The Reivers: Aiming for Understanding

By Kris Nicholson. The Music Paper, Feb. 1988 p9(2).

What makes The Reivers so special is their songs. Songs that can be listened to one by one and appreciated for their lyrics, their melodies and the striking combination of male and female harmonies. Songs that make the group what it is. Songs you want to hear again after the first listen. Songs you won’t soon forget.

Lead guitarist and singer John Croslin, the primary songwriter in the group, occasionally collaborates with rhythm guitarist and singer Kim Longacre. Once the songs are introduced to the band, they are democratically arranged and enhanced by its collective members.

In 1983, when John Croslin had had it up to here with music, a little voice inside his head told him, ‘Give it one more try. If it doesn’t work, at least you’ll know you gave it your best.’ Knowing that with this chance he would either make it or break it, John gave it his all. Perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that he’d seen and heard other bands find a way to be original. Then again it might have been that batch of new songs he’d written, songs that seemed special and deserved a chance to be heard.

Wherever that little voice came from doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it encouraged John to continue and proved to be not only powerful, but right. The combination of songs, personality and talent that began as Zeitgeist in 1983 and continues as The Reivers in 1988 is a magical one.

Kim Longacre began taking voice lessons in 8th grade, continuing to study through college. “I loved opera for a long time and sang it while I was going to school. I was a music major originally, but I hated it. It was so boring! While I was in school I was being introduced to the club scene and I heard a lot of new music. The people were having so much more fun than I was. They were more spontaneous and creative by far. I began to get ideas and started to think I’d like to try it someday. About four years passed before I actually acted on the notion.

Eventually I met people with similar ambitions. My boyfriend had a really bad electric guitar. My friend from England, who was living here, wanted to be in a band. Another friend of mine wanted to join us. We got together and messed around. I borrowed John’s guitar amp for about a year. It never got serious, but it was fun. After that I worked in a really weird avant garde band for a while, but that eventually fell apart.”

John continues, “The band I had before this one was called The Make. We were a very mod band. I was real wrapped up in the mod-pop scene. We weren’t that good. It wasn’t really any one person’s fault. I just wasn’t writing great songs. I think the reason why The Reivers worked is because I didn’t have any vision as to what it had to be. I had the songs but no requirements for how it had to sound. We just got together to do it and if it worked, fine; if it didn’t, well fine, too. We did it just to see what would happen. No preconceived notions, no dogma. I asked Kim if she would like to get together and work on some songs. Garrett, the drummer, was with us from the beginning and Cindy joined a few months later.”

It’s not surprising that in talking with The Reivers the conversation never goes too far without some mention of the songwriting, the lyrics or the melodies. John has been writing music since he was fifteen. One thing he has always tried to do is to find a way to be different. “I like to write singsong types of words. I like to have the music working to enhance the lyrics, sort of like the sounds echoing the sentiment or the idea of the songs. In ‘What Am I Doing’ the guitars in the chorus seem to buzz around your head and it works well because the song is about feeling silly or confused, running around not being able to comprehend what is going on around you and then suddenly realizing everyone else is just as confused as you are.

You can paint a picture with words,” John continues. “What I really like to happen is for people to listen to the songs and someday understand then as clearly as I meant them to be understood. For example, there is there is this great song by Wire called “1, 2 X You.” I had listened to that song for many years and loved it. Finally, one day I realized the singer was talking about killing someone. It’s great when that happens! Things just click in your mind and suddenly become clear. So I really like to play with images and go for that less obvious approach.

“I do that in ‘Secretariat.’ In that song I am dealing with a very painful subject and I use images that can be understood in more than one way.

“We never stop to think/One fertile moment on the brink…/Your bare feet in the stirrups/Will be forever on my mind.’

“Now everyone knows Secretariat is the fastest horse and is now being used for breeding. Also I like the way it sounds. ‘Secretariat’ is a great word. Up till now I haven’t told anybody, but what the song is really about is someone having an abortion. The person who is singing it is looking back at his relationship with the woman in the song and feeling sad. They were really kicking ass there for a while and after the abortion things fell apart. When I went to high school this situation was one of the biggest problems we had to deal with; this along with everyone on the verge of becoming an alcoholic. Girls got pregnant and we all had a hard time dealing with it. The song itself is not pro- or anti-abortion. It’s really just talking about this one particular instance that a friend of mine went through. I wanted to express his feelings.

“The fact that a lot of rock lyrics have become very predictable is sad. My songs are, and always have been, a combination of all I take in. It’s not that they are meant to be heavy or profound. They’re just not locked into the typical boy-meets-girl formula. I have always been fascinated with words; probably something I inherited from my father. My dad really enjoys looking up words in the dictionary. He’s a public relations man. I don’t know where else my interest in lyrics came from. My mother worked in one of those factories where they wrap coins in machines, so I guess Dad gets the credit for that inspiration. He’s a real journalist.

“The song ‘Baby’ is a good example of how I use an everyday experience in a song. It’s about a trip I took to the ocean with some friends. The lyrics were inspired by a poem a friend of mine wrote called ‘A Baby Goes To The Ocean,’ though the song is not about the same thing as the poem. I played with the idea of baptism and how when you go away on an excursion with friends for a certain amount of time you go through the same experiences together. You may be miserable sometimes and happy at others. But when you return home from the trip, you are a different person because of the experience. My friend who wrote the poem was mystified by how we are fascinated by and drawn to the ocean. How we all seem to want to go back to the sea. From that thought I came up with my own idea.”

If all this sounds too serious, it shouldn’t. The Reivers are a band who put a lot of thought into their work but they do it for the love of the music and the pleasure of performing. On stage all four band members rely on the energy they exude and the uplifting feeling they create, without the need for gimmicks, fancy costumes or strange hairdos. Bassist Cindy explains, “I am so happy to be doing this, I don’t think I could explain it in words. When I’m on stage I can’t stand still so I really get into dancing and Kim and I seem to feed off each other. When I began playing bass it wasn’t so easy to play and move at the same time. Now it comes naturally.”

“Performing and writing is fun,” Kim adds “and at the same time it is a way to express and release all the energy that seems to build up inside. It’s a lot like the song ‘Wait For Time.’ The lyrics are about someone who is filled with sexual desire and can’t wait for time to take care of it. It’s about a wild, steamy, sensuous occasion.” When you’ve got the music in your blood you can’t let anything hold you back, and The Reivers don’t.

“What I like most about music,” John explains, “is you get the opportunity to write about anything you may be holding up inside. If I can write a song about something I will feel better about having defined it. ‘Ragamuffin Man’ is a song like that. It’s about people and places and times in your life that you regret not having taken the time to enjoy. You know, it’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone; that feeling that if only you would have taken the time, things might be different. Life is too short and we miss a lot because we hurry through it. Now that I’ve put it into words in a song, I feel a little better about the whole subject.”

One thing John doesn’t have to regret is his decision to give his music one more chance. The Reivers turned out to be one of those special things in life that he did take the time to explore, and now he can appreciate how well things turned out. The Reivers, for John and the rest of the band, are what Kim thankfully calls, “A dream come true.”