What's Under Their Kilts?
David Lee Beowulf
Scottish born, bred and schooled, The Rezillos burst forth upon the punk rock scene, playing what possibly could be called "New Wave" three years later, in 1978, with their landmark album Can't Stand the Rezillos. They followed up that same year with a live recording, Mission Accomplished... But the Beat Goes On, and promptly broke up. Their amazing story, seen through my eyes as told in the paragraphs below, is still a mystery, probably because I don't live in England (or Scotland) where they are a household name -- I am sure at least they're a household name to the millions of UK fans who've always had access to the band's work, unlike myself and the rest of us deprived Americans. In recent years (mid-to-late 1990s and now), their music has appeared on various "History of New Wave" compilations and they've enjoyed a solid above-novelty status on the radio stations I listen to and 'zines I pay attention to. Interest has grown, as well, seeing a CD re-release of their material in 1993, a tour in Japan, a live release, Web buzz, etc. Bringing it to a head, a year ago their spur-of-the moment gig in Edinburgh, Scotland drew 200,000 fans. The writing was on the wall, it was time to get the band together again, tour the world and put out a new album.
But first, indulge me...
In my opinion, the key to successful punk rock is to ape cartoonish "bug music," accelerating it about 30% - just enough to keep an "edge," add stupidity, mix and serve hot. "Success" the purposes of this interview means that your music has survived it's first twenty-five years and remained unique. Oh, many, many bands fit into that category -- and I like a lot of bands for just that reason: what they recorded has stayed fast, has stayed edgy, has remained in its own league from the beginning. Certainly, like all punk rock it's derivative (er, like all rock and roll...), thus, while a lot of good bands can sound like everyone else, the really great bands are what everyone's sounding like and yet whose sound simply cannot be repeated.
Musically, The Rezillos, truly an old school punk band -- and no matter what the critics might say, they are every damn bit as important to the so-called punk scene as anyone else who recorded and performed during that era. (Can't Stand the Rezillos was recorded in New York City, they wowed the UK scene, etc. Hey, their doggone records were on Sire, OK?!).
Their music is, upon inspection, "poppy," though it is at the same time quintessentially punk. Punk in the sense that it is loud, fast rock and roll and went against the grain. It's upbeat, happy, and stupid; while at the same time there's a dark side to their songs ("Cold Wars" could be a theme from a yet-to-be unearthed John La Carre novel-turned-film circa 1967, and "I Can't Stand My Baby" is anti-love song, a song about breaking up because one cannot stand the other. The Rezillos are/were clearly passionate about the great UK rock and roll bands like The Kinks (first and foremost) and The Dave Clark Five. They also liked TV and "kid stuff" and I'm sure would have preferred a world where growing up didn't happen until after you died and the world ran on high-octane, guitar-driven, melodic anti-mope rock.
The Rezillos, however much they may be a cover band, however much they may sound "kind of" familiar, remained unique from the beginning (mysterious, too). Before anyone gets mad, OK, I made a crack about The Rezillos being a cover band, which they are, at times. So what? The Rezillos took what The Dickies did for cover bands and added to it; for example, they took The Dave Clarke Five's "Glad All Over" to another level: female singer, speed it up a couple of notches, make the drums a bit heavier and, wow! Great version! (There's a real art to covering someone else's work and making it sound good; few master this, most ruin what was a perfectly fine song to begin with). Likewise and with another tip to The Dickies, The Rezillos took a theme from a popular kids' TV show and turned it into a power-punk explosion (that would be the theme to Thunderbirds).
Want to win a trivia contest? If you're ever asked what David Lee Beowulf's favorite band is, you will win if you say "The Rezillos."
What? David Lee "Death to False Metal" Beowulf's favorite band is a upbeat, feel-good, happy, non-metal guitar punk band?
Yep. And that's that.
One summer day, back in the dark ages of 1983, I was driving back home from work and the college station I was listening to (yes, even then they had college radio) played a doggoned unique tune. So unique it was that I rushed home as fast as I could (within legal limits of course) and called the radio station (WNYU, 'twas the New Afternoon show) and asked who played the song in-question, that being "Rev-Up." (I didn't wait for the DJ to back announce the song because I couldn't risk that they wouldn't back-announce the song -- they didn't!). The DJ answered the phone and replied that the band was "The Revillos." My quest had begun...
Living outside of New York City, one would think I'd be able to find the record, a record, maybe a tape (no CDs at the time, man). I didn't find squat! And on top of that, no one, not even the genuine hip record store run by a big, rude woman, that I thought had everything. We didn't have the Web back then, so my resources were limited. On top of that, there was a lot of music I was listening to at the time, and well, I filed The Revillos in the "look for this band when you get a chance" portion of my brain. The last lead I got was in Washington, D.C., summer of 1987, when I asked a record store owner (they didn't make enough to hire clerks, it was clear) about the band, his reply: "I love it when they ask 'if I've ever heard of a band called...'" But his smug, semi-helpful remark gave me a useful lead: "every now and then a Rezillos record comes through the store, but it leaves just as fast."
Aha! A chink in the armor of this elusive band's history. Now the quest was to look up The Rezillos and The Revillos every chance I got. But dude, what was up with the pop music books in circulation not having anything on these bands?
The big break came in 1989 when a DJ named Rich De Rosa, on the once great Melbourne, FL radio station WFIT, was freakin' playing "Rev Up."
Stop the car. Run, do not walk, to the station, confront the DJ. Yep, yep, answered all my questions. Then he dropped the bomb: "Then they [i.e., The Revillos] became The Human League."
In the years that passed, in addition to collecting their entire recorded catalog (singles, too!) I've sharpened up on my Rezillos' history: The Revillos is a distinctly different band from The Rezillos, though The Revillos play Rezillos songs without hesitation. Yes there is a straight line from The Rezillos to The Human League (through Shake), but it's through a single member, guitarist John Callis -- who's got the writing credit on "Don't You Want Me."
In late Spring 2002, The Rezillos hit the shores of the USA, on tour with The Briefs (uber-stupid punk rock) and The Star Spangles. I was alerted to it in advance because I've subscribed to The Revillos' e-mailing list for several years and I don't need to explain how excited I was. I hooked up with them at legendary Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey (where they were playing that night -- the night before they'd played a show in Brooklyn, and prior to that, did a live radio performance on WFMU), and found them to be at the utmost, personable, happy and downright friendly. I spoke with everyone: frontman/guitarist Eugene Reynolds, frontwoman Fay Fife, guitarist and lyrical genius John (Jo) Callis, and drummer Angel. I did not speak with their bass player because that would risk revealing his mysterious identity (for the record: The Rezillos never had a permanent bassist).
Man, the only thing equivalent to doing this interview would be the Justice League of America inviting me to their headquarters and letting me hang out with them. That fateful car ride in the summer of 1983 just got a lot closer to this summer afternoon in 2002, possibly nineteen (Ink 19) years to the day!
And now, the Interview is Go!
May I first impose upon you for some autographs?
Eugene Reynolds: Sure!
[SCORE!!! Can't Stand the Rezillos, Mission Accomplished... But the Beat Goes On and my twelve-inch of The Revillos' "Midnight" are now autographed! One of the band members even wrote "Exterminate!" on the Dalek that's so prominent on the Mission Accomplished... cover!]
How are you today?
John Callis: Knackered. No sleep 'til Hammersmith, er, Maxwell's.
Eugene: [Referring to my copy of Can't Stand the Rezillos] Did you get the inner sleeve with comic cut-outs?
No, I stole, er, it was, ah, presented to me by a now-defunct central Florida radio station I DJ'd at [BTW, "Z-X-7," the reverse of the "Midnight" twelve-inch, was my background, non-metal show talk-over music at WFIT for years].
I'm in awe! [I tell my story, about "Rev Up," etc.] And now, you're here, I'm pretty shocked that you're actually here!
Eugene: If someone had said this a year ago, we'd be shocked, too.
Which original members do we have on tour?
Eugene: Just about everybody. A new bass player, but... We always had a new bass player.
A mysterious, saintly bass player? So, what brought on the US tour?
Eugene and John.: Someone ran a story about the New Years' celebration in Edinburgh. 200,000 people, big tourist thing. My initial feeling was that "I wouldn't do it... Then, I think I'll do it, then I'll do it." and I just said, yeah!
John: You just hit the point where you say, "that would be a gas."
Eugene: And we did it as a one-off. And then suddenly there was all this interest!
Well, 200,000 people go to see you...
Eugene: That's a misleading statement...
John: It was a silly statement.
Eugene: I wouldn't say 200,000 people went to see us, but there were 200,000 people there...
Obviously to see you, please.
John: The name band on were The Proclaimers. They were the main band and as soon as people found out we were to be put on we got all this kind of press interest around Edinburgh and Glasgow, getting full-page articles in the Glasgow Herald. It was quite an eye-opener to us.
How about US interest?
Eugene: Well that came from the Edinburgh show. We started getting e-mails from the States asking us to play there.
I was following the Superville Web site, and I was one of those e-mailers.
Eugene: We listened to you...
What would you say the high points and the lowpoints have been/are since around 1978.
Fay Fife: When the album came out in 1978!
I tell my 1982 history story, finally, etc. You're here -- a high point for me and I've collected the records after searching hard.
Fay Fife:I remember a great big mound of snow. I picked it up and threw it at Jo Callis's head, that was a high point.
You had a re-release of the two records and your song "Top of the Pops" showed up on a Rhino Records compilation...
Eugene: "Top of the Pops" has shown up on a lot of compilations, I don't know about over here, but in Britain.
It was a history of new wave stuff.
Eugene: It's about a program that's still in existence, although greatly different than when we were on. We were on
As was Black Sabbath!Eugene: Yes, several times.John: I believe they did "Paranoid" once on it.
Do you monitor who visits the Superville Web site?Eugene: Yes, but that's to do with The Revillos. The Rezillos are a separate group, and in August, Rezillos dot-com should be up. As soon as we work it out with the powers that be regarding registering the site. That became a bit of a platform for those who were interested in both bands. It's a temporary visiting site for The Rezillos, but we really want to get our own Web site.John: I've been talking about doing it for years.
Do you know which people from which countries are looking at the Web site?Eugene: It's all over. The guy that runs the Web site [Pig - thanks!] sends us any specific questions. If one was deliberately targeted at me he sends it my way. I get hundreds of e-mail messages a week alone, and while I would like to answer all of them, I just don't have the time to get to them right away.
I think that anyone who understands what it's like to be in your shoes, a fan, just the fact that you're making yourselves know is enough. What really matters is that you're still out there.Eugene: In fact, what you could say is that if someone sends us something, we'll get it and read it, but we may not have a chance to reply. But we will read it. I would say 99% of the time, we'll get it.
Would you How would you describe your fans? Do you have a cult following?John: What's been played, what we've seen has been a really nice mixture. A lot of women, girls...
Pretty girls?John: Yeah! Yeah! Young people. Slightly older people. A cool audience. You still get a few of these slam dancing twats which we could do without and it was really great last night that these kind of hardcore, skinhead fuckers wouldn't be what we'd play to, which is nice because we want a party audience, we just want to have a party. And have fun.Eugene: We're not here so they can have a bone-crushing workout.
Well, you don't want somebody to get their head kicked in at your show.John: We refuse to do that song on account of that.Eugene: We only did it tongue-in-cheek.
That's interesting because several punk bands from the US cover that song on compilations and credit The Rezillos for turning them on to it.John: It was never our song in the first place! It's a Fleetwood Mac song. There's a million other songs you could do a cover of.Eugene: I think what the misguided people do is that they'd attack people while we play it. We're a party band!John: We just want to rock!
So where the heck are your records? Here in the US, they were, up until this whole Internet thing, pretty much impossible to find!Eugene: In Scotland there are several stores...
Are you aware of what your singles fetch at record fairs here? I've seen $50 wanted for a "Destination Venus" single, with the picture sleeve.Eugene: Really?
Sure. I didn't buy it, because I already have one.Eugene: [Laughs] I saw one for five dollars, that's 35 pounds in Scottish money.
[Drummer Angel steps in]. My favorite songs would be your originals, "Destination Venus," "Cold Wars" -- everything. Have you been writing new songs?John: Yeah, we have new songs.Angel: We will be putting them together on an album. Sooner rather than later.
So what have you been doing in the interim?Angel: Shake for a while with Jo and Simon, the last bass player in The Rezillos ("Simon Templer"), for about two years, we did two singles and an EP. After that I did TV21, then I played in a band with Troy Tate who actually played guitar with Shake, we did an LP together. After that I decided to become an architect! I'm from Scotland, but I live in Germany, lived there for fifteen years!
What are some of the subjects/inspiration for your new songs?Angel: Same inspiration as we had for the old ones!
1960s space TV shows?Angel: Everything, we're always brainstorming.
Building on that, Scotland has a rich Viking history. Have you considered revising any Rezillos songs to reflect that?Eugene: Probably not.Fay: Just a second, I've got an interesting answer to that!Eugene: Oh you do? We could have "I Love My Baby Because She Does Good Long Boats."
You wouldn't do "Flying Viking Attack"? "Vikings Are Go?"Eugene: Erm, no, but maybe "I Can't Stand My Viking Helmet"?Fay: Actually, we're more of a Celtic history, you're a wee bit off-planet there! Of course the vikings turned up, but it's a much, much longer Celtic history that's more interesting. And they're in our music all the time... In the vocal inflections, they're always there. It comes naturally!
Ok, then. There is, now, I understand it, a serious side to your pride in Scotland.Eugene: The same way Americans are serious about their homeland.
What about Sean Connery? He seems to have taken a huge interest in Scottish nationalism.Fay: I do know that the Ministry of Culture has mentioned us in Parliament. They've got good taste obviously.
Speaking of good taste, what bands, either contemporary or later were/are fans secret or not of the huge fans of The Rezillos?Fay: I hear things but you'll have to ask them...Angel: I don't have any stories.
I think there would be plenty!Angel: I've heard that as well.
I was going to conjecture that Whitesnake, Ozzy and Sean Connery are all huge Rezillos fans.Angel: On what grounds? Whitesnake hates us. They played on a TV show in Germany with us and made it quite clear that they didn't like us very well.Fay: I think they were jealous.
Without a doubt! They don't have your vocal harmony, your flowing basslines.Fay: And general élan!
And you're better dressers on stage!Fay: Yeah, you say, "on stage..."
Oh, that's not fair, of course I mean off stage as well! I mean, your band's hair is much more... And your clothing... And, um, OK, looks like it's time to go... Anything you'd like to add that I haven't already covered in this amazing interview?Fay: I'd like to add -- Hank Snow. I'm Moving On is a fantastic record.
Would you cover it?Fay: It's an interesting record. Do you know it?
Naturally.Fay: That's the thought I'd like to leave you with.
Epilogue: The show that night included their entire repertoire (though they didn't do, as earlier stated, "Someone's Going to Get Their Head Kicked in Tonight," and for the life of me I don't recall hearing "Mystery Action") and a whopping three encores. I did score a neat "Destination Venus" T-shirt, though, and with that in hand, my life is complete.
http://www.snatzo.com/rezillos/ Brian Swirsky: email@example.com