If music personified could show up to your house on the back of a motorcycle, kick down your door, burn your TOP-40 radio collection on your front lawn, and then flip you the bird as it left you jaw-dropped in the wake of its sonic existence… that music would be the music of Rebel Few.
Not quite 100% rock and roll, not quite 100% heavy metal – this underdog outlaw band of brothers hailing out of Cambridge, Ontario (Canada) IS 100% attitude… and you’ll feel that in your bones within the first seconds after you press play.
I had a chance to catch up with the entire band for an interview to see how things are going in the Rebel Few camp. We got to talking about the band and their name change from West Memphis Suicide and life in the ever-changing music business. We also went over how through it all, the band’s renegade attitude still remains the core for a group and fanbase that continuously say “no thanks” to following the trends so many others seek approval from.
This interview comes with a warning: the band and I have an extensive history of friendship and performing together… so in catching up, throughout this interview… there is laughter and lots of it.
Me: So we have a history between us – I already have a reasonably good idea of what you guys are all about. We’ve shared the stage many times in the past, and you guys were always one of my favorite bands not only to play with but also to stand in the audience and watch as well. However… let’s pretend that whoever reading this right now has never met you before or heard of Rebel Few. What’s Rebel Few all about? How did you guys get started? How long have you been doing this?
Barry: There’s probably a hundred answers to that one. I just found some old photos today of Chris (Raposo – vocals, lead guitar), and I starting out from 2005. That band was The Hang. Then West Memphis Suicide came along – probably in 2008. I think Adam (Shortreed – bass) joined West Memphis in 2013. Jordan, who we like to call “Young Buck Thunder” (Malcolm – drums), just joined us in Rebel Few recently.
Present lineup pictured above (Left to Right): Chris Raposo (Vocals, Guitars), Adam Shortreed (Bass), Jordan Malcolm (Drums), Barry Martin (Guitars)
Adam: Actually, I remember my first show with the band when we were West Memphis Suicide… and we changed our band name to Rebel Few mid-way through the show. We booked it as one band and ended it as another. I remember going into it being my first show and all, and Barry had made bets with all the guys in another band (Slik Toxik) that I was going to choke… so they were all up in the front row watching and waiting for me to do so *laughs*
Barry: If that’s not support, I don’t know what is *laughing*
*Laughing* That sounds like something Barry would do.
But actually, let’s talk a little bit about that. When I first met you guys, you were West Memphis Suicide, and you guys had a fairly decent following established already under that name, so what prompted the switch to Rebel Few?
Barry: Well, I know that you know how West Memphis Suicide went – a constant rotation of drummers. We had probably 9 different drummers in 8 years.
That’s right. Very much a Spinal Tap kind of thing happening *laughing*
Barry: Exactly. So when Paul (Oliver – former bass player) left the band Adam came in on bass, and Chris Spiers (former drummer) had become a regular member, we decided to change the name because we wanted a fresh start with something they could be a part of from the beginning. And then, you know, things took another left turn with members… so Spiers was out – Adam left for a while too, but now he’s back in, and we have YOUNG BUCK THUNDER here on drums now.
That makes sense. I always kind of wondered about that, because, going through a brand change essentially… it comes with fresh challenges, and fans don’t always like it too much.
I mean, I know you’re still playing the songs you wrote with West Memphis Suicide fairly regularly these days… at least the last time I was at one of your shows, it was a fairly even split between those songs and Rebel Few songs.
Barry: Yeah, we still play the old stuff.
Well, now I have to ask because I’m curious: I haven’t talked to a band yet that’s still active that’s gone through a massive change like that – you guys managed to change your “business name.” Most bands would cringe at the thought of having to get a new logo, website, merch, etc…. but also that as a band you need to get the message across to your fans that “okay, we’re a new band, but we’re still the same band” … so what’s that like? How did you guys deal with that?
Barry: Well, the name of the band doesn’t really matter as much as long as the heart of the band is the same. With us, Raposo writes the bulk of the music and 100% of the lyrics, so wherever he goes, that music is going to sound the same.
I get that for sure. But how about the other end of things – the business side? I can just imagine the scenario of where you’ve got this passionate fanbase, but then maybe some of your fans who weren’t as connected to you for whatever reason only know who West Memphis Suicide are. Then all of a sudden, that band is now Rebel Few, and some of those fans might need some time to realize that its the same band. Even with the same core members… you’ve got a brand switch that sometimes just doesn’t connect the same way with some fans because of pre-existing attachments to the old one. A different name can really change things – for better or worse.
For example, I sometimes wonder how a band like Black Sabbath would have faired with a name change from the era when they were with Ozzy Osbourne and then the era after with Ronnie James Dio. When Sabbath split from Ozzy and brought in Dio, they probably could have just called the band “Heaven & Hell” from the start (an eventual name they gave that lineup), and fans maybe wouldn’t have constantly compared them so aggressively. It was the same band with a different singer– but the band and their sound changed a lot – enough to sound like two completely different ones.
In their case, they changed a sound and a singer but not a name… and in your case, you changed a name, but your music and lineup remain largely the same. I’m just curious to know how your fanbase reacted to the whole thing.
Barry: If there was any gripe with our fans, we didn’t really hear about it. It was never really a big problem for us to be honest.
Well that’s great, glad to hear it.
Jordan: I think people become emotionally attached to “that band” the way it is they hear them when they become a fan. A case of “they know it that way, and they like it that way.” I think we’ve all been there. But this band – everything about it is actually pretty much the same as it was before – so maybe that’s why fans were so quick to accept the switch.
I mean, I did *laughs*.
So with the band essentially being the same – West Memphis Suicide is now Rebel Few – the name has changed, but the music’s the same, the attitude and everything else is still the same… how would you guys describe your music then? Your style and your niche? I know how I would personally describe it, but I want to hear how you do.
Barry: Well now I want to hear how you would describe it *laughing*
Let’s start with yours first and we’ll get to my description after.
Barry: Well, for me, I’ve always said that we were too heavy for the rock crowd, too rock for the metal crowd, and too old for the cool crowd… but it’s still decent music, and I think people grab onto it.
Honestly, I think you should take what you just said and put it on a t-shirt… I think it would sell *laughing*
Barry: Maybe when I get into the t-shirt game *laughs*
So you’d say you’re kind of like a rock-metal hybrid band then. I would agree. I personally know you guys are big Pantera fans: but you don’t sound like Pantera. When I describe your music, to me, its got a very bluesy southern rock vibe stacked onto a heavy metal sound… but not in the way you usually hear heavy bands approach that type of genre-mash up. Going back to Pantera as a comparison, you guys don’t have Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocal stylings. Chris’ are much cleaner, and the lyrical content is different as well, which is actually, in my opinion, a significant part of your sound. I think I’ve always considered Rebel Few as a group of rock and roll underdogs with some heavy metal beefiness.
Barry: Absolutely. Like, Raposo, he can play anything, and he’s obviously a huge Dimebag Darrell fan, but if he came out just ripping off Dime’s riffs all the time, then we’d just be a Pantera knock-off band. I myself love Lynrd Skynrd and ZZ Top, and Adam, well, he clearly loves Taylor Swift and all the lighter stuff… and Jordan, well, he’s 25, so we don’t even know what kind of stuff he’s into.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about your full range of influences then. Who do you guys bring as influences to the table when you’re all working together and writing music? How does the process work for Rebel Few?
Chris: I think it’s a mix of everybody’s influences we bring to the table. Mine, since I was 12 years old, is Pantera. I mean, I’ve always been a guy that can like this song or that song by any artist, but I could listen to Pantera albums all day long and all night long. Barry’s got a broad spectrum – if you ever saw his house, he’s got an enormous wall of CDs… tonnes of them. He’s always bringing something different depending on what he’s been listening to at the time.
Barry: That’s kind of how it goes. Whatever seems to be driving us at the time. Not necessarily one or two bands.
So you guys have been doing this for a while. What do you like most about doing this? For a living, I mean, as a paying gig –
Collectively: It’s paid?
Chris: Hold on, you’re saying it’s a paying gig? Who’s getting paid here *laughing*
*Laughing* Okay, well, SOMEBODY is getting paid in this business. Let me rephrase that: what do you guys like about it, money aside? Why do you do it?
Chris: In all honesty, for me, it’s about the connection you make with other people, many of whom you’ve never met before. The story I always bring up is being 2500 miles away from home, and Barry’s in the parking lot with his pants down around his ankles and a group of 20 people walk by, and they’re like “Oh my god – that’s Rebel Few” *laughing*
Barry: *Laughing* I was getting changed! I didn’t just have my pants down in the parking lot – I was getting ready to go on stage, and I was getting changed into my stage gear.
Adam: That’s his story and he’s sticking to it *laughs
Chris: But, yeah, that connection – it’s what drives it all. Just after that incident, we went to play the show, and just being up on that stage and having all of these people in the audience sing our songs – it blew our minds. We looked up, and we were almost in tears up there, seeing this massive crowd of people do that. And then, after the show, people would come up to us and say, “this song helped me through this,” or “this song got me through that.” That’s what’s it all about – for me anyways.
The power of music.
Barry: Yeah. And for me, I’m also all about seeing the gig get put together and seeing it turn out well with people in the crowd. If I wasn’t playing guitar, I’d probably be a roadie of some sort– I just love the whole package of live music – I love gigs.
Adam: My favorite part of it all is when girls come up to me after the show and tell me I was awesome on drums.
That’s a bass player comment if I’ve ever heard one *laughing*
So, as you might guess, this COVID 19 virus has been brought up in every interview I’ve done so far for the Creative Wealth Project because I started it after it forced everyone into lockdown – so I know things have been limited. That being said – what projects are you guys working on these days? What’s coming out?
Barry: Well, we’ve got a new album that seems like its been 20 years in the making.
Chinese Democracy part 2?
Barry: Something like that, yeah *laughs*
But we’ve got an album in the works, and we’re working on something today which I can’t divulge to you yet what that is.
Confidential? Consider me intrigued.
Barry: Well, the deal for me is, and I think these guys agree, is that with this whole COVID situation, if we record an album now, we might have to sit on it for a year before we can play any of it for the people. Between now and then, we might come up with other songs that are better than the ones on the album… so, we’re likely going to write, but wait to actually record.
That’s actually an interesting point. There’s been all this talk in the music industry right now about what bands should be doing with all of this forced downtime, given that nobody can go out on tour or perform live. As an industry in which most musicians make most of their income by performing (if they’re successful enough to do it today) – that’s a crappy problem to have. But the talk is that if you can’t go out and play, you should be writing some songs and recording an album.
Now on the surface that makes sense, but as you said, if you’re writing all these songs and you do just rush off to record an album, by the time you release it you might be sitting on two or three albums or just better stuff you could have recorded instead. Having extra songs ready is never a problem – but recording and releasing albums isn’t cheap – especially for an industry that is without a primary income for the foreseeable future.
Personally, I’ve been writing a lot of music during this lockdown, and I’ve got over 20 songs now that I’m sitting on… but I write new ones each week. But by the time I actually get to record any of them – who knows which ones will even make the cut? Something I wrote yesterday could be wholly cast aside in favor of something I write tomorrow.
Barry: Absolutely – you get the idea then.
Chris: We’ve done that with probably all of our songs right now – we keep writing new ones we like better.
So concerning that idea – do you guys have a song bank then that you draw from? A collection of songs written you choose from when you’re finally ready to put something out? I ask because I know you guys used to play new songs on stage frequently – shows that wouldn’t necessarily be marketed as a single release party or whatnot – but if you happened to be in the crowd that day you’d get a taste of what’s been going on in the Rebel Few camp.
Chris: We still do that – when we get the chance.
Barry: We once played the song “Said and Done” live before we even had any lyrics – we played it as an instrumental. Just because we were excited to play it – I think we announced it along the lines of “sorry guys to drag you through this, but this song is called Whatever You Name It.”
You know, now that I think of it… I might have been in the crowd for that one.
You guys mentioned that Chris does most of the writing primarily – so how does your creative process work? How much of the songs are done before you bring them to the rest of the guys?
Chris: Honestly, it varies. Sometimes I’ll have a full idea to work with, and a lot of times, Barry will hit a riff, and we’ll jam on it for 10 minutes or so and start forming some different parts around that. Other times Jordan might drop a beat, and I’ll start playing a riff over top of that – when the group gets a good vibe going, things just take off from there sometimes. There’s no one way – one recipe – for the most part.
Barry: I just steal riffs from Lynryd Skynrd and try to change them, so they don’t sound like Skynrd… *laughs*.
*Laughing* I was recently watching a documentary on rock and metal music in the ’80s, and they were asking Ozzy Osbourne what they thought of people trying to rip off his music. His answer was, “oh, we’re all f#*^ing thieves, man. Don’t even say we’re not – we’ve been stealing each other’s music for a long time now.”
Chris: I remember seeing that interview!
Yeah – so that’s funny you said that.
Now, lyrically, I would describe your music as songs for the downtrodden. As a band, you guys have always been about the little guy standing up against oppression of all kinds. Your D.I.R.T.BAG motto… let’s talk about that because that is something that I think people should know about – it’s your attitude and your values – and that is a huge part of what makes your band who you are. So, what does “D.I.R.T.BAG” mean to you guys?
Chris: The D.I.R.T.BAG thing kind of stems from my childhood. I used to get “seconds” and hand-me-downs from where my Mom used to work. I never had a pair of jeans – I was always in track pants – you know, the kind where one leg would be shorter than the other sort of thing. And so I used to get picked on a lot. There was a lot of bullying going around, and kids used to say about me, “here comes the dirtbag.”
So later on in life, I wanted to take that thing that kind of hurt me that whole time, and flip it around and make it something that I’d become comfortable with and that people would want to be a part of. So that’s where that whole thing stemmed from. We took each of the letters and put something that really meant something to us into them – being driven, having integrity, being respectful, and having trust – just that whole brotherhood vibe, that community family vibe. And once we put it out there, everybody kind of identified with it and latched onto it. It was awesome actually – to see it all.
I think that’s huge. And you know, even though we played I don’t know how many times together, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you that before. I knew what the letters stood for – but the fact that there’s a meaning behind them all, and it’s a big part of what you guys do – that’s really cool.
Leading in from that, and I can name some myself, but any favorite stories from the journey? Any fun stuff – I know we’ve already talked about pants down – but any highlights from the road?
Adam: I can specifically remember a time waking up in San Antonio with everybody on the phone trying to order… well, let’s just say… well, I’m not gonna say *laughs*
Barry: Say what, Adam? What happened in San Antonio? *laughing*
Adam: It was pizza. Just. Pizza. *laughing*
Barry: Seriously, though, I think that anybody who’s paid attention to the band, the Texas experience was a highlight. For me, anyways. But that’s a long story.
I know some of that one – you guys went down there and got to work with some of the Pantera folks – Sterling Winfield, who produced some of their work, and you guys met Vinnie Paul at his house – that had to be huge for you guys being the fans that you are.
Chris: It was off the charts.
Barry: Absolutely. It was surreal. You know, seeing all of the home videos that they used to feature… and then seeing the guys who were in those home videos and becoming friends with some of those guys. Even after having maybe too much to drink in their kitchen – and having those guys still friendly with you afterward… it was awesome.*laughs*
See, that’s really cool – getting to meet some of the guys that inspired you. And from what I’ve heard you say before, it sounds like they were down to earth – the same kind of guys as you probably thought they would be. They say don’t meet your heroes… but sometimes it just works out, so that’s pretty awesome.
Barry: Definitely. But I guess that also depends who your heroes are too.
Adam: I can say from personal experience that nobody wants to meet me *laughs*
You’re right Adam. I never did *laughs*
So this last question can be related to either starting a band musically or the business side of the industry. I say that because I’m sure you guys know as well as anybody else that there’s a lot of BS that comes with the music industry if you’re not careful about it. There are a lot of times artists with some hindsight wish they did things a little differently to save themselves some problems – so any advice for anyone getting started in the music industry?
Barry: Quit being lazy. Play as many shows as you can, but work hard at getting people out to those shows. Don’t just think you are going to show up, and there will be thousands of people there just eager to buy your stuff. That doesn’t happen.
Jordan: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t make you better.
Barry: Also – never listen to drummers.
Adam: Try to join a band that’s already doing okay.
Chris: Do it for the right reasons. I think if you do that, then you’re always going to be successful no matter what level you reach. If you’re doing it because you love it and to vibe with it and share in having people dig what you’re doing – you’re on the right path.
Barry: Actually, lending to Chris’ points of doing it for the right reasons and doing it because you love it – Chris drove for about 4 and a half hours to be here today to jam. Even though there are no shows or anything specific on the immediate horizon. That’s dedication.
All excellent points. Now I have to bring this up because when we used to play gigs together, you guys used to do something that my band and I started to notice you did really well. Whenever you guys seemed to do new shows in the same areas, you’d always have new merch available – a new t-shirt design or whatever, and even though a lot of people in the audience were the same people who came to your last show… you always seemed to clean up at the merch table.
I know YOU didn’t say it… but I definitely wish my band did that back in the Creekwater Junkies days.
Barry: Well, we’re not stupid you know *laughs*.
*Laughing* Well I think that’s all I have for you guys today – by the looks of it you’ve got some jamming to do. Thanks again for taking the time for an interview, it was great to catch up, and I can’t wait to hear the new stuff once you’re able to get back on stage and in a studio!
Barry: Anytime Mitch, great talking with you.
Be sure to check out more from Rebel Few on Spotify, Youtube and Facebook (linked below)… give them a like and a share if you dig what they do – these guys wave the flag of supporting independent music – so go do it!
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