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Metal MC Finds Rhyme, Reason in Rap-Rock

Times Staff Writer

When Metal MC made its Los Angeles debut early this year, gravity played a starring role.

At least that’s Warren A. Fitzgerald’s theory. Fitzgerald, who goes by the stage name Waf, is the impish 19-year-old who provides screaming guitar parts for the Orange County band’s hybrid of heavy metal and rap music. As Waf tells it, he was innocently playing his guitar while jumping around to Metal MC’s big beat that night back in February when his shorts, like Sir Isaac Newton’s apple, took a fall.

All good rap music should be raw, but at the Palace in Hollywood, Fitzgerald caused a stir by performing rap music in the raw.

“That was our L.A. debut. Or, our L.A. Da Butt, we should say. I was trying to hide,” recalled John Kallas, a.k.a. Johnny Go. Along with Todd (The Shack) Shackelford, Kallas yells Metal MC’s rap rhymes over hard-rock sonics provided by Fitzgerald and drummer Karl (Drum Dr. Moe) Moet.

At the Palace, Waf’s bout with gravitational attraction pulled some young women out of the audience and onto the stage, stoking a wild scene. One of the women ultimately landed on the cover of Metal MC’s recently released debut album, “Born to Party,” along with Waf and a Harley Davidson. Waf is fully clothed in the photo, the young lady less so.

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Given such raunchy antics and album graphics, one might guess that Metal MC’s music would be at least as outrageous and suggestive as last year’s hit album by the Beastie Boys, New Yorkers whose mix of rap and heavy metal resulted in that anthem to naughtiness, “Fight for Your Right to Party.”

In fact, Metal MC’s rhymes are fairly innocent proclamations of the band’s own musical prowess (a standard rap theme) and paeans to the pursuit of fun (a standard rock ‘n’ roll theme). There is none of the mock juvenile delinquent stance favored by the Beasties, the most successful and notorious band of whites to appropriate the musical form originated and popularized over the past 10 years by urban blacks.

“I didn’t want to do a cheap shot, being filthy. I’d rather be entertaining and fun,” Kallas said. The 34-year-old rock-bassist-turned-rapper co-produced “Born to Party” with Moet, who doubles as drummer for dance-pop singer Stacey Q.

Metal MC, which plays its first Orange County show Saturday at Night Moves on a bill headlined by the Pandoras, isn’t given to socially conscious rapping like some of the more adventurous black acts, who have turned rap into the newest form of protest music.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is about having fun. It’s to get chicks, make money and have fun,” Kallas said. “I don’t think it’s to influence anybody’s religious or political views.”

When the subject of similarities to the Beastie Boys comes up, starting with that prominent party motif, Metal MC’s rappers are ready to protest. “They have to fight for the right to party because they live with their moms and dads,” Shackelford, 22, said in a dismissive tone of voice. “We have the right to party.”

But what about that scantily clad model on the album cover who has made appearances during the band’s live shows? The Beasties, after all, were known for showing off a bikini-clad lass in a go-go cage while they performed.

“I didn’t know that,” Kallas said. “In that case, she’s out of the show.”

Metal MC didn’t exactly spring from the streets. It got its start about a year ago when record producer Jon St. James was launching a new record company, Synthicide. In the wake of successful rap-metal tracks by Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, St. James decided to take the concept a step further by creating a self-contained rap-metal band that would play its own instruments instead of relying on session musicians for hard-rock backing.

Kallas, who owns the Red Duck musical instrument shop in La Habra, said St. James asked him to put the band together and serve as its songwriter, front man and producer.

“I have a brash personality, which goes with rap. At least that’s how I come off,” said Kallas, who had known St. James for years and sang on the TV sound track productions that were St. James’ specialty before he scored dance-pop hits as producer/manager for Stacey Q and Bardeux.

Kallas recruited Shackelford, his assistant at Red Duck, to rap with him, and Moet, a longtime friend, to lay down the beat. Fitzgerald, formerly of Double Freak, was a hard-rock guitar slinger suggested by the band’s manager, Steve Levesque. Fitzgerald moonlights as lead guitarist for the local hard-rock comedy band Gherkin Raucous. Moet is currently touring with Stacey Q, so interim drumming is being handled by Miles Gillett, an alumnus of El Grupo Sexo who also plays in Gherkin Raucous.

In a recent interview at Red Duck, Kallas and Shackelford were a personable, low-key pair--far from the rude-boy image most rappers cultivate. They share the shop with two black kittens named Lewis and Clark because of their fondness for exploring the shop’s nooks and crannies. When it came time to have his picture taken, Kallas went on a futile expedition for his Ray Bans, a key prop for the cool, bad-rapper image he is trying to maintain.

Fitzgerald, the band’s hyperactive jester, arrived later and began the sort of incessant, double-jointed fidgeting that drives grade-school teachers to the brink of insanity. First he perched himself on a chair, his high-top sneakers on the seat, and started rocking. Dissatisfied, he switched to a more precarious spot atop a guitar amplifier.

Kallas and Shackelford say they didn’t manufacture a sudden interest in rap music merely to meet St. James’ specifications for a rap-metal band. When St. James called, Kallas said, they had been writing rap songs and kicking around the idea of starting a rap-metal band on their own. Shackelford, who previously had played guitar in punk bands, said he used to rap for fun with his friends in high school. Kallas told of a longstanding exposure to rap through an old friend who was an early convert to the genre.

Fitzgerald offered an unsolicited commentary on Kallas: “Back when they were building the pyramids, he was rapping. They have rap scrolls written on papyrus.”

Metal MC was invited to play at a rap showcase last month at the New Music Seminar in New York, but the economics of the trip proved prohibitive. Meanwhile, band members said, they have signed on with the same booking agency as their acknowledged prime influence, Run-DMC, and are hoping a tour will materialize.

Kallas expects rap-metal, a fusion dismissed in some quarters as a gimmick, to have enough staying power for Metal MC to build a career. “I don’t think it’s as finite as people think,” he said. “Both rap and heavy metal have been around a real long time. I think it’s got legs.”

Fitzgerald figures that Metal MC is bound to help rap go where it has never gone before.

“For the next record, we’re making up our own language.”

The Pandoras, Metal MC and Warsaw Cocktail play Saturday at Night Moves, 5902 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach. Admission is $7. Information: (714) 860-6118.


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