A dinner date with Los Angeles/Philadelpia based Rat Fist is a special time. There are no bones about it, both literally and figuratively, as bandleader, guitar player/shouter, and all around nice guy Randy Randall (also of Sub Pop recording artists No Age) is vegan, so we decided on dining at Bragg's Factory Diner on Grand Avenue, which features some killer vegan fare.
Our choice was met with some chagrin by Randall's Rat Fist bandmates, Michael Sabolick (bass, vocals) and Mark Morones (drums), who are more than willing to tempt Randall, who is also the van driver, into eating some meat during the course of their two week trek to Texas, which will culminate at Austin's South by Southwest music festival. The band stopped by Phoenix on Tuesday, March 10, to play with LA's No Parents at Trunk Space.
"We were friends for the first time because he got a vegan milkshake," shared Sabolick as he referred to the stress of their first tour and finally getting to see Randall relax. When we all looked at Randall as if to say what the hell is vegan milkshake, he explained, "Usually it has almond milk or coconut milk and soy ice cream." In additions to milkshake ingredients, the band is pretty well equipped to talking about just about anything. It was interesting to watch and listen to the band deliberate over the merits of Bragg's fine menu and we eventually decided to partake in the Nacho-Man Randy Savage, as well as a few sandwiches.
Our conversation ranged from vegan fare (which Randall is obviously in favor of), to Instagram and social media (and Sabolick's first "gram" or whatever it's called), to what classic toys we would all like to play with if given the chance (Morones chose either a fart machine or a Stretch Armstrong). The beauty of this band is they are very well rounded, in some ways too well rounded as, at times, there were several discussions going on at our table of four.
We talked about our ideas of splitting up tour driving, which puts Randall in a tough spot as he is the only authorized driver of the van they were loaned for this tour. Long stretches of road make for interesting opportunities to explore social media like Instagram if you have a charged up cell phone, which was an extended topic as they realized on their way from LA to Phoenix there was only one outlet (a cigarette lighter) to charge their machines.
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Morones: It's all those damn food posts. Social commentary, I enjoy it. It's the same tedious thing, but its also so great because it's really a running ... thing about how douchey some people can be. It's all shit talking.
Sabolick: That's all I know how to do.
Randall: Even the pictures [of vegan food] are bland. I do follow quite a few vegan instagrammers. Veganfatkids is pretty good. It's mostly me and [artist] Ed Templeton saying, "Have you tried this place? Have you tried that place?"
Morones: The only people who I've blocked on Instagram are 10 year old kids. [Although we all agreed 10-year -ld kids talk the best shit]
Sabolick: I would like to be the most blocked person. I'm happy to be the inventor of the race but I don't necessarily have to win.
Rat Fist was born because Randall and his friend Sean McGuinness (drummer of No Age label mates Pissed Jeans) talked about wanting to do a project together after getting to know each other over the years of occasionally playing together and crossing paths. Unfortunately, McGuinness was unable to take part in this tour, so Randall enlisted the help of the L.A.-based Morones to man the sticks for this jaunt.
Randall explains, "This is a fun thing. Ten years of never actually doing anything and then finally, we both have kids, and now is a horrible time to start a band, but let's do it. Mike [Sabolick] was friends with Sean, so we had a bass player and we recorded all this stuff. It's a pain in the ass to have a cross country band, but we figured let's try it. ... Sean couldn't make it this time, so we got Mark. I had the shows booked, so here we are. We said, fuck it, let's start a band. That's sort of the spirit of this band."
The show itself was very fun, although poorly attended. To give you an idea, I think there were fewer than 10 people who were not directly involved with the club or the bands. Locals Captain Samurai opened, but they were almost finished when we got back to the club so it would be disingenuous of me to elaborate on how they were. From what I did hear, I'd like to hear more.
No Parents took over shortly after Captain Samurai was finished and if you like to be happily mindfucked in a SoCal punk rock style, you'll love this band. Lead singer Zoe Reign puts on a show. There are elements ofJello Biafra
(lots of entertaining pantomime) and Mark Adkins ofGuttermouth
fame, but realistically, Reign is his own man and extremely conscientious when it comes to his grandma who was in the audience. Bassist Killian LeDuke and drummer Monte Najera more than capably handle the low end chores and I especially loved the enthusiasm of LeDuke as he skillfully handled his Fender bass.
Another highlight, though, during their set was watching and listening to guitarist Ryan McGuffin whose style was akin to Rhino 39's Larry Parrot while physically resembling a lankier Ian Mackaye of Fugazi. I wasn't quite sure about No Parents during the first few songs, even with Reign's engaging showmanship, but early in their third song they really came into their own and McGuffin's killer guitar lines started to become much more expressive. The small crowd ate it up and it was fun watching Morones and Randall dance like mad men supporting their van mates.
Randall shared with me, "The first time I saw No Parents...I really felt like the energy and the attitude they had was so what I wanted. It felt really fun. When I knew we were doing this tour, I thought, 'That'll be awesome. They'll be a hard band to go on after.'"
As No Parents wound down their short set, it occurred to me the band needs to come back and play Phoenix again. I caught up with LeDuke after their set and he filled me in on their enthusiasm for what they do and the relationship they are building with Burger Records, which will only help open more doors for this super fun band.
When Rat Fist took the stage, they were admittedly very loose, although if I hadn't known they were three guys who hadn't played together very much, I might not have noticed their occasional hiccup. Morones has a distinctive drum style, and to be blunt, the 25 year old shreds, but he's also not McGuinness who tends to be a much more pulverizing drummer. This change in the rhythm section was noticeable after having spent a fair amount of time listening to the band over the last week, but it was not in any way unpleasant.
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Randall's approach in Rat Fist is similar to his work in No Age, and any fan of No Age would probably pick out his style and sound fairly easily but it was great to see him rip through their 9 or 10 song set up close and personal. As the band found their stride, much like No Parents, they really rounded into form. By the time they get to Austin for SXSW, they will definitely be firing on all cylinders. If you've been to Trunk Space, you know vocals are not always completely discernible, but like many of their noisy predecessors, vocals are just part of the package and not meant to be out front.
Bassist Sabolick is also a treat to watch and listen to, especially in a small venue where you are close enough to see his myriad of facial expressions while he plays. With deceptively nimble fingers and an almost constant grin, there is almost no way you wouldn't enjoy watching the man play, particularly when you see how much he is enjoying himself. The band shared with me that they had written a two or three of the songs only days before the show, so it was great watching them discover how they would sound live together on stage. These guys take themselves just the right amount of seriously, which is to say seriously enough to put on a great show but with zero rock star attitude or pretension. Let's hope they come back through town sooner than later.
All in all, it was a privilege to get to know these guys on a personal and professional level. Their sound is familiar, but not in a way that loses the feeling of being original or unique. As I listened, I had a difficult time coming up with any concrete comparisons. While a few songs reminded me of No Age, for sure, most of the set was very different (outside of Randall's inimitable style.) I heard bits of Fly Ashtray and a touch of Truman's Water, but that's where I leave the comparisons to the other ten people who saw the show.
One last thing....for Matt of Nazareth, all I have to say is "Prerelevant is the new paradigm."