The members of Carson City band Nuke Vegas describe their group’s sound as “radioactive rock.”
“You’ve got to fit into some genre, right?” says drummer Jesse Rollins. “So we made up our own.”
Radioactive rock can be described as a mix of ’90s metal—not nü-metal but rather the öld-metal of the era, like Pantera or Sepultera or something—and classic, bluesy AC/DC-style hard rock. Vocalist James Kelly has the sad-faced, jaw-locked yowl of Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, which he varies in degrees from chesty singing to throaty screaming.
The rhythm section plays with a bit more groove and room for breath than a straight-ahead pummeling metal band. Rollins is a shirtless motormouth drummer in the grand tradition of Lars Ulrich—all enthusiasm and verve tempered with timekeeping precision. The bassist goes by the mysterious mononym D., and often wears a pig mask onstage.
The band’s two guitarists, Charles Untereiner and Ben Renken, both take plenty of guitar solos on songs like “Let You Go,” “Man on Fire” and the moody, dramatic, slow-building epic “The Paradox.” Sometimes they play harmonized leads, sometimes they trade bars, sometimes one or the other will take off on a long flight over the fretboard from low end sludge riffs to high-up-the-neck, tickle-the-pig squeals. Renken’s solos have a bit more blues feel, and Untereiner’s playing is more in line with old school thrash metal, sometimes reminiscent of Slayer’s guitar solos.
Kelly’s lyrics often have narratives, many of which are autobiographical.
“I write from personal experience, but I try to get them to where people can bring in their own interpretation,” he says. He writes lyrics and vocal lines to fit the guitarists’ riffs, and varies his vocal approach to fit the vibe of each song. He seems especially proud that the band has managed to arrange some of the songs for acoustic settings.
Renken and Kelly started the band in 2009, and the current lineup has been in place since early 2011. The members are veterans of a number of local bands, including The Flesh Hammers, Shockbox and Kut-Pile. They’re currently in the process of recording their debut album which they plan to release in early 2013.
“There’s no egos in this band,” says Rollins. “We’re keeping that shit in check.”
Arrogance has destroyed many bands, and while a healthy confidence is important onstage, especially for bands playing heavy, aggressive music, Rollins contends that it’s important “as soon as you step off the stage, you got to turn that off.” Egos can only get in the way when interacting with music fans at shows or collaborating on music at band practices.
The band members say that the “radioactive rock” term is also a play on the band’s Nevada-centric name, which plays two things for which the state is well known, nuclear weapon testing and the city of sin, and casts them against one another. It also reflects many Northern Nevadans’ contempt for the state’s biggest city.
“Even if people don’t like the music, they still like the band name,” says Rollins.
“People always ask, ‘Why do you hate Vegas?’” says Untereiner “We’re not really saying we should blow it up—but it’s not my favorite place.”
“It’s also a metaphor,” says Kelly. “It describes what we sound like—what it would sound like if Vegas got nuked.”