Here’s the Reivers

By Eric Flaum. The Bob, issue 33, June-July 1988 p18(2).

“Ill equipped for the journey itself, they are even less prepared for life in the fast lane…”

That subtitle you read above this is from the jacket copy on my paperback version of William Faulkner’s novel, The Reivers. It’s the book Zeitgeist took their new name from when a bunch of Nu Age wheenies forced them to bag the coolest damn moniker around. And like The Reivers music, the above quote isn’t necessarily real accurate, but it sounds good.

You see, John Croslin, the leader of this great band, fancies himself a bit of a wordsmith. He avoids any overt Morrisey-like self-indulgence by rocking out (this band is still best heard live), but manages to focus most of his songs on internal, meditative narratives. So if some of his lyrics get a bit twisted up (I can’t be certain, but I don’t think I’d ever heard the word “miasma” in a rocker before, and that was probably a good thing), that’s really alright, ’cause they still sound real good.

When the band rolled into NYC on one of their mini-tours, the vague similarity between their relationship with the big city and that of the characters in The Reivers assures me that the quote’ll work. Like small-town rubes they order too much pizza and eat ’til they’re stuffed. They don’t talk like their from around these parts, and probably don’t even know that 5th Avenue runs downtown and 6th up.

What The Reivers do know, quite well, is how to make music. Their first album (as Zeitgeist) on DB Records was an indie gem. There’d been an appealing EP before that, but the album, Translate Slowly, was the real eye-opener. It had a rich guitar sound (they weren’t even from California or Athens!), and the hint of some chops to back it up. Live they were louder and more powerful, and the future looked great from out in the audience.

But then some baby-making took place back home in Austin, and it seemed like there’d never be another LP. Vocalist Kim Longacre took time to be with her baby, John and his wife did likewise, and pre-preperation for the next album wasn’t exactly cruising along. “I took a break,” said Croslin, “and it gave me a chance to put some things into perspective. And I decided I wanted to come back and…carry on.”

Kim also decided to re-up, and the band began work for an album for Capitol. They went into the studio and came up with something. Reports were that Croslin was not pleased with the way things were working out, and neither was Capitol. In came Don Dixon to offer a bit of help.

“When the gal up at Capitol wanted us to spruce it up a bit,” recalls Croslin, “we were lucky that Don was available. Don’s made so many records he knows how to make good ones. And the good part is that a lot of producers have a ‘sound,’ but Don works with the sound you bring into it.” The album was completed and advance copies were ready by early last fall. But where was it on the stores?

Drummer Garrett Williams, as nice as a human being could be while still rooting for the Astros, said, “it seemed like for a while it was never going to come out.” Litigation with the previously mentioned Nu Agers put the release on hold, and the name change at least made my copy of the original “Zeitgeist–Saturday” advance cassette cool to have.

Finally, this past spring, the album burst free from its legal restraints and began to introduce this “new” band, The Reivers, to a larger audience. Bassist Cindy Toth recounted the band’s elation as they drove into New York a day earlier and heard the album’s single, “In Your Eyes,” on the radio– the first time that had happened to them. I bet it won’t be the last.

You see, John Croslin, near as I can tell, would very much like to be in a successful band. An admitted admirer of R.E.M. (and smart enough to agree that Reckoning might be their best), Croslin appears to be setting his sights at least that high. While the band’s move raised a few lame cries from myopic indie-devotees, Croslin sees their association with Capitol differently. “It’s really nice,” he says, “that all I have to worry about is the next album. Somebody else is promoting us, taking care of the arrangements when we’re on the road, and things like that.”

The exposure Capitol was able to bring the band helped too. It allowed them to sleep in hotels instead of roadside parking areas, and freed the band to begin concentrating on their next album. During the long delay between Saturday’s completion and its release, the band began to work up a number of new songs, some of which have been played live. Like the band’s previous work, they continue to employ the same weave of vocals between Croslin and Longacre that is the hallmark of The Reivers’ sound.

“We’re better singers by now,” insists Longacre. “And we’ve tried to do different things. It’s not like we want every song to sound like ‘Freight Train Rain’ or ‘Electra,’ she says, citing the band’s earliest recordings. In addition, Croslin’s songwriting (he’s credited with everything but a few co-compositions with Longacre) has grown greatly, despite its occasional indulgence. Whereas the most memorable songs from the first album may well have been its two covers, Croslin purposely included only originals on Saturday to better display his own talents. (Though adding the band’s rockin’ version of the Peanuts theme still wouldn’t have stretched the slim disc to 40 minutes!) “What Am I Doing,” the album’s opening cut, serves warning that not only has Croslin’s pen grown nimbler, but the band has as well. Though Croslin is definitely the band’s wordkeeper– he dominates a “group” interview almost as much as the lyric sheet–the years together have also created a tight ensemble. “Karate Party” kicks the crap out of “White Tornado,” and even Dixon’s awesome production couldn’t capture the “uuumph” of this band when they’re rattling a club at volume eleven.

Though the band were one of the nicest I’ve ever been lucky enough to spend some time with, its not like there are lots of great quotes or anything. Croslin gives a good enough interview, but the appeal of the band isn’t really quite that tangible. They’re each the kind of people you’d want to hang out with if they lived nearby. They keep their tours short to avoid being away from their families for too long, and they speak earnestly about the reality of a home after “your twelfth crazy night on the road.” All of which creates a kind of unassuming air that belies their combined furies when they plug in and start playing.

Now they’re The Reivers. Forever named after an obscure novel by one of the greatest writers of our century. A truly American novelist who, evne when he “sold out” by writing screenplays for Mephistophelian Hollywood, always insisted he be allowed to do so from the safety of his Mississippi home. Perhaps a large part of The Reivers’ appeal is their connection to some kind of roots, some base from which to venture out into the vast unknown, physically or mentally.

The next album will include no “formerly known as…” stickers, and the hassles of the past seem to be behind them. By the time it’s taken me to get around to writing this, the band’s probably getting ready for #3, with Capitol hoping that tour plans and release dates coincide a bit better next time. If the growth they have displayed over the past four years continues, that album could well establish The Reivers as one of the best bands around. In the mean time, Saturday holds up to the hyper-critical test of time, and the “Z”-name seems like a distant memory.

In case you’re an anal retentive such as myself, the band’s releases include: The first EP, on DB, including an instrumental, “wherehaus jamb” and the two songs Kim mentioned. The band’s all out, so you can’t get it from their address anymore, but Midnight Records in NYC had it for $3, so it can’t be that hard to find. The first album, as Zeitgeist, was Translate Slowly, aslo on DB. After that the band had a track on Rhino Records Cover Me compilation featuring a bizzare assortment of artists covering songs by Mr. Springsteen. Zeitgeist offers up one of the album’s best tracks, “Atlantic City,” squashed between Johnny Cash and Southside Johnny. And with the release of the albu Saturday, the first as The Reivers, Capitol also issued the “In Your Eyes” single with a non-LP B-side called “Jeannie.” (The Peanuts Theme would’ve gone great there too!) The band also mentioned a song that was due to appear on a DB compilation. Either the song or the compilation was called “Bidin’ Time,” but I was too cheap and lazy to call Atlanta to find out. Sorry.