The Schizopolitans are unlike any other rock combo in Reno today. The band combines the theatrical sensibility of someone like Berthold Brecht with a punk attitude and explores the limits of sound, all within three-minute rock songs you can dance to.
Xtevion, a classically trained professional actor and drummer since the age of 9, placed an ad in a local paper in 2004: “Where are the experimental musicians in Reno?” J. Lee Vineyard and Bob Mancuso were the only two people to really understand what the question meant and answer his call.
Vineyard, a transplant from Portland, Ore., is deeply into experimental and avant-garde rock music. Having studied film at the California Art Institute, he also incorporates cinema, theater, writing and literature into his work. The original line-up of the band was a three-piece experimental group with Xtevion singing and playing drums, Vineyard on keyboard and computer and Mancuso on the drum set. They played avant-pop and theatrical rock in the vein of Brian Eno or Pere Ubu, concentrating on sound textures and stylings. Playing in venues like Brüka Theatre’s Sub-Brüka space enhanced the theatrical vibe of their live shows.
The Schizopolitans’ self-titled first album came out in June 2005, and Xtevion says of it: “Each song is like its own movie. It’s cinematic rock music.” Soon after the CD’s release, Mancuso left the band, and the Schizopolitans had to reconfigure its members and its sound.
Most of the music in the Schizopolitans’ first incarnation could only be played in the studio. Xtevion and Vineyard both wanted to change this to be able to perform live. First, Vineyard began to play electric guitar. He approached it like a synthesizer, using effects boxes and reverb and focusing on rhythm more than on melody. Vineyard has been playing guitar since he was 10, and it’s his main instrument. After studying modal jazz and playing the keyboard, he began to reconsider his sound.
“It was the way that punk, David Byrne and African music started to take hold of my soul that made me reconsider the guitar as a rhythmic force,” says Vineyard.
Then, to make up for Mancuso’s absence, Xtevion went behind the drum set, continuing to sing lead vocals. Although he found the change difficult at first, Xtevion became used to singing while drumming. Then the band found Andrew Jorgensen to play bass and Rob Hausman to play keyboard and run effects from a laptop computer.
The Schizopolitans’ songs have always been written by Vineyard and used as a structure for Xtevion to improvise lyrics with the music. According to Xtevion, “We fit elements of avant-garde and punk into pop/rock songs.” Live, the band now plays mostly new material, although a couple of the songs from the CD have been reworked to fit their new concept of music along with a cover or two from the Stranglers, a ‘70s punk band that has influenced both Vineyard and Xtevion.
The band plans to record new material they’ve recently performed as well as do much more touring. With a little luck, the Schizopolitans’ combination of theater, punk rock and danceability will be coming soon to a stage near you.