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"I think we're the only high school band that stayed together after graduation," says 20-year-old guitarist Jeff Bufano, who along with guitarist Chris Corak (20), bassist Andy Eames (20) and drummer Jim Knapp (21) make up Reuben's Accomplice, a north Phoenix "emo" band that has been playing in the Valley since mid-'94.
It's a wonder Reuben's Accomplice has stuck it out this far. Back at Thunderbird High School, the band enjoyed a consistent following made up of classmates, but upon graduation, turnouts for its shows were conspicuously sparse. "The kids at our high school totally latched on to it, so we pretty much only played the Mason Jar back then," Corak explains. "Anywhere else was too far to get them to drive. Once we graduated, we never saw most of them again."
In those early days, RA played the kind of music most '90s high school bands perform--the pop-punk hybrid. "We just noticed that it's pretty easy to write simple verse/chorus/verse songs with lots of hooks, and it'll work even if the melody's outta key," Bufano says.
Once high school was over and the crowds disappeared, the foursome refined its tastes and abilities. "If the other guys were smart, they would've kicked me out a long time ago and got someone that knew how to play guitar," jokes Bufano. "The three of them were already accomplished musicians. I think we were really hard to listen to in our transitional period. Our style was changing too much, and people never knew what to expect at our shows. We really started to define our sound about a year ago."
Reuben's Accomplice switched gears from hyper pop tunes to more expressionistic, melodic emo, taking cues from the Promise Ring's musical aesthetic and Boys Life's meandering ambiance. RA admits it wears its influences on its sleeve, but insists that it's not just cloning styles.
"I think we sound like every band that we like, but we're very critical of sounding too much like any particular one," explains Knapp. "We'll change something if it sounds too derivative."
The band also took inspiration from locals Seven Storey Mountain and Jimmy Eat World, both of whom fall into the emo category (and have nationally released albums under their belts). "I think we're a sadder band than either of them," says Knapp. "Seven Storey Mountain is pretty angry, and Jimmy Eat World just writes good rock songs. We write about interpersonal relationships and wanting the girl you can't have, pretty heavy emotional stuff like that. In an emo band, it's gotta be so personal, so intensely emotional. It's gotta connect to you so well or it's really obvious that you're faking it."
Reuben's Accomplice wields a secret weapon against emo-mediocrity--bass player Andy Eames. "Even if everything else sounds typically emo or whatever, there's still the bass line. It takes the music somewhere else," notes Corak. "Andy's a classic rocker," confides Bufano. "He doesn't really like the kind of music we listen to or play, but he loves our band. He's been playing longer than us. He's the one who really got us into playing music."
Currently, the band has a four-song tape circulating among friends and fans.
Looking at the grinning band members drinking beer on my couch, I find it hard to relate them to the obsessive longing and anguished passion that courses through their tape. Although the songs are admittedly typical, relationship-oriented laments--"As a band, we don't get girls," Bufano sighs--they express both the maturity to fight the loss and the immaturity to whine about it. Consequently, Reuben's Accomplice excels at what emo bands strive to do--emote. The songs are articulately constructed roller coasters of intensity, ranging from poppy declarations of devotion such as "Don't Forget the Promise" (any song with hand-claps rocks my pop Richter scale) to bastardized sprawling dirges like "Mardi Gras on the West Side." The latter song also incorporates sampling, though in a somewhat prehistoric form. "One of the vocal tracks was unused, so we turned on the radio and just recorded as we flipped through stations," Corak tells me after I ask about the guy with the deep voice intoning "And they kept on havin' children."
RA has yet to gain much of an audience outside of the Valley, but the band is trying to get out of town more. "We've played at a shopping mall in Casa Grande and a pharmacy in Coolidge," says Knapp. "The kids in those towns are awesome, they're just so into music. We get jaded up here because so many good bands come through, but those kids don't have the luxury of missing a show."
The band also played a well-attended show recently at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, performing with fellow Valley locals Slugger and the Les Payne Project. "It was awesome," recalls Bufano. "There was no beer, no party atmosphere. The kids were just there to hear music. That's the best kind of show we can have."
RA hopes to eventually sign with an indie label. "I think our biggest liability is that we're not well-connected," notes Corak. "We don't know how to play the game yet. We have this probably pretty false notion that if we concentrate on the music and writing good songs, then people will notice. We're pretty naive as a band." Naive or not, RA's talent and emo's current popularity stack the odds in the band's favor. Many national indie labels, most notably Jade Tree, Crank, Caulfield, and Southern Records, are snapping up regional emo favorites. (For an eclectic sampling of this fairly new genre, check out Crank's (Don't Forget To) Breathe comp, which includes a Seven Storey Mountain track.)
Meanwhile, Reuben's Accomplice plans its first major tour for this summer, now that it's acquired the most obvious necessity. "Jeff's the only one that lives with his parents, but that's okay because he saved his money and bought a van," kids Corak.
Bufano cracks a grin and responds, "It seems like you're not really in a band 'til you have a van.