Music News

Rat Race

King Rat has been an ongoing concern for Luke Schmaltz for the better part of eleven years. During this time, despite numerous personnel shifts, he's remained unapologetically faithful to a gritty, no-frills gutter-punk approach that pays homage to booze and broads while evoking a sound made famous by Mike Ness and Social D.

On its myspace page, the band rages against the "horde of spoiled boy bands whining with tattoos and guitars," claiming that "these imposters promote collective misery under the guise of being rebels." In contrast, Schmaltz and his crew -- guitarist Mike Makkay, bassist Anthony Delilli and drummer Doug Hopper -- promise never to "bastardize the purity of their roots by acting like children, when the battle requires them to fight like men." On July 8, Rat will issue its sixth disc, Duct Tape and Dreams, at a release show with Chesterfield and TSR at 3 Kings Tavern. In anticipation of that gig, I asked Schmaltz about the act's newfound on-stage sobriety and why mall punk has him so hacked off:

Since forming over a decade ago, you've been stabbed, endured numerous lineup changes and watched trends come and go. What's motivated you to keep making music after all these years?

Luke Schmaltz: [long pause] Man, that's a great question. You know, when we walk on stage in a roomful of people and nobody knows who we are, and by the fifth song we have their attention, and by the seventh song we have them by the throat, and by the end they just want moreŠ That feeling is unreplaceable.

Now, as far as recording goes, I'm in total pursuit of a perfect two-and-a-half-minute song. We keep getting close, but we still haven't found it. We've done variations on it, but we still haven't found it. It's the opportunity to make that song, where everything else falls away and, in two and a half minutes, you can sum the whole thing up, the whole reason why you've taken the road less traveled. And you want to reach out and touch those few people that, when they hear that song, it will affirm that even though the road is hard and you get weary -- it's tough doing your own thing and being an independent thinker -- that it's worth it. The look on people's faces when you come close to that song -- that is invaluable. That's better than making a hundred thousand dollars a year. It all comes back to you like a lightning bolt, like a diamond bullet through the forehead -- that one instance where you did make the right decision in keeping on and keeping on.

The new album seems a little more straight-faced than some of your past efforts. Was that something that was incidental, or have you guys just become a little less irreverent as you've gotten older?

Making jokey music is fun in your twenties, and it kind of scratches a certain itch that you started creating music for in the first place. Although I write most of the words, I think Mike's presence and maturity has eradicated the need for the tongue-in-cheek, pissing-on-a-fire-hydrant type of stuff. It's also helped us turn the page into the next chapter, which is attacking these issues that haunt us, and doing it poignantly. We don't have to throw rabbit punches; we can swing for the face.

Not all that long ago, you guys had a well-earned reputation for your, ahem, intoxicating performances. Sometime last year, though, you opted to start playing shows without being fueled by the hooch. What prompted that move, and what effect has it had?

Again, I'm gonna point the finger at Mike. Mike is a perfectionist, and he's probably the best thing that ever happened to this band. Even though we play punk rock and it's three chords, it's actually technical meanderings built around three-chord arrangements. A lot of those meanderings involve a lot of riffing and some key changes. And if you're not completely lucid, the song is going to fall apart and you're going to get beat up by your own music. We didn't want to do that anymore. Besides, the Replacements already did it [played drunk] better.

You've been pretty vocal in your contempt for the new breed of Hot Topic punks. What exactly do you have against those types of acts?

I think it's more a fashion statement to them than a social statement. To me, punk rock is about standing your ground in the face of authority. You can stand your ground in combat boots, and you can stand your ground in sandals, and it's all the same. If you're dressed up for the part but you're not ready to march for the cause, than you're basically just a poseur. It's about seeing something that's wrong in life and actually having the guts to confront it and to be outspoken about it, and dealing with the repercussions of being an individual.

The title of your new disc comes from a line in "Duct Tape" -- "Held together at the seams by duct tape and dreams" -- that's an allusion to the band's trajectory over the years. Will it be enough to sustain you for years to come?

I'm qualified to probably be making six figures in human-resource management. But I chose to not take that road. I've been held together by that dream of creating that perfect song and taking the audience with us. And it's been worth all the years we've spent trying to scratch out a name for ourselves, limping from city to city on tour. I think it's also kind of like a slogan that a lot of people can relate to.