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Buy Karate High School's self-titled 1999 EP.


Wax On: Karate High School doesn't need Mr. Miyagi for vision.


When Karate High School hits the stage, anything can (and does) happen

By Sarah Quelland

WHAT BETTER place to interview Karate High School than the arcade of Malibu Grand Prix in Redwood City? Three of the band's members work for the Playstation division of Sony, and the entire group has a kinship with video games. Its members even coined the term "arcade rock" to describe their quirky, heavy, keyboard-driven brand of hip-hop rock.

"Arcade rock is less a genre than it is a lifestyle," explains lead singer Paul McGuire. "It's a total state of mind. The idea of an arcade is more of a thought--a fun, positive outlook--where you actually pay money and actually sit somewhere and enjoy the images and enjoy the sounds and enjoy the experience of listening to something."

Video games have been blamed for everything from copycat killings to overweight kids. Tack on Karate High School's erratic behavior: McGuire is virtually a poster child for ADD, bouncing up to interrogate everyone--from the guy behind the pizza counter to a couple sitting at a nearby table.

Keyboardist Ray Ray Bautista bumps an *NSYNC CD and extols the virtues of its production values. Guitarist Gabe Ausiello claims to own five Celine Dion albums and plans to buy Billy Ocean's Greatest Hits next. Bassist Paul Kriz dresses like a science whiz but says he moonlights at McDonald's.

Some or none of these claims may be true, but there's no disputing that KHS has become one of the most active rock bands in the South Bay. The group jumps on just about any bill it's offered, and lately it's been offered a lot. A KHS show thrives on spontaneity, and fans have come to expect some element of surprise.

Once at a South First Billiards show in San Jose, McGuire brought the cook out to sing--never mind that the cook didn't know the words. Another time, at the Rio in Burlingame, McGuire claims to have taken his wireless microphone into the men's room and left an aromatic deposit without ever stopping the song. The band will do just about anything in the name of having a blast.

McGuire likens its live show to a 3-D Jurassic Park game in a row of Pongs and Breakouts. "You have to have something in the show that adds the something extra, so [people will] come out and watch it rather than sitting at home," he says. "It's like Andy Kaufman, where he said you always have to do something more the next time to make people truly stay with you. He said, 'Pretty soon, I'll have to cut off my arm.'"

To date, KHS' only recording is a five-song EP from 1999 that includes the high-energy favorites "Extra! Extra! (Hear All About It)" "Never Gonna Get None" and "Wave Goodbye." The band has teamed up with Stikmon's Big Ass International management company, and next week it heads to Sacramento to record "Sweep the Leg," "110%" and "What!" for a three-song demo.

Stik says he hooked up with KHS for a number of reasons. "They're good guys. They work hard. They're good at promoting. They'll play anywhere at any time for money or no money. To them, it's all about playing and having a good time," he says. "They really give a shit about their music. You gotta have that kind of drive."

McGuire says the new tracks will be everything fans expect and more. "I think this tape will be just ... more! More heavy in some parts, more arcadelike. It's more quirky, [more] goofy. Maybe even, dare I say, a little more '80s electronica? But yet, there's still serious elements. We're not doing dick and fart jokes the entire time."

In its lyrics, the band talks about empowerment ("Extra! Extra!," "The Most Dangerous Thing in the World") and unrequited love ("Never Gonna Get None," "Wave Goodbye"). Musically, KHS swims in a pop-culture swampland. The guys listen to everything from N.E.R.D. to Death to the Chemical Brothers to Frank Sinatra to Charlie Daniels. They dig movie soundtracks like the Dust Brothers' Fight Club and Danny Elfman's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

KHS pulls from all these influences to make music that's heavy, atmospheric and full of electronic bleeps and bloops.

McGuire cites video-game classics like Frogger and Super Mario Brothers, and their sound-effects composers, as visionaries and inspirations. "I actually do listen to a lot of video-game music. I think that old eight-bit video-game music is pretty genius, because you had composers who had to deal with one sound, and they had to make an entire composition out of one noise. It was one bit, and they can make an entire composition that wasn't boring and wasn't annoying with that one noise."

Live, the band plays as if 1.21 gigawatts flow from the audience to the stage, charging its performance. It delivers an energy rush whether it's playing to two people or a packed house. The band members dress up like each clique from a John Hughes flick--the football jock, the track star, etc.--but they seem confused by the observation and insist that the phenomenon is accidental.

"When you see us onstage, that's really us," Bautista says. "I guess it's really odd seeing all five of us together, 'cause we don't look like people that would hang out and work with each other."

KHS was born from the ashes of Ice Nine, an old band with Martin, McGuire and Ausiello. It began as a computer project composed of just one machine and a voice. Then it slowly added people to play the parts. Now it's a 10-legged machine whose ultimate goal is to have fun and rock the house--no tokens necessary.

"We never want to come across like we're doing the crowd a favor," Bautista says. "There's bands that get up there and say, 'Hey, you're lucky that I'm up here performing for you.' For us, it's always a privilege for us to play in front of people."

Karate High School plays an all-ages show with the K.G.B., Inverness, Slept Thru High School and Wasting Time Friday (Feb. 14) at 6pm at the Club, 955 Yosemite Dr., Pacifica. Visit www.karatehighschool.com for details.

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From the February 13-19, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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