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Salad Days Magazine | May 29, 2023

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Mario Rubalcaba from Off! Interview – original version

Mario Rubalcaba from Off! Interview – original version
Salad Days


Mario Rubalcaba’s list of bands is fascinating. Rocket From the Crypt, Clikatat Ikatowi, 411, Metroshifter, Hot Snakes, Earthless are just a few of the names he was in studio or on tour with. The term “eclectic” must have been coined for him.

SD: You have been the drummer for RFTC which are like an all time favorite of mine. Could you talk a little about them, like for a couple of hours?
MR: I don’t wanna disappoint you but I don’t have too much to say! I only played with the band for five years, I replaced Adam which wasn’t an easy job to do. I grew up with a lot of these guys since they started the band, I didn’t know them that well, but I knew them ok. The way that it came about, it just made sense at the time, I was living in Chicago and I was gonna move back to San Diego and that slot opened up, so I decided to go for it, started my process of moving back home. A lot of the songs of the Group Sounds record were already written with another drummer that just happened to record to the demos. I heard some of the songs from that tape and then they recorded it with Jon Wurster from the Superchunk, and when I moved I think I did five songs and they all came out on Group Sounds, so I did half of that record and the last record.

SD: Did you tour a lot with them?
MR: Only after Group Sounds, we toured a lot for that record, and we did a little bit for Live from Camp X-Ray.

SD: Do you remember if the band got some kind of pressure for those records? With Group Sounds you were moving back to Vagrant…
MR: At the point when the band joined Vagrant, the main hype over the band had kinda died out a couple of years before. Scream Dracula Scream came out in 1995 and that was the last time I saw the band live. The kind of big major label hype sort of passed on. I think there was a pressure for the band to put something out, especially with Adam leaving the band and being known as such as a staple item in the band, as a powerful drummer, there was a lot to live up to. In that sense maybe there was some pressure, to deliver the songs to measure up in the same way.

SD: Let’s move back in time. You were in the original group of skaters with Danny Way and Matt Hensley, a bunch of people that went on to great things with skateboarding and music. Did you ever expect anything like that when you started out?
MR: Not to ever happen like this, to this extreme! When we were young, our group of friends started getting some notoriety in skateboarding, we were like 15 or 16 when a bunch of us started getting sponsored, and eventually there was a period where 5 or 6 of us, all really tight close friends, all had pro models in different teams. When you look back on that it’s pretty amazing cause the town where we grew up, Vista, was really tiny, crappy, a shithole town, there was nothing great about it at all, but we made the most of it, we made our own path of it, we wore it on the sleeves and we defended it, and it became some kind of mecca for skateboarding. A lot of people came down and skated our town and hang out with us, it’s kind of funny to look back and see what it turned into. No, I never would have thought it would pan out like this. With Danny and hid older brother Damon, he was an amazing skateboarder too, but he had an injury and was the cofounder of DC, and now he’s involved with Incase…

SD: He’s actually in Europe right now…
MR: Oh, Soft Moon! He has finally found a band! He has always been into music! Damon and Danny are like brothers to me, I grew up with them and was really tight, Matt as well, I’m really proud of my friends, we’ve stuck to what we really love to do and we were lucky enough to make something happen.

SD: I know you spent some time also working in the skate industry…
MR: I did, I worked for Black Box for almost five years, I had many jobs working for skateboard companies mostly because, being in bands, I could work in a warehouse. Not many places are supportive if you take a lot of time off, most people are lucky to get a two weeks vacation out of the year. Depending if I planned to be on tour for a while or had nothing going on, I either worked in sales, productions, I’ve done it all, logistics…

SD: Were you already drumming in that period?
MR: Sure, I’ve been playing drums since I was five years old!

SD: Which is the first band you were actually in, besides 411 which I guess it’s the first one that recorded something…
MR: Nothing anyone would know! The first band was called Dismembered Youth, it was a hardcore band and I was 13. It was all skateboarders friends, and then we changed our name to The Committed and we had two songs for Matt Hensley’s first video part on H-Street, but we never really played shows.

SD: How did 411 happen?
MR: It was again for the power of skateboarding. Are you familiar with Chuck Treece?

SD: Yes (McRad).
MR: So Chuck, long time skateboarder, drummer and guitar player, he plays everything very well, well he was friend with everyone in The Committed and our band was always losing the bass player so he would just sit and jam with us, and then we asked if he would sit down for a recording. So we went up to record in Orange County, maybe an hour and half from where we lived, and Chuck was “ok, I’ll be up there, I’ll meet you guys at the studio”, he met us there and the person he was staying with was Dan O’ Mahoney, and he stuck around, checked some of our songs out. Maybe a couple months went by, and then I got a call from Dan asking if I would be interested in trying out to play drums in this project he was starting out called 411. The 7″ was already recorded, Kevin had played drums on that, so I took the train and tried out.

SD: 411 is the most typical hardcore band in your history of bands, but not tough hardcore…
MR: It was different at the time, Orange County was very macho hardcore, we definitely stood out, we were more a Dischord based, kinda melodic, mixed with straight rock, we just had all these different influences.

SD: 411 record remained a classic for a few years, now it shows the passing of the years, but it has been a classic since then…
MR: I’m scared of it! I haven’t listened since it came out probably!

SD: Ahah, do you have a good relation with the stuff you put out?
MR: I can’t think of anything that I regret, but when you listen to the songs over and over again, you get into a studio to record them, and then you might listen to them a couple of times, on a couple of different stereos, car or living room, to make sure it sounds good and sometimes, at least for me, I just can’t hear it anymore! There’s a couple of things that I went back throughout the years and checked them out but I haven’t done it with 411 for a really long time, I’m kind of afraid to, because it was recorded with the guy that recorded a lot of Epitaph stuff…

SD: Donnel Cameron?
MR: Right, and unfortunately in a lot of these recordings the drum sound is very dated sounding, and I don’t really wanna to go back there!

SD: Then there’s Chicano Christ, which I don’t know much about…
MR: We did one 7″, that’s when I’d go up and stayed with Kevin (Murphy, later in Farside), the guitar player for 411, he knew Ron Martinez from the Final Conflict. There was a band called the Econochrist, an hardcore band we’d go to see, and this other band called Brujeria that started out as a joke, and we were very stoned one night and we were listening to Brujeria and thought we should start a rival band! Chicano, homeboys, vegetarian, ahah, and we just saw Econochrist and Ron turned that into Chicano-Christ… We took the same font from the Econochrist record, we wrote lyrics in one or two nights and got a couple of friends to record. I play guitars on most of it, Kevin plays drums and we recorded it in 6 hours and I can’t believe I’m still talking about it!

SD: We can leave Metroshifter on the side and we can get to the Clikatat Ikatowi days. A lot of people have looked to that scene, how it was being there?
MR: Personally I think a lot of people look back at the wrong part of that scene. It was a small window when those bands were around, Heroin, Antioch Arrow, Clikatat Ikatowi, Evergreen, and then Angel Hair came into the mix, they were from Colorado and a lot of outside bands kinda came in and took some elements of it more in the fashion sense. Our scene was kind of influenced by Nation Of Ulysses, Dischord hardcore scene and their kind of dress sense was black jeans, very thrift storey, died black hair, and all of sudden in San Diego, our little crew dressed that way and a lot of people just took that and turned it into this other thing, it became all about the appearance and the musical style was just about going crazy and not being, I hate it to say, emotional, it was all about chaotic. With the first bands there was a musical thing going on where we were influenced by a lot of early Dischord hardcore bands, and then by Joy Division, New Order, a bunch of eclectic stuff that was off the radar for punks. It just got taken into a different thing, people misinterpretating stuff.

SD: Is there any other project that came later from those same people that you liked?
MR: The guys from Antioch Arrow, except the singer, had a band forever called the Get Hustle that was pretty cool, they have changed their musical style through the years. Ron, the drummer, I’ve known him forever, he still plays in 3 or 4 different bands. I still occasionally jam with Matt Anderson and Scott from Heroin, we still hang out, I mostly play guitar with them but we switch, we do covers, make up songs, hardcore songs on the spot, Matt can play bass and guitar as well, cause we all three played with Battallion of Saints for a little bit, we just play whatever we have fun with.

SD: You also just found yourself to be a frontman, with the Spider Fever…
MR: Oh, you heard of that?! It does feel comfortable now, I never thought in years I would be doing that, I always played guitar but never attempted to remotely sing, but it feels comfortable now, a lot of fun.

SD: Drummers have always a good example, Dave Grohl…
MR: Ahah, I have a lot of respect for Grohl. Way back, before he played with Nirvana, he put out a demo tape with his own songs thru a label called Simple Machines, I always called that the Pocketwatch demo but I think it was actually called Late!, great songs, 6 or 7 songs, he played all the instruments and it was put out on a cassette, and it was cool to hear it.

SD: You’ve played in a lot of different bands with lots of different styles. Which is the one you have fun playing and which is the interesting one?
MR: I still have a band called Earthless, for me personally, thru all the bands I’ve been so far, the two bands that are my whole hearted expression of me as a drummer are Clikatat Ikatowi and Earthless. The bands are my thing, but there the drums are my thing, I can do whatever I want, it’s a pretty unique form of being able to play like I play.

SD: Which are the good forgotten bands that you met along the way?
MR: Unwound, I can’t really think of anything else right now…

SD: You, and John Reis for example, are the typical single guys with a lot of good bands behind. Is there anyone else you appreciate for this same reason?
MR: A lot of people from the musical scene in Louisville, Kentucky. People that played in Slint, David Pajo, Brian McMahan, lots of their music projects have influenced me.

SD: Off! is possibly getting more media attention than any other band you were into. Does it feel good to finally being able to be appreciated for something you’re doing?
MR: Sure, I’m on the inside of it, so I don’t really see it from the outside, I have been in bands that got some good opportunities, I’ve been lucky to be in bands that toured a lot, played festival and recorded, but it’s not really about making money and doin’ it for money, but it’s different when you have a family and a daughter to support, and in that sense I’m really happy this band is doing pretty good right now. That’s what a lot of people want their bands to do, so this band has got here pretty quickly, that’s cool.

SD: How many bands you currently have?
MR: I’m involved with four bands, Off!, I’ve been doing Hot Snakes stuff lately, I jump in that whenever I can, then I’ve been doing the Spider Fever, and Earthless whenever schedule permits, so I juggle all around.

SD: Did you ever have to refuse a spot in a band and kind of regret that?
MR: Regret, no, but there were a couple. Right when I joined RFTC, Omar from At The Drive In had just started Mars Volta and I just moved back to San Diego and I got a call from Omar thru Sonny (Kay, GSL Records) from Angel Hair and they were looking for a drummer bacause the first guy couldn’t tour. I agreed to meet them, they were fans of Clikatat Ikatowi, and there’s one thing I’m gonna say real quick. Clikatat Ikatowi played in Texas on one of our tours, and both Omar and Cedric came to our show and I didn’t meet them but back then our guitar player Scott from Heroin, he had a big afro with sideburns, and those guys didn’t have that back then, and I would say it was directly because of Scott! And even in the At The Drive In music there are parts that are very Clikatat, kinda Gravity, he really listened to some of those records, those moments are there and taken into a new perspective. For Mars Volta I finally couldn’t take the offer. Another funny one was Nine Inch Nails, I never officially got that position, I just got the offer to try out, but I didn’t really know any Nine Inch Nails song, that wasn’t my thing, I don’t regret that!

SD: Ok, which is finally your dream band as a drummer?
MR: It would be so much fun to play with the remaining members of Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, that’s where I come from, but Dave Grohl has already done it!

Myspace I Off!

(Txt by Marco Capelli; Pics by Rigablood x Salad Days Mag – All Rights Reserved)

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