Chico punks outlast the rest by staying true to DIY values
When I mentioned that I was going to be interviewing “Rachel from Gruk,” I was asked by someone not-in-the-know, “Is that a planet?”
Not exactly. Gruk is a long-time Chico (via Red Bluff) band named after a pet crow, and 26-year-old Rachel Loveless is, in addition to being a high school substitute teacher, the screaming vocalist and last remaining founding member of the DIY punk stalwarts.
This self-described “anarcho-feminist” punk band has been in existence since the summer of 1999, spawned out of necessity in the decidedly un-punk town of Red Bluff. Gruk has eight recordings to its name (including the latest Suburban American Tract Home Project V compilation and on their own new full-length CD due out later this year), has toured nationally five times, and is in the process of booking an eight-week U.S. and European tour for this coming summer with friends and fellow local punkers, the P.A.W.N.S.
In addition, Gruk’s musical activism—most recently as members of the Pyrate Punx collective currently booking Monstros Pizza—has been a crucial factor in bringing numerous out-of-town punk bands to play locally. Gruk’s name also has made the pages of well-known S.F. punk-rock fanzine Maximumrocknroll on more than one occasion (most recently last September), and despite a frequently rotating cast of characters, the fiercely DIY (Do It Yerself, an anticonsumerist political stance focusing on self-reliance) crew has outlasted most of its peers in the local music scene.
Gruk these days consists of frontwoman Loveless (whose non-stage surname is Love), “Scribles” on guitar, Logan Kaiser on bass and Sean “Hipmo” Cummins on drums.
Loveless’ petite stature is visibly toughed-up by her black punk clothing, nose ring and big disc earrings that enlarge the holes in her earlobes to about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. She helped create Gruk as an 18-year-old high school student because, as she put it, “Red Bluff’s a shit hole and basically we were young kids and all about punk rock and we were bored. So we said, ‘Let’s start a band.’ “
When asked for a chronology of the many players who have notoriously come and gone through Gruk, Loveless fired off a history of the band almost as rapidly as she delivers her lyrics onstage (although not nearly as loudly).
“[Original guitarist] Ryan Allbaugh quit the band because I cheated on him with our roadie. Cody Kennon ("Cody K") was in the band twice. The first time we kicked him out because he wasn’t serious enough. The second time he couldn’t tour as often as we wanted. [Original drummer] Jens Terrell quit the day of our tour with the P.A.W.N.S. and the Nogoodnix and got married and had a kid.
“We kicked [longtime bassist] Brad Lambert out after a tour because he wasn’t motivated. Matt Heald replaced Jens. He did the P.A.W.N.S./Nogoodnix tour and recorded with us, but he wasn’t interested in being a full-time drummer. John Waste was commuting from Redding and it was too hard for him because he was playing in other bands. Johnny Shanker quit after one tour because his girlfriend was pregnant. Scribles replaced Johnny. Timmy ("Turtle") did one tour and then he was supposed to move to Hawaii and found Sean to replace him. Tyler did one tour, the Crews Cruise. He was just temporary. Then we had Johnny Robertson on bass and he quit about one week or so into our last tour after he stopped interacting with us and started hiding in the van. He was very vague about why he quit. Now we have Logan on bass.”
After a few choice words about Robertson—whom the band ended up having to get a restraining order against—Loveless, Scribles and Kaiser, seated on my couch early on New Year’s Eve chatting amiably while cracking open Pabst Blue Ribbons from the 12-pack they brought along, moved on to other, less baffling, topics.
Like getting caught unwittingly in a caravan of cars driving to a music festival (not one that Gruk was playing) in Tennessee during their last tour and, because they had out-of-state plates, being pulled over and forced to sit on the side of the road in 100-degree heat for two hours while a couple of state troopers tore their van apart, stopping short of removing all of the band’s equipment after Loveless warned the “hot, sweaty, fat cops: If you move all that equipment out of the van, you’re moving it all back in!”
Despite this negative experience, the trio praised Southern hospitality, referring to most of their time touring the Southern United States as “really rad.”
“They hook you up!” Loveless exclaimed, and the three of them went on to speak glowingly of a packed house show they did in Shreveport, La., where there was a fridge full of beers that Gruk emptied in short order, only to have it refilled immediately by their hosts.
“We weren’t expecting [such a good time],” offered Scribles, after Loveless explained that driving into Shreveport (after leaving Austin, Texas, at 6 a.m. after two hours of sleep) they encountered nothing but huge Southern mansions with long driveways in immaculate neighborhoods. It wasn’t until they got to the one house where everything was dying and there were beat-up cars all over the place that the band realized they’d found the spot they’d be playing.
“Sometimes you just show up and things go right,” Scribles said.
On the subject of DIY, the group became animated, pointing out that DIY punk culture is emphatically anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic. Also, it is common for DIY punks to be vegetarians or vegans. Cummins and Scribles are vegetarians and Loveless is vegan, and Gruk often cooks a free vegan dinner for visiting out-of-town bands, trying to provide them with “the optimum experience, like we get when we’re on the road,” as Loveless put it.
True to DIY ethics, Gruk is not on any record label and never wants to be. Kaiser sees DIY as a backlash to slick, studio-produced, record-label-owned acts “like Rihanna,” and even speaks out against copyrighting.
“How can you copyright intangible patterns of sound?” he asked.
But these DIY anarchists are not totally against structure. They belong to the Chico area Pyrate Punx collective (Pyrate Punx started out in Oakland as a networking/booking collective), and have meetings once a week, during which all decisions on shows are made by consensus.
“It’s easy to get burned out in DIY, with all the expectations placed on certain people who get relied on to do certain things, like organize events,” explained Loveless. “We have Pyrate Punx collective to help keep each other organized.”