The B-Movie Rats may reside in Los Angeles, but according to Derek Christensen, lead vocalist for these rock brutes, their hearts live in Cowtown USA.
"We love Denver," he says. "I don't know if it's all the people who I meet there, or the girls, or the altitude--I drink two beers there and I'm buzzed--but we always have killer shows in Denver. I remember thinking the first time we played there, 'Wow, this place totally rules.'"
It's not surprising that Christensen and his mates (guitarist Curt Florczak, bassist Bill Graves and drummer Slick Rick) feel a kinship with residents of the Mile High City. In a town where punk-rock miscreants like their meat blood-red and their music lean, mean and loud enough to bring down the walls of Jericho, these rowdy bastards fit right in. Imagine the Fluid with a headful of bathtub crank or Boss 302 fronted by a white, metal-happy Little Richard and you'll better understand why these guys have become local favorites.
The players have also earned a respectable legion of followers in other parts of America--but until recently, listeners in their hometown of L.A. have largely resisted their charms. "It's picking up," Christensen reports. "When we started out, there was a whole lot of nothing. Just a lot of emo crap that didn't move me at all. My buddy calls it 'divorce rock,' and that about sums it up. But now more and more people are starting to turn out for our shows, and there's other bands coming up with us that have a similar style to ours--a hard rock sound. We're starting to build a scene, and for me its like, 'All right. It's about time.'"
Notoriety has been slow in coming for the Rats: Although the current lineup has been in place for just shy of four years, its members have been woodshedding together since they were teenagers in the Los Angeles suburb of Duarte. "I used to play in a punk band with Rick," Christensen says. "And I used to play with Kurt in this strange band that played this weird kind of exploration shit. It was like rock, punk and lounge jazz all at once. I guess you could say it was Zappa-esque, but it was kind of confused. I mean, we were eighteen. We didn't know what we wanted. We just wanted to play."
And play they did. Christensen signed on as the band's official singer in 1995, and since then, the Rats have split their time between skittering back and forth across the country and recording a batch of singles and one long-player, Killer Woman. Featuring sentimental favorites such as "Dirty Dog," "Looking for a Fast One" and "Hell on Wheels," Woman (on Los Angeles's Dead Beat imprint) is a feral collection that kicks sand in the face of every ska-bot and indie poseur who ever dared pick up a guitar in the Golden State. Energy-wise, the record is very punk in nature: Most of the songs rage along like an alcohol funny car with the throttle open wide. Yet there's also an undeniable strut to the disc that betrays the quartet's love for the heavy, blues-rock sounds of the Sixties and Seventies. The band has been known to add the Rolling Stones' "Stray Cat Blues" to live sets, and the B-side of its new single on Spain's Safety Pin Records is a cover of the Faces' "Stay With Me." The Rats' tastes are varied, Christensen says. "AC/DC, Motsrhead, Chuck Berry, Cheap Trick, the Stones, even Judas Priest--I'll even go so far as to throw them in there. And Frank Sinatra. That guy rocked; he was like a visionary. Not only was he the first one to do it, but he did what he did so well. He had style. He did his own thing."
So do the B-Movie Rats, but they're not alone. The group is among a handful of trenchant acts that are trying to breath life back into the anemic corpse of rock and roll--notably, Nashville Pussy, Zeke, the Hellacopters and the Rats' Denver-based chums, the LaDonnas. Christensen affectionately refers to the last combo as "the Fag-Donnas. We love to give those fuckers shit whenever possible. Like the 'dickwich' story. One of the last times we were there, we were at Valerie's house, from the Lion's Lair. We had just finished playing at the 15th Street Tavern, and we were all drinking and partying when Ross [LaDonna] decided to make a sandwich. He pulled out two pieces of bread and a piece of cheese, put the cheese on the bread and then walked out of the room. Well, while he was gone, Rick walked over there, pulled his dick out and rubbed it all over the sandwich. When Ross came back, he put the bread together, took a bite and said, 'Man, this really needs some meat on it.' And Rick kind of laughed and told him, 'That sandwich already has some meat on it, Ross.' He was totally pissed. I tell you, it was fucking hysterical."
The next Rats full-length, which the musicians just cut at New York's famed LoHo Studios, should be just as wild, and it's hardly the only release on the outfit's schedule. Christensen and crew are looking forward to issuing a twelve-inch EP and a live CD as well--and a split single will appear as soon as it's decided what will be on the flipside. "I don't know what's going on with that one," Christensen says. "I mean, we've recorded our stuff. But first I was told the Candy Snatchers were going to do the split, and then I was told the Dirtys were going to do the split, and then I was told the Hookers were going to do the split. Shit, for all I know, there may be some other band in the works that I'm not even aware of. I have no idea what's going to be on it right now.
"In my eyes, it's just a fucking single," he continues. "It's got two songs on it. You put one song on side A and one song on side B and you put it out. I don't know what all the confusion is about."
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The Rats' goals for the upcoming year are equally uncomplicated: At this point, they simply want to land a better record deal, get their new album into stores and perhaps tour Europe. Christensen confesses, however, that his long-term ambitions are a bit more grandiose. "I hear rock's coming back," he says, his voice betraying a hint of sarcasm. "And that's good. Because you know what? I've been waiting a long time. We've been perched up on that cliff, looking down at all the towns and alterna-fags down below, and we're ready to conquer."
You can bet Denver will be one of the first towns to fall.
The Snake Charmers, with the B-Movie Rats and the Bell-Rays. 9 p.m. Friday, November 13, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $5, 303-572-0822.