In this week’s Voice, we profiled the Rapture, recently re-signed to DFA Records. Luke Jenner, Vito Roccoforte, and Gabriel Andruzzi are voluble guys, so there was plenty of material that we couldn’t fit into the story. Here are a few pieces from our interviews that touch on the band’s early years, as well as the fraught making of 2006’s Pieces of the People We Love.
Luke Jenner: My first dream was to be a baseball player. My dad worked at University of Hawaii when I was a kid and worked with the baseball players there. They just started the College Baseball Hall of Fame, and one of the first people in there, Derek Tatsuno, the first left-handed pitcher in college baseball to win 20 games, was [at U of H] when I was a kid. I used to go around when I was a kid in Hawaii saying my dad was Derek Tatsuo—and I don’t look anything like a Tatsuno. I worshiped these guys and wanted to be like them.
I played high school baseball and had a real crisis in my life because my junior year I didn’t play a single game. I just put my uniform on and sit on the bench every day. That was my pressure outlet, and that’s where I got love in my life. My family wasn’t really able to show love for me. My baseball coaches [were]—they’d take me out for pizza or give me a ride to the game. They’d just give me the love that didn’t exist in my house.
When I was 17 I quit baseball, which was a huge decision for me. [My] coach was really nice about it. He took me out of class and sat with me: “Everyone has to quit baseball sometime. I quit baseball in college.” I just started playing with people who were good at a level I’d never seen. Southern California is a baseball hotbed. Southern California, Texas, and Florida is basically where most of the baseball players are from in the U.S., because you can play year-round.
I was kind of a jock to that point. I got on the tennis team—there’s a picture of me in the high school yearbook wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt, playing tennis. I started going to shows a lot. I wanted something no one could take away from me, so I started playing guitar. One of the guys on the baseball team—the guy who took my spot—had a guitar, and I asked if I could borrow it. He wasn’t using it, because he was playing baseball every day. Eventually, my parents bought me [a guitar] for a graduation present. They were like, “Either you can go to Europe with us again”—we had gone the summer before—”or we’ll buy you a guitar.” I stayed home all summer playing guitar and drinking cheap beer.
It’s funny: I was the best pitcher in my little league. This younger kid [whose] dad pitched for the Red Sox used to play right field. Every time they hit the ball to him, I’d cringe, because he’d always try to dive to catch the ball, no matter what, even if they hit it right to him. I would try to not let anyone hit it to him. He’s the guy I got the guitar from.
VV: He played outfield like a lead guitarist?
LJ: Exactly. He was trying to be the Jimi Hendrix of right field.
On the Rapture’s early years:
Vito Roccoforte: I was really into Animal when I was a kid. I loved The Muppet Show. My parents loved it too. They got me an Animal drum [kit] when I was really little and I was really into it. When I was 8 or 9, I went to drum lessons. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t like Animal; it was too rigid. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to learn rudiments. I just wanted to hit the drums a lot. So I quit and didn’t play drums again until the end of high school.
Luke and I hung out every day. We were really into baseball cards when we were younger, and then we were into video games, and then we really got into music when we were 16. That’s when we decided, “Let’s start a band.” He actually wanted to play the drums, but his parents… I think he had a drum kit at home for like a minute but his parents made him get rid of it.
LJ: Vito was supposed to be the drummer in our first attempt to start a band in San Diego. He was just so bad that we couldn’t play with him. I played shows before he did. But I wasn’t happy in the bands I was in because I wasn’t in a band with my friends.
The night before Vito was leaving for college in San Francisco, I asked if I could go with him. I stayed on the couch of someone I knew from San Diego who was in an Unwound-influenced band called 100 Watt Halo. [Then] I moved into a place that had a practice space in the back of the house. I’d have Vito come over and just drill him: “You’re going to play this one beat for a year, and I’m going to play guitar, and we’re going to practice until we can play together.” We played “Road Runner” until we had it.
VR: We played that song for a long time in this back shed thing. He really wanted me to play it a certain way.
VV: At first I’d presumed it was the Jonathan Richman one you were doing.
VR: No, it was the Bo Diddley one. I love the Jonathan Richman one, though.
VV: That actually gives more of a clue to the overt rhythmic style that you’ve had ever since the beginning.
VR: Yeah, rhythm has been the main focus of the band from the beginning. Luke has a really good sense of rhythm. Like I said, he always wanted to be a drummer. Even if you listen to his guitar parts, they’re very rhythmic. And a lot of times there’s not a lot of notes, it’s more based on rhythm. The whole idea of the band is locking into one rhythm.
LJ: That’s always been my musical philosophy: everything has to work together. You may not be playing anything flashy, but the feel has to be right.
VV: That’s apparent on [1999’s] Mirror and [2001’s] Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks even before you get to DFA.
VR: Those are heavily based on rhythms. It’s just a different rhythm.
On post-punk redux:
VV: Post-punk that started to bubble up in American underground rock again, via labels like 5RC and Troubleman Unlimited, around 1998 or so.
LJ: We knew all those people. I think we kind of pioneered a movement. A lot of people were like, “Hey, the Rapture moved [east]. It seems like they’re doing good.” The West Coast was pretty locked up. It was almost like a frontier movement—hitch up the wagon and go to New York.
VR: With Mirror we were really into a lot of the post-punk stuff. I was getting more into ESG and bands like that during that period but it didn’t really show up until maybe Out of the Races. I think it’s natural: you check something out and it takes a while to digest it musically and turn it around.
Gabriel Andruzzi: [Post-punk was] what I was into in ’94, ’95. That’s part of the reason I moved to Chicago [then]: that shit was not flying in D.C., but in Chicago it was cool and beyond. I toured with the Scissor Girls playing saxophone. I was in Bobby Conn’s Lean Muscular Funk Unit, which was basically his funky, noisy, no-wavy band. I was in a band called Monitor Radio—I took Quintron’s place as the guitar player for a year and a half. By the time I moved to New York, when I saw that other shit bubble up, I thought, ‘Oh, it finally got here. This is now cool? Interesting. Seriously, all that shit’s cool now?’ Things like Lightning Bolt reminded me of Chicago four years earlier. At the time, I was a snob. [Later], I let go of all my inhibitions and judgments, trying to enjoy whatever for whatever.
VR: Looking back, it was a very stagnant period of time. You’d go to a show of one of your favorite bands and a lot of people there just didn’t seem that interested. We just wanted to get a reaction out of people. Everything was feeling really safe and boring. In a way, finding dance music was like finding this thing that was really interesting and something we hadn’t explored. At the time it was the punk-ish thing to fully embrace disco and try to play disco songs. I love dance music rhythmically, and we were a really rhythmic band, so [adapting it] made sense. I just wanted to get people to move. It was more fun to play that way. It was a style that I really enjoyed playing.
LJ: Our bass player Brooks Bonstin’s house burnt down. He lived across the street from the projects in San Francisco, and his landlord had told on the local drug dealers across the street. The drug dealers tied up his landlord in his basement and lit the whole house on fire with her in it, tied to a chair. He came home one day, the whole apartment’s gone, his cat’s burnt up, all his stuff is burnt up. He knew all these people in Seattle—Modest Mouse, a lot of people up there.
VR: It literally rained for three months in a row, every day. It was bad even for Seattle. I remember we saw direct sunlight maybe twice. Both times, we ran outside. That alone got to me.
It felt really small town-y in a way. It’s a really strong scene, but it’s isolated in some ways. Pre-Internet, you had your two local papers and all they talked about was the local music scene. Everett True was [the music editor of The Stranger] and he hated us. I think he thought we were ripping off a lot of these English bands that he really liked way too overtly. To be fair, though, we went up there and were much younger and totally had a chip on our shoulder. We definitely had an arrogance that, I’m sure, shined through and showed in everything else.
VV: You signed to Sub Pop, which didn’t really have a direction at that point.
LJ: My take on it is that they got a bunch of money from their Nirvana deal and were super-confused. They were putting out later Saint Etienne records, just kind of really mediocre, bland music. At the same time, they had overtly rock and roll guys, in a super-cheesy way, like the Hellacopters: “I watched a video of Iggy & the Stooges 800 times,” the whole tie-your-neck-up-with-the-microphone-cord. Like, wow, that’s so edgy, you know?
It felt really impenetrable. I had a friend who was on a bowling team with the guys from Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. I’d be like, “Hey, can I come hang out?” They’d be like, “Well, no, not really.” Everyone went to high school together, and if you didn’t go to high school there, you weren’t cool. I’d go to the Cha-Cha Lounge, trying to hang out, and people just wouldn’t talk to you. There was definitely a pyramid there. You have to put in your dues for 15 years. I [was] like, “I’m not going to put in my dues for 15 years. I’m going to get the hell out of here.”
On Pieces of the People We Love:
VR: We did Echoes with DFA. It was a DFA record that got put out by Universal. The whole creative process was done within the DFA bubble. Pieces was our first major -abel album, beginning to end. It was our version of a pop record. We were trying to make an album we thought would get played on the radio. In hindsight, it just wasn’t the right thing for us.
LJ: We ended up floating in space. We had signed to Gary Gersh’s label, the guy who signed Nirvana. He had really good A&R stories, which is how you sign bands—you have good stories. He hangs out with Sonic Youth. He worked with the Beastie Boys and Radiohead at Capitol. He ran Grand Royal with the Beastie Boys. It’s like, “OK, you can trust this guy,” you know? He completely disappeared—he was, like, gone.
GA: We got Gershed. Luke wasn’t happy during that period. None of us were. We were part of this big bureaucracy. There were maybe one or two people [who were] nice, but didn’t necessarily get what we were doing. They didn’t have any idea how to work a record like ours. They’re used to throwing shit at radio and working big hip-hop, pop, R&B stuff. They had no context for us.
VV: Do you think they saw you as another Maroon 5 or something?
GA: I have no idea how they saw us. I don’t know if they saw us.
LJ: We end up moving over to Sylvia Rhone at Motown. She was the girl from the Motley Crue book in the stiletto heels—this big-time record-executive type person. We’re in her office, and the desk is way higher than the couch. It’s one of those Spinal Tap moments. You end up trying to explain dance music to somebody who doesn’t like dance music. The people who are supposed to be working with you, or for you, obviously don’t really know anything about what you’re doing.
GA: During the writing of that record it was really difficult. There was no label involvement. We found a space that a friend of ours had in the Lower East Side, a basement studio, and rented it for six months, went in multiple times a week, and wrote and recorded demos. We were on different pages. We all had lots of ideas and [were] trying to find ways to communicate. Mattie wanted to sing more. It was hard getting on the same page. Mattie and Luke each have specific visions. So did I, but I would put them aside for the good of the group, and so would Vito. Different people were difficult at different points. We’re all responsible to different extents.
LJ: The good thing is that we signed in an era when the money was different. We had this huge guarantee for a third record that they would never give anyone anymore. They were like, “We’re going to renegotiate your contract.” Well, let’s just not work together anymore—it wasn’t that awesome and we’re not happy. Let’s just not keep going. That was the end of that.