November 5, 2002

It's like that: Jam Master Jay
Jan. 21, 1965-Oct. 30, 2002.
By Mosi Reeves

Let's talk about sex
Casio-rappers Gravy Train!!!! are having fun, but don't call them a joke band.
By Jimmy Draper

Rolling (the 20-sided die) with Lil' Pocketknife
The San Francisco hip-hop band cut up and get the proudly nerdy party starteds.
By Sarah Han

Return to a Savage Republic
The L.A. experimental punk band retrace their footsteps.
By Will York

Chapter two
After 20 years with Kronos Quartet, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud is excited to go it alone.
By Derk Richardson

Uneasy listening
Steel Pole Bath Tub took a fall but got back up again for Beyond the Pales.
By Deborah Giattina

Our brand could be your life
By George Chen

Correct Techniques
By Mosi Reeves


Return to a Savage Republic

The L.A. experimental punk band retrace their footsteps.

By Will York

'I FIRST DISCOVERED Savage Republic in the late 1980s, around the time they were breaking up," recounts Neurosis guitarist-vocalist Steve Von Till, one of the main organizers of the "Beyond the Pale" festival. "The music was really mind-blowing at the time. It was melodic, but there was something primal about it. It kind of did for me what a band like Hawkwind did musically. It just rhythmically pounded this kind of psychedelic, freedom-inspiring sound."

Describing Savage Republic has never been easy. They emerged out of the Los Angeles punk scene in the early '80s, but their far-reaching music – an always evolving blend of Arabic, surf, and early industrial elements with tribal percussion and Glenn Branca-inspired walls of guitar – doesn't neatly fit into any genre, punk or otherwise.

"They reminded me of a soundtrack to a mind movie," bassist Mike Watt says, recalling an early '80s gig his old band the Minutemen shared with Savage Republic at Hollywood's Anti-Club. "This was in the days where punk was very diverse. Not a style of music but more of a state of mind. The bands themselves were in charge of what 'style' they were going for."

Savage Republic guitarist-percussionist-vocalist Ethan Port echoes Watt's point. "Punk really was a state of mind, or state of being. It was hard to describe, but people 'outside' definitely responded to it through their hostility, and people in the scene responded to it through their support, so there was this emotional acid test to decide what was or wasn't punk. There were a lot of performance artists and visual artists who also contributed, and everything was a really low-budget and seat-of-the-pants production."

Savage Republic's legendary reputation for playing unusual venues evolved out of this type of necessity. "We rarely found clubs who would host shows," Port says, "so we'd do them in parking lots, in the desert, or anywhere we could."

Now, 13 years after their last show, Savage Republic are in a different position. In recent years they had come dangerously close to sliding into the category of bands who are "famous" for being obscure or underrated. They earned a chapter in Richie Unterberger's 1998 book Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll (alongside Love, Nick Drake, and Syd Barrett) and have seen their old records sell for up to $100 on eBay.

They're not content to bask in the glory of mythical cult status yet. They recently reissued their entire studio catalog – Tragic Figures (1982), Ceremonial (1985), Jamahiriya Demoratique et Populaire de Sauvage (1988), and Customs (1988) and the EP Trudge (1985) – on CD, both as individual discs and as a four-CD box set (all through Port's San Francisco-based Mobilization label). And they temporarily reformed as a live unit, with a weeklong touring itinerary across the United States that finds them booked in some relatively upscale venues compared with the factories and parking lots they used to serenade. (The reunited lineup consists of Port, founding guitarist Bruce Licher, key post-Tragic Figures members Greg Grunke and Thom Fuhrmann, early '80s-era contributor Robert Loveless, and replacement drummer Joel Connell of Man Is the Bastard/Bastard Noise.)

Port explains the circumstances behind his old band's reunion: "I went to 'Beyond the Pale' last year and heard Savage Republic playing just before Neurosis went on. After the show I introduced myself to Steve Von Till and [fellow Neurosis guitarist-vocalist] Scott Kelly, and they told me they were big fans of the band and that they play 'The Birds of Pork' from the Savage Republic Customs CD before every show. I made a joke to Steve that I should get Savage Republic to play the festival the following year. At the time I really didn't think it could ever happen."

Now that it's happening, he says, "We are frankly really blown away by the support we've been getting. If the reunion shows go well, I do think there is the possibility of us all working together more in the future. We live in four different cities, in three different states, so it's difficult but not impossible."

As for the band splitting in the first place, it was basically a matter of good old-fashioned "creative differences." Licher, the band's only original member at the time of their 1989 breakup, notes, "Ethan, Greg, and Thom knew what sort of music they wanted to keep making as Savage Republic, and it was much more in the spirit of where the band started out. I felt like I'd already done that and wanted to explore a different musical direction. I felt myself drawn toward the instrumental work we had done in the mid '80s, which is represented on the Trudge/Ceremonial CD." Licher has since gone on to do just that with his band Scenic, while Port and the other members have continued to mine the band's more physical aspects in the post-Savage Republic groups Death Ride '69, Wonder, and F-Space.

In the face of all the overdue recognition they've received lately, Savage Republic's members are proud but humble, still not satisfied completely satisfied with where their legacy stands. "There was a lot I would have liked to see happen with the band," Licher says. "Musical directions that could have been explored more completely, that never were due to the push and pull of an attempted democracy and the financial restrictions inherent in the underground indie world."

Port describes the band's goal – which he, too, sees as still not fully realized – in more direct terms. "We wanted to record those records we wish we had on our turntables," he says. "I actually feel the best Savage Republic record has yet to be recorded. I still feel there is a record missing from my collection." Beyond the Pale 2002

Nov. 14 Low, Living Jarboe, Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till

Nov. 15 Neurosis, Savage Republic, Pleasure Forever, Phantom Limbs

Nov. 16 Neurosis, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Lotus Eaters, Tarantula Hawk

Nov. 17 Robert Rich, E.A.R., Stars of the Lid, Tribes of Neurot

All performances begin at 9 p.m., DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., S.F. $19. (415) 626-1409.

Back to Top
Design by Rhatia Carr