Jive Talkin'

Rap 'n' roll: Bionic Jive, onstage at the Big Fish Pub last Friday.
Leah Fasten

Local rap-metal combo Bionic Jive was all set to play a high-profile showcase at New York's CBGB on May 29. It was supposed to have been the group's big break, as the proposed gig would've boasted an audience filled with record-label suits and A&R types from nearly a dozen companies. Then Jimmy Iovine decided to shut the whole thing down. Iovine, a noted engineer (Bruce Springsteen, Meat Loaf) turned producer (U2, Tom Petty) turned record exec, certainly has enough clout to pull the plug on whatever he wants. As the founder of Interscope Records and the current co-chairman of the recently merged Interscope, Geffen, A&M division of Universal -- the world's largest record company -- he's one of the most powerful and respected figures in the music industry.

But Iovine's mission wasn't born of some personal vendetta; rather, he just wanted the band for himself. To avoid the possibility of losing Bionic Jive to a competing label, he offered the group a relatively lucrative contract just days before its proposed Big Apple jaunt.

"It had to be [lucrative] for us to do it," says Bionic Jive leader Larry Elyea of the group's newly inked multi-album pact. "We had been pumped up really big in certain industry circles, and the New York thing was going to blow us up even more. After that it seemed like we were pretty much going to be able to do whatever we wanted as far as signing a deal. With 10-plus labels interested and ready to come to the showcase, it had to be a really sweet deal for us to cancel the whole thing. We told [Interscope] that and they gave us pretty much everything we wanted in terms of the deal."

Things began to fall into place for the band after an earlier industry showcase held at L.A.'s Viper Room. A producer for the USA Network's program (a live music program and talent search featuring unsigned bands) caught the Jive's performance and invited the group to appear on the show.

As Bash & Pop reported last month, the band traveled to Universal City and played on a bill including rapper Juvenile and alt-metalers System of a Down (the episode aired last Monday). After listening to the group's seven-song demo, Iovine came to see the farmclub taping, met the band, and the rest, as they say, was kismet. (The visibility provided by has also been a boon in expanding the band's burgeoning national fan base. After a brief two-minute package about the group aired a week before its appearance, the Bionic Jive Web site received 36,000 hits in the first hour after the broadcast alone.)

Although it's yet to be determined which of the many Universal-affiliated imprints (Def Jam, Island, etc.) the band will eventually record for, it appears likely that the group will stick close with Iovine and record under the aegis of Interscope.

The group -- guitarist Elyea, bassist Richard Gartner, drummer Chris Elsner and MCs Emerg McVay and Ako Mack -- plans to head to L.A. in late August to begin sessions for the album. Though no decision has been made, the group is already well into the process of picking a producer to helm the project. "The label had some suggestions and we had our own ideas as to who should do it, but as it turned out, the names they suggested were all on our list anyway," says Elyea.

Among those being considered are Terry Date (Limp Bizkit, Buckcherry), David Jerden (Offspring, Alice in Chains), Ulrich Wild (Static X, Stabbing Westward) and A Perfect Circle leader Billy Howerdel. Howerdel, a onetime guitar tech for Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins, recently released his band's Virgin Records debut Mer de Noms.

"[Howerdel] or someone like that would be great," says Elyea emphatically. "Ideally, we want to have a musician like Howerdel do it, and to us the Perfect Circle record sounds as good as anything out there right now."

Whoever they pick will have plenty to work with -- the label has slated four to six weeks of studio time and provided a recording budget of $300,000.

Elyea is confident that the label isn't trying to mold the band into something different from what it already is. "I think they're going to go for the blend that we already have and just try and fatten it up. They really think we have something special, which is the whole reason they brought us on board," he says.

A seasoned producer/engineer (and head of his own Valley studio, Mind's Eye Digital), Elyea has managed, along with the rest of the group, to craft a genuine merger of styles. Though lyrically rooted in rap and heavy funk, the group represents its rock side with a raw skronk devoid of the aesthetic niceties common among the more tame exponents of the genre. Coupled with the irresistible ferocity of its live performance, Bionic Jive produces a legitimate sound and fury that actually generates interest from those who maintain a healthy disregard for most of what passes under the banner of rap-metal.

"Yeah, I'm confident that they're not going to screw with the style too much," adds Elyea. "Basically, it's going to be a bigger, larger version of what we're already doing."

The "bigger, larger" version of Bionic Jive won't hit the streets until early next year; the label has tentatively penciled in a January or February release date for the album. Elyea hopes Interscope will put the band out on tour as soon as the record is done, in advance of the 2001 street date.

Though a fall national tour is imminent, the group won't be playing in the Valley for a while. Last Friday's Big Fish Pub show will be the band's last for some time (with the exception of a July 29 show at the new Web Theatre with Digital Underground) as they start a summerlong performing hiatus. Elyea says the group needs the time to write more material and begin pre-production on the record. "We had eight songs before getting signed. We've just finished six more, but we want to go into the studio with about 20 and pare it down from there.

"That's our main focus right now," he continues. "The guys have all been living at my house for the last week and we're using every spare moment just trying to finish up songs."

Flashing Reds: If, as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photo of Red Light District (below) is surely worth two or three times that amount. It would take at least that many adjectives to describe the group members' appearance -- a disconcertingly surreal cross between a blaxploitation flick and a bad acid trip.

While it would be easy to cast aspersions on the group's bizarre fashion sense, the same can't be said of their musicianship, which is surprisingly first-rate. The dual-guitar attack of Freddy Gildersleeve (Jennys, Ashbrook) and Jeff Icard (Sammy Purple, Ixnay) bumps and grinds against the loose rhythms of bassist/vocalist John Rice and drummer Ralo, creating the kind of ruckus that draws equal inspiration from Sly and the Family Stone and the Allman Brothers.

Red Light's notorious reputation for 30-minute medleys, onstage fistfights and a general air of deviant, drunken mayhem that colors most of its performances is no exaggeration. Much of that spirit is captured on their debut EP, Junkies, Whores and Other Masterpieces.

The five-song disc is a relentless 30-minute blur of funky originals, topped off by a "secret" bonus track, a take on an old Led Zeppelin fave. Jam band aficionados should also take note, as there is plenty of improv and bluesy noodling going on, enough to satisfy even the most dedicated hippie twirlers. The group celebrates the release of Junkies with a performance this Saturday at Long Wong's in Tempe.

Also this Saturday, the irrepressible Grave Danger headlines a fine triple bill featuring local twangers Chicken and Texas' Los Skarnales at Nita's Hideaway. Los Skarnales, a genre-bending nine-piece ensemble out of Houston, is slated for a middle set which will see them perform a ska/rockabilly/swing meld sung entirely in Spanish.

Red Light District is scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 10, at Long Wong's in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m. Grave Danger, Chicken, and Los Skarnales are scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 10, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m.

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