John Reis is synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll. As the singer/guitarist in Rocket From the Crypt, he helped usher a much-needed blast of style and flair to music in the grunge era. As part of the abrasive and rhythmically complex Drive Like Jehu, he helped put San Diego punk on the map. And as head of Swami Records, he’s curated a roster of incredible garage rock acts, such as Dan Sartain and Beehive and the Barracudas. Now, as frontman for The Night Marchers, Reis, or “Speedo” as he is sometimes known, slings yet another permutation of rock ‘n’ roll swagger and grit.
Formed with two of Reis’ prior bandmates in The Hot Snakes (Jason Kourkounis, Gar Wood) and a member of Montreal psychpunks The CPC Gangbangs, The Night Marchers play a unique yet classic-sounding rock ‘n’ roll. The group’s debut album See You In Magic is a raucous and uproarious affair, and it is as catchy as they come. Finding a middle ground between Rocket’s anthemic rock and The Hot Snakes’ furious, rough punk, while throwing in a hefty dose of reverb and some ’60s-style garage blues, The Night Marchers are simultaneously new, exciting, and classic Reis.
Seated at the Tiki bar behind his San Diego home, Reis explains the name of his new band and how it relates to a touring band’s lifestyle.
“I’m really into the pagan imagery of the South Pacific, Night Marchers being apparitions of Hawaiian warriors that appear in groups in sacred places on the Hawaiian Islands,” Reis said. “I just like the imagery, the two words together. They kind of fit to what we do, in a sense of this militant rock ‘n’ roll procession that we have, as far as traveling and playing. When you’re playing music at one o’clock in the morning, you kind of become…daylight. As much as you like it, it’s something you don’t see very often.”
See You In Magic marks the first studio record to be released with Reis in the role of performer and songwriter in about four years. Since the release of The Hot Snakes’ Audit In Progress, that band, The Sultans, and Rocket From the Crypt all broke up in succession, leaving Reis to focus on various other projects. In that time, he began writing songs on his own, which eventually evolved into those heard on See You In Magic.
“Some of the songs go back a couple years and a couple were written two days before,” Reis said. “It was kind of a large timeframe for me, because usually when you make a record, they’re all kind of part of the same idea that germinated over a two- or three-month period. Creativity for me is something that happens in brief moments where it just happens, and hopefully I’m lucky enough to have a guitar in my hands. It’s not like I can write a song everyday.”
I just want to focus all my musical ideas, kind of funnel them into this one thing…There’s not a need to have different aliases and bands with different agendas, because we kind of incorporate it all into The Night Marchers.
With songs written and some phone calls to friends Wood (guitar), Thomas Kitsos (bass) and Kourkounis (drums), The Night Marchers convened in Reis’ studio for a few days of rehearsal and recording, with See You In Magic being the end result. Though, according to Reis, the process led to a sort of sonic metamorphosis.
“You have things you want to try to explore, different sounds, but after a while it just sort of becomes what it is,” Reis said. “All these things you’re trying to achieve don’t necessarily apply, because the record has these songs and records kind of take on a life of their own. Even while you’re working on it, it’s kind of out of your hands. It is what it is.”
In addition to being a musician, Reis takes on numerous other creative ventures. In addition to running Swami Records, he owns San Diego bar The Pink Elephant, records other bands, spins records weekly on local radio station 94.9, and to top it off, he’s also a father. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, he once hooked the baby monitor up to the P.A. system during rehearsal. Because of the difficulty in balancing so many duties at one time, Reis reiterates the importance of sustaining one musical project at a time.
“Occasionally, I like to record a band, and I DJ one night a week on the radio station here in town, and it is very difficult to do all these things I want to do,” Reis said. “That’s part of the reason I’m not particularly interested in being in a bunch of bands right now. I just want to focus all my musical ideas, kind of funnel them into this one thing. If I pull it off, I pull it off. There’s not a need to have different aliases and bands with different agendas, because we kind of incorporate it all into The Night Marchers.” Though their songs are sometimes mired in dark subject matter, The Night Marchers are an unquestionably fun band. From the group’s Stooges-meets-Bo Diddley garage rock boogie to their sense of humor, reflected in song titles like “Panther in Crime” and the chorus of “I snore Z-Z-Z-Z” in standout track “In Dead Sleep,” everything about them adds up to a hell of a good time. It’s this sense of enjoyment that permeates every musical project in which Reis has been involved, from Rocket From the Crypt’s mythological live shows to The Hot Snakes and The Sultans’ urgent punk rock sensibilities. For Reis, having fun is just part of the job.
“I always kind of thought that maybe if we were having fun, people would have fun listening to us,” Reis said.
“I think it would be dishonest to make it seem like what we were doing was anything other than having the time of our lives.”
– Jeff Terich
– Photo by Candice Eley
The Night Marchers on MySpace: www.myspace.com/thenightmarchers