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[The Register Guard | w w w . r e g i s t e r g u a r d . c o m - e u g e n e , o r e g o n - u s a]

July 3, 1998

Ready for change of scene

By ALLISON LINN [e-mail]

FOR FIVE YEARS, the Readymen have billed themselves as a ska-punk band. So it came as a surprise when, over coffee at Allann Brothers, guitarist Brendan Bekowies said, in reference to the band's new album on King Pin Records, "We have no real business being on a ska label."

"I wouldn't describe us as ska at all," the guitarist continued. "We don't have a horn section, we don't have vocal harmonies, we don't sing about our girlfriends."

Three years ago, bassist Alex Otto elaborated, the band could've called themselves ska/punk, and people would have understood that they meant 1970s, British, political. But these days, say "ska" and people think No Doubt and Save Ferris - the so-called "third wave" of ska that has spent the past two years in the Top 40.

"(Ska) has just become very stylized," Otto said. "It's just congealed into another formulaic musical style."

The Readymen may be following a formula of sorts, but it's not the type that normally gets you into the Top 40. Drawing on the politically motivated punk, reggae and ska of the 1970s, the band's music has the hard-hitting guitar riffs and raw, hoarse vocals of early British punk, nicely offset by the rhythm section's languid, reggae- and ska-based beats.

All of which means that this band isn't likely to open for No Doubt anytime soon, but they'd probably die to have a jam session with the Specials or the Clash, the type of bands they all, somewhat coincidentally, grew up listening to.

"It's kind of eerie how close all of our influences are," said Bekowies, who grew up in New York City but, like vocalist Dustin Banks, went to high school in Eugene. (Alex Otto and his brother, drummer J.P., grew up in Southern California and went to high school in Cottage Grove).

The Readymen formed about five years ago, originally with a different bassist, whom Alex replaced a couple of years ago.

From the beginning, they focused more on social and political themes, old-school style, than on romantic or other, as they put it, "fluffy" lyrical subjects. But they're the first to admit that, as beginners, they had about five music tricks that they rearranged for each song.

Many tours later, however, the band says its music - and the members' friendships - have grown tighter than in the early days.

"As we all get older, we've been able to get all our influences to mesh a little better, added a lot more groove, instead of just speed and tempo, to our music," Bekowies said.

On the band's new album, "Restless," their cohesive creativity comes through on songs like "Deadman's Shirt," with its pounding, funky beat, and the more languid, island beat-driven "Justified." Although Banks' coarse vocals are sometimes the weak link, the band always rescues itself with solidly intricate instrumentation.

If you're hoping to catch the Readymen, do it soon. After a few summer performances in the area, the band plans to move to San Francisco, hoping that a bigger city will help jump-start their career.

The boys are sad about leaving Eugene and "the Grove," where Bekowies and the Otto brothers share a house. But, J.P. said, "You can only play to so many people in Eugene."

"Besides," he added, "right now we have to drive eight hours to play our first gig in San Francisco. So it'll save us $80 in gas."