Interview: John Reis Plays By His Own Rules

John Reis (Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes, The Night Marchers) has been in a slew of killer bands during his time in the music trenches. He has also been in an demand producer. But, there is one thing he has never done: release a solo record.

Well, that is, until now.

Earlier this year, Reis released, Ride The WIld Night, on his own Swami Records under his Swami John Reis moniker. The big question would be: Why did it take so long?

“It started with a group of songs that I was working on. I had recently picked up a really cool Martin acoustic guitar and started writing songs with a rhythmic open strum that felt dissimilar to my usual approach. A clear motif materialized that felt fresh to my ears. I had Jason from Hot Snakes lay down drums which brought it all together. I asked Joe Guevara to add piano to these new ideas and that elevated the sound beyond what my imagination and intent. It didn’t sound like any of the bands I had previously worked with, yet was still a familiar and comfortable mode. So that’s kinda how it started,” Reis says.

“There were multiple false starts but finally I had the time to dedicate to this idea. The record was made primarily in my studio (City Of Refuge) and I had planned to release it years ago and put a band together and tour. Then that thing happened, the blip, pandemic or whatever we will end up calling it, and it was yet another false start. Pressing plants were at a stand still and had zero idea when this record would ever be released. So in regards to the timing, I didn’t have much control over it. It literally showed up on my doorstep with little warning one day and I was like, ‘OK, I guess it’s time to finally put this out,'” he explains.

Ride The Wild Night is familiar, yet a bit different, than Reis’ many other projects. You can’t deny his distinct singing and guitar playing, but there are also other things going on within its grooves. There are references to ’60s folk punk, along with pre-Vietnaman War-era rock ‘n’ roll and even straight-up, classic punk rock. He was also influenced by bands like The Flamin Groovies, The Kinks, and the Saints. It’s a bit of surprise, but only if you haven’t been paying attention to his career up until now.

These influences not only affected how he wrote the record, but how it was recorded, too.

“The influence was not only literal in terms of song structure and vibe, but also in the way that I recorded it. I embraced the limitations of my eight-track in the spirit of the music I was inspired by,” Reis says.

In addition, the lyrics are taken from real life, well, sort of.

“I guess I would suggest people listen to the record. There are true stories from my experience. There is fiction from someone else’s perspective. There are personal and impersonal accounts,” Reis says.

But, this isn’t the only thing Reis has been up to, this year. He formed a new band, PLOSIVS, with Rob Crow (Pinback), Atom Willard (Rocket From The Crypt, Against Me), and Jordan Clark.  Their self-titled debut album came out recently on Swami. Reis wasn’t going to let the pandemic stop him from forming another band. In fact, he chose these certain people to be in the band, because he knew recording during the pandemic would provide its own challenges, and they would be up to it.

“Rob and I had already put something together. At the height of pandemic isolation we decided it was a great time to reignite the band,” Reis says.  “I asked Jordan and Atom because I knew due to the isolation we didn’t have the ability to approach this the way a band would normally practice and write. These guys were able to “distance rock”. I had worked with them both previously,” he finishes.

PLOSIVS debut is exhilarating mixture of Reis’s fractured punk, combined with the pop sounds of Crow’s work. It flat out throws down.  Everybody in the band, comes together to form this unified front of sound. It is a true group effort.

That was Reis’ plan all along.

“I can only speak for myself. I was interested in writing music that lent itself to what I thought were the strengths of the people involved. I also approached the record more collaborative as I knew there would be little opportunity to work on in a practice environment,” Reis says.

They also took their act on the road. It went well, with one major caveat, that goes with touring in these times. But, even with that, Reis still puts a positive sping on the experience.

“PLOSIVS just finished our U.S. tour, and it went really well. Most of us got COVID, unfortunately, and I had to miss some shows. But, by the end we were formidable,” Reis says.

So, now you can add PLOSIVS to Reis’s long CV of killer bands he been a part of. Throughout his time in the music trenches, Reis, has kept busy, forming new bands and collaborating with new people. The results are always the same: we get some killer music.

The big question is, what motivates Reis to constantly keep moving forward and not allow himself to become stagnant?

“I can’t do everything, nor do I want to. I really enjoy making music with my friends. I equate that fun as one of life’s best pleasures,” Reis says.  “There is always a sound, a noise, a guitar riff, a song in my brain. That music is always happening. If I don’t get that out of my head and into my ears, I get very cranky. It’s always about the next thing.” 

For the duration of his legendary career, Reis has done exactly that: give us the next thing. Though, it wouldn’t be too far off to say that he is also giving us the next “rad” thing. After all, his resume is filled with killer bands such as Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, The Night Marchers, and now his own solo work and a killer new band with PLOSIVS.

Though, through all this, he still chooses to stay humble.

“I like to hear that people dig what I’m doing. It definitely feels good. But it’s obviously not why any of us do this. Sometimes legend just sounds like another way to say ‘You’re fucking old.’ Being supported is crucial to many aspects of what I do, and I never take that appreciation for granted,” Reis adds.

Follow the artist here. 

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