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Weekly Alibi Scared of Chaka Rock On

Fright Night

By Michael Henningsen

JUNE 7, 1999:  Ask Scared of Chaka about adversity, and they're likely to shrug as if they don't quite know what you're talking about. In fact, their graciousness is so profound that it dominates any conversation relating to their band.

Scared of Chaka, it would seem, are all smiles when it comes to where they've been, how far they've come and where they intend to go. Their unmistakable joviality and overt sense of appreciation for the fact that they are able do what they love and travel the world as a result is almost overwhelming. They come off like a band fresh out of the garage with their first few gigs lined up, despite having toiled for five-and-a-half years playing anywhere and everywhere. Clearly, their experience on the road and in the studio has served to punctuate their love of music rather than leave them jaded and complaining.

For Scared of Chaka, sitting still is a death sentence. Constant touring keeps them fresh, vibrant and ready for the next challenge. And while they readily admit that life on the road has its downside and occasionally takes its toll, there's nary a hint of discontent when it comes to the path they've chosen. For them, every new experience is a learning experience, some more difficult than others, but each one valuable in its own way. It's that attitude that has seen the band through the tough times and allowed them to accept and cherish the good times with rare humility. They'll tell you that they don't do what they do for money, recognition or record deals. And, for once in a blue moon, you can believe them.

Not that it's come easy. Since their formation in late 1993, Scared of Chaka have weathered a couple of lineup changes, blown through a van or two, slept on countless floors and dealt with a host of situations unique to band life. But through it all, they've never considered that what they do has been in vain. (Well, maybe a few times.) For nearly six years, Scared of Chaka have striven for forward motion and produced an impressive cache of music on more than six record labels along the way. Most recently, the band inked a deal with Sub City Records, a subsidy of Hopeless Records, based in Van Nuys, Calif. Their debut for Sub City, Tired of You, released on May 25, is their sixth full-length release in a catalog that now totals 15-plus.

Guitarist Dave Hernandez and drummer Ron Skrasek (bassist Dameon Waggoner currently resides in Arcada, Calif.) recently took a break from Monday night wrestling on TNT to talk shop.

How did it all start?

Hernandez: I came back from Mexico about six years ago, and I just wanted to join a band with people I didn't know. I knew a bunch of people in bands, but I wanted to get a fresh start. I saw an ad in Bow Wow Records from a drummer in a garage who was into Sonic Youth, called him up and hit it off. That was [original drummer] Jeff Jones. He had a guy named Paris and he met Dameon [Waggoner] at a party who had never played bass, but he had long hair, and I figured that was cool, so we formed Weepopalohas, played a couple of shows and started meeting people like Flake and the Swizzle Sticks [who later became the Drags].

But the shit between me and Paris got intense, and I just threw my guitar down at practice one day and said, "Either he goes or I go." He stayed, but everyone else came with me (laughs), and Scared of Chaka was born.

When did Ron join the band?

Skrasek: I came in about three-and-a-half years ago, January of '96 I think.

Hernandez: Jeff had to hightail it in the middle of a tour, so we had our roadie drum for us on the last leg, and we came back totally pissed. But I had all these songs -- I had this thing that was like, "OK, now I've got to write all the songs -- and Ron was a roommate, and I thought he was a great drummer. The idea was to have him drum for one record, [after which] we thought we might just break up, but we did it, and it sounded so great that we just kept going.

Skrasek: They had this record to do in L.A., [self-titled on 702 Records], and about half way through the recording they asked me if I wanted to be in the band, and I was like, "all right."

What motivated you, as a band, to pursue outside touring and record deals?

Hernandez: We never really pursued stuff, per se, we just liked playing and touring. And when you tour a lot, you meet a lot of people who ultimately help you move on. That's how we got the 702 deal -- [label owner] Pete Menchietti booked a show for us in Reno, Nev., we became friends, and he asked us if we'd like to be on his label. The Empty Records deal came about because we knew the Drags and the Motards. But we never consciously pursued anything until recently -- our goal has never really been to get signed, but you have to get out of the city, you have to tour.

It sounds like touring has been important to the band from the beginning.

Hernandez: Off and on, we've toured from the start. We spend about a third of the year on the road.

Is being in a band something you've all, individually, wanted to do?

Hernandez: I've been in bands since I was 16. I'm 28 now.

Skrasek: I've been in bands for the past nine years.

How would you describe your music?

Hernandez: Oh, God.

Skrasek: We all love rock 'n' roll, and that's where I think our inspiration comes from -- the whole broad spectrum of rock 'n' roll. People can label it whatever they want. Some guy in San Francisco said we were a great hardcore band.

Hernandez: We've also heard that we're a great garage band. Whenever I write a song, it's basically a '70s rock song, but when we get together, we spaz it out.

Skrasek: I consider it all pop format, but we speed it up, add distortion and make it loud.

Why do you choose to base yourselves in Albuquerque?

Hernandez: Food and family. And I like the weather. But we're gone so much that it hasn't really been an issue.

Skrasek: It's funny, because everybody says, "God, I gotta get out of this town." Everybody who lives here does nothing but complain about it, but when they finally get off their ass and move, they're back in six months. I've got to say that this is one of the best places to come back to.

Hernandez: It's weird, you know? All the reasons people are bummed out about this town, like musically -- it's so bizarre, because when Scared of Chaka started out, we didn't rely on any bars or on any bigger bands helping us out. We didn't rely on anything but ourselves. Not to be like, "Oh, these kids today ... ," but our first shows were played on generators in Yale Park and at house parties and shit like that. We didn't care about being successful or getting noticed. But now there's a whole lot of whining: "There's all these big bands who don't help out the little bands," "There's all these bars that don't give shows away." That's the worst thing about this city. There's some really fucked up cities in this country if you're starting a band, and compared to them Albuquerque is nice.

There are some strange perceptions among start-up bands who feel that bars -- especially the Downtown bars -- owe them a show. But they don't realize that bars are businesses, and the people who own and work in them have to pay rent.

Hernandez: The funny thing is, when bands finally do get that high-profile show, it may be the shittiest experience of their lives. You never know what to expect here. It's so unpredictable that it's not something bands should rely on so much. Getting a so-called big time club gig here isn't success, and [those people] should ask themselves why they're in a band in the first place.

What advice do you have for new bands as far as what they should be focusing on?

Skrasek: Practice, record a demo and, if you're fortunate enough to get some party gigs and some Downtown gigs, do that and get a few hundred bucks together. Then go play Denver, go play Phoenix, go play Texas... just get out and do it, because you're never going to be able to gauge where you're at in this city. We've played in Albuquerque in front of five people.

Hernandez: But we'll drive like five hours, and it's sold out. Or not -- but you have to make the effort.

Skrasek: All we're saying is that if playing in a band is what you love, then get out and do it. If you love music and you love to play music, then that's always the best reason to be in a band.

Being that you're on the road so much, do you find it difficult to write songs?

Hernandez: No. It's the most effortless thing -- the one thing I'm good at. I, personally, have a need to write music all the time, so it's not a problem at all.

Have you reached the point as a band where touring and recording is all you do?

Skrasek: Not really. We all have jobs. We have to pay rent.

Hernandez: It's not like we have these huge royalty checks coming in.

Skrasek: [Sub City] wanted to put out a quality product, and we said we would, so the new record was expensive to record.

How long did it take to record?

Skrasek: We spent a week on it, which is the longest we've ever spent. Masonic Youth and some of the others were two-day specials (laughs).

Hernandez: That used to be our thing, you know? If we did the whole record in a day, then we were proud of it. But we took some time with this one. And being able to enjoy ourselves was nice. In retrospect, I wish we had taken more time.

Is the new record the one you're most proud of so far?

Hernandez: Oh, yeah. Definitely. We've even got some guest musicians on it -- Marty Crandall [formerly of Flakemusic] and CJ Drag [the Drags]. We're really, really happy with it.

Is the Sub City contract for one record only?

Skrasek: It's a two-album deal for us, a one-off with option for the label. So if they want to do another record, we're under contract to deliver it.

Hernandez: Basically, it's a two-record deal, and we're really, really happy with all the people [at Sub City].

Skrasek: They're working super hard for us. There's an office full of people working to promote the record and the tour -- that's what they do; they have a legit business set up.

Hernandez: Hopeless is pretty big, and they sell tons of records to kids all over. We're on their Sub City label, which is more of a social awareness thing. Every band on Sub City chooses a nonprofit organization to boost. We chose a runaway shelter here in town.

Skrasek: Basically, five percent of the retail price of every Sub City record sold goes to charity, which is a nice way to give back.

How long is the next tour?

Skrasek: It kicks off May 29 and goes for close to two months, crisscrossing the U.S.

Hernandez: Unfortunately, the tour's not going to come through Albuquerque. The closest we'll get is Denver on June 16, so we'd love it if people would caravan up there.

So what's next?

Hernandez: We did this [new record] in sort of a transition period after our Japan tour -- we actually came pretty damn close to breaking up after that. But we reevaluated our situation and decided to do something absurd.

Skrasek: We figured that if we're going to do this at all, we might as well take it to the most extreme level. It's not like we're ever going to be on MTV. We're just cross-genre punk, hardcore, pop, whatever ... so we said, "Why don't we just totally exploit all of that and get our record out to as many people as possible?"

Hernandez: We just want to have fun. And playing to a thousand kids with mohawks is pretty fucking hilarious.

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