For over a decade, the iconic and metamorphic rock group RX Bandits have been blessing the music scene with their innovative and visionary sound. Fusing multiple styles such as reggae, rock, soul, jazz and ska has allowed RX Bandits to create a new form of music and inventive writing that is comparable to other infamous acts such as The Police and The Band in the sense of having an uncanny musical ability to create melodic melting pots. Ever since their second major release, Progress, RX Bandits have continuously pushed the envelope of modern rock music and turned the scene on its ear so as to hear them better. With such songs as “Sell You Beautiful”, “Overcome (The Recapitulation)” and “To Our Unborn Daughters”, RX Bandits have chosen their music to be a vessel of not just social commentary but of intimate rehabilitation. Songs like “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Only For The Night” and “In Her Drawer” write as if they were of eluded adorations and past loves that have been succumbed to dissolution but if one pays more attention to the personal struggle within the artistically-crafted songwriting, it is difficult to ignore that there is a much more personal conflict trying to be conveyed.
After Matt Embree, singer, and Steve Choi, guitar/keyboard/vocals, joined forces following the success of Progress, the musical and lyrical content have become much more personal. “Whether people thought it was experimental, progressive or thought it was crappy and digressive it has everything to do with me becoming part of the equation back then. I would like to think it was my creative aspect that brought change to the music,” says Steve Choi. “It definitely was not anything quantifiable like music theory or a special knowledge of any one instrument, you know what I mean? It was our ideas coming together that did that. The instruments, all that stuff, that’s just a vessel. It doesn’t have as much bearing on the final product because where we write from is all about concepts or ideas.” Whether he is approaching the process of writing and playing music metaphysically or literally, “…the guitar and keyboards are just what I play in this band,” Steve Choi has become an integral variable in the formula of RX Bandits’ musical style. “There’s a fundamental seperation between that era and this era. It’s fair if alot of our fans like the old era. It’s totally free for them to choose which is their favorite but one thing they can’t deny is that there is a fundamental disconnect. So there is no relation for something like Halfway to something like Resignation.”
Since their inception, RX Bandits have always enjoyed the presence of a horn section consisting of a saxophone and trombone with notable musicians such as Chris Sheets and Steve Borth who has since become the singer and leader of reggae group Satori alongside Chris Murray. So when confronted with the challenge of writing an entire album devoid of horns, Steve Choi and Matt Embree rose triumphantly. “I would say more than limited it (the freedom to write more experimental music), it definitely changed the style of writing. It was the horns’ absence that had more of an effect than their presence. I don’t think it gave us more freedom to experiment with our music. Not having that musical variety, if anything, limited our freedom. I think what it allowed us to do was think outside of the music we’ve made before which is important. It really gave us a chance when recording and writing Mandala to step away from everything we had done before.” With their latest release, Mandala, Choi and Embree successfully integrated their musical capabilities along with their fellow comrades Joseph Troy, bass and Chris Tsagakis, drums, to create an even more cleverly constructed musical tour de force while constantly challenging each other. “I gotta say, a big driving force creatively is Matt and I pushing each other,” says Choi. “We are always trying to have this friendly, healthy competition with each other. I gotta stay on my toes. I’m sure we both could say we owe a lot to each other as far as our progression musically goes.”
According to Choi, musically, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. “I firmly believe that,” Choi continues. “Getting to our age, I’m seeing everybody kind of dropping off, plateauing or just not really pushing themselves to next level and I’m really paranoid about having my skills regress so I am very adamant about constantly practicing my multiple instruments so that when I do have musical ideas I don’t have to spend time wasting my creative thoughts on my physical inadequacies. So I’m always practicing, making sure I get better. Not to say I’m better than any other person. Just to better convey my musical ideas more easily.” Every musician has dealt with the ordeal of mentally composing a song or melody while not necessarily possessing the skills to perform such a composition, but Choi manages the stress differently. “For me that’s not an option,” explains Choi. “For myself, personally, it’s an unacceptable road block for my creativity. To me, it’s one of the definitions of possessing a true artistic medium. It’s the perfect balance between a discipline and a skill and it’s relation to creative ideas and the level those ideas could achieve which is why music, painting, these sorts of things are considered fine arts. There are guys like Charlie Parker, Steve Vai, Charles Mingus… Those people who have devoted themselves to that instrument and it payed off because they’ve become ultimate legends and greats to their respective disciplines but I’ve chosen a different way. I’ve accepted that I’ll never really be great at any one instrument and I can live with that.” Although some might disagree, including myself. “Oh, well that’s very flattering but I know my scope in the world and I know that I’m pretty good and I get by in our songs but I, by no means, consider myself to be an amazing or great guitar player,” explains Choi.
For over ten years, RX Bandits have kept the music world constantly guessing as to what they’re next step will be creatively which has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the group, but all good things must come to an end. Or at least, a pause. On April 12, 2011, RX Bandits announced that their upcoming 36 date US summer tour would be their last. To say the least, there was a cry heard around the world and it started here in Texas. An entire generation of socially conscious fans and musical connoisseurs will be losing their spokespersons soon, but there may be a proverbial light at the end of this tunnel. “To clarify, we’re not breaking up. We’re just doing our last tour. What we’re gonna do in the future, we’re not quite sure. That’s a big question because it involves what we’re going to do collectively and what we’re going to do individually. Despite popular belief, we don’t live together, sleep together or eat together. Those days have passed. We all have our own lives to tend to. When we’re not full time touring or playing shows, we gotta handle business…” Choi continues, “ But it’s not really bittersweet. It is what it is. We have to see it through and do the best that we can. Make sure everything is good on our end, give a great performance and we’ll deal with everything else including the bevy of emotions that come along with it, as they come. We look forward to this tour just like any other tour. It’s gonna be fun.”
But where will fans go to mercilessly gorge on creatively saturated musical sustenance? We’re hungry. Screw that, we’re starving! And we are hoping that this is not the last we’ll see or hear of RX Bandits or of Steve Choi. The days of constantly being thrilled and provoked by dynamically commanding music is not over. RX Bandits, as a group and as individual musicians have much more to offer the world of music and we all will patiently wait to hear the next quantum leap. Constantly metamorphic, never sedentary.
For RX Bandits, this is not the end. It is just the beginning.