Photo by Carol Sheridan

The Hummable Revolution

For its first 30 seconds, the song seems like just another rockin’ slab of ’70s-influenced power pop. A skittering Rick Nielsen–meets–Eddie Cochran guitar riff kicks it off, followed by thundering drums and a well-timed pick scrape down somebody’s six-string. According to genre conventions, such an intro should give way to lyrics about driving your car or picking up your girl on Saturday night. But this time, when the singer opens his mouth, an entirely different agenda is revealed:

“Rank-and-file working class, raise your banners high/A blow to one is a blow to us all, worldwide/Only when we organize will we stem this tide/Only through our strength in numbers will we realize/We are a Union of One.”

The song is “Union of One,” the opening salvo from Sex, Drags & Rock ’n’ Roll, the long-playing debut from Silver Lake’s Slow Motorcade. Musically, the anthem is impressive in its own right — an updated amalgam of Cheap Trick, Mott the Hoople, the Babys and Silverhead — but its pointed lyrics and fervent choruses also make it the perfect argument for dragging Kenneth Lay’s corrupt Enron ass through the cheering streets from the bumper of a Lincoln Town Car. Such is the delicious tension of Sex, Drags, where songs like “Have and Have Not,” “Martial Law” and “Juggernaut (At What Cost)” tackle political, social and environmental issues with the lyrical bluntness of Rage Against the Machine or (International) Noise Conspiracy, but deliver their message through the sort of well-crafted, melodic rock that would make Eric Carmen’s nostrils flare with pride.

“For bands that are political, there’s always been sort of a format that you have to fit into,” says Anthony Castillo, Slow Motorcade’s founder, songwriter and rhythm guitarist. “But why do you have to sound only like Jackson Browne or Rage Against the Machine? Social justice and human rights are universal issues, so why can’t a rock & roll band sing about them? Having a populist point of view is, to me, something that’s always been a part of good, subversive rock & roll.”

An elfin gent with an Egyptian shag hairdo and a flair for striped jackets, Castillo has an insatiable appetite for all forms of high and low culture, and will happily talk your ear off about everything from flamenco dancing and classical music to drag racing and the charms of pinup legend Bettie Page. Not surprisingly, he also has his share of passionate theories about the history of rock & roll, and its sorry current state of affairs.

“Most hard-rock bands of today have no pop sensibilities,” he laments. “They’re really heavy but have no pop. Or you go to the other extreme, to the prepackaged teen girl and boy groups who never rock at all. You’ve gotta rock out in a blues-based manner, but still keep the pop sensibilities intact. All the true great ones, from Hendrix to the Raspberries to the New York Dolls to even ABBA, have understood this — even the Osmonds did it with ‘Crazy Horses’!”

Mostly, Castillo says, “You just have to start with good tunes.” But good tunes also need good players, which is why Castillo lets a lineup of local all-stars — guitarist Joe Hutchinson (Hutch), bassist Derrick Anderson (the Andersons), drummer Thom Sullivan (Big Elf) and vocalist John Napier (502) — take most of the spotlight on the album.

“I was the lead singer in my first bands,” Castillo says, “but I figured out that I didn’t really have the throat to pull off what I was writing, and I’ve also never had the guitar chops to be the lead guy. But I always felt like I knew how a tune should go, and what sounded good. I just like seeing music that I really like come to life.

“The primary motivation for me to do this record was because I wanted to get music like this out there. I just don’t hear enough of it anymore. I don’t know,” Castillo laughs, “I haven’t been to a Warped Tour, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I think rock music should be fun, not stupid. There’s no reason you can’t dance and think at the same time.”

Slow Motorcade play at the Garage, Friday, December 20


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