theater of rock
by Bing Futch
There was a time when you could go see GHETTOBLASTER and get exactly what you’d expect. Lead singer James Converse would wear his trademark black baseball cap and strut around the stage with the air of a rapper, crooning in a remarkably smooth voice while guitarist Randy Melser juggled flaming notes of inventive ecstasy. The tight rhythm section of bassist Matt Gallagher and drummer Thatcher would always have a few cards hiding up its sleeve while displaying a knack for ferocious and solid combinations. They would always tear it up in a fly funky jam with accents that bordered on the edge of 70’s space rock. You could set your watch to it and the young band, formed in June of 1998, developed an early following due to their bad-assness.
Then, the change began to take place. Slowly at first.
Converse, who is known for his red-faced, passionate performances, began to introduce elements of a theatrical nature into the mixture; something the band was quick to embrace. “James is a severely talented artist,” says Gallagher. With an interest in graphic arts and the theater, Converse brought a wild-eyed resourcefulness to the group’s stage presence. “I want things to be very theatrical,” he says, wiping a bit of make-up off of his face . On this particular night, he has painted his face to resemble a poirot doll, or perhaps a mime. The rest of the band has painted corresponding portions of their faces to look so that you could imagine them fitting together as a puzzle. Other shows have involved day-glo body paint, silver robot make-up and backlit dropcloths that revealed the band members in silhouette. Converse often comes up with the evening’s theme just hours before curtain. “Make it a show, make it artistic, bring the theatrics into music,” he enthuses.
Which is not to say that the music is overshadowed. No sir, not a whit.
Gallagher and Converse actually played in a band together before the latter joined FOOLPROOF PLAN. Later, with Thatcher and Melser on the scene, Converse was led back into the fray. Says Melser, “We kind of approached this band in the way that we were all going to landscape sound, we all enjoy different kinds of music.” The music, inspired by the likes of INCUBUS and FAITH NO MORE, roils with a fury at times before it creeps into a mystical, psyched-out mode. Melser is one of the most inventive guitarists in town, absolutely wizardly in his fretwork. The tapped pyrotechnics on “Drift” never fail to get admiring guitar fans nodding in appreciation. The downtown funk of “Debo’s Dance” was written about a dog and ambles along until its karate take- down chorus. Their songs don’t head in the usual funk-rock directions, their dynamics are surprisingly mature, their restraint in slow, moody passages is as stunning as their double-rolled, all-out buzzsaw rampages of fury. Gallagher works hard, throwing in zippy fret slides and accenting with grace notes. He also vies for the title of “Band Clown”, but he’s got tough competition from the highly animated Thatcher, who refuses to allow a mere drum set to stand in between himself and the spotlight. His sophisticated drumwork dips into various bags from metal to bossa nova and is always steady, even with the requisite drumstick twirls. Though their music can rip a room to shreds, these are guys that never take themselves, or their art, too seriously. They’ll always make an entertaining interview.
Pre-production has begun on their first CD, an extended EP due out in the spring. Excited about the release, the quartet says that a new chapter is about to unfold, style-wise. Gallagher jokingly calls it “death-metal mariachi”, but acknowledges that identifying their sound is important so that people can embrace the music. They move into the studio in March of 1999 to record eight tracks for the ever-growing crowd of “Ghettoheads” that are assembling out there in the clubs of O- Town. Since working so hard to establish those fans the hard, old- fashioned, grass-roots way–they’ve just now had a chance to evaluate all of the ugly “other business” required to keep a band afloat. “Considering the time that we’ve been together, we haven’t explored that as fully as we probably could of,” says Melser. “At this point in time, we’re educating ourselves on how we want to approach that.” Moving ahead with the speed of eagles since their inception, one shouldn’t doubt that the members of Ghettoblaster will accomplish their goals as they’ve a proven track record of doing that handily in their short eight -month history. Is there anything the band wishes for on its one-year anniversary? The two jokesters have their suggestions.
“The rhythm section really wants big, fat, hairy, stinky bush–” says Gallagher with a straight face. Thatcher heartily concurs as everyone else dissolves into laughter. “We like vagina,” he says.