Melodic punk rock with strong views and a solid spine might not be a rare commodity, but it sure doesn’t come around like this very often. Naked Raygun has consistently taken the punk sound to new places. They are as catchy as they are aggressive, as loud as they are intelligent, and as fun as they are serious.
Steve Albini once said of Chicago that “things like music, art, and other creative pursuits tend to be done as passions and for camaraderie rather than as careers. Careerism brings with it an ugly insincerity and conservatism.” That’s not to say that sincere music doesn’t come from other places, but punk rock from the Midwest (e.g., Hüsker Dü, Jesus Lizard, Albini’s own Big Black, et al.) tends to be very serious. Naked Raygun is no exception.
Emerging from Chicago in 1981, Naked Raygun took cues from the art-punk of Gang of Four and Wire, but retained a more confrontational attitude. The core members — singer Jeff Pezzati, bass player Pierre Kezdy, drummer Eric Spicer, and guitarist John Haggerty (future Big Black member Santiago Durango played with them early on and Bill Stephens stepped in to replace Haggerty for the final record) — soldiered through the fickle music industry until 1991, only to return in 2006 to a fan base hungry for their brand of war-torn punk rock. I caught up with Eric Spicer to talk about Naked Raygun past, present, and future.
Roy Christopher: You guys planned to reunite for Chicago’s annual punk festival in 2006, but stayed together afterward. What about the show prompted the reunion and what kept you together after?
Eric Spicer: Yes, we played Riot Fest 2006. I saw the line up for RF 2005 and thought, “Wow, that’s really cool.” I didn’t get to go to either of the shows for whatever reason, but I liked the idea. I got in touch with Mike, the promoter. I asked him if he would be interested in having Naked Raygun play the next year. He got back to me right away and said, “Hell Yes.” I told him that we hadn’t played out in a long time and I wasn’t sure if anyone remembered us. Keep in mind that after our reunion show in 97, I was totally out of the music scene, and since we hadn’t played for such a long time, I expected Naked Raygun to be a lost memory. Mike said not to worry about it! So, I got in touch with Pierre and Bill. It took a while to nail Jeff down. Eventually we got our collective shit together and played RF 2006. We knew that if we were going to play RF 2006, we’d need to practice a lot, so we thought why not play some shows after that? We got along with Mike and eventually asked him to manage us. It’s worked out well. We’ve played a bunch of shows and did a West Coast tour.
We picked up where we left off, as far as the line up goes: Jeff, Pierre, Bill, and me.
RC: What’s keeping John Haggerty from returning to the fold?
ES: I don’t know what’s up with John. I called him a couple of times before the documentary DVD was released. We wanted him to be a part of it, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. He has some deep-seated problems from long ago that primarily have to do with money. I tried to tell him he should get over it, none of us ever made any money playing in this band anyway. He has his issues and won’t return my phone calls.
RC: With the web in full effect these days, how are things different now than they were when you guys split?
ES: Ah yes, The World Wide Web… For the most part, I think it’s very cool. MySpace in particular. I’ve been in touch with people I haven’t heard from in years. And the instant accessibility is amazing, that’s probably the biggest thing. Anyone can just Google your name and contact you with a few mouse clicks. I really haven’t had any bad experiences online. The one difference is that when a band has a show booked, they just put out a bulletin or post flyers on friends pages. I can remember me and Camilo sitting in the back of a Chicago bus with flyers, glue, and a pint of whiskey. We would get hammered and put up flyers. Those were good times.
RC: Is Punk dead?
ES: I imagine you snickering as you wrote this question, Roy. As we all know, “Punk” was a media term attached to a sub-genre of late 70’s and early 80’s music. Music that I love and still listen to today. Is it dead? I don’t think so. There are lots of bands out there that are making some really good music that are influenced by Punk. Rise Against is a great band. They are some of the most ethical and socially conscious guys you’ll meet, as well as good guys and personal friends of mine. Rancid is one of my favorite bands. Tim Armstrong, the singer, wrote and produced songs for Pink. They are actually pretty good songs. Is he any less “Punk”? I guess what I’m thinking is that Punk is more spirit than anything else. There was a bowling alley in Chicago called the Fire Side Bowl that used to let Punk bands play there. Alkaline Trio, Fall Out Boy and Rise Against all played there. They’re all very popular, but if you asked them whom they listened to growing up, it would be a list of Punk bands.
RC: Is there new Naked Raygun material in the works?
ES: I sure hope so. We told each other that we would work on new stuff. It’s hard in the sense that we don’t want to write songs that suck, and anything new that’s released will be held up and compared to everything else we ever wrote. Know what I mean? I’m sure we will have something new out in the not too distant future.
RC: What’s next?
ES: I don’t know. Getting this band together for anything is like herding cats. It’s tough, ya know? We all have jobs, wives, and children. And we’re not twenty-years old anymore. I would love to quit my job like I used to, tour the East coast and then fly over to Europe for a two-month tour. That’s just not possible, it takes a lot of planning and is a complete logistical nightmare. Hopefully we’ll play some shows out East this fall, maybe play Chicago later this year, get back out West soon, and I’ll buy a gun and a longer rope and get the strays into the recording studio.