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Insolence Take The Stage At The SoFA Street Fair

In Music
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There are many parallels to be drawn between the return of the SoFA Street Fair this Sunday and the so-called “reunion” of Insolence, who along with Salmon and Maids of Honor will provide direct support to the festival’s headliner, Fishbone. But whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback.

Sure, it’s true that Insolence went on hiatus more than three years ago, but the band never technically broke up, according to Mark Herman, one of Insolence’s two vocalists.

“We just took a little break,” Herman says, explaining that some of the band started families, while others moved outside of the band’s home base of San Jose. “It just got to the point where life happened for some of us. We had never stopped—from 1996 to 2010, we were just grinding, grinding, grinding, and chasing that dream.”

By many measures Insolence have achieved that “dream.” The group has toured the world with its high energy mix of rap, metal, reggae and punk—sharing huge stages with some of the biggest bands of the aughts, including Rancid, Incubus, System of a Down, Jane’s Addiction and Papa Roach. They’ve been signed to independent and major labels, and many of the group’s members have gone on to form other successful acts.

Along with Insolence’s success came many trials and tribulations. During its heyday, the band kept up a grueling touring schedule and was under constant pressure from their record labels—Maverick and especially Warner Bros.—to write material that mainstream radio would play, which was a particular problem for a band like Insolence.

“We’ve always been all over the place,” Herman admits, explaining that the band never had any interest in playing one kind of music. “We were just in a band to have fun.”

According to Willis Rosenthal, the group’s other vocalist, at the time record labels started courting Insolence, their sound was very new. It was the mid-’90s, and rap-rock bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park were only just starting to get traction.

The way Rosenthal tells it, Insolence wasn’t even trying to ride the rap-rock wave. Their hybrid sound was more the result of everyone in the group trying to insert their own influences into each song.

Unfortunately for Insolence, while the aggressive sounds of nu-metal and rapcore initially took the U.S. by storm, by the turn of the millennium, critics and fans began turning on the music that had only a few years earlier been so popular. And they weren’t just listening to other stuff. Bands that combined guitars and emcees were suddenly punch lines.

It was tough time, Rosenthal says, recalling those years. “We thought we were on to something,” he says. “It turned into something that we weren’t really into.”

Insolence’s label started pushing them to sing more, encouraging them to pivot away from rapping, Herman remembers. “But you can’t fake the funk.” Insolence refused to fold itself into any of the prepackaged, marketable options that their labels presented to them. They just kept doing what they wanted to do.

The strong independent streak that runs through the band not only led to Insolence ignoring their record label’s wishes. It also resulted in the formation of side projects. Drunken Starfighter was formed by Rosenthal and Insolence’s DJ, Itchy, back in 2001. And The Whiskey Avengers were formed by Insolence’s bass player, Clint Westwood, and drummer, Kevin Higuchi, in 2006.

Those more intimately familiar with Insolence’s hiatus may know that the increasing attention and energy that Westwood and Higuchi were pouring into the Avengers took its toll—leading to some bruised egos and infighting.

“It’s time to let bygones be bygones,” Herman says, adding that he is just looking forward to getting back on stage, without any of the old pressures that used to weigh on his mind. “I’m super excited, man. There’s no greater feeling than playing music. I just want to get up on stage and have that camaraderie with my friends.”

Herman says he is also pumped that the group’s first show in over three years will be at the “reupholstered” SoFA Street Fair, which is returning after more than a 10-year absence, thanks in large part to longtime San Jose promoter Fil Maresca, as well as South Bay veteran booking agents Gary Avila and Jimmy Arceneaux. He sees it as a sign that San Jose’s local music scene is on its way back.

A new Insolence album is in the works, which Rosenthal describes as a mix between the early rapcore stuff that put Insolence on the map and newer electronic and synth-based sounds. “It’s going to be awesome,” Rosenthal says. After years dealing with record execs, grueling tours and internal drama, Insolence is ready to just chill out and play.

Insolence play the main stage at the “reupholstered” SoFA Street Fair in San Jose on Sept. 14 at 5:30pm. More info.

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