“The Arpaios of this country feel like they have a reason to treat people like s---,” Crocodiles’ Charlie Rowell said to me over a phone connection warbled by Saturday afternoon Las Vegas airport chatter. He was referencing the rise of figures like controversial former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, with whom the band had a public spat in 2010 after releasing a song called “Kill Joe Arpaio.”
Originally from San Diego, Rowell (guitar) and fellow core member, Brandon Welchez (vocals/guitar), moved abroad in 2011, which wasn’t necessarily a political act, but it has put them in a rather unique position as outside observers to the politics of their homeland.
Rowell -- when he’s not on tour or recording with Welchez in Mexico City -- resides in Lyon, France, with his girlfriend, and according to him, watching the fomentation of fear, xenophobia and divisiveness unfold in America is bizarre and surreal. He reads the news religiously so he always knows what’s going on here, but as a testament to American influence overseas, it’s the same in France.
“He’s [President Donald Trump] getting the same coverage over there as he is over here. All eyes are on this bumbling idiot,” he added.
But political turmoil tends to lend itself to more socially conscious and exciting art -- as long as there is an industry and a big enough population of proactive artists and consumers to support it. While San Diego always has its share of interesting and politically progressive artists, it lacks the “confluence of people” to really drive the point home, according to Rowell.
With the increasing interconnectedness of the world’s various populations, maybe physical location will continue to become less and less important, however. Welchez, after all, lives in Mexico City -- thousands of miles from Rowell in Lyon -- yet, Crocodiles still manage to continue releasing noisy, post-punk influenced albums, and we continue to claim the band as our own (especially considering the fact that Welchez is married to former San Diegan, Dee Dee Penny, frontwoman of the Dum Dum Girls).
Crocodiles recorded their newest record, “Dreamless,” in Mexico City with Swedish producer Martin Thulin, and “it’s the most different sounding album,” according to Rowell. “It’s still dark rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s the most electronic … We pulled the guitars back and put more electronics into it with Martin’s help.”
Nonetheless, they “always strive to put on a really energetic rock ‘n’ roll show,” he said. So, when you see them at the Hideout on Friday, Feb. 17, “it won’t be as stripped down as the album. It’s gonna be loud and wild.”
Loud and wild is exactly what San Diego needs right now, because with the border so close to us, we’re right in the thick of it. When literal and figurative walls are erected, it’s up to artists to break them down, and if Crocodiles’ writing process is any indication of the milieu in which contemporary music’s response to the political climate is being generated, then we are well on our way.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.