Sunday, May 20, 2012

From Black Flag to Piggy: Ron Reyes is still raging after all these years

Ron Reyes with Craig McKimm of Piggy in Seattle. (All Cat Rose photos, except where noted)
By Andy

In the summer of '81, a buddy and myself trudged up from the Strand in Hermosa Beach, Calif., and climbed through a window of the infamous Church, where Black Flag once lived and jammed.

It was empty at that time and trashed, but we made our way through the mess and found the room where Ron Reyes showed off his apartment -- or closet -- in the classic 1981 punk documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization."

There was still some Flag spray paint on the walls and a bunch of broken bottles and other shit lying around. Not a bad way to spend some time, we thought, combing through the ashes of a South Bay punk hub.

I first saw Flag in '81 with Dez Cadena singing at the Santa Monica Civic, after Reyes left the band and moved to Vancouver, BC. Reyes did return to the area for a reunion gig in '83 at the Civic, so at least I got a taste of his crazed vocals in a live setting.

Fast forward to May 18, 2012, and myself, Cat and our friends were checking out Reyes' latest rockin' punk outfit, Piggy, at the Funhouse in Seattle. Reyes played some razor-sharp guitar and was joined by singer Izzy Gibson, Lisafurr Lloyd on bass and Craig McKimm on drums.

Piggy was on our agenda again the next night at Darrell's Tavern in Shoreline. A raucous gig again by the Piggy crew, and this time, Reyes got into Black Flag mode by singing "Revenge," "Police Story" and "Nervous Breakdown" with some local bands, Sioux City Pete and the Beggars and The I Love Myselfs.

At the end of the night, Reyes was a demon unleashed as he plowed into the crowd and nearly knocked over a table, but still sent beer bottles banging to the ground. People were stoked on the scene and left with their ears buzzing and faces beaming.

"Revenge!" in Seattle.
I caught up with Reyes at the Funhouse and chatted in the band's van:

** Your recent band, Piggy, how long have you guys been together?

Our new singer's been with us for just about two months, and prior to that, we were kind of in singer hell for about a year -- just trying out singers and couldn't find anything that worked for us. All in all, we've been together for about a year. (But with the singer scenario) we're kind of a new band right out of the gate.

** Tell me about the band and what you guys are all about?

I have no idea what we're about (laughs). It came about as just a desire for me to do something that I've never done before, and that's play guitar in a band. I really only picked up the guitar about a year ago, just when I started the band. I have a guitar around, but I never really played it that much, but I always wanted to. (We're) not really an all-star band or anything like that, just some local friends ... a from-the-ground-up type of thing.

It's not about trying to reclaim something from the past or restore something from the past or try to copy something from the past -- It's just Piggy.

Izzy Gibson and Reyes.
** How does it feel to be up there playing guitar in your own band? I'd be remiss not to say there wasn't a little bit of your old bandmate (Greg) Ginn influence there.

Oh, absolutely. Obviously, there's Greg Ginn and Ron Asheton and guys like that. Greg is a huge influence and continues to be a huge influence. When I was in Black Flag, he was really supportive of actually teaching me a little bit of guitar, and if things were to have continued, we had planned on me playing second guitar in the band. I started to play a little bit, and actually that was the last time I really played guitar was about 30 years ago. There's nobody that plays like Greg, for sure.

(On Reyes' playing)
For me, it's great because, for some reason, there's a lot less anxiety attached to it. As a singer, as a frontman, I have great anxieties about that -- always have -- and it's one of the reasons why I haven't done it for a very, very long time. It's not that I'm awful at it, but it's just that I feel like I'm gonna shit my pants, every moment I'm up there (laughs).

But as a guitar player, I'm just the guy in the back, and I'm not the focus. For me, it's a lot more free and more creative, too. It really seems easy to me.

Notice the Black Flag bars on Reyes' guitar.
** How do you feel about all your old buddies (OFF!, etc.) still rocking out and making viable music?

As long as it's viable, I think it's great. I think there's a lot of people that are trying to reclaim some of the old glory, and in some sense, you really can never go back to that. (Piggy) we play 'Jealous Again,' just kind of as a larf: 'There's Ron up there playing 'Jealous Again,' but he's not singing, he's playing guitar.' I can't play it like Greg Ginn-- it's not a serious thing, it's just fun.

If you're trying to rehash something or reclaim something or resurrect something, I'm not really into that so much, but it's good music, it should be played. I love the fact that the Descendents recently got back together and did some dates-- holy shit, I mean, who doesn't love the Descendents? Seeing them even after all these years, it's just amazing, right? It's fun.

In the sense of OFF!, sure they're firmly entrenched in a particular groove that's reminiscent of early Flag, but they also got their own thing going on. Keith could sing opera or whatever, and it'd still be cool, right?

Reyes flips the bird in "The Decline." (Courtesy photo)
** On his appearance with Black Flag in 'The Decline of Western Civilization': What do you think of seeing yourself back in those shoes?

(Laughter) It's funny that you should say that because I don't go back and look at it. But today, I had my friend Kyle Nixon (an old friend from Seattle's Solger), 'I said, dude, you gotta hook me up with some of those old videos,' maybe somebody might want to sing one of those old songs and invite me up to sing... and I go, 'I don't really remember the words to 'Depression.'

(They watched some You Tube clips) ... and were thinking about Scrawny Ronny up there. You know, a skinny little boy with a whole lot of energy. It's cool -- I love it. It reminds me a lot of my kids; now I've got two 17-year-old boys, and one of them is very much into that style of music. In fact, he picks up the guitar and plays some Black Flag stuff, and Descendents and a lot of other cool stuff, as well.

It's good, it's definitely a part of my history. I don't bask in it or anything, but it's fun.
** I think it's always fun just to look back on old photos or videos.

Yeah, sure. Particularly when they were good times. If they weren't, it would be just like, 'Well, fuck that, I don't wanna go back.' I guess that's why some people in the Flag family don't really like looking back because they had tough times. But for me, I really had some great times in the band. And when I left the band, it had nothing to do with inter-band issues, it was more of external things that were happening in the scene.

Ginn and Reyes in the old days. (Bev Davies photo)
** On Black Flag's work ethic...

I think it got even way more crazy and intense after I left. Certainly by the time Henry came down. I had the opportunity to go down and see them and spend some time with them in rehearsals with Henry and Kira, that lineup, and it was monstrous how they would jam for hours and hours and hours and hours. It was pretty incredible.

It was great music, I love the fact that Greg was doing something that was groundbreaking. It was very unique.

** On playing with Ginn (and others) at Reyes' 50th birthday party gig in July 2010 in Vancouver (they played "Jealous Again," "Revenge" and an original song, "Broken."):

He shows up and we put a guitar in his hand, and he started playing and it was pretty amazing seeing him play after all these years. Being in rehearsal with him was pretty impressive. Our jaws were just dropping when he got in his groove.

** On Piggy, gigging and recording (they spent time in a Seattle studio on May 20):

We do have plans on getting some music out and coming back down and playing. I really wanna play down in LA, Redondo Beach as soon as possible-- I just think it would be a lot of fun. I'm not gonna get in the van and cross the country doing it (laughs), because that's just not what I'm into these days, but playing these dates and recording is a lot of fun.

In full-on Piggy mode. Piggy setlist below.