Punk Rock Bowling interview: Naked Raygun vocalist Jeff Pezzati

Jeff Pezzati, second from left, and Naked Raygun play LVCS Friday night at 12:30 a.m.
Chris Bitonti

How often do you guys play shows these days? I would say, like, once a month.

So is it full-time for you? It’s all I do. I don’t have a job besides that, but I’m on disability actually, so I get money from the government (laughs).

Is it full-time for the whole band? Drummer [Eric Spicer] doesn’t have a job. Guitar player [Bill Stephens] has a job. And bass player [Pete Mittler] has a job. Guitar player is a librarian in a small town near here; he went to library school. Bass player works for Ameritech installing cable phone lines.

Are you writing new music? We are. A couple years ago we wrote six songs and put them out on three 7-inches, and we plan on adding to that. We’re in the process of writing about four or five songs, and we hope to have those out and added to those other six songs to make an album soon. The recording date is in July.

I’ve always felt the Chicago punk scene has been overshadowed by New York and Los Angeles. It was less flashy and less glitzy, but it’s effect and influence are getting spotlighted by events like Riot Fest, with which you are associated. Would you agree? I would. We got off to a slow start, to be quite honest with you. The coasts had a good deal going first, especially California. There was a lot of people out there, it seemed, who were turned on at the same time. But once we caught on, I think people paid attention to what we were doing because it was different to what they were doing and they appreciated us as much as the coasts. It was something fresh that needed to be looked at.

How did those early Chicago and Midwest shows compare to playing the major punk markets? They were a lot smaller. I think I could name the first two kids who were at our first all-ages show—there were only two kids there (laughs). But, you know, when out-of-town bands would come we would go see them, I must’ve seen Black Flag with Dez [Cadena] singing a million times. We used to go see English bands, too, but they were a little more stuffy and more dress-uppy and not so honest. We always liked the Buzzcocks, though.

When you were starting off did you consciously try to diverge from the sound you heard from the coasts and England? No, the first guitar player, Santiago Durango, who was in Big Black with me as well, kind of coined the sound of what we had going—a lot of the “woah woah” stuff and the drum sound—and I just followed suit with what he was doing and emulated him quite a bit. And when he left the band, I don’t think we were consciously trying to sound different. I don’t think we could sound have sounded like them if we tried. We weren’t really great musicians. I know they weren’t either when they started out, but we just did what we could and luckily it sounded different. I would have hated to have it sound the same as anything.

You know, at the beginning Siouxsie and the Banshees didn’t sound like The Stranglers or didn’t sound like The Buzzcocks or didn’t sound like the Sex Pistols, but you could tell they were all from the same school. We didn’t sound like The Dead Kennedys and we didn’t sound like Hüsker Dü, but they were all good and they were all punk bands and that’s what we hoped to achieve—some sort of uniqueness that went along with the movement.

Do you ever feel like the guys who inspired it all don’t get enough credit? Sometimes, but it doesn’t bother me. Green Day, more power to them, I hope they become bigger than they are now. It’s just passing the torch, playing this music until someone younger catches on to it. The Buzzcocks influenced us—we don’t sound like them, but you can tell the influence is there, and you can tell with Green Day and Blink-182 and whoever they’re playing on the radio now. Some of them sound like they came from our school of thoughts, some of them sound completely different, but some of them sound like Arctic Monkeys (laughs), not to slam the Arctic Monkeys.

That’s good to hear. I think it would be easy to feel bitter. Yeah. You know we agreed to play a show with The Offspring recently. They’re not one of my favorite bands, but they’re a punk rock band and they’re paying us pretty well to play. I’ve never met them or anything but they asked us to play, so.

Dave Grohl has always said that his first punk rock show was a Naked Raygun show in Chicago that his cousin brought him to. And he came back here and interviewed me for a documentary, so he’s got his heart in the right place.

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