If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go on assignment and interview an artist/band in person, it’s interesting to say the least; especially if it’s in a big city like Los Angeles at night, with all those dark and seedy neighborhoods hiding behind suburbia. You just never know what little corner of hell you’ll end up; and that’s not saying it’s bad; no quite the contrary – its fun! Just make sure you have your cell in case you need to dial 9-1-1.
Lead singer and band founder, Ricky Ohrn of Rebel Hotel, must have been laughing to himself though he did not make it apparent as an alerted journalist walked a little to close for comfort as he led the way down a dark alley through two big dark doors to a room where the rest of the band was waiting; lead guitarist Erique Borja and bassist Satoshi Ichiyanagi. Once inside the studio, the fear subsided and normal looking men smiled and offered a seat; normal, you know; beer cans in the trash, spiked hair, guitars on the floor, a ripped up comfy couch, the sound of drums beating continually from another studio, leather pants, metal and tattoos everywhere—like home.
“You know the bar we just walked by before the alley,” Ohrn says with a smile, “ugliest hookers in the world but very nice; not from experience they’re our neighbors to the studio.” Well, it’s a comfort to know; especially being a visitor. Ohrn, a visitor himself; originally from Sweden, decided to make his musical mark on the world but not from his homeland; he wanted to do it here and his humble beginnings sound a lot like many other stories told as well as a movie made about the subject; Spinal something, you know; that old chestnut. “By the way, we do have a drummer,” explains Ohrn with a straight face. “Carl Mirelli but he’s in school. He had class today; for drinking and driving; an ankle bracelet; you can’t be too close to him if you’re drinking because it will set off the alarm.” His straight face turns to a big smile as the rest of the band laughs in unison. “Yeah, it’s funny he can’t use some colognes because they have alcohol in them you know!”
Ohrn’s Swedish accent mixes perfectly with his look; he’s cool and collected though you’d never know it from the story behind Rebel Hotel. “I came right after the millennium shift, in 2000, January,” explains Ohrn, “I traveled through the country and came here to play rock n’ roll and pursue my musical dream.”
“I was playing in bands there [Sweden] but not happy. When I came here, I looked for musicians in and on every street corner and I put a couple of bands together before I ever did a show in the U.S. And this is the first band I’m singing lead, because every lead singer keeps fuckin’ breaking up my bands; I find them, I push them, I promote them, we’ll be writing songs together and they either quit, go to jail, rehab and one… he just vanished and I housed him and fed him for months. Four days before playing one of our biggest shows in Orange county; we had a big event going on at the Galaxy Theater, he bolts; I came home in the afternoon and he was gone.”
Ohrn sits back with a smile and laughs shaking his head. “He left me his practice amp and an email. He wrote an email to everyone saying he was moving to Texas. Texas?? You’re from Pennsylvania you bastard you went back to Pennsylvania! We already found out through his friends that he was on his way to Pennsylvania before he even got there. So I said, ‘Fuck this.’ Then I went to play bass in another band because I play guitar in every band but I got offered to play bass. I was going back and forth with myself, ‘I don’t know…’ but then I thought I’d rather be playing bass in a band than doing some kind of shitty hard labor work.”
Laughter ensues; who said being a musician was an easy way to make a living? Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll right? Maybe, if you can get the right mix of band members together and not fuck it up before you can fuck it all up. “So I signed up with the band and it was really good,” continues Ohrn with sarcastic enthusiasm. “We did one show and the singer goes to jail. And I was like, ‘Alright fuck this, I’m singing from now on!’ So I started writing my songs completely on my own; and I had never done that before but I wrote the first one, then the second one got a little bit easier and by the third one things started moving and I’ve been figuring it out as I go.”
“That’s how Rebel Hotel got started.” Ohrn wrote an EP of six songs he then recorded and those six songs are what started a name for the band. It was very important to Ohrn that he be part of a band and not a solo artist. “I didn’t want to start a solo career, ‘Hey man I’m Ricky I want to do this,’” he mimics. “I felt really insecure about singing plus I wanted to have a band; it’s a vibe; it’s what being in a band is all about. So I started hunting around through all the musicians I knew. I put a three-piece band together in OrangeCounty and we made some noise; we did really well. Then the bass player quit for some reason we really don’t even know but at the same time I was playing in a punk band out in Hollywood called, Hollywood Seven-Seven; boring shit to play but cool group of guys. The bass player in that band, he joined Rebel Hotel immediately when he heard I was looking so he came down. I then met Ricky [Borja] through a friend of mine. I’ve always been in two-guitar bands and I love the dual guitar attack; twin leads are cool just doing rhythms; two guitars gives it that full rock sound; Guns N Roses; they’re the reason we’re playing rock n’ roll.”
“So I was hunting for a guitar player,” continues Ohrn, “and my friend says he knows this guy up in Los Angeles who’s fuckin’ great so I hit him up and even though he liked the tunes I didn’t hear from him for a while. All of a sudden he sends an email; he was sitting at home and he learned all the songs and I came home from practice [we’re still a three piece] and I sat down with the drummer and grabbed a beer and said, ‘Check this out.’ And we’re sitting there with our jaws open; this guy is playing our songs and I was really fascinated with the way he played it. It fit; it wasn’t exactly what I was doing but it fit; it was perfect and that’s what I like about a two guitar attack. The first day he came down and played, we knew this was it and we became a four-piece right then and the band did even better in OrangeCounty.”
Rebel Hotel felt that as lovely as Orange county was, the scene there was mostly punk/ska/skate and believe it or not, very quiet; something Ohrn admits he doesn’t like, so they packed it up and came to Los Angeles but here, ‘Pay to play’ is alive and well and has always been looked upon as low class; a way for venue owners to charge an up-front fee to performing artists for the use of their facilities and the practice began right here in Los Angeles, California, during the 1980s. “We don’t do any pay for play,” states Ohrn. “A lot of clubs do it but we won’t take part. If they tell us we have to pay to play we tell them to fuck right off and we’ll go to the club next door and play for free; people come to see us anyway. The venue doesn’t really matter. It’s the band and we’re building a following. We’re playing as many places as we can right now; it’s going to slow down at some point if we start packing houses; then we’ll play certain venues to accommodate the band and the crowd.”
“One of the things I hate that you mentioned is paying to play,” states Borja. “We don’t do that I hate that. We’re already bringing business in; our fans become their customer to consume alcohol, if that’s what they’re into; our fans come to see us and the venue give us 30 minutes including set up and break down, on top of that we bring in twenty or thirty people of our own, plus they buy drinks and then we have to pay for them to listen to us? No. I don’t go for that. There are a lot of bands who want to make it big and they’re pouring all their money into playing to get noticed and it’s wrong. Now a day, the way social media works; it’s so different it’s not like back in the 80’s where there was no smart phone, no internet none of that shit. People used to go out for entertainment now people just stay home and not come out and support and yeah, they hear you on a stream, a band site or twitter you know what ever, and if they like the page, they follow you but once you send out an invitation to come out and support, it’s very hard to get them out of the house.”
It’s so sad but true; social media has spoiled us—instant gratification at your finger tips but with the high energy show Rebel Hotel puts on combined with the music they play and stand for, these boys are bringing a high-energy upbeat show with attitude, that you wont forget and you’ll definitely come out to play the Rebel Hotel way.