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The Rapture's Post-Punk, Post-Dance Sound

Portland, Ore. — The Rapture find that like scratches up the hallway door, each record they make marks a point of growth. The noisy post-punk quartet's latest full-length effort reveals a band that's inched its way up the wall thanks to all the time it spent growing in the studio. For Echoes — due out on DFA Records in September — the NYC-based foursome opted to devote a heftier chunk of time than before to learning and experimenting within the four walls of DFA's own studio, and then make a true studio album.

"Being an American band, your focus is 'record an album real quick and tour your ass off for a year,'" said guitarist Luke Jenner, one of The Rapture's two lead singers. The tall and lanky Jenner was slouching in an artsy silver S-shaped chair, designed for just that, backstage at the Berbati's Pan nightclub in Portland, Ore.; his mop-like poofy brown do appeared to have a life of its own atop his heart-shaped face. "Looking at English music and how they approach it in kind of the opposite way — they spend a lot of time in the studio and make a studio album — we decided awhile ago, we wanted to do that as a band.

"And then tour our ass off," added the newest member, saxophone and keyboard player Gabe Andruzzi, grinning.

Which is exactly what the band, about five years old and having already graced the cover of Fader and been featured in Spin, is currently doing. And from the looks of their Portland performance that unusually lively Sunday evening, they're doing it superbly well.

But let's get back to the new album. This is important because of what a diversion it is from their previous releases, 1999's Gravity Records debut, Mirror, and their Sub Pop EP, Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks.

While The Rapture indeed captured a high-quality studio sound, the five or six months they spent experimenting at DFA also brought out an entirely new side of the band. Echoes continues with a post-punk spastic dance influence but — in comparison to past records — feels slowed down, more intricate, delicate and emotionally charged. Most standout may be the vocals. In contrast to previous releases, on which both singers tended to screech, this time they whine and wail in a kind of Robert Smith manner — still desperate, but more powerful. Plus you can often understand the words, which wasn't usually the case in the past.

Songs such as "Heaven," "I Need Your Love" and "Sister Savior" combine the dancefloor friendliness and heavy synthesizer sounds of the '80s Manchester scene with darker emotions that recall The Cure. "Open Up Your Heart," "Love Is All" and "Infatuation" are the slowest, and perhaps saddest, tracks on Echoes; they find Jenner crooning softly, then rising to a falsetto atop melancholy keys and drifting beats.

Still, songs like the title track and "House of Jealous Lovers" (released as a 12-inch single last year) retain the harsher, more erratic side. Employing everything from the wiry sax to the thumping cowbell, Echoes is the sort of album that introduces new elements with each listen. Trading in the raw and messy for a more polished, complex album, the band has created a beautiful and impassioned record the punks can dance to.

They were playing one of Portland's best musical venues that spring night. It's a roomy space with an ample standing (or in The Rapture's case, dancing) area, and an adjoining bar/pool room offering escape when the band (not in The Rapture's case) is terribly disappointing.

Following an impressive, minimal electronic set from local duo Tugboat Fantastic, the venue rose from borderline dead to I-can't-believe-so-many-people-are-here-on-a-Sunday slam-packed. And when the hotly anticipated band of the night took the stage, it was easy to see why.

Not only were these guys hotly anticipated, they were hot. On fire, in fact. You'd think so, anyway, with all the sweat flying from their foreheads as they shook and convulsed through a spastic set of noisy but beat-friendly dance punk.

Jenner and bassist/vocalist Matt Safer shared front stage, taking turns to shriek, yelp and wail into the mic while drummer Vito Roccoforte shook his straight, shiny, shaggy black hair from his eyes as he pounded out primal, pulsating beats. Andruzzi, with gray-green eyes, shaggy, multi-layered brown hair and a lean build, stood stage right. In fact, faced right, so you could not see his face as he switched from keys to sax. He adds a powerfully effective new element to the band, which began as a trio in San Francisco in '98. For a few songs, Roccoforte and his kit were replaced temporarily by a drum machine — the experimentation they'd done in the studio was taking a life of its own onstage.

Drowned in the music's dark, engaging edge, the band seemed entirely sucked into the potent, shattering sounds resonating from the stage and the more-more-more response from the audience. As The Rapture wrapped up an encore song, the crowd whistled, howled and stomped, demanding a second. But the band opted not to come back this time.

Fantasy Becomes Reality

They'd given all they'd got, sweated buckets and damaged plenty of eardrums, and, to me, it felt like more than enough. One might even say they were so great, it was ridiculous. "I think most of the best bands have an element of ridiculousness," Jenner, wearing an oversized navy winter coat with a fake fur-lined hood, had said shortly before the show. "You wouldn't act that way in everyday life and expect people not to laugh at you.

"They're no Bob Dylan," he later added, referring to Led Zeppelin as a prime example of a great and ridiculous band. "They're not telling it like it is — they're in some fairyland.

"With ragged horses, misty mountains...," Roccoforte joked.

Which is hardly what you'd envision listening to The Rapture's sharp, industrial, wiry sounds, funked up by bass lines you wanna sing along to and slapping beats you can't help but shake your butt to. Why? Because The Rapture don't live in la-la land. Just listen to the passion within their intense, punch-you-in-the-gut tunes and you'll see they don't have to — they've made their fantasy reality.

The band came together in San Francisco but didn't feel truly realized until relocating to NYC, where childhood pals Jenner and Roccoforte first met cousins Safer and Andruzzi at a Halloween ball in 2000. "They were wearing really funny outfits, so we decided to talk to them," Jenner said of Safer and Andruzzi. "They were cowboys, but not the mustache kind of cowboys, the 'Easy Rider' kind."

Around that time, Safer joined up with Jenner and Roccoforte, but Andruzzi didn't become an official member until about a year ago. "We've only been going steady for a year," Andruzzi said, snickering.

"He had another girlfriend, he was out with another girl dating," Jenner chimed in.

Jenner and Roccoforte first met at Lemon Avenue Elementary School in La Mesa, Calif., and became best friends because of a shared enthusiasm for baseball and baseball cards. The two didn't begin playing music until after high school, "at which point we grew our hair really long and went to college 'cause that's what musicians are supposed to do," Jenner laughed. "Everybody thought we smoked lots of pot, but we really didn't — just 'cause we had long hair."

"I had a ponytail and a pickup truck. I listened to Tool," added Roccoforte (now wearing a black T-shirt with a red horizontal stripe across the chest and a pair of dark denim jeans), his sarcasm hardly difficult to catch.

Both Jenner and Roccoforte headed north to attend San Francisco State University, where Jenner studied philosophy and Roccoforte film. Roccoforte is currently a filmmaker, though lately, he says, he has little time for it. In the Bay Area, they joined separate groups (Jenner was in Hot Wire Titans and Roccoforte in The Calculators) and eventually ended up playing in each other's bands. It wasn't long before they decided to start something together.

"Because the other bands we were in were pretty rigid in terms of genre, the whole idea for Rapture was to be able do whatever we liked," Roccoforte recalled.

Safer and Andruzzi were both brought up in Washington D.C., living in neighboring areas. "We grew up on opposite sides of the creek. We separate our neighborhoods — there was a lot of animosity," Andruzzi said with a small chuckle.

"He lived on the wrong side of the creek," Roccoforte said.

Humor amongst the band was plentiful and often dry, but it kept things feeling light in the spacious upstairs dressing room. Though the designer chairs — that you can't help but sit way reclined in — certainly helped. Either way, the band just wasn't going to get serious.

On The Record

Still, they did straighten up briefly while discussing their records. "I think (Out of the Races...) was a crossing point, it was a crossroads for us," Roccoforte explained. "Matt was joining the band at the time, so he was involved as a new person, and we moved across the country.

"We were struggling really hard as a band at that point just to get it together," Jenner added. "We had been pretty inactive, and at some point we realized 'We just can't do that.' We recorded (Out of the Races) after the first tour. That album was just us trying to be a band again, and it was really new at the time. The chemistry of the band changed a lot, 'cause it was like starting over again, trying to get our shit together. There's a big gap between that and what's happening now, but there's a big gap between Mirror and that one too."

Out of the Races stands as the biggest turning point for the band. "In a lot of ways, I consider that album, that period, the beginning of The Rapture in terms of who we are," Roccoforte said.

"Rapture Mach Two," Jenner chimed in.

Shrugging off the interruption as if it happened all the time, Roccoforte continued, "It was that drastic a change — we went through a lot of changes — and that album reflects that."

Safer agreed. "It's always like that when you introduce another element — everybody has to adjust," he said. "And that seems to be a defining characteristic of how a band that has worked together over time is when you introduce new elements, whether it's new people, new towns or new producers."

Time Well Spent

So clearly, The Rapture's upcoming album will also reflect the band's most recent evolution, which transpired mostly from their decision to work with DFA, otherwise known as the two producers it comprises: Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy. "Working with DFA, like when you hear the newer record, that's the biggest change — we became less of a live band," Jenner said. "[Goldsworthy and Murphy] opened up our eyes to what you could do in a studio and gave us a lot of studio time and said 'Why don't you try this?'"

"And we never really worked in a studio before," Roccoforte added.

"Well, not like on that scale," Jenner corrected. "They have a really nice studio, and we spent a lot of time there."

Safer found the recording experience to be a positive first. "The thing that was good about the relationship with DFA is it's two people, who are more or less fully confident in what they do as producers," said Safer, his black hair coming down over his forehead, touching his eyebrows and threatening to hide his large brown eyes. "Sitting there, bouncing ideas off each other, it escalated the ambitions a lot and generated a lot of creativity."

No doubt Andruzzi also enjoyed the five or six months spent — off and on — recording the new album. "It was really nice, it was a lot of things," he explained. "It could be really playful and really nice and easy.

"It could also be incredibly neurotic and people would have to negotiate things to finish it," he continued, looking directly at Roccoforte, half-grinning, half-scowling. "It was definitely a journey, a mystical journey.

"Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly," Jenner added in a sweet, soft tone — just before letting out a chuckle.

"It was a metamorphosis," said Roccoforte as the room filled with laughter.

The band learned plenty as they worked on the album. "It raised the ceiling, as Vito usually likes to say," Andruzzi said. "It makes you rethink your songs when you have recordings of them. You can do more in the studio, so you wanna do more with it live, or figure out how to get to the essence of the song."

"We were able to go in with the time that we had and do four different takes of a song, completely different versions of songs," Roccoforte said. "We also were able to write songs in the studio, which we'd never been able to, financially, do [before] — we usually had songs already and just go lay them down, that's it."

Some Things Never Change

"We're all different but we all love music and love to play music," Roccoforte said.

"Playing music is like a necessity for me," added Andruzzi. "It's something I have to do — it's like eating or breathing."

For more information on The Rapture, as well as for tour info, check out the group's Web site — Jenny Tatone [Monday, May 19, 2003]

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