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Gentle Persuaders

Photo by Bruce Malone

Legend has it that Ross Golan’s grandmother, on her deathbed, clutched his hand and urged him to “find Molehead.” So four years ago, Chicago native Golan, then 20, began his bemused odyssey to L.A., where he and Bryan Head (who’s also in Abandoned Pools) played a few shows as a duo before Head’s buddy Billy Mohler (who’s also played with Macy Gray, Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain and various jazz outfits) dropped in on a rehearsal, and the chemistry was instant. Voila: Mohler + Head = Molehead.

Golan had been going in circles in an L.A. band that contained, says the politics-obsessed singer/guitarist/lyricist, “the best trend-chasers in the world.” Then, disillusioned, “I went back to writing almost exactly how I’d started six years before. And once you’re honest with how you play, you meet other people who’re honest with how they play and how they write.”

It’s often when a band stops trying to court the industry that it starts spawning irresistible sounds, and the industry does the courting. (See the Darkness for details.) And with the new Reagan Baby — titled long before the Great Communicator’s demise — RG&M have birthed a muscular monster. The addictive and uplifting stomp of “Move”; the cunningly worded sarcasm of “Dear Slim” and “Martha Stewart”; the summer-evening breeze of “Don’t Wait”; the speakeasy crooning of “Gin Sippin’s” — little flab, and lashings of fab. Golan’s gently delivered rage crescendoes with the lonely loop and stark piano of “MIA,” detailing his frustration at U.S. administrations repeatedly arming our future enemies; in verses of garbled vitriol, “Blinded by the Right,” over a deceptively lazy lilt and ominous overdriven bass, reams the Patriot Act, America’s last election and our Middle East meddling. Yes, in an era when repeated banalities constitute “lyrics,” and an album with three decent songs is dubbed a “classic,” Ross Golan has too much to say for one record.

The band can be taken on a number of levels. While Golan’s lyrics are dense in political comment and actually name names (everyone from W. to Charlton to Martha feels the whip), but there’s no shortage of humor and wacky wordplay. Or you can tune out the words altogether, highlighting RG&M’s acoustic-guitar-centered, massively grooving tunes: broad-reaching head-bobbers topped with Golan’s white-boy semi-rap, which’ll connect with college stoners, urban hip-hopsters, Sublime-time surf-bums and thinking punkers. Reagan Baby’s last song is as compelling as the first, and the wide-open guitar progressions, groove-humping rhythm section and talked/rapped/sung vocals are genre-free.

As for the title, “I was born in 1980, and Reagan’s entire administration is my first eight years,” says Golan, a man with the deceptively cuddly bearing of a young Andy Kaufman. “I’m a ‘Reagan baby.’”

 

Though RG&M have been brewing a mild buzz for some time, they remain almost a DIY affair. “We did the album live, in three days — no click track, no computers, just straight to tape,” Head reveals.

“It was supposed to be our demo,” says Mohler, “but it got out of hand!”

Recording is only half the story. “We like to play out for people,” says Head. “We want to see the whites of their eyes when we’re in the Deep South and they start throwing shit at us!”

A man with a global vision, Golan is also a liberal Zionist. He’s not shy about his unfashionable attitude toward Israel: “I don’t necessarily agree with the domestic policy of Israel right now. However, I think the concept of Israel is just and logical. It makes sense that this is a land where Jews cannot be oppressed.” Golan’s almost European worldview — his great-grandparents fled the Russian pogroms at the turn of the 1900s, and his grandparents escaped Hitler’s World War II Holocaust — allows his lyrics to embrace Israel’s Six Day War, Cheney and Halliburton’s hand-in-the-till, and Russia’s huge WWII losses, not to mention a plethora of American issues.

Golan is at his wits’ end with lyricists who keep social comment vague. “Get sued,” he pleads. “But say something that people will talk about.”

Ross Golan & Molehead finish a residency at the Key Club the next two Tuesdays, August 17 and 24.


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