The Cops Corner a New Clash

And outsell Jay-Z.

Election Day 2007 saw the release of the Cops' Free Electricity and Jay-Z's American Gangster. When opening-week sales figures came in, our local politico-rockers owned the rap mogul—at the Fremont Sonic Boom Records, anyway, where the Cops' frontman, Mike Jaworski, happens to work. "I don't think that's what happened at Fred Meyer," quips Cops bassist Drew Church. Not that the Cops are concerned about their relationship to the retail supercenter. Or they are, but in the sense that they detest the consumer-driven capitalist economy on which stores like that thrive. The band's 2005 full-length, Get Good or Stay Bad, was a politically aware effort that sparked comparisons to the Clash. The Cops announced their discontent with the nation. And they did so loudly, with a headache-inducing palette of raucous drumming and frenetic guitar riffs. Their follow-up, Free Electricity, is just as confrontational, but the music itself is slightly different, a reflection of the changes the band's been through the past two years. Original singer and guitarist Jaworski, guitarist John Randolph, and drummer Dave Weeks remain, but bassist Brian Wall was replaced with former Supersuckers/Hater bassist and Hazlewood proprietor Church. Brandon Bay, a local screen printer and longtime friend of the band, was recently recruited as a second guitarist to help beef up the sound. "He swooped right in after we finished making the album," Randolph says. "Coincidence? I think not." The band is at the Rendezvous, throwing back drinks and fielding my questions before their CD release show for Free Electricity. Becoming a five-piece band with two guitarists was a smart move for the Cops, which was evident when they took the stage later that night. And through all the lineup changes and two years of touring with bands like Cursive and the Hold Steady, they managed to find time to create and test new material on a few crowds. Free Electricity shows the band's evolution, a formula-free rock exploration. "Of course, we've still got that straight rock, but then we've got some other influences in there as well," Randolph says. "Not every song we do on here is a fast, pummeling song. We've done some lineup changes and touring with other bands, so there's obviously been a natural progression in the past two years." Considering how the Cops draw much of their inspiration from news headlines, the past few years have provided a wealth of material. All 11 tracks on Free Electricity hold a magnifying glass to the system's flaws. "Mega Suicide" exposes the drudgery of the Horatio Alger American Dream, with Jaworski declaring, "Tighten your necktie/And it becomes a noose/You work your 9-to-5/Another company stooge/I call it mega suicide/Contribute to your own demise." And in the catchy Ramones-esque power-punk track, "Terribly Empty Pockets," the hook "I owe you something and I can't pay you" expresses a despair plenty are familiar with. The album's title track even points fingers at Enron and the 2001 scandal that revealed the billion-dollar energy company's key to success: purposeful accounting fraud. "They were generating a massive profit, but their business model was faulty," Jaworski says. "It had no substance, and they were basically fucking people over left and right. Oftentimes I feel that people are subjected to the whims of big corporations and either don't realize it or feel helpless to it. The apathy in our society has a lot to do with capitalism." "Everyone's up against it in some way or another," Bay adds, before inadvertently describing my own life. "People get on this path where they go to college, get a job, and then spend their lives working to pay off that debt. My friend dropped out of NYU. He was there for one semester and figured out that by the time he got his degree, it would have cost him $140,000. He would have been in debt forever." Even with so many of punk's characteristics displayed on the album, the Cops sidestep associating their music solely with that genre. "The reality is that punk rock was a youth movement that started decades ago," Church points out. "That movement doesn't exist anymore. Yes, we do play rock music with punk influences, but we don't worry about what it's defined as. This is the Cops' sound—and it happens to be really loud." Just then, over the soundsystem at the Rendezvous, somebody slips in Paul Anka's "You're Having My Baby." Naturally, our conversation about corporate scandal, the Bush administration, and the band's punk influences comes to a halt. "This is a great song," Church announces. "Drew loves Paul Anka's 'You're Having My Baby,'" Randolph notes. "Watch out for our third album."

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