Reptoids Have A Quiet Past, Loud Sound

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 24, 2007 8:15PM

Note: This is the first in a series of features about the bands playing Chicagoist's Ctrl - Alt - Rock v. 2.0 show.

2007_01_reptoids.jpgFor a band that exhibits such an open, frenetic presence, both onstage and off, the Chicago punk/metal band Reptoids does its best to be mysterious.

In a live setting, Chris, their bassist, thrashes around the stage as if he’s angry about something, while drummer Meg relentlessly pounds the drums so hard, one suspects the bass drum leaves indentations in the floor when she’s finished. The two guitarists – Melissa and Kay Oh – stand like bookends on either side, keeping up a steady stream of onstage patter, then cranking out riffs that resulted in bloody fingers on at least one occasion. In sitting down for an interview, the foursome is quick to share embarrassing stories or playfully mock each other the way best friends or siblings do.

Yet getting a sense of the band’s history or its members’ lives outside of it is difficult, at best. Any probing question about day jobs, ages or even last names is met with sly misdirection or outright fabrications. Melissa and Kay Oh initially try to convince us that the band formed after Chris answered a Craiglist ad they placed, looking for someone to bust them out of a women’s prison. “We were in for the long haul,” Melissa intones before the whole band erupts into laughter at one of its many running jokes.

Perhaps Reptoids own myth-making shouldn’t be a surprise, since the band takes its name from the shadowy, half-human, half-reptile creatures who visit Earth during some reported extraterrestrial encounters – creatures who may or may not exist.

Therefore, putting together a history of Reptoids is a patchwork effort, requiring one to construct a timeline from their various anecdotes. The band actually formed in 2003, with Melissa and Kay Oh working with a different bassist, who was forcefully strident about their sound and direction. Meg joined on drums six months later and the band played its first show on May 29th, 2004 at Bar Vertigo. After their original bassist departed, Chris joined up thanks to the aforementioned Craiglist ad, though no breaking and entering was required.

Most of their shows have been at some of the dirtier, smaller bars around Chicago. Like most bands, they’re willing to play wherever there’s an available booking. During one show at Jackhammer, a north side dance club, they were distracted by the gay porn running on video screens above the bar. The event was less than successful, as the band sold only one t-shirt, possibly because Chris chose to play topless. “I think the crowd may have not wanted more,” he says.

As for the individuals that make up the Reptoids, their drummer Meg earned a degree in music some years back, but the rest confess to a lack of classical training in music. “We play the Mutiny. We don’t know what notes are,” says Melissa. Perhaps as a consequence, Meg is the only professional musician. “I cheat on the band,” she admits, while playing in a steel drum band and an acoustic duo. The rest all maintain regular day jobs, not the occupations of “horse whisperer” or “stripper,” as they first insist. Most have been in prior bands, though it seems from their rapport that this effort seems the most likely to succeed.

The Reptoids oeuvre is brief, but forceful. Its first self-titled EP scored some positive local press, while its follow-up Park A Tiger, received rave reviews on several Web sites, including a rating of 4.5 out of five pentagrams from Metalist, described as Israel’s “premier metal magazine.” There’s no light banter here, with lyrical references to smoke, fire, death and conflict. Songs like “Mexico Fiasco” and “F.U.” are replete with buzzsaw guitars and a rumbling bottom, but still manage to be flat-out catchy. A newer song featured in its live set, “Back and Forth Forever,” sports a much poppier, almost ABBA-esque beat. The band confesses that the song started out as “a joke,” but says they try not to be too concerned with making sure the band hits a particular sound.

This admission makes a lot of sense, since the band still grumbles about the time when the music was more about discipline than excitement. As the interview draws to a close, Kay Oh makes the most candid – and apt – confession from the Reptoids as one is likely to hear. “I guess we just like to have fun,” she shrugs. “As long as you can shake your booty a little bit or Chris can hump the bass.”

Reptoids’ will appear at Chicagoist’s Ctrl – Alt – Rock v. 2.0 on Thursday, February 8th at Double Door. Show starts at 9 p.m. Keep reading Chicagoist for more details.

Image: Dan Lutger