There are bands that merely “grow,” and then there are bands that truly evolve. There are bands that find a sound that works and stick to it like it’s their religion, and then there are bands that only use that sound as a foundation, a launching pad into greater things.
Five years ago, these Rx Bandits were kids in the same familiar Orange County ska-punk scene that spawned superstars like No Doubt, Sublime, And Reel Big Fish. In those days, the band consisted of singer/guitarist Matt Embree, drummer Chris Tsagakis, and a couple other friends from the Seal Beach area. A year later, Rich Balling contacted the Bandits purely out of curiosity after reading a show review in local zine Scratch, and soon found himself part of the band. By the time the newest member, bassist James Salamone, entered the fold, the band had already established itself as one of the area’s top draws. With a reputation for routinely selling out shows (and, in fact, consistently breaking their own attendance record at Anaheim’s Chain Reaction), Rx Bandits took a place in the national spotlight touring with Bloodhound Gang, New Found Glory, and others.
But that was then, and this is now. Progress is the band’s most sonically dense, musically complex, and lyrically insightful work to date. It’s the sound of a band coming into its own with clear vision and purpose. “Our first album was mostly peppy ska tunes about soccer girls. The second album was called Halfway Between Here And There. It brought in some newelements like reggae. That was the stepping stone,” explains former member Rich of the band’s maturation. “Now this album’s totally different.”
“I want people to say that this is a new standard for a band that has horns,” he continues. As lyricist and chief songwriter, Matt is largely the one responsible for propelling the band to that new standard. He’s cognizant of the band’s past, but wasn’t about to let that hold him back. “ I wrote these songs without worrying about what style of music they were,” says Matt. “But keeping in mind the whole band, and making sure not to go too far out.”
Progress not only reflects eclectic musical tastes, but reveals the budding social consciousness of a band that’s fed up with a culture of apathy and thoughtlessness. “A lot of my personal idiosyncrasies came out in the lyrics,” Matt surmises. “The songs are about rebellion. But it’s not rebellion in a punk way, it’s rebellion in an intelligent way.” “Analog Boy” anchors the album’s theme, railing against those who try to escape through drugs or the pacifying images on TV rather than simply facing and overcoming their problems.
“People are always looking to a pill to solve their problems. It’s like, you can’t sleep, take a pill. You can’t get a boner, take a pill. You can’t eat, take a pill. You’re feeling depressed, take a pill.
It’s not even about resolving your problems anymore, it’s all about the easy way out,” says the impassioned vocalist. “I’m singing against it, because human beings are strong. You’ve got everything right where you are, you just need to work it out yourself.”
Whether dealing with issues like this, or confronting racism in the reggae tune “In All Rwanda’s Glory,” Rx Bandits are careful not to let the heady subject matter interfere with the songs.
“I’m not about making people believe what I believe,” says Matt. “But hopefully people will like the songs enough that they’ll want to know the words and they’ll want to sing along. Then they’ll hear the lyrics and they’ll understand them.”
“We’re not throwing a message in their face,” echoes Rich. “But I can’t deny the influence and the impact music and musicians have on kids. Just look at the way it changes trends in clothing. Everybody in high school dresses according to what they listen to. That’s how it is. It obviously has an impact. We just hope our impact is a positive one.”
RX BANDITS are:
Matt Embree: Guitar / Vocals
Chris Sheets: Trombone
Steve Choi: Guitar / Keyboard
Joe Troy: Bass
Steve Borth: Saxophone
Chris Tsagakis: Drums