"We're not a band for vegetarians, you know," says Kyle Loving, guitarist and frontman for Denver's Ray-Ons. "But if you like meat and potatoes, I think you can dig it."
True enough, there are no frills on the Ray-Ons' menu--just the rocking riffs offered up by Loving, the elastic bass lines courtesy of Eric Wold, and the accelerated rhythm-and-blues backbeat preferred by Gerry Feit. Stripped of any pretension, the trio's music calls to mind an updated version of the tunes on Nuggets, Lenny Kaye's seminal compilation of Sixties one-shots. Imagine Jerry Lee Lewis leading an amphetamine-crazed, hillbilly version of Count Five and you'll get the idea.
Two years ago the Ray-Ons were little more than a side project for Loving; his main focus was Hell's Half Acre, a Westword profile subject ("A Little Slice of Hell," May 10, 1995) that he co-founded with John Briggs. But during his free time, he and Feit were working on a punk-blues hybrid of their own. It wasn't easy to get the combination right: As Loving concedes, "We played ten songs for a long time trying to get a unit together," notng that at times the results mixed "like oil and water." This situation changed when the pair hooked up with Wold, who moved to Denver from South Dakota in 1995. On the surface, Wold's background (he played in bands that covered the Allman Brothers) seems antithetical to the Ray-Ons' style. But the chemistry turned out to be better than anyone could have imagined. Today the three share a house and a similar approach to rock and roll. "When I'm writing a song, I'll come up with the riff--but after a while I'll realize that it sounds like something that Kyle's already written," Wold says. "So I'll have to change it a little bit. It's almost subconscious."
For his part, Loving knows how lucky he was to find Wold. "I can't say enough good things about him. He's an R&B player who knows how to walk a bass--and a lot of the modern bass players aren't from that old school. They don't that have those kinds of roots. But Eric does."
Not long after Loving left Hell's Half Acre to concentrate all of his energies on his new group, the Ray-Ons appeared at a gig with the La Donnas ("Swell La Donnas," August 22, 1996). In attendance was Jim Ransweiler, head of Seattle-based Scooch Pooch Records, to which the La Donnas are signed--and he was so impressed by the band's set that he promptly made them an offer to record with his company. 2 Too Many, the 1996 Scooch Pooch seven-inch that resulted from this conversation, was an intentionally lo-fi affair; its ditties ("My Side of Town," "Shoulda Know" and "Ain't No Stoop") were recorded in the threesome's basement studio using a method that Loving says is "based on early Sixties rock and roll and the technology of the time, which gives you that familiar kind of sound that you'd always hear" from precursors like the Sonics and the Kingsmen. The Ray-Ons' spare approach--they seldom use more than four tracks per song--"isn't for everybody," Loving admits. "But that's the way I hear it." Adds Feit, "It definitely sounds better on a 45."
Thanks to Scooch Pooch's strong distribution web, 2 Too Many was heard around the country. "It was pretty fortunate," Loving comments. "Three months into it we were already getting national product out there, and it was getting good reviews." A three-week jaunt that took the group to Texas and the West Coast also went well. According to Loving, "It was actually pretty good. I've toured before, and it's really rough--especially your first time. But this one worked out smoother than I thought it would. We even had some guarantees." The highlight of the sojourn was a turn at Bellingham, Washington's 3-B Tavern, home of the annual Garage Shock festival; people on hand "were actually requesting songs from our single," Loving says.
Bellingham is also the home of Dave Crider, leader of the Mono Men, curator of Garage Shock and the owner of Estrus Records. Crider's company included 2 Too Many in its mail-order catalogue and subsequently contracted with the Ray-Ons to issue a followup seven-inch, Lipstick Pick-Up Lines, which arrived in stores in late summer. The new offering, which includes the songs "24K Leather," "Brakes Are for Pussies" and "Goin' South," deals with themes that Loving says are important to him and his cohorts--namely "booze, women, cars, booze, more women and maybe some gambling, too." The music, meanwhile, is in the tradition of the New Bomb Turks: righteous riffage that's perfect to spill drinks to.
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Crider obviously agrees; he's already made a deal with the Ray-Ons to put out a ten-song, ten-inch EP in the first quarter of 1998. But although Loving knows that Estrus's rising profile is an asset, it's the creative freedom Crider gives the band that he appreciates most. "That's what's great about him," he claims. "He's a musician, and he's kind of letting us do what we want. He trusts us."
With so many good things happening for the Ray-Ons, it seems strange that the band is not well-known in its hometown. Then again, the players haven't gone out of their way to hype themselves: They wear black bars over their eyes on their 45-sleeve photos and were initially reluctant to sit for this interview. Part of the reason for this attitude is their opinion about the local scene. "I think that there are two types of bands in Denver," Loving says. "There are bands that are trying to get paid, and then there's the bands that are sweating it out in the basement writing good stuff, who unfortunately don't get the attention they deserve."
But, Feit interjects, "we don't really play up that angle. We just want to have good shows. If you do that, other people will catch on."
When they do, they'll be pleased to learn that the Ray-Ons don't take themselves too seriously. "We're not poets or anything," Loving points out. "But if you're looking for a hip-shaking good time, check us out.