There was once a time when long hair, a scruffy demeanor and bong hits at noon were as much a part of being in a band as amps cranked to 11 and rockin' paeans to the glories of chicks, booze and kicking ass. Then came the '80s, and everybody -- even those who would be miscreants -- got perms and slapped on mascara; then the '90s with its fashionable disaffectedness; and now the '00s, when looking either cuter or scarier than the next band is king.
This continual cycle of processing, marketing and commodifying rock has made what was once the mainstream now the underground. Just try to think of the last fuzzed-out blooze band that got anywhere near the top of the heap. In fact, heavy rock is beyond underground, in a sort of point-of-no-return Hades.
Nonetheless, there are still numerous practitioners out there, criss- crossing the country in small RVs, vans, moving trucks, converted airport shuttles -- anything with sufficient space and a solid drive train. In this regard they subsist very much like the DIY punks who once overthrew "dinosaur rock."
With its primal '70s vibe and long, deep grooves, New Orleans's Suplecs is one such band for whom the cycle of rock has been cruel.
"It's not an easy time, man We're tired of eating shit on the road," says guitarist-vocalist Durel Yates. "But fortunately we've got hard-core fans pretty much everywhere. We just try to keep touring and breaking out of New Orleans. We don't have any rap or samples or whatever. Hopefully the tastes will turn eventually. In the meantime, though, we've got a great underground thing going on. We were actually supposed to be going over to Europe in October for the first time before everything happened with Man's Ruin."
Man's Ruin was the label founded by noted San Francisco pop artist Frank Kozik for the express purpose of giving the garage, gutter, stoner, punk and space rock bands a platform from which to wave their stained flags. Kozik himself did much of the artwork for the bands he signed, and he insisted that they record at a prolific-for-these-days pace of one album per year. And at some point or another many of the scene's top dogs -- Fu Manchu, Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age, Hellacopters -- all passed through for at least a split single or an EP.
The label's showcases at South by Southwest became the stuff of legend, each lineup bigger, more chaotic and just downright more debauched than the year before. Suplecs was on one of these wild bills earlier this year.
"Everything was going great," reflects Yates. "We got more money to make the new record [Sad Songs. Better Days] and [were] promised more money to promote it. Then one day we got a call from one of the guys at the label who was like, 'Are you sitting down?' and went on to tell us that it looked like Man's Ruin was going to go under."
Yates doesn't know all the details, but it's clear that bad decisions were made, bad advice was taken, and disaster ensued. "But I've got to give [Kozik] credit," Yates allows. "He was the only one that gave us a chance, let us have an opportunity to get out of New Orleans. And that took a while. We've been doing this since 1996, and the whole time he was the only one that heard it and gave it a chance."
Suplecs got back up off the mat in late November when it signed a deal with Dark Reign/Devil Doll records. The label hopes to rerelease Sad Songs sometime in early 2002. "It's just a bigger, better-sounding version of the same band," describes Yates. "We got Dave Fortnam [ex-Ugly Kid Joe] to produce it. And he was awesome -- just got everything sounding very big and full. And he really concentrated on the vocals, and they're both better and completely different."
As is the bill that Suplecs will be on at the Engine Room. These Gulf Coast natives make it through Houston a good half-dozen times a year, and Rudyard's is one of their more recent haunts. "Scott [Walcott] over there has always been really cool to us," says Yates. Cool enough that this time around he let the band off the hook for its scheduled Saturday-night show at Rudz so that it could take a bigger slot the following night, playing with Clutch, Biohazard and Candiria.
Sure, it's a baby step on the long journey to the top of the Billboard charts, a major-label deal and a luxurious tour bus. But should the band scramble back to the top of the pile, Suplecs would exemplify for the thousandth time the circle of rock. What was once hip becomes commodified and then passé. The genre goes dormant for a few years, only to reconstitute itself as a stylized "cool" form again. Punk had its Ramones and its Sex Pistols and eventually its Green Day. Rockabilly had its Eddie Cochran and then its Stray Cats. Ska had the Skatellites and then its Specials and then its Voodoo Glow Skulls. Stoner rock had its Zeppelin and Sabbath, and now, Yates hopes, its Suplecs.
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