By Brian D’Ambrosio EBS CONTRIBUTOR
RAPID CITY, SD — As self-proclaimed “power-pop, garage rock” band The Reddmen prepare to tour for the first time in over 10 years, J. Waylon Porcupine is shaking off the rust.
Indeed, he must once again become good at his own chords, licks and lyrics.
“The Reddmen are coming together and hopefully we still have the special sauce to make it happen,” said Porcupine, The Reddmen’s lead lyricist-vocalist. “I have a lot of homework to do to relearn the songs.”
Porcupine and Miyo One Arrow formed the band in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1995, around the time they left the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana together and moved to Rapid City.
“I’ve wanted to start this band since about 10th grade,” Porcupine told EBS in a May 5 phone interview. “In Busby, Montana (on the northern Cheyenne reservation), I heard KISS, and said it was my calling in life. My older brother, Jake, was super metal and when my brother showed KISS, I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’ I want to play rock ‘n’ roll from now on. You’re kinda drawn to those mythical people, aren’t you?”
In 1995, Porcupine was an exuberant 16-year-old who was just beginning to take music hegemony seriously. The most rewarding part of his days back then came when he was playing music with some of his friends behind Central High School or in one of the teen centers or cafes downtown.
Despite the heavy and dizzying influences of bands such as KISS, Porcupine said The Reddmen’s intention from the start was all about pop, a type of song he believes will never run out. His goal then was to not only remind listeners how palatable this music is, but also how completely it permeates our culture.
Porcupine said that Rapid City, however, was not receptive to the Reddmen’s early vibe and that the group sought and found resonance in places such as Pierre, South Dakota; Casper, Wyoming; and Denver, Colorado.
“At that time, the Rapid City scene, there were a lot of crunchy punk rock bands, noise core bands, like post-punk,” he said. “And we’re a pop band, right? We write pop songs. And I don’t think they were really ready for that. I was trying to write these classic-sounding timeless songs and they were more into the chaotic, non-form-fit noise rock genre.
Motivated to create reliable and easily transferable pop songs, Porcupine attracted flashes of muse wherever he could find them.
“The college radio station put out the biggest vinyl collection in South Dakota, and we were reading the back of Thrasher or a musical fanzine,” Porcupine recalled. “When they were referring to these bands, we went to this radio station, literally found this record, then brought it home and listened to it. Or you’re hoping to catch someone on Conan O’Brien or David Letterman.
Constantly tinkering with the roster, Porcupine brought in a rookie bassist named Trevor Leo and the personnel change catalyzed the best in chemistry.
“It was one of the things where you knew,” Porcupine said. “It was one of the things that was really the shot in the arm he needed to take it to the next level.”
Injected with a new vitality, The Reddmen tour frequently and try to establish themselves on the festival circuits. But it was the song’s unexpected placement on TV show “Grey’s Anatomy,” an ABC medical drama now in its 18th season, that gave the band commercial success.
“We had no label, no sponsorship. It was just DIY,” Porcupine said. “We did everything from changing our own oil to screen printing our own shirts. Especially being so remote, when you live here, without a cool music scene or not a lot of resources, you really have to find it out for yourself.
It turns out that a writer-editor from “Grey’s Anatomy” came across one of the band’s CDs, liked what he heard, and insisted that it be included on the show.
“I’ve never met this person before in my life,” Porcupine said. “We received an order for a CD in 2007 and a few months later a friend of mine, who was selling the CDs on his website, said to me, ‘Hey, there are people trying to reach you. They want to talk to you about licensing.
The song, “The Secrets of Amanda Prine”, appeared at the start of season three, episode 21, on loop as part of a cutscene montage. The song was reused for a special episode the following fall.
“The song is only a minute and 15 seconds long, but they just looped it forever,” Porcupine said. “Now the longer they play in prime time, the more money you make. It’s a song that was cut to eight tracks in my basement with a mic. It’s not supposed to be at the TV, right? They’re supposed to be dream boat bands burning the charts. And here I am, I did this thing, a couple years ago, and it’s on TV.
The Reddmen looked set to reach great heights. But shortly after takeoff, the engine lights went out, smoke billowed and the plane was forced to make an emergency landing. Porcupine said he was disappointed to find himself on the tarmac.
“Other people wanted to move on with their lives,” Porcupine said of the internal issues that necessitated the band’s split. “People who felt like it was a hobby. We finally got our foot in the door, a stepping stone to anything, now we have people who want to get off the ride.
After the split, Porcupine, then 31, retired from music, but not for long. He eventually formed an alternative indie band called Friends of Cesar Romero and moved to Arizona for a time.
And the others?
“Miyo was going through personal things in her life, cleaning up her act,” Porcupine said. “…Trevor needs to get a job in Seattle. He hadn’t really explored life yet other than playing in a rock band.
After the sudden split in 2011, the Reddmen are back on stage again thanks to a brief reunion tour that, starting May 13, will take them to fans in Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado and possibly North Dakota. South, where it all began.
Porcupine said he was under no illusions that the crossing was some sort of fresh start or a new chapter of The Reddmen. In fact, the reverse is true: for him, he says, it feels more like a decent burial or a tribute.
The farewell ceremony will reunite Rapid City’s Porcupine with Trevor Leo, who now resides in Seattle and is active in the underground music scene there, and Miyo One Arrow, currently a powwow singer based in eastern Montana.
“I agreed to do it because I felt it was time to say goodbye,” Porcupine said. “We’ve done it and it’s been properly rested, and it will hopefully be in a better place than where it last ended. The Reddmen didn’t really get the goodbye they should have.
Porcupine said he had long since made peace with the group’s disintegration in 2011. He only wanted to construct a memorable pop song. Having realized this, he is content to be forgotten.
“It’s kind of weird to me, because it’s thoughtful, and I don’t really like going back,” he said. “Now I have to dig up all this stuff. Because I wrote 90% of the songs, it has to do with my personal relationships and my past relationships.
Still, Porcupine said he intends not to be devoured by the bottomless pit of the past, but rather to heal any scar tissue and focus on what matters most. The old songs present a mosaic of his world: they pulsate, they move, they disappear and come back.
“I have to take the personal part of my soul out of it, my personal feelings, and just be a good performer and play these songs well,” he said. “…Because songs, I find, stand the test of time. And there’s no better feeling than when people identify with your music.
The Reddmen perform at the gas station, May 17.