Unlike most of rock’s commercial explosions, the 1994 success of Green Day didn’t set off a slamjump of bandwagon dancers. What did happen was that all the bands that had labored in punk-pop obscurity far longer than the East Bay bombers got a free recharge and the opportunity to throw their hats in a newly green-lined ring. Among the many reliable outfits receiving a well-deserved break in the major label goldrush was 7Seconds, the fifteen-year obsession of singer/guitarist Kevin Seconds (Marvelli), his bass-playing brother Steve Youth and (for nearly as long) drummer Troy Mowat. Formed in 1980 as a hardcor(e)dinary quartet in Reno, Nevada, 7Seconds relocated to Sacramento, California, by decade’s end — by which point the group (occasionally with second guitarist Bobby Adams expanding the unstable lineup) had developed its catchy melodicism and rhythmic diversity to match the charging rock energy and high-minded straight-edge philosophy. (Jackshit was Steve Youth’s Reno side band.)
The three early 7-inches (the nine-song Skin, Brains and Guts, the seven-song Committed for Life and half of the four-song Blasts From the Past) compiled on alt.music.hardcore are big on the righteousness (“Racism Sucks,” “Anti-Klan,” “Drug Control”) but equally generic in their adolescent hardcore rush. Old School (a compilation of singles and other tracks recorded in the early to mid-’80s, including two other Blasts From the Past plus a running-speed “These Boots Are Made for Walking”) is likewise blunt and direct. The part-studio/part-live (there’s a fun concert cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” and a bunch of the EP songs) Walk Together, Rock Together, however, demonstrates an early interest in slowing things down and tuning them up along positive Clash/Pistols lines. Recorded at two Sacramento shows two years later, the badly mixed and thin-sounding Live! One Plus One contains another rendition of “99 Red Balloons” as well as such moralist boulders as “You Live and Die for Freedom” and “Regress, No Way!” Demonstrating new rhythmic variety, “The Save Ourselves” cuts a funk figure, while “Walk Together, Rock Together” gets an unexpected reggae accent. Ourselves, recorded as a quartet, and the three-man Soulforce Revolution are both state of the art: intelligent lyrics of personal and political consequence, moderately powerful singing, buzzing guitars and brisk tempos.
Kevin Seconds then took a time-out in Drop Acid, a lumbering rock trio with a different rhythm section; the unappealing Making God Smile presents a tougher rock beast, mixing in distant peals of Seattle thunder, stutter-beat drumming, dirgey metal and arena guitar bigness, none of which suit his voice or his songwriting. “Bluesy” and the bonus track “Knew,” which could be 7Seconds numbers and are the best things here, mainly sound out of place. It took the coherent second dose, with three other sidemen, to finally reveal the limber modern rock he had in mind. The four-songs-and-some-phone-messages 46th & Teeth doesn’t play coy with its ambitions (beyond the musclebound bottom and angry lyrics, “Tiny Paws” even has the disconnected sound of a cheering crowd); truly, Kevin Seconds has as much right to be Stone Chain Danzig as anyone.
Kevin’s other side project, a trio named 5’10”, veers in the opposite direction. Although the rhythm guitar playing on the bass-free Rodney, Reggie, Emily. is loud and fuzzy, the rudimentary strumming, simple drumming (by Brent Spain, of Drop Acid at the time of Making God Smile) and friendly singing make the record either a peppy set of song demos or a strange cousin to the small-pop minimalism of bands like Beat Happening. The melodic material is intimate and conversational, giving oblique, engaging twists to such prosaic concerns as friends, family, grade school and orgasms. (For live appearances, 5’10” became a trio with the addition of ex-Tiger Trap bassist Jen Braun.)
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, 7Seconds ended a four-year gap in 1993 and returned to album action with the great Out the Shizzy, an engaging, accessible and original melodic punk-pop diversion. Although Mowat plays the vari-speed numbers like he’s being paid by the stick hit, the twin-guitar attack paves it all into a smoothly buzzing ride. Occasionally dispirited or pained lyrics don’t diminish the affability or pacifism of Kevin’s singing; in “Weak Link,” he rejects the scene’s baser attitudes: “The music, its purpose/Not here to make ya hateful.” A great leap forward.
With that, the band moved on to its post-alternative phase. Signed to a major label for the first time, 7Seconds retreated to a more determinedly punk sound and did its heritage proud on The Music, The Message. In a tight, tuneful rush, the group looks inward and outward in a mixed celebration of what it is (grown-up), how it got there and how Kevin feels about that-all at a 90 mph backbeat. His economical songs acknowledge the band’s history (“I Can Remember”) and enemies (“Get a Different Life,” “Such & Such,” “First Ya Told Us”), as well as his own maturity (“See You Tomorrow,” “Punk Rock Teeth”) and lifetime feelings about rock’n’roll (“The Music, The Message,” “See You Tomorrow”). Maybe this is not how 7Seconds wants to be perceived, but safeguarding a timeless sound makes this stimulating, likable album positively wholesome.