Often in rock 'n' roll, the best bands have a weak link, a member that comes up short, or a particular dynamic that feels a little flat among the others that sparkle. And we're not just talking local kids-in-the-garage bands, either. There are major acts with major deficits in their ranks. Hell, The Ramones made a career out of it. But this isn't about that; this article is about bands that don't have a weak link, bands that have nothing but ringers in their ranks, bands like Rochester's Red Inc. Red Inc. --- drummer DJ Ciccaglione, singer Jack Scardino, guitarist Matthew Rapoza, bassist Michael Mayer --- is a hard-rock outfit with progressive leanings. The band's borderline prog-rock tendencies fly in the face of its pop aesthetic. Traveling below the radar and between genre signifiers frees the band up to let its freak flag fly.
"I think it allows us to really challenge ourselves and not be afraid to write complex or bizarre or outlandish music," says Ciccaglione. "We write more progressive, with complex arrangements --- not the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus."
Red Inc. got rolling a little more than two years ago while its members strode the halls of School of the Arts. And just like the music they pursued, their youth proved a challenge to discriminating eyes and ears. Some just saw them as kids.
"I think when people see us at first they have a tendency to write us off," says Ciccaglione. "'Oh, they're young; they can't be that professional; they haven't been at it that long. What are they going to be able to do?' So we have to prove ourselves."
Scardino doesn't view this as a big problem. "We just do our thing," he says. "But we have more room to impress people if the bar is lower, I guess."
One of the many people impressed by Red Inc. was producer and former club owner Bernie Matthews. Matthews first caught wind of the band when it played his club, the now-defunct Tala Vera in downtown Rochester. That says a lot about Red Inc., as tons of great Rochester bands rocked the Tala Vera stage in the brief time it was open. To Matthews, Red Inc. stood out and above. He liked what the band wasn't.
"He liked that we weren't writing just pop music, Ciccaglione says. "It was different and outside the boundaries of the three-chord radio thing you hear today."
Matthews approached the band about recording an album, and Scardino says, "we thought that was an excellent idea." The band's hard work with Mathews yielded its first and eponymous CD released at the end of September 2013. On the disc Matthews accurately captures the band's fire. He understood its desire over and above the vague clichés like "alternative" and "progressive" and "modern" --- words that are overused to the point of obsolescence. Scardino agrees.
"That's totally true," he says. "But the point is we don't feel like we have to make it fit in a box. So when we start writing a song, it's going to take its own form, follow its own path, no matter what you call it. I don't think we've intentionally messed something up. Sometimes a formula can lead up to a nice product. We don't want to go out and make it different just for the sake of doing so. We just don't want to be limited by a formula. It's just got to be good."
"The No. 1 goal is writing the song for the sake of the song," Ciccaglione says. "Not to be showy or to be complicated." Red Inc. works hard but doesn't overthink. This translates well in a live setting, where the quartet doesn't showboat or resort to histrionics. Red Inc. just knuckles down and rocks.
"We rehearse a lot," Scardino says. "So it becomes second nature and we can have the most fun playing it. The other thing is to remember, it's just rock 'n' roll; the music is going to say what it says and you're going to interpret it in the way you do, and the song is always going to be there. But at the same time if we write a dark song, it doesn't have to be a dark show."
According to Scardino, Red Inc., though a complex musical entity, doesn't try to confound, confuse, or lose its audience. It just wants to take them on the ride. "A concert is the audience being in concert with the band," he says.