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After 1984

"Somebody had to pick up where Van Halen left off," Rufio bassist Jon Berry says of the title of his band’s current album, MCMLXXXV (Nitro), in the bio on their label’s official Web site. The Roman numerals stand for 1985, the year after Van Halen released the classic MCMLXXXIV (Warner Bros.). The guys in Rufio were just toddlers then, but the hard rock and metal of that era are a big influence on their sound. The group’s bio also cites their enthusiasm for present-day lords of the Euro-metal underground like In Flames and Soilwork. So it’s no surprise that their six-string skills are up there with those of fellow Southern California pop-punkers Thrice, with whom they share management.

"We’re big metalheads — we all pretty much grew up on Metallica and Skid Row," Berry confirms when I get him on the phone from Chicago. "To me, metal and 1980s rock is all about the vocals and the instrumental parts. We like to make our music interesting, and it’s cool to use stuff like that. When we were younger, we listened to a lot of punk, like Strung Out and NOFX. We just like to fuse the stuff we listen to together."

MCMLXXXV hit #168 on the Billboard 200 when it came out last June — not Thrice numbers, but also not bad for a band who at that point had no mainstream-media profile to speak of. Since then, they’ve gotten some airplay with the video for "White Lights," a New York City–set performance clip directed by Christian Winters (Coheed and Cambria). Right now, Rufio are out on a month-long North American tour that will hit the Palladium in Worcester this Saturday.

First getting together as high-school students in San Bernardino County, Rufio released their debut, Perhaps, I Suppose . . . , in 2001 on the upstart SoCal label the Militia Group. Their subsequent word-of-mouth popularity brought them to the attention of Nitro, the label owned by the Offspring’s Dexter Holland. "We just got done touring the UK with the Offspring, it was awesome," Berry raves. But their success is hardly all part of a master plan. "I was friends with Chad Pearson from the Militia Group before he did the label, and he was like, ‘I’m going to put your record out.’ We didn’t think it would progress the way it has. But after it had been out for maybe four months, Nitro saw us play at Chain Reaction in Anaheim and expressed interest in working with us."

Produced by Nick Rasculinecz (Foo Fighters), MCMLXXXV is the work of a band who learned their sunny melodies and lightning-fast beats from the Fat Wreck Chords catalogue of the 1990s. On the single "White Lights," they bring things down to cruising tempo and urge listeners to seize the day: "Time is wasted and gone/Life is passing on again." Yes, frontman Scott Sellers has the voice of a pop singer, and yes, the group write about relationships on tracks like the stampeding opener "Countdown" and the glam-punk standout "Follow Me." But they also address topics like the beauty myth ("Science Fiction") and parental conflict ("Control"), and on "Decency," guitarist Clark Domae unleashes a frenzied solo that could hold its own on Headbangers Ball.

The band are at their most agitated on "Pirate," a pogo-happy lament over the state of commercial radio: "They’ve got you by their strings again tonight/So quick to find that dollar in the sky." "It’s not really anti-radio," Berry insists. "It’s just, ‘Open it up to more variety.’ I turn on the radio and it’s always the same stuff. Some of the music’s cool and some of it blows, but it’s no wonder so many bands don’t get any exposure. It’s getting better, though. Bands that we play with are starting to get airplay, which is awesome. Hearing bands at this independent level on the radio, it’s like, ‘Whoa, what the hell?’ "

Rufio are playing the Warped Tour this summer, after which they plan on making their next album. Having already pushed their instrumental performances to shred-tastic heights on MCMLXXXV, they’re setting their sights on the vocals. "We didn’t really focus a lot on vocal melody on the last record," Berry admits. "The emphasis was on the music, but next time we’re going to try to do both. It’s more of a rock vibe. We’ve done like 12 songs, and we want to do at least another 15 before we go into the studio."

Rufio perform this Saturday, April 24, at the Palladium in Worcester; call (508) 797-9696.

Issue Date: April 23 - 29, 2004
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