If your heart is with Captain Captain's, you were probably shoving them around in the pit at Motörhead a few Fridays ago. Maybe you were even the bouncer who was paid 5 bucks to not beat the hell out of Captain Captain guitarist Ray Johnson after he got kicked out for the third time. This means you are a nice guy. After all, Ray was more of a threat to himself, right? Sure, all those double vodka tonics may have made him a little "enthusiastic," but 5 bucks for mercy and more Motörhead is a bargain.
As audience members, Captain Captain were four little rock & roll batteries that night, charging up and wearing down. And -- to paraphrase Motörhead -- that's the way they like it, baby, they don't want to live forever.
There are a couple of other places you may have caught new local rock deconstructors Captain Captain: at Cummel's Cafe in August, for their first official live public run-through (which means you were one of a dozen or so who now suffer at least some permanent hearing loss, due in part to vocalist Bob Galloway's aggressive, ever-enthusiastic demon-exorcising); at the Side Door a few weeks back, where they shared a phenomenally well-booked triple bill with fellow rock-evolvers Phut and Chicago schizo-heroin anti-rockers U.S. Maple.
Captain Captain was loosely formed about seven months ago by Johnson and bass player Jeremy "Jethro" Melsha, who had made guest live appearances on trombone with Johnson's previous loud rock band, Shiva. Upon Shiva's demise, the rock, it had to continue, so Jethro strapped on a bass and set forth on that herculean task of "finding a drummer in St. Louis." Johnson's journeys ended in the halls of Webster University when Shawn O'Conner, who was drumming (and still is) in local avant-garde atonal-rock outfit the Non-Prophets (not to be confused with the jam band of the same name that has played around town for several years), was uncovered.
The trio started writing without a vocalist, but Galloway, O'Conner's bandmate in the Non-Prophets (as well as two previous bands, Generica and Anything but That), heard some Captain Captain tapes at practice one day and insisted on getting in on it. They accepted him. Even if they hadn't, he seems like the kind of guy who, on hearing a "no," would ignore it.
Fifty practices later, it works.
Your average St. Louis band Captain Captain is not, and this is no accident. For the last 10 years, something besides bad funk-metal and Uncle Tupelo alt-country has been springing up from this part of the Mississip, something more subversive. The sound started with Dazzling Killmen; then others joined: Man Igno, Chalk22, Shiva, Phut and now Captain Captain. It's liberated, chaotic, aggressive (and sometimes invasive) "rock" that challenges your ears. And, of course, most people aren't up to that challenge. "So far, I just do what I feel appropriate for the music. I have no intentions of confining anything to the relative rule book of rock," comments "singer" Galloway. "We will be largely ignored by most -- and, hopefully, appreciated by a few who have scruples to go outside of conventional boundaries."
Galloway strays outside your average lead vocalist boundaries in Captain Captain, screaming out in countless voices that are then processed through various effects boxes. Think Napalm Death, Harry Pussy, Caroliner. Think G.G. Allin, Ozzy Osbourne, Melt-Banana, Mike Patton. Think "escalators and plumbing systems throughout the greater metro area." He writes lyrics (and has the notebook to prove it) although onstage the words are virtually indecipherable. He assures us they are "esoteric." O'Conner sums it up: "Why even listen to the words? The way they sound is what is interesting to me."
Melsha submitted to his rock desires after a few years of playing around the free-jazz/improvising circles with Darin Gray and company, performing in the You Fantastic! Marching Band and manipulating shortwave radios, turntables and other devices with Panicsville -- basically, noise. Melsha is also part of "computer" band Brain Transplant's live incarnation, and he released BT's CD Live Halloween on his Rendered High label last year.
Johnson, who has experimented with noise in various projects for years, says it plays an integral role in Captain Captain: "Noise is there all the time, hissing, all-encompassing white noise. We filter it through our brains and our junk. When we're close to the prime, it's noise. We filter more, it's rock."
The bass and drums drive Captain Captain's songs through said noise and melody (loose term), in the end becoming those things, and the vocals assault you, or mock you, or mock themselves, or all three at once. They also have a secret songwriting method, as Melsha reveals, "Ray comes up with something, then I make him play it backwards, then add one note, then throw darts, then roll dice, then slap him. Fives and sevens are my favorite numbers."
The Cap'n boys have their own studio in their practice space; recordings started earlier this month for "the perfect demo," and they plan a full-length CD by the end of the year. New songs are being written, old ones rewritten, with the goal of constant evolution. A few rough tapes have been sent to clubs to solicit gigs, and Captain Captain's next confirmed date is Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Way Out Club with Brain Transplant. All the Captains agree that the Side Door show with Phut and U.S. Maple was a blast, as well as a dream line-up for them, being that they're fans of both bands.
That night, Captain Captain successfully confused the audience: All Captains dressed head to toe in virginal white, complete with white pantyhose over the head; the rhythm section wore tall, furry black marching-band helmets. Under the incidental red stage lights, they were magical (not to mention fast and very, very loud); Galloway's fourth-song, grand run-up-onstage entrance (à la James Brown) seemed natural if you didn't know he was late because of a night class. They have a song that sounds like Dazzling Killmen playing a Metallica tune manipulated by Melt-Banana, and you probably thought they were from Chicago or somewhere else. As for future shows, Melsha offers, they "will play with anyone who will or has already destroyed the concept of music in St. Louis, or anyone who will get us out of town."
That's the thing about not playing in a disco cover band or a mediocre cookie-cutter act here: you get SLS (St. Louis syndrome) and decide you need to take it on the road to Cleveland or someplace like that where human beings are born with different ears or something and can appreciate creative genius. Captain Captain can't wait to get some of that action. They advise you to form no expectations for their future output but are thinking "more, more, more" -- multimedia, and, with luck, Johnson's dream: a concert in quadrophonic sound.
Despite the fruity-boy sailor-lover implication of their moniker, the root of the Captain Captain name is much fancier. After several names were scratched from the list, Johnson had an epiphany: "We were sitting around, after just having imbibed several substances with powerful, wildly varied effects, and we decide to watch Alexandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain. Suddenly, without warning, during the Mars planetary sequence, there is Captain Captain! Comic-book hero for the rock revolution! How could I have forgotten! Six hours or so later, a friend obligingly scoops up my brains and replaces them into the proper brain case. Was it a spiritual journey, or malfunctioning synapses? Is there a difference? You tell me." So Jodorowsky's "Captain Captain against the Peruvian Monster" became St. Louis' " Captain Captain against the American Monster." Space superheroes for the gifted listener. Right on.