Figures of considerable repute within the Los Angeles post-punk community of the 1980s, Savage Republic grafted tribal percussion, industrial drones, and raga-like guitar lines together to craft an idiosyncratically moody sound with flashes of both desolation and eloquent grandeur. Capable of both harsh dissonance and shimmering textures, Savage Republic's guiding force was guitarist Bruce Licher, a founder and constant presence in their shuffling lineups. Alternating between cyclic instrumentals and quasi-industrial assaults with gruff, chanted vocals, their records were unavoidably inconsistent, but most contain some enduring highlights.
Savage Republic were founded by former UCLA students Licher and drummer Mark Erskine in the early '80s. Adding new members Jackson Del Rey, Jeff Long, and Robert Loveless, the group members originally called themselves Africa Corps, changing the name to Savage Republic just before releasing their first record in 1982. Exotic percussion would always play a big role in Savage Republic -- even in the early days they were using oil cans, metal pipes, and 55-gallon drums. Their early singles, and their debut LP Tragic Figures (1982), show the group at its least accessible, though there are hints of the more mysterious and melodic elements to come.
After some personnel changes (some members went off to form 17 Pygmies), Savage Republic regrouped with a more guitar-oriented sound. On Ceremonial (1985), the band shifted its focus to mostly instrumental material, usually piloted by oddly tuned guitars (the group sometimes used guitars with six identically tuned strings). They'd never wholly abandon those droning, angst-driven chants, though. Combined with the fact that their instrumental material wouldn't break much new ground over the course of the decade, that can make their studio albums uneven listening. In any case, Savage Republic were best experienced live, where they would burn trash cans of pampas leaves, play on Los Angeles' Skid Row, and use all sorts of unexpected objects for percussion in their quest to make each concert a unique event.
Savage Republic's albums, which were individually hand-letterpressed and numbered by Licher himself, received as much attention for their packaging as their music. Licher would perform the same services for other bands on his Independent Project label, even getting a Grammy nomination for his work on the first Camper Van Beethoven LP. Savage Republic were not destined to become nearly as big as Camper (not that this was ever their intent), and disbanded around 1990. A small reunion tour brought the band back in the fall of 2002, but the band only played a few random dates. After relocating to Arizona, Licher continued to run the Independent Project label, and design sleeves (his most famous work in that department has been for an R.E.M. Christmas fan club single). Musically, he resurfaced with the trio Scenic, which played entirely instrumental material that blends the exotic flavor of Savage Republic with influences from Ennio Morricone and Southwest border music.
The group re-formed in the 2000s, although Licher was involved only with an initial reunion tour and Erskine was not involved at all; this lineup comprised a trio of mid-'80s members -- Greg Grunke, Thom Fuhrmann, and Ethan Port -- along with new recruits Alan Waddington, Val Haller, and Kerry Dowling. This lineup recorded the full-length 1938, which appeared in 2007 on the Neurot label. ~ Richie Unterberger