Music News

Problem Child

Adam Jacobson is a big man. His goal is just as big to subvert the sourpuss patrol that controls modern rock 'n' roll and pump a little fun back into its veins with Steppchild, the viscerally enjoyable Tempe band for which he plays bass and sings.

"It's like the huge, fucking genre-of-the-times bands put out by the major labels. They play their shit music for everyone," Jacobson, 27, explains. "It's like wearing those faded jeans that you see people wearing these days. They look like the people have been rubbing their asses on the pavement. The music I'm talking about kind of sounds like those jeans. That's a way I can describe it."

No worries, Adam, no one will ever mistake your band for earnest rap-rockers like Linkin Park or confuse Jacobson for comically pained Linkin front man Chester Bennington, himself a Phoenician. That's a good thing.

Steppchild appropriates the best parts of Black Sabbath and AC/DC fat, brontosaurus riffs, lyrics about sex and drinking, and vocals that sound like Jacobson's having a hernia. With a new self-released album called The New Kings of Rock 'n' Roll, which comes with calligraphy that reads in part, "We are the people of rock 'n' roll," Steppchild also offers no apology for embracing shtick. And with song titles like "Gambling, Strippers & Liquor," "Sixteen-Year-Old Lover" and "She's a God Damn Rock 'n' Roll Explosion," it invites a little mayhem.

Imagine, for instance, a super-serious nu-metal band singing a song called "I'll Have Sex With Your Wife." Is it a rude concept? Absolutely. But it's also the funniest, most arousing rock 'n' roll routine in the Valley, even if the band's rhymes don't actually rhyme: "I think your wife is kind of a hussy/Especially when my tongue is buried deep inside her pussy," Jacobson sings in just one of several over-the-top adulterous lines. By the song's end, he's shouting "I'll be fucking your wife!" and punctuating his intentions with the outro, "And I'm gonna keeeeeeeep on fucking her!" Live, it's the world's dirtiest, catchiest sing-along.

"About six-plus months ago, we were having a particularly good show. The crowd was greatly drunk," says Jacobson, who with his long, curly red hair, thick mustache and chest hair that pours from a partially buttoned shirt is his own stage prop. "We were playing a cover of the AC/DC classic TNT.' During the song, Adam Carter, our guitarist, accidentally kicked his mike stand. It went into the crowd. There was beer spilled everywhere. A few minutes later, a chair got thrown up on stage. That's when we ended the night. . . . Later, we were like, That was a great show.'"

Short of a near riot, Steppchild will almost always entertain or at least offend. Their shows, such as one with Truckers on Speed and the Steve Larson Band at the Mason Jar in Phoenix two weeks ago, are a mix of ridiculousness and tribute to the joys of barroom rock. "We at Steppchild believe rock 'n' roll is number one," Jacobson will say, and he means it. But then the band launches into antics that make you wonder where tongue stands in relation to cheek.

Jacobson and Carter often sway in unison to their chunky riffs. The taller Jacobson stands in place, flopping his locks and flashing a grin. The shorter Carter, meanwhile, bends and reaches like a Smurf. Jacobson, for years an aspiring actor, channels the Fonz and David Lee Roth with his body language.

The improv is better than the rehearsed stuff. At the Mason Jar, the band covered "Fairies Wear Boots," Black Sabbath's 1970 romance with prog-rock. Halfway through, Jacobson and Carter met at midstage in a crouch, one of those old "let's bash out on guitars and huddle together to see if they repel each other" gestures. Suddenly, the two walked forward in that crouch. They wore menacing, conquering looks. Movie monsters! Help! That's not a guilty pleasure. That's just freakin' hilarious.

That said, I'm left to wonder: When is the band putting us on and when isn't it?

"That's a conundrum I live in," the singer says. "When I'm onstage, I'm enjoying myself and, yes, I am serious, too.

"They have to go hand in hand," Jacobson continues. "There's a symbiotic relationship between the two. I'm paying homage to rock 'n' roll. Like when Paul Stanley of KISS yells Rock 'n' roll!' to the crowd 100 times a night . . . it's funny. But I'm very serious when I say there's a lack of serious rock 'n' roll going on right now."

Jacobson and cohorts take the view that rock is theater, and throw in a heavy dose of debauchery and electric fuzz (Check out "Godspeed," from the New Kings disc. It proves the band can write legitimately good hard-rock songs). For Jacobson, it also made for better theater than actual theater, which had been his first career choice.

Jacobson studied dramatic arts for years at Portland University and Arizona State before coming to an epiphany. Once he moved back to the Valley from Portland, he reunited with Carter and drummer Adam Roach, buddies from junior high school yes, the band is made up of three dudes named Adam. They were forming a band, and invited their friend to check it out.

"I didn't necessarily want to be in a heavy-metal band," Jacobson says. "But I heard what they were doing, and I said this was fun. I said, Hey theater! Go fuck yourself.'"

Now he feeds his acting jones onstage, and makes Phoenix unsafe for the self-important.

"When I see band photos, and all these guys are scowling like, We're all serious,' I'm like, No you aren't. You're a bunch of fucking tools.'"

My sentiments exactly.

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Christopher O'Connor