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Poised to Rule

Pop music: Brian Coakley has high hopes for his O.C. rock band. The act's creative talents justify his ambitions.

July 29, 1997|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brian Coakley named his rock band, Rule 62, after a saying from the 12-step recovery movement: "Don't take yourself too damn seriously."

It may be a misnomer. Rule 62 has a serious chance to become Orange County's next modern-rock success story. Their creative assets mount impressively on the band's CD, "Rule 62"--unfettered passion, catchy melodies and a richly textured yet propulsive guitar-band sound. On the business side, Rule 62 has a powerful ally in Maverick Records. The hot pop label, home to Alanis Morissette and Prodigy, will release "Rule 62" today.

Coakley is a slender vegetarian with powder-blue toe- and fingernails, a Beat poet's tendril of beard and an impeccable alt-rock resume in his pocket. He earned it through hard years of motoring along the national circuit of rock 'n' roll dives as a guitarist and key songwriter of the highly regarded Cadillac Tramps. The rootsy punk group was Orange County's leading independent-label band in the last days of the Orange Curtain, that early-'90s era before the Offspring, No Doubt and Sublime turned the local rock scene into a platinum mine for the music industry.

Coakley, 30, says he invokes Rule 62 when fans and music critics try to puff him up or knock him down. "That credo applies to me and my ego," he said as he and bandmates Jon Goodell, Eric Banks and Johnny Knight downed a salad bar lunch at a Fountain Valley restaurant. The music business, Coakley said, is geared to "make you think you're some special person." In that orbit, he added, the advice "Don't take yourself too damn seriously" helps keep an ego in balance.

So far, Ronald Reagan's old motto, "Stay the course," seems at least as important in shaping Rule 62 as the namesake slogan. Not that Coakley, a politically liberal scion of a conservative, middle-class upbringing in Cypress, would likely endorse anything dear to Orange County Republicanism.

He started Rule 62 in 1993, as a vehicle for songs he felt didn't suit the Cadillac Tramps. Although focused on fulfilling the Tramps' potential, Coakley didn't see his side project as the loose lark typical of local rockers' moonlighting excursions. He took Rule 62 . . . seriously.

"I wanted to get people involved who were ambitious in their own right," Coakley said.

Hence the band's first incarnation was something of an O.C. alternative super-group. Coakley enlisted Frank Agnew, a punk guitar hero since his teen days in the Adolescents; Agnew's wife, Libby, on bass; and drummer Christopher Webb, of One Hit Wonder. In '94 they put out a CD, "Love and Decline," on the tiny Orange County label Lethal Records. When Cadillac Tramps finally ran out of tread early in 1995, Coakley put all his hopes and ambitions into Rule 62. They are considerable, and he doesn't try to hide them.

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"I wasn't forming Rule 62 to put out another garagey independent record. I was forming it to get serious," Coakley said. "With the right people, I thought it would have the potential to go all the way. A good, successful band is what I wanted. I'd already done the independent thing and seen how much work it is for how little payoff."

The Agnews were unwilling to commit to a full-time, touring band, and Webb already was pledged to One Hit Wonder. Coakley had to search again for "the right people."

He began recruiting one night at Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim, where he had been forced to play solo. "I said, 'Needed: one band to play these songs.' "

Goodell took the invitation. He had been playing guitar in Naked Ape, a Huntington Beach band influenced by such noisy-but-catchy '80s rockers as Husker Du and Soul Asylum. At first, Goodell, 27, played bass in Rule 62, for sheepish reasons.

"I was [too] intimidated by Frank Agnew to fill his shoes. I'm a big fan of his," he recalled. But the shoes needed filling, and soon enough he was reporting to Agnew's house for lessons on how to play his parts.

The lineup solidified about two years ago, as Banks, an old friend of Goodell's, came in on bass, and Knight, a veteran of the O.C. punk wars, including two hitches in D.I., joined on drums.

Coakley, meanwhile, used adversity in his personal life to artistic advantage. A stormy and unhealthy romance ended. Friends with substance abuse problems who came to him for support, knowing he had overcome drug addiction, often struggled and fell. All of it went into his songs.

Coakley also took the viewpoint of a more distanced observer in the environmentalist screed "Dead Fish" and in "Drown," which captures the suffocating effect of information overload. "Cow," the album's final song, climaxes with the refrain "change is sacred." But in the end, a grimace of a straining guitar solo underscores how painful the process can be.

One vital change--a newfound gift for melody--has lifted Coakley from a good songwriter to an excellent one. In an illustration of his theory about change, Coakley believes losing his girlfriend indirectly made him a catchier songsmith.

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