.Kids on a Crime Spree: Urgent messages for dancing in the dark

Oakland’s Mario Hernandez, the frontman of Kids on a Crime Spree, wants to change the world. The songs on the band’s second outing, Fall In Love Not In Line, still have the bright, sing-along melodies and memorable guitar hooks familiar to long-time fans, but the lyrics are darker and more political than they were on their debut, 2011’s Love You So Bad

Sharp, upbeat guitar chords, with a classic R&B feel, open “Vital Points.” It’s a mid tempo tune, with Hernandez describing the simmering resentment workers feel when working a dead-end job. “Goods Get Got,” a loud, stomping pop tune, was inspired by the BLM riots in Oakland. “Boom Doom” has a great hook and surf guitars that give the melody a carefree feel. The music contrasts nicely with a lyric that depicts the heartless immorality of capitalism. On the lighter side, “We’re So Good” describes the joys of infatuation, with an arrangement that sounds like a pop hit from the late ’70s. 

“Our first songs were all about our personal lives and feelings,” Hernandez said, while working his day job in the kitchen of an organic farm. “These days, if you’re paying attention, you’ll see everything has a political bent, even love songs. When I wrote ‘When Will I See You Again,’ I was thinking about the urgency couples have, to figure out what’s going on before the world ends, what with Covid and everything. 

“The right wing has made falling in love, and being with the person you want to be with, a political statement. This is especially true if your partner is of a different race, or gay or transgender. If we don’t combat the growing right wing mentality, sexuality may be criminalized. They’re already going to take away women’s right to control their own bodies, and they’re working on taking away the right to vote, if you’re Black or don’t agree with them.” 

Hernandez came up with the band’s provocative name in high school. His father was a Mexican American GI, stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War. He married a Japanese woman and started a family, before being killed in combat. “I went to a military school and grew up speaking English in school and Japanese at home. When we were teens, my mom moved us to the states and settled in Alameda. Up until that point, all the movies and cartoons I liked were Japanese. One of the first American films I saw was a teensploitation movie starring Matt Dillon called Over the Edge. It scared me. I thought: ‘Is that what high school in America is like? Everyone dropping acid and carrying on wildly.’  There was also an article in the San Francisco Examiner called ‘Kids on a Crime Spree.’ When I first heard David Bowie and The Sex Pistols, I found the music frightening, but wound up loving them. Eventually, I dropped out of college, rented a rehearsal space in East Oakland and started playing in bands. I had a Tascam 16-track analog recorder and a lot of ideas about music. 

“At first, I played drums. I slowly realized I’d have to write songs, if I was going to express myself. I learned guitar to do that. Some people mess around with a guitar and come up with a song. I hear fully formed melodies in my head and transpose them to the guitar.”

Before starting Kids on a Crime Spree, Hernandez put together two other projects. “I was doing pop songs with a Brill Building feel. After a while, I wanted more aggression in my songs, to make them faster and more punky. Soul meets Velvet Underground kind of music, with Motown and Stax in the mix, but lots of distortion and reverb. I wanted to sing about political things, not just love songs.”

The album came out a few months ago. The band has been promoting it with videos, short tours and local gigs. They’ll be playing May 28, at Oakland’s Golden Bull with Artsick and Flowertown. 

“We manage ourselves, build our own equipment and book our shows. There’s a great music scene in the Bay Area. I help it grow by buying albums, going to the shows of bands I like. I know how much work goes into a band. That’s why I put together mini-festivals in local clubs. It allows the bands and the audience to support each other. It’s the idea behind the Oakland Weekender we’ll be playing in June. I didn’t join a band to be famous, but to be part of a scene and help it grow.”

Kids on a Crime Spree will be at The Golden Bull on May 28.

The Oakland Weekender runs at The Golden Bull Bar in Oakland from Thursday, June 

23 through Saturday, June 25. Featured bands include Neutrals, Chime School, Kids on a Crime Spree, Artsick, Seablite, Cindy, Boyracer. Golden Bull Bar, 412 14th Street, Oakland. (510) 224-5522. Goldenbullbar.com

Watch the band’s videos at: kidsonacrimespree.com/video/

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