's forced gender conversion?
"Oh, yeah, that's exactly what it is. The title works both ways like that," Bauman says. "Rhonda was Rodney -- a boy -- and then Satan literally kicked his dick in and turned him into a woman. It's a classic tale of selling your soul to the Devil to become a big star; we just followed that same kind of formula."
Of course, after Rhonda Delight becomes an A-list prima donna, the fecal matter starts hitting the fan. Succumbing to arrogance, avarice and a buttload of OxyContin, she ultimately faces Satan once more when he returns to claim her as Hell's own. It's a denouement of epic, even apocalyptic proportions. All the while, Anderson rips the lyrics out of his throat with such blood-gurgling panic, you'd think his words were chunks of barbed wire he'd just accidentally swallowed.
"We were really influenced by that more intense, screamy stuff," Bauman says, speaking of the wave of early-'90s bands like Antioch Arrow, Honeywell and Mohinder that injected brain-curdling screeches into a spastic, atonal mutation of hardcore. The sassy kids call it "screamo" nowadays, though the term had been jokingly circulating around the punk scene years before the Blood Brothers ever reached MTV. "Early on, we were into straight-edge music and hardcore, and it was a pretty natural transition from that to the more experimental stuff. But even though we were influenced by bands like Honeywell, we just naturally started transforming into something else.
"And then with the new album," he adds earnestly, "we wanted to make the music a little more aggressive, a little more metal since Satan's involved."
But regardless of Racebannon's distant relation to screamo, Bauman is perplexed at the parallels drawn between his band and some of that style's trendier exponents. "You know how many comparisons we've gotten to the Locust?" he asks, sounding almost outraged. "Now, how ridiculous is that?" Very ridiculous, actually -- especially since an entire album of the Locust's minute-long songs could almost fit within the confines of just one of Racebannon's torturously distended compositions. "And the Blood Brothers are just some punk little assholes. I don't think they ever really paid their dues. They get by with having a hot name and playing the trendy music of the time.