Naked Raygun Talks 28 Years of Punk
MATT SKIBA: I would guess it was like a cross between Christmas and walking to the electric chair.
That's Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba describing Naked Raygun shows in the late-'80s and early-'90s when punk rock shows could be as dangerous as they were exciting. He says skinheads could get violent at shows. Still the band was Skiba's favorite. And where are they now? Guitarist Bill Stephens.
BILL STEPHENS: Course now I'm the only one who can read the set list, so now I have three old guys squinting at me going, “What's the song?”
After disbanding in 1992, Naked Raygun is officially back together. Though there may be a few more grey hairs and some added aches and pains, the band has retained its rabid old-school fanbase. And they captured the attention of young fans who saw them headline 2006's punk rock festival, Riot Fest. Drummer Eric Spicer's the one who first reached out to festival founder Mike Petryshyn to see if the band could play.
ERIC SPICER: I sent Mike an email and he had gotten right back to me he said, well, hell yeah, I would love to have you. I said man, dude, I think everyone forgot about us Yeah, he says, NO, I don't think so I'll take care of that. And you know, we were all in touch, you know, nothing - we hadn't all decided all together.
BILL STEPHENS: Like I said, Eric got really excited, booked the show and then went ahead and tried to convince everyone to do it (laughter).
Three years later, the band's actively touring and will headline this year's Riot Fest once again. They've just returned from a jaunt on the East Coast, their first in some 17 years. Singer Jeff Pezzati says even with new technology, it doesn't prevent getting lost.
PEZZATI: Yeah, I was still as excited. The differences are they moved the States around a little bit on the East Coast
PIERRE KEZDY: That's the only difference I saw. Nobody plays in Manhattan now, everyone plays in Brooklyn. That's different. Brooklyn's really happening, it's like Wicker Park in Chicago. Manhattan's dead.
Pezzati also seems to be having as much fun now as ever.
PEZZATI: I would come to a part where there was no singing, so I'd pull back the mic, and I'd be standing this close to three kids, and I'd grab one kid and whisper in his ear, “This is the part where I don't do anything but I try to look really cool!”
A recent secret show finds the band continuing to integrate its audience into the fun. They add plenty of “whoa-oh-oh” and other sing-alongs, funny anecdotes, and even give away free stuff. Superfans Dino and Nick Anagnostopoulos drove in from Milwaukee for the secret show. Dino's son and young relatives formed a Raygun cover band called The Skater Tots. Nick says Naked Raygun's music is timeless.
NICK ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: They sound like some of their older songs have been recorded today, because they still have that you know, that same value and that same sound. Even the songs they came up with back in the early-‘90s, late-‘80s – they're still right on time.
To wit, the band is working on a series of new 7-inches, their first new material in 17 years and it sounds right on time, too. Their writing style has remained the same, where typically one person has an idea and it gets fleshed out collaboratively. “Mein Iron Maiden” is their first new single and “Out of Your Mind” will be the B-Side. Another single, “Growing Away,” has been recorded and tested on the road. As for future albums, Naked Raygun says they've adapted with the times and will stick to putting out singles for the foreseeable future. Bassist Pierre Kezdy says that's another change from its past.
KEZDY: I think that's the huge fundamental difference between when we were actively playing before and actively playing now is the fact that there aren't that many albums now as there were before. Well, there are, but you're not going to be making a lot of money off your albums. You have to have a good live show and you have to have merchandise – that's how you make your money.
Staying relevant is important to Naked Raygun, and while they'll joke about limited musical capabilities and that punk rock isn't supposed to be good, their songwriting chops are serious. They're certainly back, but they don't want to be a nostalgia act. Jeff believes it was their lack of hitting the big time that makes fans come back for more this second time around.
PEZZATI: Naked Raygun never got the success that makes people hate us, makes people sort of back stab a band over time. So we're still like the people's band.
STEPHENS: But we want to be hated. Really badly (laughter).
However, Spicer and Stephens believe there's no reason for them to not keep reaching for the stars.
SPICER: Every time we leave town we fly out of Midway.
STEPHENS: Yeah, we want to be an O'Hare band. SPICER: One day we'll be an O'Hare band.
STEPHENS: Some day, one day
SPICER: That's our goal (laughter).
KEZDY: one day our ship's gonna come in, Bill, just keep waiting.
Naked Raygun headlines the 5th annual Riot Fest on October 9 at the Metro. The five-day festival kicks off and takes place at venues throughout Chicago. Newly reunited acts include Screeching Weasel, Dead Milkman, Butthole Surfers, and Cock Sparrer.