MUSIC "Is it nature or nurture?" asks David West, pondering whether garage rock is the most natural sound of San Francisco. Playing in "rough ‘n’ ready" fashion makes sense today, he thinks, given the city’s pricey rents and dense environment, whereas the psych bands of the 1960s, and ’70s art-punk bands like Chrome, Flipper, and Tuxedomoon, could better afford to have "a conceptual mind and lots of practice." An interesting hypothesis.
Rank/Xerox, a trio featuring West on guitar and vocals; Kevin McCarthy on bass, vocals, and keyboard; and drummer Jon Shade, are no "garage" band, but their music is some of the most exhilarating in San Francisco. I met with McCarthy and West at McCarthy’s house, where the pair took turns putting LPs by Thin Lizzy and the Ramones on the turntable as they discussed their group, which came together earlier this year.
Shade and McCarthy run a Web-based videozine, Mondo Vision. They had been playing music together for about a year, never finding a third player they were happy with until they met West who recently moved to SF from Perth, Australia in February. Their first shows came in April, and they released a split cassette with Grass Widow on Wizard Mountain Tapes shortly thereafter. Brynn Michelle, who’s played saxophone at a few Rank/Xerox gigs, overdubbed some improvised, inspired parts on these urgent, punchy cassette recordings.
"It’s still pretty up in the air as to what we’re going for we take it song for song," McCarthy says. "We kind of have a law that we can’t say what we want." This desire to avoiding any hard-and-fast description or formula is understandable; even as Rank/Xerox’s music (thus far) resonates with the very best of the grim, mesmeric post-punk seeping out of England in the early ’80s, their bracing sound feels wholly unforced. Born of this troubled moment, it hits an anxious nerve. West reluctantly hints that the group is drawn to "more difficult punk music," and that Rank/Xerox lyrics address "power relationships, gender equality, sexual dynamics, socioeconomic issues, and love," before concluding with a laugh that "the songs are mostly about feelings."
New it may be, but Rank/Xerox already has serious connections to the Old World, sharing its name with an Italian comic book superhero created in 1978 and a song off of German punk band Hans-A-Plast’s 1979 debut, a vinyl copy of which McCarthy readily furnishes. Additionally, its only "tour" so far was through Eastern Europe in early October a fluke occurrence stemming from the fact that all three group members happened to be there at the same time.
Rank/Xeroz’s terrific split cassette is sold out, sadly, but a new single is now available directly from the band, featuring "In a Hole," "Basement Furniture," and "Masking/Confessions." It’s the inaugural release on Shade’s own label, Mondo Bongo Top Ten Hits, and a thoroughly DIY affair: West recorded it; McCarthy made the artwork; and Shade is releasing it.
I once spotted a local Rank/Xerox fan sporting a homemade T-shirt that stated, in permanent marker, "Listen to Rank/Xerox." Earnest, homespun advice worth heeding before they’re on some future Messthetics comp devoted to SF in the good ol’ aughts. *
part of "ATA 25"
Sun/13, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (10 p.m. performance), $10
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF