Blame It On the Scenery: Reubens Accomplice, Interviewed
by Ryan McKee
Living in the Phoenix area, I had heard about Reubens Accomplice for at least a year before I actually saw them. They were the favorite little band of all the hip indie kids. Sure, everyone knew about Jimmy Eat World, but Reubens Accomplice was Phoenix's best kept secret. A band with enough potential to blow right through the paper-thin layer right above them.
Then I finally saw them play a show. That night, due to various communication problems, the performance consisted of Chris and Jeff on guitars and a drum machine. It was at that time, and still is, one of the most exciting live performances I've been apart of. And I say 'apart of' because I got the feeling that they were creating and experimenting right there, seeing where they could take things in front of a live audience, and get away with it.
Now, finally, after six years, they have their debut, I Blame the Scenery, on Better Looking Records. The record label's site describes this band as "playing indie rock with an emo sensibility." Now, before you cast them out as 'just another emo band,' I would choose to add to that description: an indie band who tips its hat at 60's pop. There a simple purity to Reubens Accomplice, something organic, but without being stagnant. I wouldn't go throwing them into the Elephant 6 stable, but they do beg comparison to fellow Southwesterners The Shins. I've found that just the term 'emo' wards many rock enthusiasts away like Kryptonite, myself included. Yet, I really enjoy I Blame the Scenery. The album avoids the pitfalls of many of today's emo bands. Too many of those albums bleed together, being overproduced and forgetting to just let go of their tortured hearts and sometimes just fucking rock.
Like fellow Phoenicians, The Meat Puppets, Reubens Accomplice manages to capture the paradox of the desert in their songs --the sense of echoing loneliness and at the same time the overwhelming beauty of it. The smooth voices of Chris Corak and Jeff Knapp seem to harmonize easily over Saguaro cacti and Gila Monsters. Though the track "Down Again," with Andy Eames' thicker voice, mixes things up, sounding vaguely Modest Mouse. Throw that together with Flaming Lips-esque rising guitars, tongue-in-cheek humor that balances the overtly emotional, and flourishes of the pedal steel paragon and you have one of the more interesting albums to come out of the independent scene in the last year.
Who is Reubens Accomplice right now?
Chris Corak, guitar/vocals, age 25. Jim Knapp, guitar/vocals, 26. Jeff Bufano, drums, age 24.
How many incarnations of Reubens Accomplice have there been?
Jeff: Up until recently it had always been the same four that appear on the record, but Andy Eames recently moved to the Oregon coast to be closer to his family. We are not mad at him, we only wish we could have kept the original line up. As for now Aaron Wendt (Seven Storey Mountain) has been filling in for local shows.
This album seems to touch a number of areas in independent music, so I assume you have a number of influences, who are your main ones? Are you influenced by any other art forms besides music: literature, art, photography, poetry, film?
Jeff: Fugazi, Boys Life, Giant Sand. I don't know, there is a lot of really great bands like the Flaming Lips, Pavement. I could go on and on and I would consider them all as influential as the next. I think lyrically I have drawn from film and books. Sometimes singing about your own life is just too boring, so why not sing about how you wish your life was a little more like one of your favorite characters.
Chris: Here are my top 6 albums. I know I'm leaving something out and I couldn't live with only picking 5. Each has been influential, but hard to say if that's what we sound like:
You worked with a number of well-respected artists on this album (DJ Radar, Jim Adkins [Jimmy Eat World], and John Rauhouse [Calexico, Giant Sand, and Nekko Case touring fame]. Could you give me a few sentences on how you hooked up with some of these people?
Jeff: Most of them we knew beforehand and had discussed the idea of the record and our desire to have our favorite local musicians perform on it regardless of their musical style. Others were introduced to us by Jamal Ruhe, our friend who recorded the record. It was my favorite part of the whole experience, they all did it for their own reasons. There was no money involved.
In the past, the Phoenix indie music scene hasn't gotten much attention. Jimmy Eat World's new album, however, is now everywhere you look. Do you think Reubens Accomplice could follow in J.E.W.'s footsteps? Are there other bands in Arizona that you feel could soon be recognized on a national level?
Jeff: I really believe that Phoenix is a city with a large talent base, including Tucson as well. There are some great singer/song writers here as well as DJs, MCs, and pretty much you name it. I think for every genre there is at least one act in town capable of mass appeal. As for us, I'm not sure. It's hard to look at your own music that way. I really believe in what we do, I just don't know if radio would. Although after System of the Down, maybe anything's possible.
With Jim Adkins playing on the album, and coming from the same area, there are bound to be comparisons of Reubens Accomplice to Jimmy Eat World. Do you have an opinion of their new album, Bleed American? Some feel they have gone too mainstream.
Jeff: We have the insider point of view. Most people that love a record, go to the band's show when they tour and then forget about them until the next record hits. We've seen Jimmy Eat World's progression over the last six or more years firsthand and this is definitely a natural step in their progression. There is nothing forced about Bleed American and as a fan I don't think you can ask for anything more.
You mention Arizona, both directly and indirectly, more than once on the album. How important is 'place' in your song writing process? Do you feel that your band will always be associated with Phoenix?
Jeff: In the past two years I started to really appreciate the desert. Most people don't know what it's like to drive only a half an hour and find yourself in the middle of the desert with no obtrusive city lights. I think it definitely plays a more major role within our music. We have lived here our whole lives.
Sorry if this question seems jumbled, but because of Arizona's pleasant year around weather, the state attracts a lot of 'beautiful people' bringing with them many mainstream ideals. Do you feel that makes it harder to form a subculture or makes the 'rest of us' feel that much more ostracized?
Chris: I think I know what you're saying and I agree that mainstream culture dominates Arizona. In fact, it's the one thing I absolutely despise about this town. We don't get any art films, there are few good places to eat, and the people involved in the art community are all struggling because no one will look, listen, or buy anything. It's really odd, after all, we are the sixth largest city in America. But often it feels like a small sheltered town. Yeah, there is a smaller community for us, but that's not the point, the point is to all hang out and share ideas.
Exactly how many 7 inches did you put out?
Chris: A single (2 songs) and a double 7 a long time ago (8 songs).
You're on a number of compilations, can you name them all?
Chris: Yes we have been on quite a few:
What have been some of the major obstacles in the band's career?
Chris: When you have been a band as long as we have, you are bound to run into obstacles - it's inevitable. In fact the last two years have been filled with extreme examples. You wouldn't believe some if I told you. Here is one of the believable examples. Creating I Blame the Scenery and getting it released was tremendously difficult. One day reality hit us like a ton of bricks. We decided we would record our first full length with our own funds and then find a label. "What came first the demo or the album?" Before we recorded our full length, respectable indie labels weren't exactly knocking down our doors. While recording, we brought 3 adat machines to destruction. While mixing the record, Jamal Ruhe was forced to open up a machine with a screwdriver to extract the master tapes manually. Our record was nearly destroyed and we didn't have any more money. We lucked out. We sent our full-length record to a number of indie labels and aroused some interest. We finally found a label that we had 100% confidence in, Better Looking Records.
If you could tour with any contemporary band, who would it be? What about any band of all time, living or dead?
Chris: Contemporary dream tour: Less Pain Forever, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Flaming Lips, Bjork, Jimmy Eat World.
Finally, where did you get the name, Reubens Accomplice? I heard it was a character from Peewee's Playhouse, is that true?
Chris: That's classified information. As far as Peewee, that sounds like a rumor to me.