Night Beats singer/guitarist Danny Rajan got fired from Second Time Around Records on the day of our interview. On top of that, it's 106 fucking degrees outside. But if he's angry or stressed about these circumstances, he's not showing it. No matter what happens to him, Rajan will always have music, which is his life and religion—and this is a good thing for Seattle's underground-rock scene.
Rajan and his drummer bandmate James Traeger moved to Seattle from Dallas and Austin, respectively—the former last year, the latter in early July. They've been buddies and playing together on and off since high school. Rajan's earlier band White Light Fever were courted by Columbia Records, and he jammed with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Peter Hayes when he was 16; Traeger drummed in B.B. Mercy, but left them over proverbial creative differences. When Rajan—who's studying comparative religion at the University of Washington (he was raised Catholic and Hindu)—called Traeger to move to Seattle to keep time for Night Beats, he had nothing holding him in Texas and did so posthaste.
The duo share one of those telepathic/soul-mate bonds that rarely materializes in groups. Both are in their early 20s, but their influences reflect a preference for artists of their parents' era: Otis Redding, the Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Magic Sam, the Doors, and 13th Floor Elevators. That being said, Rajan and Traeger do admit to being fans of contemporary revivalists such as the White Stripes, the Black Angels, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the Black Keys (sadly, White Rainbow and Black Dice didn't make the cut).
Rajan left Dallas because, he says, the city "was a wasteland of music." He chose Seattle because "I wanted to find a city where there's a music scene that I knew about. It seems like everybody goes to Austin, but I wanted to go to Seattle. In Austin, there are a lot of people riding the coattails of things going on there. Up here, you can make something new. It's ripe to be taken over."
Being very young and headstrong, Rajan has a tendency to speak in sweeping generalizations and brash absolutes, and he's sometimes right. However, some of his observations won't sit well with chamber-of-commerce types in our local music scene.
"Coming up to Seattle was really eye-opening, because there's a ton of music, but there's a lot of stuff that's full of shit," Rajan declares. "It's fluff—no soul, no psychedelia. We kind of want to explode it. It's missing a lot. The cool thing about it is, people have the time to make bad bands. [Laughs] They have the room to make shitty music and spend all their time playing dress-up as opposed to writing songs. There are plenty of fake bands doing their simple indie-pop bullshit."
Night Beats are not playing dress-up; they are writing songs. Since Traeger moved here a few weeks ago, they've conceived a whole new live set. They already had a solid foundation, as evidenced by the six-track Street EP, which Rajan recorded solo on GarageBand in his apartment. "Stampede" hints at the Velvets' "Run Run Run," but is more primal. "Little War in the Midwest" flaunts wailing, corrosive guitar riffing reminiscent of Jimmy Page's Yardbirds work. The stark, mantric "H-Bomb" crosses Can's "Mother Sky" with the Human Beinz's "Nobody but Me," but slows them down to a menacing lope. Rajan's voice often assumes a rawer Robert Plant–like plaint, with a tendency to shift into melismatic anguish. You can imagine his eyes rolling in the back of his head like ricocheting pinballs as he sings.
Night Beats' music romps over oft-trod sonic paths, but it cuts to the grittiest of the nitties. The music is stripped down so far, it's digging into the marrow of its inspirations. But rather than coming off as rote copyists, Night Beats reinvigorate the psychedelia, blues, and garage rock they adore and make them animatedly writhe anew.
"It's all about innovation," Rajan states. "If you end up sounding like somebody that you love, that's just part of it. 13th Floor Elevators, that's straight-up innovation. They used blues licks that were already around or played the same rhythms that plenty of other bands were doing, but there was innovation. If you feel like you're pushing your limits, you're opening new doors in your own mind, that's innovation."
After the interview, as we departed our table at Caffe Vita, Rajan mentioned that he needed to get another job. A second later he found a dime on the floor. He picked it up.