Music News

The Beatdown

"People pay me well to work them out, and then they avoid me," Christophe Cranberri says with a laugh. "You can tell me your goal is to lose fifty pounds -- you'll lose seventy just trying to get away from me."

It's 2 p.m. on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon, a perfect time to sit in front of an oscillating fan, sucking down sodas and gorging on Reese's Peanut Butter Cups by the fistful. Instead, I'm in Cheesman Park with Cranberri, the former frontman for Vox Demonna, who has somehow convinced me to do the kung-fu hustle. A chain-smoking fat-ass, I'm not out to earn a Presidential Fitness Award. I just want to catch up with Cranberri and find out about his new band, Platoon 13, which will debut this Saturday, June 18, at the Ogden Theatre, alongside fellow twin tower of doom Charles Edward and his band, Seraphim Shock. But if this is what I have to do get the scoop, I'm down.

Cranberri, who once trained the Broncos, starts out with a hellacious series of hamstring-pulverizing stretches. "Do you have to think about sleeping?" he asks. "What about eating?"

I'll take rhetorical questions and obvious shit for a thousand, Alex. You don't get a physique like mine without eating and sleeping at regular intervals. There's a reason I'm not rocking a tank top like Cranberri, who, at 6'3" and a very lean 190 pounds, justifies such form-fitting gear. Even at Cheesman, nobody's interested in seeing what's under my hood. "When you're sleeping," Cranberri notes, "you're basically practicing being dead. I say, rest when that time comes."

Although Cranberri's I-will-pump-you-up message wears thin, it's fun hearing someone whose previous band's name translates roughly to "voice of the demon" espousing fitness. But the guy has undeniable charisma. Like Mike V, the erstwhile leader of Chaos Theory and Alien Pimp, Cranberri has a magnetic personality both on and off stage. And even Ray Charles could see how Cranberri's fitness ideology carries over not just into his music, but the rest of his life, as well.

Leaving behind a dark, roughneck upbringing in Washington, D.C., Cranberri set off to become one of the finest martial artists in the world. He reached that goal in 1990, when he took home a gold medal from the Asian Games. After that he returned to Denver, where he'd trained for the Games, and put his drive to a new endeavor: music. He joined a gothic-industrial band called The Feww.

In 1999, Cranberri was introduced to Shawn Barusch of Hollow Point Management by Jason Miller of Godhead, and Barusch later flew out to catch Cranberri's band. "After a show at the Bluebird, he didn't like it," Cranberri recalls. "He said, 'I'm sorry. We don't like this, but we like you, and you should go in this direction.'" Many are called, but Feww are chosen.

As a result, Cranberri formed Vox Demonna. "At that time, spooky was cool," Cranberri recalls. "I wanted to be the first spooky black guy. That's when Marilyn Manson was hot. And I looked at rock music -- you had Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, these spooky guys. I looked at all the different spooky kind of guys, and there was no black spooky guy. I wanted to be the first black spooky guy."

He kept Barusch posted on Vox's progress over the next few years. "I was making a rapport with a company that I wanted to work with," Cranberri says. "I didn't send him bullshit, because bullshit is bullshit."

When Barusch finally heard Vox Demonna's recordings, he liked them well enough to add the act to his roster. Soon after, he sent the group on the road with Orgy and Godhead, where Vox received an overwhelming response from fans, selling out all of its merchandise at one of the tour's first stops. Better yet, Vox didn't get heckled -- as lesser-known acts sometimes do. "I couldn't believe it," Cranberri says. "That's when it made me say to myself, ŒChristophe, this band has merit, and don't listen too much to what people say, because the rest of the world, they don't know you.'"

Back home, the group encountered an equally favorable response. Vox Demonna opened for Skinny Puppy, and "Hate Dept. played after us," Cranberri remembers. "The crowd booed them. Either I'm just too big and black for people to bother with, or we have potential that we don't fully understand."

Last fall, Vox Demonna played a showcase in Hollywood for nine labels -- four majors and five indies. They all offered similar feedback: While they found Cranberri's presence captivating, the music -- a mixture of goth/dark wave and reggae -- didn't resonate as a whole. (When I caught Vox earlier this year, I had the same issues: I was taken with Cranberri but underwhelmed by the band.) Spurred by this criticism, Cranberri and his bandmates started writing new songs, infusing more reggae elements into their goth-inflected sound. Besides, he explains, "After Columbine happened, Satan and all that stuff just wasn't cool anymore. Nobody was really into the spooky dark stuff anymore.But we had still maintained the name."

Now, with the new material, a name change finally seemed in order. "When you think about reggae music, you think sunshine," Cranberri says. "We needed a name that was brighter. Platoon 13 is strong, it's bright, it's not harmful, and I don't think it's looked down upon."

While tailoring the act's sound and image seems pretty calculated, Cranberri insists that he's made a concerted effort to keep the music organic. "If somebody in the industry says, 'If you go in this direction, we'd be more than happy to deal with you,' I've got to listen to that," he points out. "I still want to maintain the integrity of the music, but I also have to be a businessman; I would like to make a dollar from doing this. If somebody says, 'Hey, we like a part of your music but not the whole thing,' then, hey, why not give them the part they like, you know, if they're willing to pay for it?"

And they are: Barusch engineered a deal with Perris Records, a Texas-based independent distribution company, to release Platoon 13's debut. "I'm a pretty happy guy right now," Cranberri says. "I did get a check, and it was a nice-sized check. I've never been paid by anybody. That made me say, ŒOkay, I'm doing something right.'"

He hopes to realize that potential with Platoon 13. Already, Cranberri and his new unit are in fighting form.

"It's not how good you fight," he enthuses at the end of our grueling eight-minute workout. "It's how long you fight good."

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera