John Reis isn’t too keen on discussing his immortality. The San Diego punk/indie demigod who helmed Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes is too cheeky and self-effacing for such serious contemplation. (Reis’ official statement on RFTC’s break-up reads: “We felt we needed to take a stand and fight for the future of our children and our children’s children’s friends. On Halloween 2005, we decided to disband in protest of illegal music downloading.”) But time and again, Reis has proven he’s a hard man to keep down.
So it’s no shock that Reis entered RFTC’s farewell concert on a gurney with a sheet pulled over his body, only to leap onstage dressed as a witch doctor and administer last rites. The final show is documented on R.I.P. (Vagrant), a DVD of the performance at the Westin Plaza in San Diego. With RFTC tearing through 25 songs, R.I.P. (which also includes a CD featuring 19 of the set’s tracks) is distinguished by the six-piece band’s fun costume changes and crisp-sounding mix. Hosted by Mexican Elvis impersonator El Vez, R.I.P. capsulizes RFTC’s horn-accented, carnivalesque punk vibe.
“We always concerned ourselves with celebrating the good in mankind and the worst in what can be done with wires and electricity,” says Reis, better known by his nickname, Speedo, during RFTC’s heyday. “We owed it to ourselves to put it to bed properly, and there was no problem with getting together one more time and waving the white flag.”
RFTC’s funeral was somewhat overdue. After a three-album run with Interscope ended in 1998, the band made two LPs for Vagrant, including 2002 swan song Live From Camp X-Ray, an exceptionally tight and furious effort that Reis modestly calls “a fairly mundane punk record.” Hot Snakes, the needle-in-the-red post-punk group Reis formed with ex-Jehu singer/guitarist Rick Froberg in 1999, also called it quits in 2005. Two years later, Reis disbanded his hard-riffing garage act, Sultans.
Given the demise of his three bands and a pair of natural disasters—a fire destroyed Reis’ Drag Racist studio in 2003, and a 2006 blaze at video-production company Fourth Project delayed the release of R.I.P. by a year—it might’ve appeared that Speedo had made his last stand. Turns out that Reis was merely recharging and rebuilding his studio (now named City Of Refuge) for the recording of the debut by his new band, the Night Marchers. Featuring Reis, drummer Jason Kourkonis, guitarist Gar Wood (both Hot Snakes alums) and bassist Tommy Kitsos (CPC Gangbang), the group’s 13-song debut is due in March. In addition, Reis continues to run his Swami label (which is releasing the Night Marchers’ debut) and recently became co-owner of Bar Pink Elephant in San Diego, a job that apparently puts his various skills and experience to use.
“I make sure the pee-pee is removed from the bathroom and book some of the shows,” says Reis. “I also drink for free and greet customers.”