Music News

School of Rawk

On a recent weekday afternoon, I was sitting at home flipping through the new issue of Food & Wine when Adam Jacobson, bassist and lead vocalist of the Tempe rock outfit Steppchild, dropped in to school me in his philosophy of rock 'n' roll.

Now, I think I'm pretty well-versed in the ways of the rawk despite my taste in periodicals -- I hadn't changed clothes in a few days and hadn't shaved in several weeks -- but I quickly learned that I've got nothing on Adam or Steppchild (which he plays in with two other Adams: Adam Roach on drums and Adam Carter on guitar). Jacobson, a bear of a man with long, curly red hair and a matching beard, has already warned me that he's prone to making shit up (he's a stage actor by trade, go figure), but I've never heard the theory of rock 'n' roll so eloquently delineated, and gloriously debauched, as I did from Jacobson's whiskey-lubed tongue.

Jacobson's prone to shock-value outbursts about sex and drugs when he talks about the rawk, both in person and in Steppchild's music, but to a degree it's performance art -- being an actor, he's playing a rock star when he's outside the context of a theater. His and his bandmates' roles in Steppchild allow them to emulate the heroes of their childhood (all three Adams are around 30) like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and KISS, adopting the devil-may-care moral attitude those bands were embracing when the Adams were toddlers.

Sure, it's a cliché to preach the joys of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll as adamantly as Jacobson does, but for those of us too young to have experienced the antics of Gene Simmons or Ozzy Osbourne firsthand, Steppchild is here to represent the true school of hard rock, making music about fucking and getting fucked up.

That flavor of bacchanalia pervades Steppchild's new self-released record, Pledge Allegiance to Rock and Roll. The trio is best known locally for its raucous live shows, but until now has never really captured that energy on a record. Pledge Allegiance finally makes that shit come correct.

"I want everybody to know that there's bad words on here," Jacobson says of the record. "'Mustache Ride' is a dirty fuckin' song. I'm talkin' about eating it, that's all there is to it."

There's actually more to it than the lyrics. All three Adams are accomplished musicians (drummer Roach is a piano teacher) and it shows in their crunchy blues riffs, occasional melodic piano accompaniment, and compelling vocal harmonies. The album opens with a baroque a cappella mix of all three singing the words "rock 'n' roll" in a classical melody that would make the pope pay attention.

Jacobson concurs, "A lot of times all people hear is this shortsighted dirty stuff we do, but what's fun for us is that we spend a lot of time writing harmonies, a lot of time on the melodies. That's important to us."

Each song on Pledge Allegiance to Rock and Roll is, well, doing exactly that. Whether it's "16-Year-Old Lover," where Jacobson sings, "You're old enough to break a few rules, but young enough to do what you been told," or "Wasted Time," where he sings, "I stay wasted all the time, 'cause it's how I like to be. I'm a goddamn rock machine with the liquor inside of me," Steppchild evangelizes the joys of the rawk.

"I write songs about playing rock 'n' roll, which is a metaphor for fucking, and I write songs about teenage girls and strippers, in which there's no metaphor at all. It's nothing other than that -- you wanna talk about your feelings? You wanna talk about where you're at today, your emotional state? Good, talk about it. I do -- I write country songs. But I'd never call it rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll is 'I stuck my dick in something and it felt so goddamn good,'" Jacobson says with his characteristic panache.

After a couple hours of extended analysis of what exactly rock 'n' roll is, with shots of bourbon to emphasize his points, I'm convinced that Jacobson knows more about rock 'n' roll than anyone I've ever bullshitted on the subject with. It's that dedication to preaching the rawk that makes Steppchild's new record such a rousing success. It's not original, in the sense that it owes its existence to bands that were perfecting the art 20 and 30 years ago, but the band channels its forebears so well that you can't fault the lack of innovation. Steppchild likely will never make the big time, but the Adams get to live the rock-star dreams of their youth on a minor, local level, and bring the rawk of ages to those of us lucky enough to live here in the 'Nix.

This isn't the sort of record that'll make A&R guys knock down Steppchild's door trying to sign them -- the Adams won't be quitting their day jobs -- but I can testify that, despite that, it makes a perfect companion for an afternoon of drinking whiskey and banging your head.

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Brendan Joel Kelley