Thursday, December 20, 2001

Sax Punk
Jake Williams plays tenor saxophone for the punk band River City Rebels. Media Diet recently interviewed him about what it means to play sax in a punk band, the Boston punk scene, and what small-town punks bring big-city scenes. If you have additional questions, you can ask them in the Media Diet forum and I'll add his responses to the interview.

Simple statistics

Age, horoscope sign: I'm a vital 21-year-old, but my sign is kind of a different story. My birthday is May 21, which is on the cusp between Gemini and Taurus, and I've yet to determine which is my official sign. I usually just say Gemini.
Hometown: The lovely, yet terribly consumer driven South Windsor, Connecticut.
Saxophone make and model: Well, I usually just play a Yamaha student model tenor. I tend kick the crap out of it at shows, and right now it's in pretty bad shape, but I've got no substantial cash flow with which to repair it.
Mouthpiece make and model: I think it's a Selmer Paris. It's sweet.
Reed brand and hardness: Rico Royal, 3 yo.
Favorite saxophonist: Hmm. Angelo from Fishbone is a total badass, and I always really dug Derron, the original baritone sax player for Less Than Jake, but I'd probably have to say... Roland Alphonso, formerly of the Skatilites. He was one smooth mofo.

The questions

Having seen you guys play at the Middle East Upstairs and listening to your records, I've noticed some differences between the live shows and the recordings. Live, the Rebels evoke some kind of youth crew ska punk; on record, the band seems more assertive, a la Black 47 or the Strike. I've noticed a similar difference in your role in the band. Live, you're overshadowed by Brandon's fist pumping and trombone enthusiasm; on record, you stand out in several songs -- at the end of Long Lost Life and at the beginning of 22 Years, particularly. How do you see your role as saxophonist for the Rebels? What do you bring the band?

Well, Brandon might overshadow me physically because he's way bigger than me. I just like to dance, jump, and get down on stage, and Brandon likes to pump his fist and toss his bone around, and get right in the kids' faces. Just different approaches I guess. I tend to be left holding down the fort while Brandon drops his horn and gets in the crowd. As saxophonist for the Rebels, I'm supposed to play the horn lines, sing backing vocals, and dance in between. That's pretty much it, and I'd like to think I do it pretty damn well. I bring to the band some crappy emo glasses, and more dyed black hair. Go figure.

Are you ever concerned that Brandon's going to hit you or knock you into the wall when he's jumping around? He's got a lot of energy for a big guy.

After a show on a small stage, everyone in the band has pretty much had the crap beaten out of him. It's OK; there's never any hard feelings. Brandon will run me over sometimes. Drew will slam everyone in the back of the head with his guitar, and I tend fall over a lot. It's just how it is, and everyone's OK with it. No one really bitches about injuries. And yes, Brandon does indeed have a lot of energy for a big guy. He's very virile.

I understand you're relatively new to the band. How did you connect with the Rebels? What got you into sax and punk in the first place? Have you played sax in other bands?

I've been with the Rebels since February 2000. They posted an ad on, and I was bored, so I responded. Bopper liked my creepers, so they let me in. I started playing the saxophone because it was cooler than the clarinet. I started listening to punk because it was cooler than Pearl Jam. I've played sax in local Connecticut ska-punk bands, most notably the ridiculous Cobra Skammander and the illustrious Glueseaspiders.

Why did Dan McCool step away from the trumpet to sing? Now that he's switched from trumpet to vocals, is the horn section now a farm league for the next front man? Do you want to sing for the Rebels?

McCool switched to vocals following the original vocalist leaving the band. However, Bopper has now switched to vocals from guitar following McCool's departure. As far as me singing goes, I'm content to do my crappy screaming backing vocals. I'm really bad at screaming, but if I don't practice I'll never be any good at all.

Listening to the new record, there's a certain amount of youth crew trappings -- many of the songs deal with topics like being in a band, playing shows, hopes for the future of the band, going on tour, and getting into punk. That's a lot of songs about being in a band! What's the reason for the self-referential song writing? What's the biggest challenge or issue facing the folks in the band right now? Any pet causes?

Our former singer, Dan McCool is responsible for some of the lyrics on the album, and no one in the band is exactly sure why he got so stuck on the topic of being in a band as inspiration for writing songs. The biggest challenge facing the band right now is the lack of time we actually have to play shows, on account of almost everyone attending college in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The biggest issue is of course the atrocities being committed in Afghanistan, and the compromise of human rights for national safety. My pet cause would have to be the antiwar effort.

In the CD's thank-you list you give props to the Kendall for not firing you. The Kendall Cafe in Cambridge? If so, what do you do there? If not, what's the Kendall?

Actually, I'm thanking the Kendall Movie Theatre for not firing me (it's right up the street from the Kendall Cafe however). It's the indie movie theater I've been working at for almost year, and it's a very hip place with some of my favorite people in Boston being employed there. Essentially, my job is to cater to the petty whims of the predominantly rich white wannabe cultured intellectual crowd. This includes fetching their mineral water, making change from their $100 bills, and sweeping up the insane amounts of trash they manage to leave beneath their seats in the theater. It's great. Really.

Do you think the Rebels will ever play at the Kendall Cafe? There aren't many clubs in the Boston area that hold punk shows regularly. What do think of the state of the scene these days? What do you think needs to happen to improve it? What's the neatest stuff going on?

The Boston scene is in serious trouble right now. My friend Kim actually explained to me that no one in Boston actually plays music; they just wait for bands to come through so they can stand in the back in their hip mod clothes and talk shit about the kid wearing a ska shirt (not necessarily her exact words). But seriously, what bands are there playing Boston right now? The clubs are very unsupportive of the bands, but then again, so are the kids who go the clubs. The neatest things going on where I live are Aurora Seven Records and the Panda Squad, the best goddamn band in Boston.

Where are you from originally? How long have you lived here? In Small Town Pride, the band paints a pretty divisive picture of punks in rural and urban areas. How do you think the two groups are different? What do you think small-town punks bring bigger-city scenes?

I was born in Connecticut and then moved to Boston. But in general, small towns are better scenes. True, more kids might come to shows in a larger city, but the kids in smaller towns appreciate the shows so much more because they occur with less frequency. Small town kids aren't into the scenester shit that city kids are. There's just the scene without pretense to fashion or elitism. It's the jam.

What do you want to ask Jake?

(Thanks to Kathi Haruch of Victory Records for her help.)

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