By Ellen Fleischer
Red Hot Rebellion exploded on the Ohio music scene in 2010 and has been going strong ever since. From playing clubs and bars to having their music featured on web and TV soundtracks, they’ve been rocking it hard and playing for keeps. In January, RHR released their latest album, The Mission, together with a 60-page comic book. This month, Indyfest sat down with base player Jim Tramontana to talk about RHR—how they got to this point, what they’re doing now, and what they’ll do next.
IM: Who, or what, is Red Hot Rebellion?
JT: RHR is a band that also makes comics. Here is our bio:
“They don’t take it easy. They don’t take it too seriously. And they sure as hell aren’t taking it one day at a time. Dayton, Ohio’s Red Hot Rebellion have been trailblazing their kerosene-soaked, hard-hitting party soundtrack since 2010 and they honestly couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether you think it’s punk-ish metal or metal-ish punk, as long as you’re ready to put on your 64-hole dancing boots and kick holes in the walls of whatever venue they deign to destroy in your town. Red Hot Rebellion brings a noise that’s as equally indebted to the Ramones and the Dwarves as it is to anarchic 80s metal acts like Motorhead and M.O.D. Up until now, Red Hot Rebellion has been lurking underground like the dudes from C.H.U.D. Now the manhole covers are coming off and the party is spilling out into the streets. You’ve been warned”.
IM: What are your back-grounds?
JT: All three of us have been playing in bands since our early teens. We’ve toured the planet in filthy vans and rocked dive bars and listening rooms in various projects throughout that time.
IM: How did the band come together?
JT: We met how all people meet these days: Craigslist. I wanted to do a band that was kind of straight up rock ‘n’ roll with punk and metal intensity. I forget exactly what I posted, but it was enough to get Doug’s attention. We met at the Dayton Guitar Center—to make sure neither one of us was an ax murderer, we opted for a public place—and jammed out in the room where they keep the good guitars. After about three seconds, I knew Doug was the right guitar player! I play guitar too, but I am nowhere as good as Doug, so I said I’ll play bass and sing. We went through two deadbeat drummers until we went back to Craigslist and found Andris. He was so intense and awesome that we quickly nicknamed him “Andris Rebellion”— the band is kind of named after him. I wanted to call the band “Mustache Supernova,” but I was overruled. We played our first show at the now-defunct Blue Rock Tavern in Cincinnati on January 23, 2010.
IM: From what source(s) do you draw inspiration? What turned you on to rock in the first place? Are there any particular bands/singers that were particularly influential?
JT: Rock ‘n’ roll is the lifeblood in our veins. It’s why we get up in the morning and why we keep on truckin’ every day.
Music Influences: Motorhead, Ramones, Iron Maiden, Supersuckers, Social Distortion, Rancid, Clutch, Dead Boys, Dwarves, Robert Johnson, Judas Priest, BB King, Albert King, the King (Elvis Presley), Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Devo, and Taylor Swift.
Cultural Influences: comic books, cartoons, sci-fi, horror, Mexican restaurants and petting zoos.
IM: Are there any titles in particular that stand out for you?
JT: Star Trek, everything Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse Comics, The Tick, TMNT, Looney Toons, Metalocalypse, Venture Bros, Robot Chicken, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Firefly, Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Game of Thrones, Professional Bull Riding.
IM: Where might we have heard your music before? How did you get your sound noticed?
JT: I have a small licensing and publishing company called Solid Arts and Science. (It is also the record label for Red Hot Rebellion.) Over the years, I’ve built up a list of music supervisors that use high-energy rock for their TV shows. Red Hot Rebellion’s music has been featured in numerous TV shows and web series, including: Chozen (TV), Nitro Circus (TV), Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory (TV), RealWorld/Road Rules Challenge (TV), Ridiculousness (TV), Good Vibes (TV), The Challenge (TV), Adam the Woo (web), Blank TV (web), ESPN (web), and Monster Energy Drink (web).
IM: Can you share some anecdotes about the band? Things that worked, things that didn’t, things you wish you’d known before/advice you wish you’d taken?
JT: We do just about everything ourselves, so it’s always a hit-or-miss proposition. We’ve tried farming some things out to others, spent a little too much money on it, and learned that it’s something we could do ourselves. For instance, when our last EP came out, we spent $1500 on a PR campaign that I could have easily done myself. So, now I do. I formed a small PR/Publicity firm called Dark Matter Publicity.
IM: Tell us a bit about your other albums?
JT: Our debut self-titled album came out in 2012. We released it ourselves on clear, red vinyl, CD, and digital download. It comes with a 10-page comic book, where each song on the album is a page in the book. It was mixed and mastered by punk legend Stephen Egerton of The Descendents.
Last year, we released a 5-song EP called Melt the Sky, and a 16-page comic book that came with a 4-song digital download called Black Magic Dynamite.
IM: And now, you’re not only launching the Mission album, but you’ve also released The Mission comic book! How did you decide to go that route?
JT: I’ve always loved the idea of a concept album, an album that tells a story. Some of my favorites being Sgt. Pepper (Beatles), Operation: Mindcrime (Queensryche), and The Downward Spiral (Nine Inch Nails).
With our first album, I decided it was telling a story as an afterthought. We recorded all the songs and then I wrote a story that tied it all together. We released it as a one-page-per-song comic book that came with the LP.
For The Mission, I wanted to go big time. We frequently lament about how popular music is in terrible shape. Which led me to think, ‘What if aliens have been listening to our music and they’re fans, but now we’re disappointing them because our music has become so weak and boring? What if the only way Earth is going to become part of a great community of advanced galactic cultures is by having a thriving Rock scene? And we’re blowing it. What if the aliens decide to set us back on the right path by sending a band to Earth to show humanity how to ROCK again?’ So… that’s us. We’re the aliens. We’re that band. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.
We’re all comic book fans and, since we put out a 10-page comic with our first album, we’d started doing a few comic book conventions. People responded really well to the idea of an album and comic being two sides of the same coin, so I wanted to create something bigger and better for the second album.
The comic and the album versions of The Mission both tell the same story, but from slightly different perspectives. With the comic, you are a third-person observer of events, while the album is more from the perspective of the band itself.
It’s not ‘Pages 1–5 is song one; Pages 6–10 is song two;’ it’s a little more fluid. There are times when exact lyrics show up as dialogue in the comic book, and there are other times when a song is a reaction to an event or character(s) in the story. They can be read/listened to separately, but each enhances the other. So, you’ll get the best, most complete experience by taking them both in. But it’s totally up to the listener/reader. It’s their experience and how they choose to get it in their brain is up to them—which is why I also created 13 lyric videos, one for each song, using art from the book, live footage of us, and animated GIFs.
Since YouTube is the biggest music discovery platform out there, I wanted something else different and unique to tell the story. It’s a complete 360 degree multimedia experience!
IM: Tell us a bit about the creative team behind the comic. Who are they? How did you all hook up?
The comic book interior was illustrated by Chris Martin of Studio Akumakaze, a comic book studio here in Dayton. We met them through a mutual friend, photographer Nikki Forte. Studio Akumakaze took my crazy story outline and turned it into the beautiful 60-page mammoth that it is today. I originally wanted a 28-page comic, but the story I wrote could not be contained in a mere 28 pages! Chris Martin interpreted it and sketched it out, page by page, until it clocked in at a whopping 47 pages (the last 13 pages of the book are the album liner notes). We did a Kickstarter back in February of 2014, which helped fund the art and production costs (for both the album and the comic).
The cover was illustrated by Rus Wooton, who is, like, the number two comic book letterer in the industry. Ever head of Walking Dead? Yeah. He letters that comic book. Dude is a badass.
The liner notes in the back of the comic were illustrated by Ben Lande, an amazing artist from Atlanta. I am working on a horror comic with him now that is set in the mid 1990s and has lots of supernatural mystery, action, and 90s music references.
IM: Were there any challenges that came up in creating the comic (expected or otherwise?)
JT: We went through four different colorists before we found Lexie Holliday. The others were too busy, I guess— or couldn’t handle the work load. It’s a biiiiiig comic.
IM: Is this something that you can see continuing? (Either The Mission #2 or more comic book tie-ins for future albums?)
JT: Yes. I can safely say we’ve been bitten by the comic bug. We are currently brainstorming ideas for another RHR comic book and I’m working on two or three other secret comic projects. Once they get nailed down, I will definitely share! Now, whether or not the next RHR album has a comic-album tie-in, I’m not sure… but there will definitely be more comic-related stuff in our future!
IM: What advice would you have for someone new to the indy scene, be it in music or comics?
JT: Make stuff! Create! Write! Draw! Play! The only way to get better is to do it and the only way to produce anything is to do it yourself. Don’t wait to be “discovered”—get out there. Play shows, attend conventions, meet other musicians, bands, creators, etc. Focus on your craft and keep improving.
IM: Where does Red Hot Rebellion go from here?
JT: We are doing one big show or one comic convention per month for the foreseeable future, until the phone calls come in from the Universal Music Group and Marvel Comics. We are also going to be recording a split with Duderus and Legbone in about a month, which should be out on FM Records by summer. We actually sell a fair amount of records in Europe, so mayyyyybe a tour over there at some point.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know that we haven’t touched on yet?
JT: We’re all super nice and like to chitty chat. Come say HI at a rock show or a convention some time!