Classic Made New: Roky Moon & BOLT Are Out to Conquer the World

I’ll be honest: when I first heard about Roky Moon & BOLT (then just known as “BOLT,” all caps), I thought it sounded fun, but I seriously doubted it would last. It seemed like one of those one-off things a bunch of scenesters do when they get bored with their usual bands, starting up a semi-ironic retro-rock side project just for grins.

Then I actually saw the band play, and it hit me partway through — “holy shit…these guys are fucking serious. They mean it.” And from everything I’ve seen and heard since, that’s absolutely the case. Roky Moon & the BOLT crew play ’70s-tinged, theatrical, piano-heavy, fist-in-the-air boogie-rawk not for novelty effect but because they honest-to-God love it, and they don’t care what anybody else thinks about it.

None of which would matter, naturally, if they sucked, but they’re about as far from that as you can get. A BOLT show comes off like a celebration of all things glam and dramatic, like what might’ve happened if Jerry Lee Lewis had every been asked to play a Rocky Horror touring show, with Marc Bolan on lead vocals. They’re like a band playing a great, obscure rock opera you’ve never even heard of before. It’s raw, it’s loud, and most of all, it’s a total freaking blast, every time.

In spite of my initial fears, the music these folks make never seems to get old — I’ve listened to their most recent, self-titled album, upwards of two dozen times through now, and it just gets better with each listen. It’s music that’s new and grin-inducing and cool but still familiar and (yeah, I’ll say it) somewhat comforting in an age of who-can-play-loudest/fastest/heaviest.

To mark the band’s release of the new album, we here at SCR were able to chat a bit with drummer Jeaof Johnson and frontman/guitarist Roky Moon, all about their old-school musical loves, new label ZenHill Records, and why/how their fans just “get” it. Here goes…

SCR: Alright, it’s been bugging me for a while: why the name change? Were there legal threats from some previous “BOLT”?
Jeoaf Johnson: Nah, no legal threats. We just thought it sounded cooler and we wanted to set ourselves apart from other bands with similar names. Bolt Thrower, Lightning Bolt, Bolt from Arizona, the cartoon dog…

Where the heck did your overall sound come from? I have to admit that the first time I heard you guys, I was pretty dumbfounded, given the band members’ pretty much straight-up punk rock past..
Jeoaf: Well, I think Chad [Pinter, bassist] and I are the only ones with significant punk rock pasts, really. He’s a southern California, pop-punk skater boy at heart, and I’ve done my time on the national house-show circuit, but Roky [Moon, singer/guitarist] and Aaron [Echegaray, lead guitarist] are pretty much misplaced children of the ’70s. And then Cassie [Hargrove, keyboardist]‘s cut from another bolt of cloth entirely!

There’s obviously the American Sharks connection, but I think any punk rock element of that band comes more strongly from the other guys. Our common thread is our love for the bands like Queen and T. Rex. Our deal is basically trying to update that classic, ’70s rock sound that we all love so much.

Are you okay with comparisons to Rocky Horror and Meatloaf? I know I’ve made a few, and I swear, that’s a lot of what I hear in your music, but I’m curious to see your reaction…
Roky Moon: I have been watching Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was like eight years old. My mom showed it to me, and I never looked back. It is a huge influence on me and my songwriting, so I feel that comparison is natural. Meatloaf, on the other hand, I never listened to, but I can definitely see the comparison there, as well.

Jeoaf: I’m absolutely okay with those comparisons! My first introduction to Meatloaf was actually the Rocky Horror soundtrack. My sister was obsessively into it in high school, so we’d listen to it over and over. She had the poster on her wall, and I’ve been to midnight screenings and stuff, so yeah, Rocky Horror is definitely an acceptable reference point.

As far as Meatloaf himself, the first thing I remember being aware of was that “I Would Do Anything for Love” song from the ’90s. Wasn’t too thrilled by that one. But I eventually got turned on to the Bat Out of Hell record and some of the really classic stuff and realized his true genius. And y’know what? Looking back at it now, “I Would Do Anything for Love” is pretty damn awesome, too!

How do you think the sound’s evolved since you first came together?
Roky: I would say that we have grown tighter. In the newer material, you can feel a shift from the chugging riffs that are present on this first album to a more full sound. I think we have become more comfortable with the writing process, and it’s allowing for more intricate material to come out.

Jeoaf: I don’t know that the overall sound has really changed that much from the beginning. I think the songwriting has improved a bit in the two years-ish that we’ve been playing, but it started pretty strong, too, so…

Who does most of the songwriting? And how did the recording process for Roky Moon & BOLT go?
Roky: I write the songs, and the guys stitch ’em up for me. I take a lot of care in crafting all aspects of our music, including our “only one break in the set” live show. The great thing is the guys in the band never let me down by giving back just as much care and working just as tirelessly on their own individual parts. The songs just wouldn’t work if everyone wasn’t so talented, but also professional and hard-working. The recording process was cut and dried. Get in. Throw down your parts. Experiment a little, and get out. It was a really fun session, though, and I made two really good friends — Steve Finley, Lord Hightower — out of it.

Jeoaf: Roky writes the songs. He brings us basic ideas and structures, then we flesh them out. He’s Igor, digging up graves and bringing body parts back to the lab, and we’re Dr. Frankenstein, shooting electricity into the body and bringing it to life. But Roky is like Dr. Frankenstein, too, ’cause it’s all his idea, so, um, I guess that’s a pretty bad analogy.

Where did you record the album, by the way?
Jeoaf: Digital Warehaus, with Stephen Finley and Lord Hightower. Stephen mastered it, too.

I saw you guys had signed to the new ZenHill Records label — how’d that come about? Is the new album on ZenHill?
Jeoaf: We did a Live at Sugarhill session, and Ross [Wells] and Dan [Workman] both made it very clear that they were really into the band and liked what we were doing, so when they came up with the idea to do ZenHill, we met with them a few times and really liked their ideas. They said things like “CMJ,” “Red Rocks,” “researching key demographics,” and, most importantly, “royalty checks,” so we signed.

Have y’all done much touring yet? Any plans to hit the road?
Jeoaf: We did three weeks before SXSW last year that went really well, and I think it’s pretty inevitable that we’re gonna have a hefty touring schedule in 2011. That was basically the only thing ZenHill asked of us. “Go…be your band…we’ll take care of the rest.”

What’s the reception been like, both here and elsewhere? Do people seem to get it?
Roky: The reception has been fantastic so far. There are plenty of people that don’t get it, sure, but they still have fun. There is no denying the power of being on stage, having a blast, and boogie-ing. It’s contagious, and then before you know it, everyone is having fun.

If you aren’t having fun and smiling at one of our shows, you don’t get it. If you think we are a silly joke band, you don’t get it. If you can’t find the beauty in a five-minute-long guitar solo, you just don’t get it.

Jeoaf: I think people here seem to like us and seem to get it. At first, I thought that maybe it was because most of the people at the shows were our friends, but then we started seeing people that we’d never met, older people our parents’ age, people that we wouldn’t expect or don’t see out all the time, and we started realizing that word is actually getting out about the band and somehow we’re kinda appealing to folks all across the board.

It’s a really unique situation to be in. Elsewhere has been interesting. I think we’re a somewhat difficult band to be exposed to without any preparation. It’s a lot to take in. When we played in Birmingham, the venue was this little warehouse/garage space that seemed like it maybe used to be a firehouse or something, and we played to these young, folk-punk type kids. Certainly not our usual crowd. I’m not sure that they really understood what was going on in front of them, but we kept their attention for the whole set, at least.

We have enough rockers in the set to keep people who only want party-time dance numbers interested, but the epic, theatrical stuff appeals to people who might be looking for something a little bit more than that.

Speaking of plans, what’s next? I know it’s a bit premature, since the full-length’s out just now, but still…
Jeoaf: I think Homeskool [Records] and ZenHill are working things out right now to re-release this first record, so they can work together on it and get it out there on a larger scale than we originally planned. Then we’re gonna start the second record sometime around New Year’s. Then tours.

Roky: Currently, I’m writing some of the best songs I have written yet. We’ve been in the studio rehearsing the songs and preparing to record a new album. Is it too soon to say that we are looking at SugarHill, with Dan Workman producing? On top of that, I have a real full-on rock opera I would like to focus some attention to next. Also we want to hit the road and see the world! END

[Photo #1 by Jeffrey Kilmer.]

[Roky Moon & BOLT are playing their CD release show 11/27/10 at The Mink, along with The Tontons, Giant Princess, We Were Wolves, Electric Attitude, The Shells, The Watermarks, Young Girls, & The Mathletes.]

Interview by . Interview posted Saturday, November 27th, 2010. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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One Response to “Classic Made New: Roky Moon & BOLT Are Out to Conquer the World”

  1. mr ray on November 28th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    what could have been a great show was blown by the mink’s P.O.S. pa system. Their mixer looked like something you would pick up for $20 at a pasadena pawn shop. it went out 2 bands before Roky and the club just kept going. I hope they get a redo.
    I can say this tho… an instrumental version of Roky Moon and BOLT was still pretty cool.

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