LA-based power trio Rebel Rampage has a message for the masses. Comprised of Graham Czach (lead vocals/bass/songwriter), Dylan McGee Jones (guitar) and PunKy Balfour (drums), the band uses their music as a form of political protest and a as way to discuss the current political climate. Started by Czach in the fall/winter of 2017 as a result of Trump winning the presidency and being fed up with the state of things in the US, the trio is exercising their resistance through music. They are also encouraging others to do the same and to educate themselves on the important issues currently facing our country. All three members are touring musicians outside of the band with long and varied histories in the industry, deciding that now was the time to join forces and make a statement about the issues that are important to them, such as women’s rights, immigration, foreign policy, healthcare, taxes and a host of other issues. In November of 2018, the band released their debut album Divided We Fall, which was recorded and mixed at Rancho de La Luna in Joshua Tree, CA, Attic Recording in Nashville and Studio X in Seattle. The album includes collaborations with Angelo Moore of Fishbone on the track “Red Star” and Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara on the track “I Am The Power”. With plans to release a video for “I Am The Power” and a live music video, to hopefully record and release another single and video and to book some regional and national tour dates this year, the band is forging ahead to continue to voice their message. One of the most important messages they want to convey, though, is that everybody go to the polls in 2020 and VOTE! Staff writer Emily May recently spoke via email with Czach about music as a form of political protest, collaborating with Angelo Moore and Emily Armstrong and what’s next for the band. You can follow Rebel Rampage and stay up-to-date on all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their album via the following links. You can join their mailing list and check out the organizations they are passionate about HERE. Check out their music video for “Red Star” featuring Angelo Moore below.
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Rebel Rampage was formed as a means of using music as political protest. Your motto is “respect my existence or expect my resistance”. What forms does resistance take for the three of you? In what ways would you encourage people to resist?
Hello, this is Graham Czach (lead vocals, bass, songwriter). Resistance is crucial right now in the troubling times we are in with a wanna-be fascist authoritarian dictator like president who lies constantly about everything even lying about lying. It obviously takes the form of music as you can hear on our debut album addressing issues and standing up to oppression. Other forms of resistance that we regularly do every chance we get, and strongly encourage others to do is, first and foremost, register to vote and vote! It’s amazing how many citizens eligible to vote don’t vote for one reason or another. If you’re complaining about the way things are and want change, then take action and be the change. Do research and stay up to date with what’s happening with different issues like immigration, women’s rights, foreign policy, health care, taxes, and so on.
Other ways you can resist and make your voice heard are to call your senators and reps, sign petitions, volunteer to help at organizations that you feel passionate about what they’re doing, and take to the streets and take part in demonstrations, actions, marches, and protests. I’ve personally been to every march since the illegitimate president’s inauguration including all the Women’s Marches. March For Our Lives, the May Day March, and more. It’s important to build the sense of community and inspire people to take action which is what we are trying to do with our music. Resist oppression and inspire people to take action for equality and justice.
How do you feel that political climate got to where it is right now and do you have hope that things will get better? Do you think enough people realize what is at stake in the next election and will vote? What are your thoughts on the field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election?
We got into this mess and state of affairs because unfortunately the US is still very racist, misogynist, and xenophobic. The rampant corruption in the government, especially in the Republican Party, with representatives being bought by lobbyists and special interest groups to do their bidding is un-American and disgusting. For example, the NRA funneling money into Congress to sway the vote in order to prevent any sensible gun legislation to pass. This is why we continue to have mass shootings as a regular occurrence. Or the massive wealth inequality divide growing with new tax laws that benefit the extremely rich. Or a senseless border wall and wholly inept immigration policy and accommodation for refugees fleeing to find a better home as our ancestors once did. I could go on and on with the issues we face where mass amounts of people are being oppressed and inequality and injustice run wild. Decades of this corruption and greed have led us here as well as the dumbing down of our society and people buying into propaganda, not doing their research, and watching news outlets like Fox News. All that being said, I still maintain my hope that things will get better because I still believe in the ideals of what America stands for and the principles it was founded on. You can hear this hope in the music no matter how dark it gets.
We have to get our act together and this last mid-term election gave me even more hope with the House electing a record number of minorities and women who are fighting for the people and are sensible when it comes to issues. I do feel like a lot of people know what’s at stake with this next election. We just can’t continue with this totally incapable, ignorant, and unethical president. I can’t even say his name because it makes me repulsed and I don’t want to give any more time, power, or coverage to that name than it already has. The Democrats really need to get it together if they want to win. They are just too all over the place right now with way too many candidates which is dividing the field. I don’t know who will win the primary but I do know that whoever does, the Democrats and any Independents better rally behind them and not vote Independent, which just gives votes to the Republicans. It is too crucial. I personally would like to see Bernie have a shot. Everything the man says I agree with and he has decades of service backing it all up. There are others like Kamala Harris, Biden, or Beto would be good too.
I had an artist tell me recently that he felt a lot of bands in recent years seem to be shying away from making their music political and using it as a platform to advocate for social change. Do you feel that is true?
To some extent, yes. There are only a handful of artists that are speaking out and using their music as a tool for social change and political justice like we are. More artists should definitely be stepping up to the plate and having no fear like all the revolutionary artists/musicians of the 60’s/70’s, ie. CSNY, Bob Marley, Dylan, Hendrix, and more. The music industry is in a sad state where they are pumping out formulaic garbage that all sounds the same because they are playing it safe; it’s all about money. Taking risks, staying true to yourself and your beliefs, and helping others through real messages and music is the way to be. I do however see some resurgence bubbling up of artists writing songs and speaking up even in the pop world.
Your debut album ‘Divided We Fall’ was recently released! Graham, you wrote all of the songs before forming the band with Dylan and PunKy. What was the process like for finishing the songs once they were on board? Will you be the primary songwriter for future material or will it be more of a collaborative effort?
It was great to realize these songs and flesh them out with Dylan and PunKy. These guys are masters of their craft and instruments and really took the parts to a whole new level, in some cases rewriting and writing new parts. We also spent a lot of time combing over the song arrangements together and tweaking arrangements and production elements. Dylan and I sat down with each song and dissected the lyrics, changing some words and phrases to really make them impactful and say exactly what we wanted to say with poignant messages. This was really important to us because of the political nature and heavy issues we are addressing. We are just speaking the truth and telling it like it is. People need to hear these things and hopefully get inspired to rise up and take action to make a difference with a positive impact.
We are all professional touring session musicians for a living so it does prove difficult at times to have time to get together and write collaboratively, but we really want to showcase more of that because we all have so much to offer with such diverse backgrounds that will make the evolution of the band incredibly unique and something to behold. I’ve written a bunch of ideas and songs since the album already myself and we are starting to collaborate more now. Really looking forward to the future and the process of collaborating more.
The album was recorded/mixed in 3 different studios. You recorded the basic tracking and guitar overdubs at Rancho de La Luna in Joshua Tree, CA with David Catching, the vocals at Attic Recording in Nashville and the mixing was done at Studio X in Seattle. What were all of these different studio experiences like and what do you feel that each studio added to the process?
Rancho was just an amazing magical experience out there in the middle of the desert. I can’t even describe it in words. Dave and the crew over there are like family now and were instant friends and brothers. So much love for those guys and that studio. It was an experience I will never forget and really is priceless. They have tons of amazing vintage gear and the place just feels like home. It also has gadgets and knick knacks everywhere, really trippy but cool as fuck. We got some really killer raw sounds out of Rancho and cut all the basic tracks for 11 songs in 2.5 days, then used the next 3 days for guitar overdubs. After we got some rough mixes and the sessions, I took everything to long-time friend and colleague, Greg Magers (owner of Attic Recording in Nashville), and recorded all the vocals over 5 days straight. It was intense but was a really cozy relaxing and not distracting atmosphere which is what I like when cutting vocals to really get in the zone. Graham Burris was assistant engineer, who is also a good homie from Chicago. We are all from Chicago where we recorded a number albums together for a number of years including my last solo EP ‘Star by Star’.
We had a great time until we went out the second to last night in Nashville with our good buddy and my touring bandmate for years, Chris Gelbuda, who also happens to be an incredible multi-platinum songwriter and producer. Well, as the story goes, we went to Chris’s house for some drinks and he had just gotten these electric standing scooters we were cruising around on when Greg and Chris went on a liquor run and returned with Greg falling through the doorway all bloody with a broken collarbone. The rest is history. It was a crazy night to say the least. Real fucking rock albums aren’t real fucking rock albums without someone breaking a bone. Thanks for taking one for the team Greg! He was a complete badass and woke up the next day right back at it recording vocals. True pro! Adam Kasper mixed the album at Studio X and did a fantastic job! We weren’t there in person during the mixing process but we went back and forth with Adam with many multiple rounds of notes to get it right. My only regret here is that we didn’t go to Seattle in studio to finish the mixing. I feel like it would have been a quicker more efficient process if we had but it still turned out great and you live and learn.
You collaborated with Angelo Moore of Fishbone and Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara on the album. What were those experiences like and are there any artists in particular that you are hoping to collaborate with going forward?
Angelo has become like a brother to me and a great friend through this whole process of collaborating on “Red Star” and performing together multiple times live now. He is a true artist in the sense of the word and is a constant source of inspiration and creativity. From Fishbone to Dr. Maddvibe & the Missin’ Links to everything he’s done around and in between, his music and impact is legendary. I recommend everyone watch the Fishbone documentary and see how many musicians and artists have been influenced by him and his music from Flea to Gwen Stefani and more. Proud to call him a colleague and friend and looking forward to our future collaborations which we are in the midst of currently. There will definitely be another song with Angelo coming soon and co-written with him ;). It was a great experience watching and hearing his creative genius work from the recording to the music video to performing live. Emily is one of the best female rock vocalists with that scream singing shredding of her vocal chords that not many can do and sound so good. We recorded the vocals in one session at Sphere Studios with Francesco Cameli, owner and engineer extraordinaire. She crushed it and “I Am The Power” sounds killer! It’s definitely the most pop oriented song on the album and perfect for film. It’s a rock empowerment anthem. We are working on a video for the song in collaboration with some organizations we support like the ACLU. Look out for this video coming soon.
Yes, I’m hoping to collaborate in the near future with Tom Morello, who also performed at the ACLU 100 National Tour Event at Grand Park in LA we were performing at. We talked for a bit before his set and we’ll see what the future holds. And I grew up with Tim McIlrath from Rise Against, also a Chicago native, and played in a band with him for a brief period in high school. Hopefully we can get a collaboration in at some point as well. We are both in the same realm of activism for change through music.
You have said that your goal as a band is to release more music videos, as almost every song on the album lends itself to a visual back up. Did you have a vision in mind for the music videos when you wrote the songs?
I’m a very visual writer when it comes to music and songs. I see the whole vision and story in my head while I’m creating it. So yes, for the most part, every song has a visual almost in the sense of a music video or short film to go along with it. It’s just trying to find a budget for the music videos that’s the difficult part as an unsigned independent artist. We have 3 music videos out now so go check them out everyone and support independent music.
You have said that it is difficult to be a musician in LA because there are so many fake people trying to be someone else rather than true to themselves. Being a part of an industry that only wants to get behind something they know will do well and not often take a chance on artists who are different, how has that shaped how you operate/market yourselves as a band? Do you feel there are any good resources available for independent artists who are trying to promote their music and get their name out there?
Yes, it is difficult and the industry expects you to do all the brunt work to get to a certain point of being established for them to then come in and reap the rewards of all your hard work for years. It’s an unfortunate reality but it also builds character and helps you to learn a lot of things doing everything yourself. Social media is everything these days. It’s very important to have all your socials up and be constantly active posting and engaging. Video content and accessibility are also key like having a smart url to all platforms your music is on like Spotify, Apple etc. There are also some good promotional companies that you can hire that will pitch for playlist adds and push your music. Honestly, it’s an ever changing evolving beast that you’re trying to wrangle in and figure out. I’m still learning new things every day and testing different methods. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to get things off the ground with very little return at first, but this project in particular is a passion project that I’m doing for the people as a duty and obligation I feel is necessary in these times to help inspire action and change. It’s important to me to do whatever I can do to help and not feel helpless which is why I took the path of doing it through music.
The three of you have a long and rich musical background, having been involved in many bands, projects and collaborations over the years. How do you feel that your different influences and backgrounds influence the sound of the band? You are all still involved in other projects outside of Rebel Rampage. Do you all ever find it challenging to juggle everything?
You can hear all of our backgrounds in the music through our playing and our instruments for sure. The sounds of the band is unique in that way and doesn’t really fit with anything else which can be difficult to place with other artists but at the same time, I think it’s way more important to be really original and have your own voice. Fuck what everyone else sounds like. It’s total bullshit. There are a million copycat bands that sounds exactly like each other ripping off someone else. One thing I pride our band and music on is sounding like us and totally original. You can hear different influences but nothing that’s copying anything else. Like “Scorched Earth” for example has those almost hip hop backbeat verses with some floating melodic vocals which then turns into an almost Metallica like chorus and then into a crazy driving off a bridge sound for the bridge of the song that I don’t even know what to compare to. And I think that’s a good thing to hear somewhat of influences but not be able to compare to any one thing. Cut through the noise and be yourself! Too much bullshit out there not to be. It’s our Achilles heel trying to juggle everything and scheduling. Hopefully as the band develops and we build more of a team and get some possible label backing, we can really prioritize this band and make it a career project. That is the goal. Plugging away every day as much as we can! We’ve only really been a band for a little over a year and already recorded a full length album and released it as well as putting out 3 music videos and performing a handful of shows. I think we are doing pretty well in terms of productivity as a totally independent band, but we can always be doing more.
You partnered with the ACLU for your album release show in November of last year. What other charities/organizations do you feel are doing great work that people should know about and get involved with?
We have a list on our website with links to their websites under Allies in Arms on the Join Us page that are all listed below.
ACLU, Greenpeace, MoveOn.Org, Indivisible.Org, News and Guts, Stand Up America, Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International, A Voice For The Innocent and Environmental Defense Fund
I read that you have plans to release new material with Angelo Moore. What can you tell me about the new songs? How did your collaboration on new songs together come about?
We are still in the process of working on more song collaborations with Angelo and getting them together. Angelo and I both loved working with each other and how “Red Star” turned out as well as becoming good friends and inspiring each other creatively, so we naturally wanted to do more. Stay tuned!
What’s next for Rebel Rampage?
We are working on some regional and national tour dates this year as well as hopefully releasing a video for “I Am The Power” and a live music video. Our live show is really where it’s at and people need to see, hear, and feel that. Even if they aren’t at the show, they can still get a taste online. In addition to all of that, we are working on hopefully recording and releasing another single with a video in the later part of this year. I really want to get a whole campaign and national tour ready and booked for next year during election year hitting all the colleges and cities and partnering with great organizations like Rock the Vote or Headcount to get people registered to vote and get the word out. We really want to make a difference in this next historic and probably most important election of our lifetime. See you out there and please check out the music, stay in touch, follow us on socials, and be part of this important revolution.