Rank and I meet in the Lantern's bar in Chapel Hill, where it's so dark you can barely see the floor. It's one of Rank's favorite hangouts. ("I thrive in low light," Ranks says in true musician fashion.) We down a couple drinks to steel us for the ordeal ahead. He last remembers bowling in Birmingham while on tour some 15 years ago. It's been about half as long for me. Rank's a skinny, shaggy-locked fellow with the pallor and trace of stubble you'd expect from those who make a living as a beer salesman. Somewhat surprisingly, he was an athlete as a kid.
"I was born in New York and I did the baseball--I was a catcher-- and I did the footbalI--I was a receiver," Rank recalls. "Pretty much when I saw my first KISS album in the window of the Cow Door, that was it. It was that and discovering bongs. They go hand in hand. KISS, pot and ultimate Frisbee."
After high school, Rank moved to California, where he might still be were it not for Snatches' original singer Andy McMillan.
"Me and a buddy lived in decadent squalor between L.A. and San Diego, in a little beach community near the ocean. I ate a bag of Doritos a day, did a ton of crystal, and drank a ton of gin. Gin! That offends me worse than the crystal," says Rank. "I was there for about a year. I got very thin. And then Andy sent me a letter, saying 'I have an idea for a band. You can be Keith, I'll be Mick.'"
"I'm not a Mick Taylor Stones fan. I'm into Ron Wood and Black and Blue. I'm like a '75-'79 guy for everything. I'm the guy who likes Aerosmith after Rocks, when they're all breaking up and drugged out of their gourds. I like Rock In a Hard Place," he says.
But Rank's always been the type to go against the grain. After the rocking Dead Men album, Rank set upon a course to create, in his words, "an entire album that sounded like Led Zeppelin's 'Tangerine'": 1992's Bent With Pray. He still remembers the Independent review headline: "Too Much Herb, Fear of Rock."
We pause for an extended break around the fifth frame, winded already from the game, clutching our beers for sustenance. Bowling's remarkably barbaric for a sport. Hurling big rocks down a runway? What is this about? It's a sport for Henry Rollins and Fred Flintstone.
"They're driving their cars with their feet. We can't take clues from these Flintstone people," Rank pipes in.
Recorded in first takes with Rank's home demo scratch vocals, Stag's a raw, mistakes-glaring kind of album, which was Rank's intent.
"First takes are always cooler than what comes after. I'm also the biggest fan of mistakes. Not only did I want them, that's what I would turn up in the mix. Which really bummed out my bandmates, but then I think they saw what it's all about," says Rank. "It's like those '70s bands when they've already done the cool record and everybody's doing drugs and they're breaking up. And it's really unpleasant, but those are my favorite albums. I want that vibe. I want fucked up guitars, raucous and really distorted vocals. I think I succeeded."
But his success in creating the ultimate demo album has sent Rank in the opposite direction.
"For the last three months I've been a rock cliché. I've hidden at home and demoed 25 songs, which I've never done in my entire life. Ever. I'm the guy who goes into the session, 'Here's the nine songs. There's no bonus tracks, no B-sides,'" he says. "I've had the most fucked up last two years, and the last year has been mind-boggling. I've never been a guy who has shit happen then goes and writes about it, but I am now."
"I'm ready to do the most commercially accessible album I've ever done. It's my guilt on giving them Stag. I don't think they could have a more bad-ass album, but it's probably a challenge to market."