As TK-421, a name copped from a minor Star Wars character, they played around Gisborne to muted response and released an EP, Crappy, before departing for Auckland.
These were the first steps down a long road that took them through the last great flowering of New Zealand punk in the mid- to late-1990s and well into the new century, as they morphed into The Scholnicks, then, minus Zorton, chopped down to The Rocket Jocks in the early stretch of the 2000s.
In their wake, The Scholnicks left a promising but little seen CD, The Scholnicks 1.0, recorded with their home-town friend, Jamie Carter, at the old 2ZG radio station studio in Gisborne in August 2000. It was released on his Carterco label.
The Rocket Jocks would go one better and unleash two high-proof shots of Ramones-loving punk that remain among the best realised albums of the New Zealand punk movement’s later and more populous period.
Next Stop: Moon (2008) was a short sweet punk rock injection guaranteed to kick start any day and 2010’s Return To Planet X!, an equally potent mix of buzzing, harmony-laden, pop culture-referencing punk.
“The Rocket Jocks are provincial with a capital P,” I wrote on the Mysterex blog at the time of the second release. “They live in one of our most isolated ‘cities’. They’re nerdy-pop-cultural-obsessive in a self conscious but smart way. Modest to a fault. Writing the sort of punk rock tunes that make punk’s toes tingle. The amphetamine Beach Boys of ‘Internet’, classic Ramones of ‘Man vs Robot’, and ‘King Of Hearts’, [...] shows The Rocket Jocks understand that The Ramones loved doo wop and rock n roll and appeared on the Sha Na Na show ...
“The best of the eight song CD comes last in ‘Lt Uhura’ – ‘Beam me up into your arms tonight’ – clever heart pumping punk rock that made you smile.”
“If you listen closely,” The Rocket Jocks’ bass player and co-vocalist Res Rapid told AudioCulture in February 2017, “Lucas [now calling himself Fidget] throws in a little bit of spoken Klingon on ‘Lt. Uhura’. We had a cassette, How To Speak Conversational Klingon, that we used to listen to in the car when we were driving to other towns to play. You know, like a ‘self-improvement’ thing. It’s a pretty hard language to learn, even just getting the phonetic sounds right! A lot of spitting and choking, I had to wipe the dashboard down a couple times.”
The Rocket Jocks remained active until Lucas’s departure in mid-2011, and would reform intermittently thereafter.
“Myself, Lucas Mucus, and Justin aka Zorton all attended Lytton High School in Gisborne,” said Res, talking it right back to the beginning. “Lucas was a lot younger than myself and Justin, so we didn’t actually know him at school. I’m not sure he was there when we were there.
“Justin was younger than me, but I knew him well; I was good mates with his older brother, Damean. I used to go around to Damean’s place and we’d hang out. We’d play D and D and shit like that. My other friends and I would borrow his parents’ records; they had very good music taste, so we would borrow their punk rock records. This was all new to me – my parents were very strict/straight.
“At school, Justin and I had been into The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, etc, but we were also huge fans of The Ramones. I’m Māori and had grown up listening to a lot of old rock and roll songs. They would always play those old songs on the marae on guitar when we were there, and my uncles and aunties and koros and nannies knew all those golden oldies.
“Lucas is Māori as well, I’m confident he had the same experience, and, at their crux, I feel The Ramones were a rock and roll band. But they added the rebellious power of distorted guitars and speed. When I got older, in my teens, I found that sound really resonated with me.”
After a short spell in Auckland with his relocated family, Justin returned to Gisborne and flatted with Res, where he met Lucas by chance, when the 13-year-old was walking down the street with a mutual friend, Nick Candy. They all ended up at a show that night, where Res was playing bass in a Cure-ish band called Apathy Incorporated with Neil Coomber on guitar and Andrew Hepburn on drums.
Res Rapid: “Fast forward a few weeks and Justin, who has been writing songs for a little while now and is pretty driven, is keen to form a band. Justin plays bass, and he can drum a bit too. He recalls that Lucas mentioned he had a guitar, so he contacts him and asks if would like to play guitar. Lucas tells him that, although he owns an electric guitar, there are two small issues: one, he has no guitar amp to go with it, and two, he doesn’t know how to play it. Justin doesn’t see either of those things as being actual problems, so they go ahead and form a band anyway.
“They needed a drummer, though, so Justin asked me if I can fill in for a bit until they could find a proper drummer. So I said yes, and, no, I couldn’t play drums either.”
With punk rock picking up steam again in the early 1990s ahead of a massive plunge into the mainstream later in the decade, Justin latched on to Screeching Weasel, who were influenced by The Ramones.
Res Rapid: “Their album My Brain Hurts blew me away, and myself, Lucas and Justin started exploring the other bands on their label, Lookout! The rock and roll sound, nerdy lyrical content and harmonising vocals appealed to us. The Lookout! bands (Screeching Weasel, The Queers, The Mr T Experience, Groovie Ghoulies, Smugglers) were our main musical influence. Lucas liked The Dead Milkmen and I think that Weezer album had dropped around this time. Justin and I were also into Flying Nun.
“We would buy our records and tapes from Guy And Dunsmore, Captain Beyond’s, and Pure Sounds, all retail cassette/CD/record outlets in Gisborne. Leesa Tilley (who went on to work with Ray Columbus, promote shows and manage bands) ran a second-hand record shop called The Beatbox and we spent a bit of time and money there, buying and trawling through records.
“Justin would also order punk rock records via postal mail order from the USA. This was well before the internet and Amazon, and online shopping and what-have-you. He had a shitload of music that he had brought down with him from Crawlspace Records in Auckland, so Lucas and I plundered those as well.”
TK-421 was a band apart in mid-1990s Gisborne. Res Rapid. “I can’t think of any other punk bands playing that Ramonesy/rock and roll sound at the time. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of very good bands playing at one stage; the proliferation of the Sub-Pop bands [grunge] and then the bands on Epitaph Records in the USA meant that punk rock had arrived in the mainstream in Gisborne, bolstered, I am sure, by Gisborne’s strong surf culture. But, at the same time, none of those bands represented a sound that we really identified with. We loved punk rock, but we loved the punk rock that took its cues or roots from The Ramones.”
In 1995, the punk rock trio hooked up with local sound engineer Russell Braithwaite to record their first release. The Crappy EP was recorded live in Justin’s flat and released independently on both cassette and CD with hand-made covers and lyric sleeves and artwork drawn by Justin.
Res Rapid: “Russell played keyboards in Marching Orders in the 1980s and was a nice guy who tried to support Gisborne groups. He would hire out his PA to local bands for shows at a cheap rate.” Braithwaite had also been involved with F-Star Records, the Gisborne indie label, that flared in the city in the mid/ late 1980s, but by the time Res and Justin were catching groups live in the early 1990s, the memory of that early outbreak had faded.
TK 421 dropped a copy of the new EP at Auckland’s Crawlspace Records, who popped out a single featuring two of the songs, ‘UFO’ b/w ‘Godzilla vs Toyko’. The trio themselves moved north to the nation’s largest city later that year for work and study after earlier forays up in Lucas’s dad’s car for shows at Auckland’s The Substation, @Luna and Shadows.
Lucas headed home to Gisborne in 1998 and Res and Justin formed The Atoms with a new guitarist, although they soon split when Lucas returned again to Auckland. Co-opting the surname of Revenge of The Nerds main character Louis, the trio reconvened as The Scholnicks, and played in Auckland, Gisborne and Hamilton.
Res Rapid. “As far as I recall we were the only Gisborne band, kind of active in Auckland, but we had punk musician mates from Gizzy up there with us floating around the community. Over time you met people and musicians at gigs and talked and organised shows with people.
“We started playing at The Temple on upper Queen Street and met bands like Missing Teeth, The Get-Fucked-Ups, Suburban Vermin, Muffaloose, The Rudies, The Risto Rockers and The Coolies.
“In the early 2000s [in Auckland] guys like Sommerset and Kitsch were getting a lot of attention. They had an aggressive, slick, skate-punk kind of sound, and they worked and toured hard. I dunno if they were wholly indicative of the Auckland scene though. We were going to shows featuring West Auckland bands like Missing Teeth, who were gaining momentum and popularity. Their sound was a lot grittier and their shows were fucking crazy! Good fun! Many punk bands had that ska influence incorporated into their sound as well. But everyone was kinda flying under the radar.
“We played Double J’s on Ponsonby Road and Lost Angel Cafe. ‘First time I’ve ever seen needle bins in a toilet, Res,’ Lucas told me. At that time Karangahape Road and Grey Lynn were very interesting to us, not as gentrified as they are now. Loads of interesting people at early hours in the morning.
“We started hosting shows at our flat. It became a yearly event, and Justin coined it Caryard Chaos – our house sat on an old abandoned car yard, so we had loads of space outside. Justy was always keen to get music happening and to get bands playing, so using our lounge and backyard as a venue helped facilitate that. We’d go and see shows at a punk house called The Necropolis, and they had shows at Misfit Theatre as well.”
When someone compiles New Zealand punk from the late 1990s and early 2000s, I hope they find a place for The Scholnicks and their swag of sharp, funny songs. On a recording holiday in Gisborne in August 2000, the group recorded The Scholnicks 1.0, their first album, 10 tight melodic punk tracks full of the humour of The Ramones, The Buzzcocks and Angry Samoans. The gems within included ‘Comic Books’, about a bedroom dwelling punk geek, ‘3.15’ (waiting for school to end) and ‘Germans’.
‘Comic Books’ is an effortless piece of power pop/punk with harmonic backing vocals that sounds like The Ramones with Martin Phillipps playing keyboards, and was plucked for Crawlspace Records’ new punk compilation, Short Haired Rock n Roll, in 2001.
The Scholnicks broke up in 2002 when Lucas headed south again to Gisborne, where he spent time in the Villian People, before cutting out for Wellington and Romeo Must Diet!. Res and Justin (now J. Furious) hooked up with Andrew Hepburn from Res’s first Gisborne group, Apathy Inc, as The Spoilers. With home calling and his enthusiasm ebbing, Res Rapid returned to Gisborne in 2003.
Res: “Justin was still very motivated to keep playing live music. When The Spoilers fell over, he formed another band called Bobby D And The Dynamite Kids (along with Mikey America from The Get-Fucked-Ups). His songwriting at this stage had started to get noticeably more rockabilly sounding.
“After Bobby D broke up, he formed Graveyard Rumble, and they went full on rockabilly/psychobilly. Next he formed Suicide Dogs with our flatmate Luke Yeoward, of Hamilton punk band Cynix. They had more of a straight-up street punk sound. When they broke up, he formed hardcore outfit Shitripper, and when they broke up, he formed his current band Master Blaster (again, hardcore), with another band, PCP Eagles, in the wings (ha! pun!) as a side project.”
In Gisborne, an all-ages hardcore scene had developed around Saving Grace, something Res Rapid could respect, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the music bug bit him hard again. He had a pretty good idea what was needed this time round. A more focused and tight sound with better vocals, harmonies and “a snappier stage with dance moves ripped from The Shadows”. With Lucas back in Gisborne in 2006, together they formed The Rocket Jocks, named this time after an 1980s movie about giant killer robots called Robo Jox. Backing the humans was Drummy, the most punk rock New Zealand drum machine since Double Happys’ Herbie F**kface.
Just how different The Rocket Jocks would be was on display at Wellington’s Adelaide Hotel on 28 April 2006. Res remembers the show well. “There’s a bit in one of our songs where Lucas stops playing – Drummy and I are still going – and goes out into the crowd with a rose and gives it to a random ‘lucky girl’. Anyways, he did that and afterwards, she comes up to talk to us with a guy in tow. Turns out it was their anniversary and she thought that he had jacked up the whole rose giving thing with us, as, you know, a special thing for her.
“She’s really chuffed and this guy’s giving us a look with his eyes, eyebrows raised and head nodding, meaning ‘just go along with it, please! I’m onto a good thing here!’. So we made out he had organised the whole thing. She was giving him bulk snogs and Lucas and I were thinking ‘beam us up, Scotty, our work here is done!’ ”
In late November 2006, the two Māori punks and their metal friend headed north for that year’s Car Yard Chaos at 339 New North Road with Justin’s new group, Suicide Dogs, The Rebelles, T.O.D and Gisborne’s Nervous Surgeons. Then the north came south with West Auckland’s popular Missing Teeth and Suicide Dogs, who would both release strong albums on Puppy Killer Records, hooking up with The Rocket Jocks at Gisborne’s Irish River on Peel Street on 2006’s last day bar one.
The Rocket Jocks turned the car around and hit out for Napier and Wellington in April 2007 for nights at the Hawke’s Bay city’s Sk8zone and Wellington’s Adelaide Hotel. Both cities would become common destinations over the next few years, as The Rocket Jocks joined local punk groups at venues such as Wellington’s Valve, Napier’s Zone 101 and Gisborne’s Poverty Bay Club.
Res Rapid: “We’d slowly started to make friends with other bands, venues and organisers, and people asked us back to play. In particular, Paul Comrie-Thompson (from punk band Not O.K.!) was organising shows in Wellington a fair bit at this stage, and it was through him that we managed to wheedle our way into support slots for Welly shows and bands. Paul ended up marrying another friend of ours, Helen, from Gisborne.
“We’d made friends with some of the guys in the punk scene in Napier (the guys from Vicious Rumour, top blokes all of them and their Napier mates), so we’d maybe play a show there on the way driving down to Welly. Or we’d just drive down and play a show in Napes and stay at the punk house there, The Pink House. They had a good scene, small, but with good people, and I feel Vicious Rumour were kind of at the front of that.
“Some bands we met in the cities had come back to play in Gisborne, including The Outsiders, 5th Threat, Ghost Echoes and The Murderchord. Lucas always felt this was one of the great aspects about playing music, ’cos you could support other bands by playing in their towns, and then have them come to your town and play.
“This helped freshen the scene up in Gisborne, it kept shows from becoming too stagnant. Gisborne isn’t a very big place compared to the city centres, so you ran the risk of having the same local bands play at the same venues all the time. It was good to try and mix it up and we got to get drunk with our new mates!”
Auckland was still on their radar as well. The Rocket Jocks’ first record, Next Stop; Moon!, was captured on 22 and 23 December 2007 at The Dank studio in the West Auckland basement of Puppy Killer Records’ Dave Hine, who had played in Missing Teeth.
Released the following year, 1000 CDs were pressed, and it was distributed by Rhythm Method. The eight-song album is a reflection of everything The Rocket Jocks did well. They mined geek culture for lyrical references on ‘Invasion of The Giant Ants’, ‘The Nazgul Hop’ and ‘Judy Jetson, I Love You So’, all written by Res. Lucas’s songs were more personal and honest, and had to do with his observations on failed relationships and broken hearts.
‘Put my pen to paper; I’m gonna write my girl a letter; It’s gonna say how much I hate her; And how I think I can do better,’ he wrote on the album’s ‘Pen To Paper.’ Most guys have been there, but I doubt many could sum it as well. He’s equally sharp on ‘Nobody Else’, ‘Why My Baby Won’t Go To The Movies With Me’, his co-write with Res, and ‘What Can I Do?’ for which the Rocket Jocks filmed their so far only video. ‘Crazy For You’ was written by Res and sung by Lucas.
Their Gisborne friend, Kenzie Sampson, created the record’s apt cartoon artwork, as she would for the second album. With a record out, live shows followed in Napier, Palmerston North’s Bar Mode and Wellington’s Valve and the annual Punkfest, held in the capital in October 2008.
Res: “Lucas’s memory of that is one where you have a whole lot of crust/hardcore sounding punk bands – who were fucking amazing, by the way! – and then we come on and it’s kinda like Sha-Na-Na. So, he felt we were kind of different to most of the acts there, our sound wasn’t as abrasive or as aggressive.”
It was a situation they’d often find themselves in: going on first or early with their entertaining and tuneful act, which came to include a giant ant with a human inside, and later, a similarly costumed representation of their faithful, Drummy. They performed at venues including Leigh Sawmill Cafe, and Auckland’s Kings Arms before the touring UK Subs (one of an increasing number of British heritage punk bands touring New Zealand), Gisborne’s Smash Palace in Banks Street, Palmerston North’s Factory, and Wellington’s Bar Bodega and Adelaide Hotel.
Actually, that show was as Rocket (Jocks) To Russia, their Ramones cover band. Res, Fidget – as Lucas was often billed – and Drummy would also step out as The Lyttontons, who’d play songs by another group favourite, The Lillingtons.
That year, pop culture fans also got to see The Rocket Jocks in a different setting.
Res: “Armageddon started off as a little comic convention in Auckland, but it had evolved into this big national pulp culture/comic/sci-fi expo thing. We got asked to play by the organiser, Bill, in the 1990s, when we were TK-421. But Zorton got sick that weekend and we couldn’t play it, unfortunately. I think they used one of the songs from Crappy as the backing music for their ads on TV though.
“Anyways, fast forward to 2009, and The Rocket Jocks get to play there over the weekend. Great shows, we loved it, loads of comics, Stormtroopers and shit, yadda yadda yadda. We’re big nerds so that was our kind of place/crowd.”
The Rocket Jocks returned to The Dank in late 2009 to capture their second album, Return To Planet X! with Dave Hine. Fans of the first record wouldn’t be disappointed and the group even managed to name check their old high school on ‘Lytton High Ball Tonight’.
2010 saw live outings at Gisborne’s Smash Place in March with The Victims, and Wellington with The Outsiders in mid-May, with a human, Ruffio Ramone, replacing Drummy for the show. In July, The Rocket Jocks joined Shitripper and five other groups at the Kings Arms, before Wellington’s Ghost Echoes travelled to Gisborne for a night out with The Lyttontons and The Ravishes at Winstone’s Bar on the 30th.
Auckland also got to see Rocket (Jocks) To Russia at Whammy in August, and Rocket Rocks at Retro Vixens at North Shore Rod and Custom Club and Thirsty Dog on K Road on 9 October 2010.
More Gisborne shows followed with the year capped off at Smash Summer Session Sesh 3, a post-Christmas multi-band event that was still running in 2016. As often happens at that time of year, many of the city’s geographically spread music population are back in town for the holidays and keen to reconnect.
There were two final record releases for The Rocket Jocks in 2011. Res’s ‘Night of The Bee Girls’ appeared on the US punk compilation Where The Fun Never Sets 3, on San Diego label Cabana1 Records.
Res Rapid: “I’d written ‘Bee Girls’ after watching Invasion Of The Bee Girls, a 1970s schlocky sci-fi movie. We figured it might be worth doing, so we arranged a recording session with a friend in Gisborne, Tommy Thomas. He had a little home recording setup at his flat out by the beach, so we recorded there one afternoon. Took us mebbe ... three hours tops.”
The Last Alliance of Rockets and Cats 7-inch EP was released in early April 2011. A two-band release with Skaface Claw, the vinyl record featured two Rocket Jocks songs on one side, ‘Miss Elizabeth’ and ‘25 Mins From Rivendell’.
Res: “It’s the Rivendell that’s in The Lord Of The Rings. I’d just read The Silmarillion – which is kinda the whole back story behind The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit – so it came out of that.
“Our two songs for that EP were recorded in Lucas’ garage by Vanya from Skaface Claw, who did the other two songs on it. We met Vanya in Wellington through shows and music, but also his girlfriend was our mate Sarsha from Gizzy. But the whole project was put together/funded by our mutual mate Paul Comrie-Thompson, again of Wellington.”
With Lucas Mucas heading to Blenheim in May 2011, The Rocket Jocks bowed out at Auckland’s Kings Arms on the 11th. Down to just Res and Drummy, a new act emerged.
Res Rapid: “Yeah, Kid Rocket was basically the same old circus with just one less clown. I did a couple of Rocket Jock songs, tried some new ones, and did some Freddy Fender covers too. I played at the midnight launch of the Microsoft Xbox One console at the Gisborne EB games store because I worked there. We were trying to hype up the launch a bit. We had another band play instore as well, The Remains. Very grateful to them, and they played a helluva set. Crowd was a bit stunned, I think, not too sure they knew exactly what was going on.”
The Rocket Jocks weren’t entirely spent either. They would play again when the opportunity presented itself in January 2013 in Gisborne and Wellington, and the following year, at the Kings Arms, as Teenage Bottlerocket Jocks.
A mid-December date at Auckland’s Whammy in 2015 was the sole Rocket Jocks outing that year. They’d triple their stage time in 2016, fronting up before one of the few remaining Ramones, Ritchie, on his Someone Put Something In My Drink New Zealand tour on 28 October 2016 at Whammy, before returning the next night for Whammy Fest.
More recently, The Rocket Jocks were one of 20 acts at the sixth Smash Summer Sesh at Gisborne’s Smash Place on 27 December 2016, back home amongst their Poverty Bay music brethren once again, in the first city in the world to see the new day’s sun.