Supagroup loves rock and roll. Loves it so much in fact that the noun “rock” (or alternately the verb “to rock”) features prominently in practically every song in the band’s repertoire. Sample titles on their most recent CD, We Came to Rock You, include the title track, “Rock and Roll Tried to Ruin My Life” and “Rock ’n’ Roll Star.”
But combine their affection for—roughly in order—rock, chicks and whiskey with an onstage fondness for tongue wagging, karate kicks and raising their fists in rock and roll salute, and you begin to wonder whether those wagging tongues might be planted firmly in cheek.
“I get asked that question a lot,” says guitarist Chris Lee, who started Supagroup with his brother Benji in their hometown of Anchorage in 1995. “I actually do love rock and roll. We are totally serious about the music, but we also want to have fun. I guess I would put it like this: We know what we’re doing is funny, but we’re not kidding.”
Supagroup’s seriously hard rock, an unabashed marriage of AC/DC and the MC5, is beginning to gain momentum. Thanks to consistent touring, to the tune of about 100 shows a year, the band has amassed a legion of likeminded fans across the Southeast. According to Lee, the nation is currently undergoing a hard rock renascence. “In every single town in the South, there’s a band like us,” he says. “In Austin, there’s Sinus. In Tallahassee, there’s Syrup. In Houston, there’s Drunken Thunder. In Atlanta, there’s Super X-13. And they’re starting to get noticed. In just a year, the shows have gone from 25 people to sell outs. In Austin, we play to 400 people.”
Chris and Benji both grew up in Anchorage, a town not known for a vibrant music scene. “It was awful,” Chris says. “At any given time there’s about five bands, and they all suck.”
Chris first came to New Orleans to attend college. After graduating, he returned to Anchorage and with his brother started Shit Ass Punks. SAP, featuring Benji on guitar and Chris on bass, toured the Northwest and released two records in the mid-’90s before the brothers decided to abandon the Great White Northwest for the considerably more tropical climes of New Orleans. Before leaving Anchorage, they recorded a CD, Planet Rock, under the name Supagroup.
With a record in hand but no regular drummer, Chris and Benji focused more of their attention on promoting the record than playing live. Miraculously, that attention paid off. Their self-released CD made it onto the playlists of about 30 commercial radio stations nationally, including Boston’s WBCN and Los Angeles’ KROQ. Thanks to the radio airplay, a video the band produced for its song “China Rock” became a staple on M2, MTV’s then-embryonic sister station. “We were in the top 20 on M2 for almost three months,” Chris says. “They played it hundreds and hundreds of times.”
The exposure was nice, but without a permanent drummer, Supagroup performances remained few and far between. Things began to change when Chris and Benji hooked up with drummer Mark Brill. After sharing Brill with Burnversion for a year, he became a full-time member last summer. They also added bass player Leif Swift, last seen hereabouts in Tector Gorch, and Chris moved from bass to guitar. The change did them good. “We were never that good live to be honest,” Chris says. “Since we got Mark and went from a trio to a four-piece, the live stuff has really started to come together.”
The band recently hooked up with manager Rick Sales, whose roster of artists includes Slayer, Sepultura and Fu Manchu. Since signing on with Sales, Supagroup has started to generate a legitimate buzz in the industry. In November, the band was flown to Hollywood to play a showcase performance at the Troubador and rumors of contract offers are becoming increasingly common.
“It’s hard to put it in perspective,” Chris says. “We just played bumfuck Florida to two dozen kids who didn’t give a shit and wanted us to play punk rock. That’s the reality to us, so we’re totally not taking it too seriously.”
Fans interested in ringing in the so-called new millennium with rock can catch Supagroup on New Year’s Eve at the Matador.
Reports of their demise may be a little premature, but we still won’t be seeing much of Thousand $ Car in the foreseeable future.
In November, guitarist and vocalist Jake Flack moved to Washington, D.C., to accompany his wife, who recently began a new job there. According to guitarist Tom Stern, the band, which played a farewell gig on Nov. 19 at the Mermaid Lounge, is still together, even if all of its members aren’t. “We’re going to continue to perform occasionally,” Stern says. “We’re doing a New Year’s thing in Houston and we’ll probably do a Mardi Gras thing and a Jazz Fest show and whatever else comes up, so we still exist but we’re not going to be playing like we used to.”
Stern adds that the band still hopes to release a record of their recent material. In the meantime, Stern and drummer John Maloney have been performing with local country rock band Flatware.
You can contact Mark Miester via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.