Sibling rivalry often makes for great rock 'n' roll. The tradition of brawling bandmember brothers stretches from Don and Phil Everly to the Kinks' Ray and Dave Davies, from Eddie and Alex Van Halen to Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. Add Chris and Benji Lee of New Orleans' Supagroup to the list -- their band's forthcoming CD, Rock & Roll Tried To Ruin My Life, is a bonafide hard-rock classic, forged through the chaos of disappearing record contracts and the occasional rumble.
"We have a fistfight once every six months," says vocalist and guitarist Chris Lee. "But I think being brothers makes it easier for us. We're always pushing each other when one of us gets down, and we're pretty evenly matched [creatively]. It is a competition though, and that makes us work even harder. The biggest fights are when one of us brings a song in, and the other one says, 'I don't like this part or that part,' and it gets personal. In the end, it always makes the song better."
On Rock & Roll Tried To Ruin My Life, the proof is in the massive riffs, anthemic choruses and jackhammer rhythm section work of bassist Leif Swift and drummer Mark Brill. It's the first time that Supagroup has harnessed its primary influences -- Bon Scott-era AC/DC and '70s-era Rolling Stones -- into a cohesive, kick-ass album that would make its arena-rock godfathers proud. Veteran producer Jack Endino, known for his work on Nirvana's Bleach and Insecticide, Soundgarden's Screaming Life and Mudhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff, helped the band shape its songs and up the sonic wattage. Endino was a lone music industry voice backing Supagroup after two recent major-label courtships left the band at the altar.
"The president of London [Records] flew to see us in Austin and New York, came down here and wined and dined us at Delmonico, and we had paper in front of us," says Lee. "Then his company got absorbed in a merger, and we never heard from him again. To this day, no one knows where he is. Over the years we've probably had a dozen serious offers from record companies, and we saw contracts on five of those offers. But when this last deal fell through, Jack said, 'I've never done this before, but I'm gonna do this record on spec for you guys.' So we borrowed money from family members and put it on our credit cards and said, "If we have to put this record out ourselves, we will.'"
That brothers-in-arms mentality seeps into the bluesy snarl of the Lee siblings' intertwined guitar parts. Part of the kick of hearing their six-string assault is in the lineage: the lead of "Down to the Letter" nicks Van Halen's "Feel Your Love Tonight"; "Ready to Go" appropriates a section of the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'"; and "Spit it Out" chugs along like the pre-sobriety Aerosmith's cooking 1974 version of "Train Kept a Rollin.'" For sheer hard-rock chutzpah, nothing tops "She's Hot (I'm on a Roll)," which aims to join Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and Guns 'n' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" in the notorious category of songs featuring extended orgasm segments.
"Jack was trying to talk us out of that," says Lee, "but I said, if we're gonna spend all this money, let's just go for it. So we got a girl to come into the studio and do it, and when the track was finished, even Jack admitted, 'You pulled it off.'"
It's intellectually fashionable to dismiss such actions as the work of adolescent goofballs -- which is off the mark. Yes, Lee and his Supagroup bandmates have a great sense of humor, but they're not messing around when it comes to their music and their career. "A lot of the things that we've been written up for, it's always, 'Are these guys joking, or are they serious?'" says Lee. "We're serious. We're living that life, we're not just imagining it. I remember heavy metal, and I remember Motley Crue. Most of all, we decided that we want to make music we want to hear. We aim to make music that we like, that we would buy if we heard on the radio."
Lee holds out hope that he just might hear Supagroup on the radio one day. The band pressed 1,000 copies of Rock & Roll Tried To Ruin My Life, and is bringing them on an upcoming tour of Canada and the East Coast that includes more record label showcases. After being in Supagroup for a decade, there's one thing Lee knows for sure.
"All I know is that we love to play, and plan on playing and having a good time until we just can't do it anymore. If we have some help doing it, so be it."
- Supagroup's forthcoming CD Rock & Roll Tried to Ruin My Life will make its arena-rock godfathers proud.