A Nice Kick in the Teeth 

Switchblades, Booze, and "Fuck You, Go Away" are the Prime Topics

The East Bay Chasers are a punk rock anomaly. Their sound isn't a reaction to current punk trends, and, despite the name, they don't nod to any classic SF Bay Area bands. In fact, there's not a whole lot of forethought involved in the music at all. The whole thing is strangely uncontrived, especially for a genre that's been largely turned into soothing anthems for not-yet-angsty preteens.

Switchblades, booze, and "Fuck you, go away" are the prime topics of the Chasers' self-titled debut album, produced by East Bay Ray and released through Berkeley's Industrial Strength label. "Someone was asking us if we actually try to write our tunes to make them sound like we wrote them in '77," says singer (Eric) Reed. "We don't even think about the sound at all. We just go into the studio and say, 'Let's play,' and it seems to work." Whether in the studio, or live (drunkenly, staggeringly so), the Chasers bring to mind the hot-rod, speed-freak demons of Stanley Mouse (think overly armed biker dude crashing a party, passing out in the bonfire, and being gently nudged away from the burning embers to get rid of that nasty burnt pork smell). Their music's a nice change in this post-everything world -- earnestly Bacchanalian, sternly nihilist. And the band isn't messing around with time signatures, chromatic scales, or any of that stuff. This is rock 'n' roll, after all: Three chords, four beats to a measure, and a backbeat. Pop mores are not being flouted, they're being upheld. The Chasers aren't particularly interested in expanding anyone's social conscience, either -- there's neither a political nor a sensitive lyric in the mix. The Chasers may be from the East Bay, but their worldview is from Johnny Thunders.

They're a five-member band: Reed on vocals, Danica Boggs and Jesse Rozales on guitars, Bart Thatcher on drums, and Eric Cantu on bass. Eric and Jesse were originally in LA's Bolivian Butt Pirates, and Danica was a member of SF-based band Pink Sugar. Reed's checkered past even includes involvement in an early version of college rock darlings the Wallflowers.

The band started out as a collaboration between Danica, Reed, and two former members of United Blood -- Heiko Schrepel (now of One Man Army) and Rick Ficara (currently with the Lewd). Now a year later, Schrepel and Ficara are gone, and, despite an admittedly haphazard approach to songwriting and musicianship, the Chasers' renown is growing -- much to their surprise. "We're in CMJ," Reed exclaims. "Can you believe that?"

Their album starts off with "Joy Ride," which has a nice rolling bass and crunchy guitar you'd expect from a punk band. Then Reed's vocals kick in; that's where it gets a little strange. The vocals on the CD are pretty darn produced, with some ornamentation that doesn't quite come off right -- either the product of trying too hard or of misunderstood genius. The problem lies with the pronunciation: Stretching the occasional syllable into two is a necessary bit of poetic license for most bands, but "a-way-ee-yay" for "away" just doesn't work -- it's incongruous taken together with the rest of the sound. However, Reed's got a "real" voice (as in, he doesn't just shout -- he can hold notes and stuff), and that's a kick in the teeth for someone used to lyrics shouted, screamed, or howled -- but it's a nice kick.

Once you get past the strange vocals, the album as a whole is full-on rock that starts out fast and pissed and keeps it up throughout -- kind of Guns N' Roses meets the Adolescents. "Switch Blade," "Fade Away," and "One Way Ticket" are all great drunken, guitar-driven rants.

The second half of the album becomes less and less sleaze rock, and more and more inspired by Social Distortion and their ilk. "Working Class Hero" is a good example of this, with the same blue-collar, Midwestern feel (forget that Social D is from LA; they may as well be straight out of Gary, Indiana): "Working nine to five just to stay alive/ But I ain't no working class hero/That's not my style." This is also the only song on the album with backup vocals, and they work well.

See the group live, and all the awkward stylings disappear. The raw power and immediacy of a live set does the band good, even if half the members are close to passing out from the exertion involved in processing all the alcohol they've consumed (the downfall of many a band). Apart from the occasional false start, the Chasers pull it off with nary a hitch.

"It's simple music," says Reed. "And we need simple. We're too wasted to play anything hard."

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