Raising Cain in the house
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Keith Durflinger
It's a great night to be at the Coconut Teazer in Hollywood, California. The premiere party for "Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels" is going, there's two stages worth of bands and I'm sitting in an intimate little booth tucked away in the middle of the darkened club with two good looking and intelligent guys. The two, lead vocalist Cain and bassist Gyro, are part of the foursome that make up Raising Cain, a group which works as hard as they rock. The other half of the group, guitarist Doc and drummer Muddy, are off in the crowd somewhere enjoying the night.
"How did you guys get together?" I start.
They look at each other and laugh at some inside joke.
"We got together in '92," manages Cain. "Myself and the guitar player, we are the only existing original members. Basically, we've gone through changes over the past eight years to bring us to where we are and we've been with this lineup for a couple of years."
"For those unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe it?" I ask.
"Grooving, driving," says Gyro. "It's hard-rocking, but yet you can pretty much dance to it. A lot of people get up, jump around; dance around. It's cool."
"It's fun!" Cain adds with a smirk and more laughter.
"Was it a lot of work to produce your CD?"
"It's always a lot of work," replies Cain.
"You did it yourself then?" I say.
"Pretty much, like everything we've done, we've done ourselves," explains Cain. "I mean, definitely, when you look up 'self-promoted bands' in the dictionary, there's us for the picture. We did our management up to the last year. It got to the point, I mean we did our own U.S. tour that we set up, that we did ourselves. We did 95 shows in 45 states in six months and we did it on our own. We self-promoted our own album, recorded it, we mass re-produced it, got our distribution deals here and abroad; sold 60,000 copies of the album on our own. No labels wanted us."
"That's a phenomenal feat for any band," I utter in awe.
"We thought so, but apparently nobody else did. Whatever," says Cain.
In addition to their record sales and the soundtrack of "Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels," Raising Cain's music is currently featured on the IMX compilation disc, Fox Sports Network's "BoardWild" and "Blue Torch," WB's "Dawson Creek" and Lifetime Television's "Strong Medicine." Their tunes have also been heard on Fox TV's "Time of Your Life," USA Network's "Core Culture" and on KCAL's commercial breaks during the Los Angeles Lakers. And if that's not enough places, Raising Cain has made their mark on the airwaves across the western United States.
I feel almost stupid to ask, but still, "Are the labels looking at you now?"
"Don't know," mutters Cain.
"It's completely different," offers Gyro. "It's not like the '80s where labels were everywhere picking up bands left and right, but now it's like--"
so hard," Cain breaks in. "I mean we go to seminars. We go to North by
Northwest, we got to South by Southwest, we got to EDAM; we go to IMX. We go to
all these seminars and it's always the same thing, but it's good to hear other
people's perspective. It's always the same stuff, you're asking the same
questions and getting basically the same answers, just another person's
perspective. We're doing all these thing to get ourselves better in touch with
the industry and what's going on in it. We consider ourselves pretty
professional; pretty well-rounded in understanding the business aspects of
what's going on. I mean we're fucking developed. They say that they want
developed bands, well, whatever man, what are you looking for? This is what we
want to do period. Maybe it started with selfish reasons, but we all grow up and
find other more important reasons to do it."
The guys are well versed in the recent changes in the music industry.
"These days, compared to way back when," says Gyro. "There are a lot more bands nowadays than there were, say, ten years ago. I don't know why that is, maybe more people? More people being able to afford more equipment."
"And they can do it at home too," adds Cain.
"Exactly," continues Gyro. "Technology advancing to where it has too. Computers, I mean you can record stuff on the computer now and it makes it so easy for home recording musicians."
"I think a lot of our problem, competition, is that everybody can to it and record and get it out there via the Internet or whatever for virtually nothing," says Cain. "I think, and I've talked to other people who felt the same way, that music entertainment is really going to start focusing on the live aspect of what's going on. If your shit ain't good live, you know what. Because anybody can do it; anybody can put the material out there. Anybody can spend four years at their home and come out with material and make it sound just as bitchin' as anything that's out there. Granted, the things that make it in a commercial market are obviously marketing and promotion, which, at the level we are talking about as far as 'rock stardom' or anything like that, let's be honest, the means to do it yourself, it's just impossible."
"Are the days of rock stars gone?" I ask.
"I don't think so, but I think it's very select. I think it's whoever they want it to be," Cain says.
"Oh, boy," I moan. "Are we going to be stuck with Brittney Spears and N'Sync?"
"If that's what they want, then that's what you're listening to," replies Cain. "If they feel that they have the story that people will buy into, that they have the look that a particular person will buy into, a fashion people buy into it; a certain identity. It doesn't have to be Brittney Spears, it's not necessarily this or that."
"Do you think hard rock is coming back?" I query.
"Everything's in cycles," states Gyro.
"Did it ever go away?" Cain says emphatically.
We discuss the various radio station and the lack of hard rock in Los Angeles. We also agree that the airwaves in outlying areas, such as KCAL in San Bernardino, and now, on the Internet, never stopping supporting rock.
Gyro sums it up well, "It's just a mutation of the same thing, everything evolves."
"How do you feel about the local scene?" I venture.
"We're not really into it. Like in L.A., there's not really a local scene." Cain pauses and goes on brightly. "We put on a bitchin' show, you know that? Unfortunately we won't get to do it tonight and, you know what, it really sucks because we like to put on a show. There's a very very heavy emphasis on our show. There's video, pyrotechnics, whatever, and all that shit's going on and we did that. And we think that when you're paying 15 bucks, which is what you're paying in most of these clubs, that you should see a show, not five guys, four guys, standing up on a stage jamming. You want to fucking do that, that's cool man, but don't charge people 15 bucks to see that shit. We know the full value of what we do and we think, I think, I won't say we, are fucking taken advantage of a lot of shit."
"Well, where do you play?"
"Wherever there's a fucking bartender who will allow us to come in and take it over," Cain laughs with a hint of evil. "We're taking over your world and we're bringing lots of people. We're going to convert your club. Quite simply, if it's not set up to rock and roll, it will be in about three hours."
"Going back to that whole local music scene," Gyro cuts in. "Going back to the early mid-'80s, in high school, my friends and I, we'd go out to the Troubadour. We didn't know who the hell would be playing, we'd just go. It was 30 miles away, we'd just check out bands. I don't think you can do that anymore. People are more on their computer at home. I don't think they go out as much as they used to."
"They don't go out that much for live music," agrees Cain.
I decide it's time to discover a little more about Raising Cain's musical roots.
Gyro begins, "One Christmas, when I was around three years old, my parent got me an organ with the notes on the keys. The keys all had numbers and the music would have numbers and you would play by the numbers. When I was five years old, I took accordion lessons. I was in a lot of competitions. Out by the airport, L.A. Airport, there was a competition that I would go to every year. It was a great musical background to be in, I learned a lot. I use it in the band."
"Electric accordion in the band," adds Cain.
"Yeah. When I was in a band, I never thought about picking it up, until I got hired by Raising Cain," says Gyro.
Gyro has me laughing as he describes his first time on stage at the Roxy with his accordion. The audience was taken aback, but after they heard him, they were astounded. You can hear Gyro in action on their latest CD, "Planet Doom."
Cain, on the other hand, started out as a drummer until he ended up in a band that needed a singer. He gave it a go and found that he really enjoyed it.
We go forward and talk about the future. Raising Cain will be taking a break until the end of the year while concentrating on merchandise and music for next year. Then they plan to do a lot of "regional movement," gigging in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and other places. They also intend to write some material for a new release, but they plan to stay true to their sound.
"There was a drastic change between (the first) and the last CD," states Gyro.
"Change is good," says Cain confidently. "I think we made a change for the better. It's not like we were going for any particular thing, we just went into the project wanting to create our own niche instead of being compared to Iron Maiden or Queensryche. While they're not great comparisons, it's not the goal of our band, or shouldn't be the goal of any band, to be compared to anybody. Be compared to yourself. That's what we tried to do and, in my opinion, I think we would have had more impact if we would have taken the time to experiment with a few things before we put something down, but it's good."
"We touched on the Internet earlier, but what do you really think about it?" I ask.
"It's awesome," says Gyro. The obvious answer for an engineer/designer for Boeing.
"It's whatever you make it, you know. It's all in the eye of the beholder," answers Cain, who is a field tech for National Mobile Television. "Like I said, it's no big deal to us because we concentrate on the show. Obviously what we write is important to us. There's a lot of bands that write a million songs and pass them out to everybody. We start writing and, if it's shit, we trash it there. We don't write a lot of songs, but the stuff that we write, we try to write quality material, at least to our standards.
"I just can't write lyrics," Cain continues, explaining Raising Cain's creative process. "Usually I have to have something in my head and then, usually, I'm very headstrong to the point of what's the point of doing that over the top of something that they're doing is different. Which is probably not the best way to be, but I don't want to get put in the situation where I have this idea in my head and I'm telling them how to play their instruments- they're musicians."
"We run the tape and start playing and see what comes out," says Gyro.
I remark how it's interesting that the band members are college educated, whereas many musicians I encounter lack education and quite a few still live at home with their parents.
"Lucky them," laughs Cain. "I'd move in with my parents if I could."
I smile, "Okay then, what kind of advice would you offer to an aspiring musician?"
"Run," Cain says loudly. "Run as fast as you can."
"Don't do it," snickers Gyro before getting serious. "I think the one thing that I would say is practice, practice, practice. If it wasn't for my mom, I think, I was playing every afternoon after school, pounding on me to practice my accordion lessons, I probably wouldn't have continued the accordion. The first few years, especially after I was nine or ten, it was right around then when I started looked for a change and she kept me focused."
Gyro's mother is also very supportive of his band.
"I would encourage music," says Cain. "I think the music doesn't get enough emphasis in schools. I think that music is a very good thing, however, when you make that decision in your life as far as what you want to be when you grow up, when you say 'a musician,' understand that it's not a way out. That's not taking the easy way. A lot of people, I think, think that 'I'm just going to be a big rock star and make millions of dollars and not have to do anything.' It comes back to the thing you said about us being educated. You can go along and, say you're playing you're guitar, that's cool stuff, playing guitar, that might get you up on stage, that might get you signed; that might put a lot of money in your pocket, but what are you going to do with what you get, you know what I'm saying?"
"It's important to be educated," Gyro says. "Myself, I have a college degree. If it doesn't work out, I have my degree to fall back on."
"So much has happened in the last year," continues Cain. "We've been doing this since '92 and, for pretty much all of us, projects go back earlier than that, you know, this Raising Cain band. So much has happened in this last year, we've become involved with lawyers and contracts and shit, it's fucking mind boggling man. And if I was a 19 or 20-year-old kid, I would look at this and go, I mean I look at this now and I go, 'Fuck.' We operate our own business, we keep books on all of our merchandising and everything. We're pretty straight up in the shit, but man, if I was someone who didn't have the background that I had or with a college education, or any education for that matter, I wouldn't still be around."
After listening to Raising Cain's CDs, speaking with them and seeing them live, I'm sort of confused. This is a novelty, a band that's hovering on that fine line of being both national and local and they have done it all by themselves. They come complete with an extensive fan base, a proven track record for album sales and a professional outlook on the music business. Honestly, what more could a record label want? Hopefully, their hard work will pay off soon- they deserve it.
To find out more about Raising Cain visit www.raisingcaintheband.com.