Don't fear the cowbell

DanceEntertainmentMusic IndustryVan Halen (music group)

After 10 years of nonstop partying, Luke Jenner is ready for a change. The Rapture frontman says he feels like he was hung over every day for a decade. But now that the band, which scored its first dance-punk hit with the song "House of Jealous Lovers" off the 2003 album "Echoes," is back with a new album, "Pieces of the People We Love," he wants to avoid the exhaustion and in-band fighting that come from a lifestyle filled with hard drinking and drugs. Becoming a father in June added some perspective too.

But Jenner says the band is still out to jump around on stage and "have a good time in Van Halen fashion." We talked to Jenner while the Rapture hung in Washington, D.C., before the first show of their current tour.

Some people are saying the new album is less punk. What do you think?

It depends on how you define punk. Punk's a state of mind; it's not a sound. This record is heavily influenced by dance music. I think that's something that we were getting into last time, but we weren't able to do as well as we wanted to. So I think it was something that we focused on. I guess it's less punk. I mean, to me Belle and Sebastian are a really punk rock band … I still feel like this album is punk. I feel like dance music is punk. Punk doesn't mean anything anymore. To me dance music is about as punk as it gets.

How well can your fans dance?

We have the best and worst dancers as our fans. We're honored. We don't have any mediocre dancers. Everybody's really good or horrible, and it's hard to tell the difference sometimes. I, personally, am a horrible dancer. But I have fun. Dancing's just about not taking yourself seriously and having fun. It's in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Your songs have a lot of cowbell. Is the instrument misunderstood?

It's just another instrument. It's a fun thing. It's the kind of thing that anyone thinks that they can play--and [they] can!

Should that inspire fans?

Yeah, man. The most flattering thing anyone can come up to you and say is, "Hey, I really liked the show. When I saw you guys I went out and felt empowered, like I could do this thing too." I've said that to a lot of bands before, just being a fan of other bands. Growing up and watching Rocket from the Crypt and being really into them and then meeting them later and being like, "Hey, when I saw you guys I really felt like I could actually be in a band. Thanks for that."

So even if you're in a band and you're just the cowbell player, you're still in a band … I think it's a pretty show-stealing thing. But most people are afraid to get onstage so they don't do that.

It's all about fear, man. It's all about conquering the fear. [That's] the difference between drinking a lot of beer and complaining about stuff or drinking a lot of beer and playing cowbell: It's a fine line but a lot of people choose to just be like, "Well, I'm not good enough to do that."

Matt Pais is the metromix music and movies producer.mpais@tribune.comOriginally published Nov. 1, 2006.

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