Steve Choi gives interviews like he’s a politician. The RX Bandits’ guitarist/keyboardist doesn’t speak like a hypocritical scumbag of a politician, but rather a doggedly idealistic one—a guy with unwavering views and PR-friendly answers to any questions that come his way. Choi is so determined to convey a handful of certain ideas that, during a recent interview, it seemed like he was actively conducting a two-part campaign based around the image of his Long Beach, Calif.-based band.
The first part of his platform insists that RX Bandits have never made a conscious decision in altering their style. Instead, he insists, everything’s been a product of gradual evolution. “We always keep the mentality that it could go in any direction,” Choi says. “We didn’t have any views on the trajectory or where it was headed or how fast it would be heading there. It was kind of like, ‘Let it happen and keep doing it as long as it feels good and right.’ ”
Later, he makes another statement that runs along the same lines: “I feel like we were where we were supposed to be at each stage in our progression.” Try to ask him a question about how the band might hypothetically sound in the future, and he won’t rattle off anything from his imagination, instead vigilantly sticking to his POV that everything is up in the air until the whole group converges in the same room.
Bands talking about the importance of naturally evolving is old hat—everyone does it. But what makes RX Bandits’ growth an especially noteworthy case is that they sound incredibly different from when they started some 15 years ago, to the point that if you weren’t told that the same act made both 1997’s Those Damn Bandits and 2009’s Mandala, you probably wouldn’t catch the connection.
Originally known as The Pharmaceutical Bandits, the group’s forte was peppy ska-punk—stuff that was never outright bad, but never particularly notable, either. Then, as their discography expanded, their sound began to morph, eventually playing up an intellectual jam/prog rock vibe, tossing limited hints of reggae in there. Songs began to feature guitar solos and tangled structures instead of ska rhythms. Vocalist Matt Embree, too, started off with a pretty bare-bones voice and sounded like Sublime’s Bradley Nowell for a while, until he began developing this twisty-turny style of chanting as the years went on. After toning down their use of brass over time, the last remnants of ska in their sound were eventually wholly discarded as the group became a slim four-piece.
Now, to get to Choi’s second point: Even as RX Bandits plan to disband after fatigue from years of solid touring, their coming hiatus won’t actually mark the end for the group. In his newfound free time, Choi will take care of some composing and production-based projects rather than moving to another touring band. “We’ve talked about this among this band, and we share this sentiment where we can’t think of a better group of musicians to play with,” Choi says. “When you take who we know and compound all these experiences you had together, investing your time in the band and everything we shared together, there are more reasons [to stay with the band you have] and less replaceable experiences.”
In fact, Choi is so committed to this band that he refuses to consider the idea of closing the book on RX Bandits for good, still sounding like that optimistic politician.
“We have to keep going. Our fans are so good to us. We’ve been able to make a career for ourselves with the band doing completely and only what we want to do. I feel so lucky for that,” he says. “It would be a shame if all that ended.”
w/ Maps & Atlases, Zechs Marquise
536 W. 100 South
Monday, July 25, 6:30 p.m
$18 advance, $20 day of show