Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

March 12, 2019 News » Cover Story

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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Page 7 of 9

  • Enrique Limón

International Society of Rock 'n' Roll puts the vroom back in America's favorite vintage art form.


"Rock 'n' roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it.
That's what happens to me. I can't help it." —Elvis Presley

More words have been written about rock 'n' roll than nearly any other musical genre. But any true rock head will tell you that words don't quite work to transmit the feeling of the music. Instead, it's about the unbridled feeling of rock 'n' roll. Its spontaneous ecstasy and celebration of self-expression was once considered an acute moral threat; the term "the devil's music" carried intense meaning for authority figures anxious about sexuality and sensuality spread to American youth through two-minute songs played on guitar, bass and drums.

Today, rock 'n' roll might seem downright tame, especially compared with death metal, gangster rap and other controversial art forms. The endearing spirit of danger and edginess lives on, however—and it's received a local boost thanks to the Salt Lake City-based International Society of Rock 'n' Roll.

Founded last year by Bountiful natives Corey Cresswell (pictured) and Ryan Menge, ISRNR mission is simple: to connect with rock fans in and around Salt Lake City through live concerts, DJ nights, record release parties and other events that empower the collective over the individual. "ISRNR started as an idea between Ryan and I," Cresswell says. "We're the core, but I don't want it to be about us. It's a 'we' thing—it's a society. Salt Lake has tons of potential, and knowing that we're growing so fast, we wanted to do something that shows people rock 'n' roll is alive and well and moving forward."

click to enlarge Members of the International Society of Rock 'n' Roll during a recent Beer Bar meetup. - ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón
  • Members of the International Society of Rock 'n' Roll during a recent Beer Bar meetup.

As most journeys go, Cresswell's arrival at that realization was roundabout to say the least. Growing up in Bountiful, he played in thrash-metal bands like Killbot but never felt connected to the area's straight-edge hardcore scene. He, Menge and their friends would play up in Ogden and in Salt Lake City, frequenting old haunts like The Outer on Redwood Road and Ted Shupe's music nights at The Comedy Circuit in Midvale. Next came Burt's Tiki Lounge and Club Vegas. "We were just trying to figure out what kind of scenes we fit into," Cresswell says.

Once they turned 18, however, the two childhood friends went their different ways. Menge moved to Southern California and started managing The Strangers, a band made up of old Orange County punk cats. Cresswell went to what he calls "woodshop college" to learn how to become a luthier. That skill in his back pocket, Menge told Cresswell to come to Los Angeles and be a guitar tech for The Strangers. Next, Cresswell went out on the road with Sacramento alt-rock band Middle Class Rut. He spent the next 10 years traveling, bouncing around Los Angeles, and, by 2015, supporting Menge as he started Rebel Union Entertainment, an LA-based artist management company that today works with Brian Bell (of Weezer), The Relationship, Night Beats, Stonefield and The Warbly Jets.

When asked whether he pined for Utah during that decade out west, Cresswell says, "Not at all. I was never coming back. I wasn't planning on leaving Los Angeles anytime soon. The lifestyle, the fun and the excitement kept me there—but I couldn't make any money, and I eventually tried not to stay on the road all the time." A random connection with an old friend led Cresswell back, though; last year, he took a job as an electrician and crew member at Ballet West, where he's worked since.

But how had the rock 'n' roll scene changed in the interim? "It was a big concern coming back," Cresswell says. "It's always been pretty mellow here, and my impression upon returning was that the scene was still mellow and pretty small." Traveling and touring helped him connect with rock 'n' roll diehards around the world, though, and Cresswell saw the potential for bands and adherents here in Salt Lake City to break out of their geographically isolated bubble.

The deep connection to Rebel Union Entertainment helped, too. Cresswell has organized shows at The State Room and Kilby Court for bands like Stonefield and The Warbly Jets, emphasizing the opportunity for locals to support those bands and network to make future tours possible. "Working together and making connections is what it's all about," Cresswell says.

Other events are steadily filling up ISRNR's calendar: Sunday Night Sinners Club events at Quarters Arcade Bar featuring DJ Nix Beat and DJ Ledingham. Monday night sets at Beer Bar. In January, ISRNR held a record release listening party for Night Beats' new album Myth of a Man; in February, the society organized a full '50s/'60s experience at Garage on Beck with Twist & Shout A-Go!-Go! featuring The Boys Ranch, The Poppees, DJ Rondevoodoo and live go-go dancers.

"I was always attracted to that vibe," Cresswell says. "Elvis was big for me when I was a kid; then The Ramones hit me and I didn't even really know why. That music isn't seen as very edgy anymore, but as a kid it was. It's aggressive, it's true and it's no bullshit." During Cresswell's years on the road, he fell in love with rock 'n' roll history in all its gritty, purely American facets. Touring the South, he found himself paying quiet tribute to juke joints and recording studios that reflected the hardships of the musicians who birthed the blues. The 2017 documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World opened Cresswell's eyes to further forgotten corners of rock 'n' roll history. "People getting the short end of the stick—that was the beginning of rock 'n' roll," he says. "Not us white privileged people who took it over. All these things have made me realize why I love the music. That hit me hard."

Luckily, Cresswell fell in with a like-minded crowd: Denny Fuller of The Boys Ranch, Charles Thorpe of Anchor Stage Management, Mike "DJ Fish" Fish, Michael Wood, Jared Soper of Randy's Records, Lord Vox, Isaiah of Doubt Walk, Joey Mays of The Nods, Wyatt and Cole Maxwell, Shane Kiel. During those Sunday and Monday night DJ sets, Cresswell encourages vinyl nerds to bring their own records and drop a needle in the groove, cultivating a sense of community that hasn't always existed here. "Everyone's responded so well toward the excitement and the idea of the society," Cresswell says. "Maybe it's something that people were looking for; maybe everybody was too separated before. Now, putting on these events under one banner, we can grow."

Future plans for ISRNR include a record label, more shows this summer and possibly even a more long-term partnership with Blackfeather Whiskey, which sponsored the Night Beats listening party in January. Cresswell says he hopes to team up with all-female motorcycle group The Litas, who host a Blacktop Ramble each June in Torrey, Utah. And he hopes to get Salt Lake City rock bands on the road and connecting with other scenes in Boise, Denver and surrounding cities. "We want ISRNR to be a trusted name for any event we throw," he says. "No matter where we go, we want people to know we're going to put on fun shows with quality bands."

About that gig at Ballet West, which might seem incongruous with Cresswell's longstanding rock 'n' roll lifestyle? He laughs and says it's actually a perfect fit. "I work on the crew side, and a lot of them describe themselves as pirates. It's a nitty-gritty world. But even some of the ballerinas are into rock 'n' roll. And to me, it's not just about the music. It's about the subculture and the attitude. If we can make more people in Salt Lake City realize that, I think we can build a community together."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.


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