In this era of constant blog-hype turnover and Twitter-length record reviews, bands commonly complain that people shove them in subgenre pigeonholes and move on to the next act so quickly that they can't really get to know the music first. "It's really weird," says Rodeo guitarist Richard Giraldi. "A band comes out and has to be classified instantly in two or three descriptors. If Nirvana came out these days, what would they be called?"
One big difference between Giraldi, 26, and most other musicians making the same sort of point is that he works both sides of this particular fence—in spring 2009 he founded Loud Loop Press, which has become one of the foremost clearinghouses for Chicago indie-rock news, winning "Best local music blog" in the audience poll of the Reader's Best of Chicago issue for the past two years. "It's sort of a double-edged sword," Giraldi says, "being an artist and being someone on the other side. I don't like to be boxed into 140 characters or a couple of hyphenated words."
Being editor in chief of Loud Loop Press isn't paying the bills yet, so Giraldi works a day job at Groupon; he's also been playing in Rodeo since not long after launching the blog. He'd been making music off and on with the band's bassist and vocalist, Jordan Sirven, since both were undergrads at Loyola University New Orleans—Sirven, 26, sat in on vocals with Giraldi's instrumental jazz-rock combo. "It was like the best month of our band's career," Giraldi says.
Post-Katrina, Sirven and Giraldi both ended up at Loyola in Chicago, but they didn't reconnect until after Giraldi enrolled in DePaul's masters program in journalism in early 2008. They started a two-piece called Grand Theft Autoerotic with Sirven on guitar and vocals and Giraldi on drums, bass, and keyboard—which he played all at once with the help of a loop pedal. That fizzled out, as did a second band that didn't last long enough for them to name it.
Finally, in winter 2009, Giraldi put up a Craigslist ad looking for a drummer into the Pixies and the Jesus Lizard, among other things. "It was every band I was listening to at the time," says George Nisbett. After Giraldi and Nisbett, 27, spent an intense two-hour jam at a rent-by-the-hour rehearsal space, they felt the project had legs. Sirven, who works with Nisbett at the downtown offices of a company called Compliance 11 ("a leading provider of cloud-based compliance automation software" for financial firms), managed to convince them to let him join, though Giraldi had already committed to guitar and Sirven had never played bass in any serious capacity.
In March the band released a five-song EP called Sarcastic Summer as a free Bandcamp download, and you can hear the Jesus Lizard and the Pixies all over it. (The EP's also available on tape or CD through local label Commune Records, which is run collectively by all the bands who've released music through it.) Rodeo recorded it live to analog tape, vocals and all, in just five hours, using one of the in-house studios at West Town rehearsal space the Music Garage. The music lumbers heavily enough to stand up against most post-Lizard sludge-rock from the mid-90s—a time in music history for which the members of Rodeo have very special feelings—and adds a heavy helping of delay-drenched garage psychedelia. Oddly enough, combining two currently fashionable lines of retro revivalism—one from the mid-90s and one from the late 60s—makes for an overall sound that's up to date.
It's easy to keep finding bands to compare Rodeo to: Nirvana, Les Savy Fav, even a bit of Queens of the Stone Age (at least after the band brings it up). But filing the music in an extant subgenre is actually pretty tough. "It's free to download on Bandcamp," says Nisbett. "So people say, 'What kind of music do you play?' We say, 'Rodeo.bandcamp.com. Listen to it.' That doesn't take 140 characters."
Part of the confrontational stance baked into Rodeo's output comes from the inspirations they've chosen—the Jesus Lizard were nothing if not confrontational, as anyone who's seen David Yow perform one of his famous testicular contortions on a Jumbotron can attest. But most it comes from the members of the band just being who they are.
Rodeo has a particular affinity for picking on other indie rockers. Sarcastic Summer has a song called "LCD Soundsystem Is Playing at My Condo" and another called "Mega Bro and the Chill Waves." Despite sounding exactly like song titles written by a musician and blogger disillusioned with the machinations of the indie-industrial complex, they aren't Giraldi's doing—in fact he seems relatively unjaded at this point. Like most of the band's sometimes snarky vibe, they come from Sirven, the most taciturn member of the group.
"I guess you have to write what you know," he says in a rare burst of gregariousness. "And all I really do is listen to music and play video games, so that's what I know. So mostly my songs are about other bands and how I feel about the scene. Like 'LCD Soundsystem Is Playing at My Condo' is just kind of being in a band, not knowing where you want to go, stuff like that. Confronting how silly this all is, essentially.
"It's definitely a love-hate thing. That's the only way I can describe my relationship with indie rock or Pitchfork, stuff like that. I love it because that's what I do all day. But, like, I hate when someone disagrees with me. But I hate how my reaction is when someone disagrees with me—like, why do I care so much? Why do I want to strangle this person I don't know? It's just their opinion. When the new Strokes record came out, I was about to kill somebody."
He pauses and realizes he needs to explain. "I'm definitely pro-new Strokes record," he says.