Halfcocked drummer Charlee Johnsson puts it best when asked to describe his band’s heavy, alt-rock sound. “This band sounds like AC/DC and ABBA having a bar fight.” It’s a loud, brash rock/metal hybrid of an extravagant Boston band that defines itself in part by its outlandish live performances. But beyond it’s on stage theatrics and adrenaline pumping sound, the true soul of the group lies in its thoughtful and often – dare we say it? – sensitive lyrics.
It’s major label debut The Last Star (Megatronic/DreamWorks) is due for release in early July and with it, Halfcocked seems fully prepared to hit the commercial big time. But in addition to talent and the requisite healthy dose of luck, the band’s road to major label success has also been paved with a few twists, turns and potholes too.
Halfcocked’s rise to major label success began with Powerman 5000 frontman Spider One. After hearing that band’s second of two independently produced albums, he immediately ask the band to join his own group on tour. After opening a handful of dates for Powerman 5000, Halfcocked was asked to be the first band signed to Megatronic, the label conceived by Spider and DreamWorks. “It was amazing at that time to get that sort of support from Spider” reflects Halfcocked vocalist Sarah Reitkopp. “We were shocked, thrilled and nervous all at that same time”.
But the events that led the band to sign with Megatronic/DreamWorks might be best described as organized chaos. “We were on the verge of breaking up when Spider came along.” explains Reitkopp. “We were constantly butting heads with one another and not always getting along. I mean, we definitely have some very talented people in this band but there are also some very strong personalities in it, too.”
It’s a common refrain that’s heard from struggling, up and coming band whose members are frustrated by virtually everything except success. Reitkopp also sees it this way: “You sometimes spend more time with the people in your band than you do your own family or someone you’re married to. It’s natural that you get frustrated and lash out at the people you spend so much time with.” But the true roots of the band’s discord might stem from possible frustration over never fitting into the very music scene that was supposed to be their musical foundation in the first place.
“Boston has a great music scene, one of the best in the country.” proclaims Reitkopp. “But, we definitely did not fit into the scene right away because we are absolutely NOT a look at your shoes while you play, standard indie-type band. So, we weren’t immediately accepted by the fans in Boston and that made it really tough.” For years, the local music scene in Boston had been built around the rather sedate musical slant of such favorites as The Pixies and The Lemonheads. But `sedate’ has to be considered the polar opposite of Halfcocked’s high energy style. Reitkopp explains that “Our live shows are always intense and in your face but in Boston we were even more like that so we could be different. We wanted to stand out even if it meant we would be less accepted.”
Reitkopp sees the band’s credo as one of independence and defiance. “We don’t necessarily want to be cool and fit in. We want to be ourselves. People in Boston seemed almost shocked by us. Like who did we think we were, coming to Boston and playing a rock show. But we turned the heat up even higher just so that we could be different than most of the other bands there.” For anyone looking for a band with street credibility, Halfcocked appears to be made to order. This band seems more apt to scream out “Fuck You!” rather than some sort of appeasing “Aw, shucks…ok, whatever you want.”
But the ideals of independence and defiance in music often bring with them difficult repercussions. Halfcocked discovered this with its first independent release, 1998’s Sold Out. “That record probably sold a grand total of two copies.” Reitkopp says with a loud laugh. “We just weren’t accepted right away but once we did start to get a following, then I think sales picked up. But, initially the sales was horrible.”
Things began to change for the better just prior to the band’s second indie release, 2000’s Occupation: Rock Star. “Our band was a hard sell to the local music press at first since we’re always so over the top, particularly with our live shows. But eventually, they started to understand us a bit more and the positive word of mouth about us began to improve.” Improve it did as the band was nominated for three local Boston Music Award nominations including one for best album from a local band on an indie label.
From that positive buzz came Spider and the signing to DreamWorks. But the major label signing meant far more than money and increased notoriety, it also provided the band with a much need source of hope. “It was nice to finally have someone outside of the Boston scene support us. It really came at the right time for us. Because even though we always believed in ourselves, it gets hard sometimes to keep going on.”
But lest someone think that this will be yet another story of an up and coming band crashing and burning amongst the pressure of a big label world, think again. “We’ll always know who we are. We didn’t change our act in Boston to fit in, so why would we do it now just because we’re on this label?” What makes one believe that Reiktopp’s comments might very well be genuine comes when one listens to the bands songs. Many of the lyrics feel heartfelt and appear to be as real and genuine as one could expect to get.
One song from the new album epitomizes the band’s steely introspection. “Drive Away” serves up angst, pain and misery in a less than glossy display. It’s disjointed, meaningful and ultimately completing entertaining. But, it certainly isn’t a track one would expect to see on a highly publicized major label release. “I feel weird talking about our songs…it sounds so cheesy to do it. But, the lyrics, sure they really mean something to us.” admits Reitkopp. “The song `Drive Away’ comes from the feeling that a lot of people get and I probably will get again, of just wanting to get away. You’re sick and tired of where you are – your job, where you’re living, your relationship – so you pack up all of your shit and just leave town. Basically you decide to start over fresh, somewhere else.”
Almost immediately after signing the major label deal, Reitkopp left Boston with the band and came to Los Angeles. One wonders if this was a real life version of “Drive Away”. Reitkopp acknowledges that it indeed was. “I personally jumped at the chance to leave. I lived in Boston for seven years and I loved it there but I was definitely feeling the need to get up and leave. It was time to move on emotionally and physically.”
Halfcocked has definitely moved on to greener pastures. In fact, it appears ready to move into the proverbial penthouse suite. While many bands toil for decades without an ounce of label interest, Halfcocked has managed to land a label deal in only roughly four years. Although thoroughly appreciative, Reitkopp remains unimpressed over the band’s recent big break. She explains with a hearty laugh, “It might seem quick to you but with all of the shit we’ve gone through, it sure doesn’t feel quick to us. We’re absolutely ready for this. Bring it on.”