The Californian desert is as vast as it is wild, as it is untamed.
Even on its distant edges, where its barren sprawl meets the outposts of civilisation, there still crackles a certain unhinged, primal power. Listen close to the debut album by RedRacer – recorded at Rancho De La Luna studio, located in Joshua Tree, on the very frontier of that desert – and you’ll hear that energy crackling beneath the muscular riffage, coursing through their anthemic tunes.
The property of legendary producer and rock ’n’ roll luminary Dave Catching, Rancho De La Luna has played such a key role in the development of the desert rock scene of the last thirty years – serving as recording location of choice for Kiss, Queens Of The Stone Age, Masters Of Reality and many, many more – that it almost doubles as a clubhouse for this cadre of west coast rock groups.
But while RedRacer share the desert rock vibe and admirable hunger of these kindred spirits, they don’t hail from the west coast. They’re not even from America. No, this group’s roots can be traced back to the altogether less romantic environs of Tooting – but theirs is a tale that sweeps us from the lowly back rooms of South London pubs, to the stomping grounds of rock ’n’ roll millionaires, to the desert vistas of California – and back again.
It’s also a tale of the deep bonds of true friendship, most notably that shared by founding members John Hogg and Sean Genockey. They first met at a battle-of-the-bands event in one of those shabby Tooting pubs in the mid-90s. They were in different bands, and indeed it’s entirely possible those bands were battling, but John remembers the thought that ran through his mind as he watched Genockey play: “Wow. I want to make music with that guy.”
And, soon, make music they did, with their group Moke, whose blues-swollen heavy rock took them to Britain’s radiowaves in the late 90s. Their heroes The Black Crowes were fans too, and invited the young group to tour with them across America, beginning a couple of years heavy touring across the US, playing the big sheds with groups like the Crowes, and then visiting all the shitholes in-between on their own.
When they weren’t on the road, they were in the studio, cutting two fine LPs that aficionados of coruscating guitar rock cherish to this day; there should have been a third, but the timing wasn’t right. The members scattered, followed their muses to other projects: Sean moved on to find a successful career on the other side of the mixing desk, working as a producer with groups like the Futureheads, Reuben and Tom McRae, and alongside production legends like Dave Eringa and Paul Stacey.
John, meanwhile, joined forces with Black Crowes frontman Rich Robinson on a new group, Hookah Brown. “Rich invited me into his life, his world,” remembers John. “We did three club tours, and nearly finished an album together.” But after eighteen months together, the project ran aground. “The timing wasn’t right,” says John, though his friendship with Robinson remains strong. “We’ve even written more material together since.”
The bond between John and Sean was too profound to simply wither, however. “We were always friends, although we went seven or eight years without making music together,” says John. “Suddenly, though, he was producing a band, and he asked me to come in and play some music.” In these brief sessions, their lucid chemistry proved as alive as ever. “It was just the two of us together again, and it was great. We made plans to do more.”
In Summer of 2012, Sean was off to Rockfield Recording Studios in Monmouth, where Jesse Hughes – the wildcard firebrand who leads Eagles Of Death Metal – was filming an episode about heavy metal for Marshall Headphones: On The Road. “Jesse and I had been discussing plans, for years, for him to record his next album in the UK,” says Michelle Sadova-Harris, honcho of Dissention Records, and Hughes’ long-term friend. “We introduced Jesse to Rockfield, explaining there was no other studio in the world like it, and that weirdly enough, it had a similar vibe – however opposite end of the spectrum – to Rancho De La Luna. We were all in the studio hanging out as Sean was finishing working on another project. As Sean left, all I can remember Jesse saying to me was, ‘I wanna work with that guy.’”
“Jesse has his own schedule though,” laughs John, and when the sessions at Rockfield never quite materialised, a new scheme was put in place, to reconvene at Rancho De La Luna. In the process of arranging these sessions, Sadova-Harris got to hear demos of some new music Sean was working on with John, and suggested John fly out with Sean to the desert. “It was quite an adventure,” understates John.
The pair arrived at Rancho a week before Jesse, and in those seven days managed to write an entire new album of songs – songs like the decadent, party-damaged drone of How Does It Feel, the laser-guided, glam-edged sleaze-pop of Shotgun Suzie, and the motorik rush of Define, which draws into sharp focus the group’s serrated punk edge. Such A Long Way, meanwhile, shows a deeper, more emotional side to the group; the final track recorded at Rancho, it possesses a poignancy, a sense of a journey reaching its end (for now). The RadRacer sound, meanwhile, is unique – it may share with the aforementioned desert rockers (QOTSA, Masters of Reality, Eagles of Death Metal) a gift for honing classic rock muscle for a post-punk, futurist era, but there’s an unashamed heart beating at the centre, a vulnerability among the riffage, which is compelling.
“Something was resonating out there,” says John, while Sean marvels at “the energy, the danger” of the Joshua Tree locale – perhaps these were the ingredients that ensured a group hailing from leafy South London could cut one of the finest Desert Rock albums of the 21st Century. Once Hughes turned up at Rancho, says John, “Things took another turn. The music seemed to absorb his energy. We were hanging out, listening to cool music, recording these songs, and making the greatest album of our lives.”
It wasn’t just Hughes who sensed RedRacer were onto something special. “John and Sean are both incredible talents and individuals,” says Dave Catching, of his recent guests. “It was wonderful to see the inspiration take hold and unfold in so many great songs, and so fun the whole session through. I can’t wait for RedRacer II to be recorded at Rancho.”
Catching and Hughes weren’t the only luminaries of this particularly vibrant west coast underground rock community who stopped by to party and found themselves joining the sessions. The likes of QOTSA’s Joey Castillo, Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss, and Abby Travis and Hayden Scott of Spinnerette also lent their talents to this electrifying debut.
But RedRacer is no mere celebrity jamboree, and by the time John and Sean had cleared customs back in the UK, they’d cooked up a plan to make this group a proper flesh ’n’ blood (’n’ muscle - plenty of muscle) thing. They called up Jesse Wood – whose CV includes stints with Reef, Mick Jones’ Carbon/Silicon and his dad’s Ronnie Wood Band – to play bass, an old friend who has been playing with the duo in various incarnations since the mid-noughties. Again, long-time friendship is the bond between them – for Jesse’s Independence Day wedding this summer, Sean and John joined the groom onstage to play at the reception – not as RedRacer, however, but quite literally as The Best Men.
For their gigs as RedRacer, John is planning to both sing and play the drums, delivering a live assault that will be unforgettable. “This feels like when John and I first started making music together,” says Sean. “I’ve missed this. We had unfinished business together.”
Now reconnected, RedRacer are ready to prove they mean business. And they’re certainly only just getting started.