Just back from a hectic West Coast tour where they were trying to win over new fans and being accosted by Canadian authorities for not having work permits, you'd think that Crocodiles would just want to unwind. But if you know the duo of Brandon Welchez and Sir Charles (real name: Charles Rowell), or are at least familiar with their former bands, then you also know that's never been their style.
So, after a packed homecoming show at The Soda Bar, where they'll remain until last call, it's off to a friend's house in North Park to keep the party going until the morning. In the past, both Rowell and Welchez would have been content to sleep the whole next day, only to wake up in the evening and repeat the previous night's debauchery, but we're no longer talking about the two friends who formed the local punk band The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower. On this day, they're going to the library.
“Yeah, we're avid readers,” jokes Rowell in a coffeehouse the day after. Although they do read quite a bit, the most recent library visit was to poke around and find a new cover for their debut album. “It was hard to do,” Rowell continues. “Like, looking at the books all hungover and eyes completely pulsating.”
OK, so maybe the boys still like to have fun, but the fact that they dragged-ass to the library is representative of where they are now in their lives. It seems like they've always been in a local buzz band, whether it was Plot or the groups they formed after that band's breakup in 2006 (The Prayers and The Vultures), but they believe Crocodiles is the real thing. While proud of their past accomplishments, one gets the sense that Crocodiles is the product of a rather tough musical journey.
“I love so many kinds of things, and I want my output to be varied,” Welchez says. “It was very important to me when The Plot broke up to not do another band like that.” He later says on the subject of The Prayers, “Almost from the beginning of that band, it was going down hill. I'm glad it all happened, but it was a miserable two years.”
Contributing to the misery was last year's death of Plot bassist Willy Graves. Happening shortly after the formation of Crocodiles and Welchez's marriage to Grand Ole Party frontwoman Kristen Gundred, Graves' death shook the guys. He was with them when Plot was ostensibly banned from Baltimore clubs after a pissing incident, and when they received death threats from angry Germans when they took their red-armband-wearing show to Europe—and to see him gone got Welchez and Rowell thinking. Suddenly, things were serious.
“We kinda recognized that we were really going to have to do this,” Welchez says. “Just the two of us. And that was very daunting.”
They hit the studio to record their debut, the reflectively titled Summer of Hate. Their sound took a darker turn and had hints of The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Black Angels. It's still fair to categorize their shows as fun, and songs like “Neon Jesus” are danceable, but the tones and words are brooding and stoic. The song “I Wanna Kill” might start out with a riff straight outta The Crystals' '60s hit “Then He Kissed Me,” but the subject matter is anything but romantic.
The band knew they were onto something when Frenchkiss Records found them on MySpace and summoned them to New York to play a showcase. Both Crocodiles say they became friends with the folks at the label, but after what they say was a great show, the label suddenly changed its tune and Crocodiles left New York, tails tucked, with no contract, resigned to the fact that they'd be releasing the album on their own.
“This is so embarrassing, but I was with some friends before I met with the [label] guy, and I was, like, ‘Yeah, I gotta go get signed now,'” Rowell recalls, laughing in hindsight. “After all that's happened to us, it just sucked everything out of me.”
“Yeah, it just made us realize that the indie-rock world is as cutthroat and as ugly and as fake as the major ones,” Welchez agrees.
Enter Fat Possum Records. Historically specializing in blues and country, the label, based in Oxford, Miss., has branched out to indie rock in recent years. While Crocodiles say they were more cautious after their first label courtship, they ended up signing a two-record deal with Possum.
Now comes the hard part. With the album's release in April, the band is getting ready for more of everything—more hype, more tours and, inevitably, more partying. Rowell and Welchez's bands have always held the highest promise. Crocodiles might not kick up as much shit as Plot, or be as poppy as The Prayers, but there's no doubting that after all they've been through, the guys feel that as long as they're together, they'll be ready for whatever comes.
“It's the best thing I've ever been a part of,” Rowell says. “Some bands are together because they're musicians. We're together because we're friends.” Crocodiles play with Transfer, Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra and MC Flow on Saturday, Feb. 28, at The Ruby Room. Full disclosure: The show also doubles as a birthday party for Seth Combs, but mostly it's a benefit or local organizations battling Prop. 8. www.myspace.com/crocodilescrocodilescrocodiles.