By Emily Eveland
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By CP Staff
By Zach McCormick
By Jack Spencer
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
It's a strange thing to think about, but there are places in Finland, France, and the U.K. where people know all the words to songs by Minneapolis rock 'n' roll and rockabilly band Reckless Ones. In Flagstaff, Arizona, too, and San Antonio, Texas, the fans are die-hard. Ask Reckless Ones singer/guitarist Kevin O'Leary what it's like to be known across Europe yet have only a fledgling following in the band's native Minneapolis, and his answer sounds optimistic; he'll tell you, "It's cool, nothing cooler than walking in and strangers are singing every word of your songs."
This is Reckless Ones, a hard-working three-piece who, at the end of this month, will fly out to Anaheim, California, for a supporting slot in the fourth Octoberflame Festival, behind American psychobilly powerhouse group Tiger Army. They've toured internationally three times since forming in 2009 and have played festivals in Belgium, France, and Spain. They run distribution of their two self-released albums, 2009's Make Your Move and 2010's Set the World on Fire, through labels out of the U.S., Japan, the U.K., and Finland. They're a band with a European booking agent, yet no U.S. representation and no label. Reckless Ones, if pitted against their peers in the Minneapolis rock world, are a mere blip on the radar, aside from the rockabilly scene. And that is a shame, because Finland's got the right idea; Reckless Ones are the best band you aren't listening to. Sitting down with O'Leary, it's hard not to try to make sense of the situation.
City Pages: So do you think it's just that rockabilly and roots rock 'n' roll is more popular in Europe?
Kevin O'Leary: Europeans just love American roots music of all kinds—blues, jazz, country, they dig that aspect of American culture. I think they love it more when it's actual Americans playing it, because we know what we're talking about when we're singing; it's not an abstract concept. I've seen amazing bands over there, but I can tell that an American band is probably going to do it better.
CP: But you guys call yourself modern rockabilly?
O'Leary: Well really, everybody else wants to tag you as one thing or another, and promoters need to tag you as something. So that was just us thinking that at least this way we'd get to call the shots on what we're called. It's more important to everyone else than it is to us that we have a tag. The phrase "modern rockabilly" just makes it easier, so people know that we're not some throwback malt-shop memories group.
CP: To avoid being a shtick you mean?
O'Leary: Yeah, because it's not just 12-bar blues about hot rods and pretty girls. A lot of people will walk into a bar and see a rockabilly band and think, "Oh, it's a rockabilly band playing tonight, it's gonna be fucking lame, they're just cheesy and play all these old songs."
CP: But rockabilly, historically, can rock pretty hard. What about Hasil Adkins?
O'Leary: Yeah, but he was just a weird dude out in the woods. Traditional rockabilly likes to do stuff by the book, and so, to us, modern rockabilly is like, we're rockabilly dudes but I don't live and die by this, I listen to everything. I like to say that we're a rock 'n' roll band, because that's the stuff that I like, simple shit: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and put a backbeat to it.
CP: Is that why you love rockabilly, then? Do you think that's the overarching appeal? An innate, simple approach to making rock 'n' roll?
O'Leary: When rockabilly started, it was rock 'n' roll. It's the progenitor of all of it and that was never lost. If you listen to those records, the thing I think overarching is that there is an honesty that rockabilly can have, and it's easy to just be honest with something simple like that. There are lots of rockabilly bands that aren't honest really, or don't concern themselves with that, like psychobilly bands that sing about things that don't exist, or rockabilly bands that sing about a time that no longer exists, but when you're honest about it, honest music is just always better. I feel like rockabilly, for all the glamour and all the posturing and posing, is honest music.
CP: The dress-up and throwback aspects of it seem to be what people kind of take away though, which is problematic because that's only one small part of this larger thing.
O'Leary: Yeah, but if you think about it, this music started with people who worked their asses off all week and then they'd get a date and go out and dance. So yeah, of course they liked to dress up and that's still what we like to do. I think people get scared off because they feel like "I'm not gonna look rockabilly enough to come to your show." Forget that, though: I've seen all these people, every different walk of life, just dancing to our music. That's way cooler than seeing a bunch of perfect-looking rockabilly couples dancing. I love that everybody can move to it because that's all I wanna do, when I go see a band I want something that's just gonna make me move and have fun and cheer and get some kind of release.
RECKLESS ONES play with Tiger Army at the Octoberflame Festival in Anaheim, California, on October 28. They'll return to the Cities for the Drunksgiving show on WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, at the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486