Speedo, Slasher, the Swami, and John Reis are all the same person, but each one does something different. Reis, a Pacific Beach native, has performed in Hot Snakes, Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From the Crypt, and the Night Marchers, among many others.
Reis formed a post hardcore band around 1985 called Conservative Itch, which was pretty rocking though still punk-influenced. When Conservative Itch broke up, Reis formed Pitchfork, which played with local bands Sub-Society, Funeral March, PG-13, and Socially Insecure. These bands were all hard and fast in the tradition of earlier hardcore punk, but as Matt Reese of Funeral March recalls, “When Pitchfork hit, everything broke open.”
Not that Reis saw himself as a mouthpiece for that scene. Using a pseudonym, he wrote an article for the Daily Impulse, a local anarchist magazine, talking about what jerks there were in the scene and condemning the violence. The article was a sort of declaration ushering in a new generation of artists.
Among those artists was his own Rocket From the Crypt, a punk band with horns that gained international acclaim.
Reis -- aka Speedo -- played guitar and fronted Rocket. Reis -- aka Slasher -- played bass guitar in the Sultans.
In 2011, Reis owned a San Diego indie-record label bearing his name and hosted a radio show Saturday nights on 94/9 FM, as well as co-owning Bar Pink in North Park with his wife and a couple of friends. In an interview with the Reader at the time, he expressed his opinion that he should be featured on that issue's cover.
“Without a doubt, and I am sure most would agree. I think it would make the Reader much more readable, especially for me and my family. My friend Chris Squire got a Reader cover story a while back [November 29, 2007], yet I can eat many, many more hotdogs than him. Perhaps I need to go undercover as a carnival worker or see how many times I can sneak back and forth across the border or go to Burning Man or merely just go to a party in Mexicali in order to seem like a more compelling subject.”
Despite great promise and many breaks, Rocket From the Crypt ended up splitting. “A year prior to our last show, a group of up-and-coming bands got together and made us a money offer not to play anymore and disband. They wanted to be able to compete amongst themselves for the ‘best band in the world’ title. With Rocket still active, it appeared that a definitive successor could not be groomed. So we accepted the offer on our own terms and basically retired.”
What really happened? “Rocket definitely was a big-time rock ’n’ roll ride. We had accomplished everything we wanted to, and we no longer had any goals to pursue.”
Which band pushed you hardest as a performer?“Physically? Probably Rocket, because of all the yelling, the sometimes uncomfortable attire, and traveling.”
In 2008, Spinner magazine asked Reis what was happening musically in San Diego that people should know about.
“I don’t know what I said yesterday, let alone three years ago, but I can tell you that it is a very good time for the San Diego scene. The soil and conditions have been perfect for the next crop. Take into account the tragic, massive amounts of radiation bombarding our coast, and I expect to hear some great mutant rock in 2012.”
His Swami Sound System radio show, co-created with 94/9 FM programmer Mike Halloran, ran for seven years. “Halloran gave me the opportunity. But the show reflects the sounds that I am currently feeding my head-holes. The show title is a nod to the Jamaican sound system clashes of the ’60s and ’70s when DJs, more specifically called ‘selectors,’ would have to build their own crude PA equipment and even press and sell their own records.”
In January 2012, Reis announced “I’m doing my last SWaMiSounDsYStem on FM 94/9 tonight...[it] was an awesome seven years of ear bashing!” In March, a new version of the show debuted as a Slacker Radio channel.
"I am charged by this opportunity to unchain neglected and primitive hits and unleash them on earholes around the world," says Reis. "I still love radio in a traditional sense. But with a few exceptions, the vast majority of radio stations have really let the music fan down...[Slacker] is the perfect place for me to create our very own universe that celebrates savage sound and praises the unsung mavericks, rebels and weirdos. Now there is an entire station, always on air, that is purely dedicated to the high water mark of lowbrow music."
Programmed and hosted by the Swami himself, the station can be found in Slacker's Specialty category on all major smartphones, connected home devices, and on the web. The channel features obscure tracks hand-selected by the Swami to represent a range of genres including punk, reggae, psychedelic, blues and soul.
In early 2016, Reis produced compilation record of 22 San Diego bands, Hardcore Matinee. “Basically, I had this idea, and it was triple-fold. I was thinking back to the compilation records when I was younger that would have so many bands on them that it pushed the limits for what you could fit onto an LP. I really felt that I was getting a lot of bang for my buck, considering that I would only have five or seven dollars in my pocket.”
He laughs. “I’d get this one record, and there’d be 40 bands on it. In retrospect, most of them don’t stand up to the test of time, but the feeling that I had when I listened to these records,” he explains, “I was trying to capture that feeling again.”
In summer 2017, he had one of his guitars stolen, only to see it soon returned after turning up on the OfferUp app. "We implemented our own brown ops. Snagged it back from two ultra-sketch, haggard, tweek aficionados...never seen a dude chase a guy on a bike with a taser before."
Reis recently released a debut solo album on his own Swami Records in 2022, Ride The Wild Night. Mixed by Ben Moore (Hot Snakes, Diamanda Galas) at local Singing Serpent, the album features drumming by J. Sinclair K. (Hot Snakes) and piano from Joe Guevara, as well as guest playing from Chris Prescott (Pinback), Gar Wood (Hot Snakes), Glen Galloway (Truman's Water), Jacob Turnbloom (Mrs. Magician), and Jordan Clark (PLOSIVS). Reis supported the record by debuting the Swami John Reis Band in August with a handful of California dates in August, wrapping up at the Casbah on the 9th. The touring group included the occasional Rocket From the Crypt frontman backed by Tommy Kitsos (Night Marchers, CPC Gangbangs) on bass and vocals, Joe Guevara (Jejune, Lee Rocker, Lady Dottie & the Diamonds) on keyboards and vocals, Mark Murino (Radio Wendy, Dirty Sweet) on lead guitar, and Richard "T-Bone" Larson (Bartender's Bible, Mr. Tube & the Flying Objects) on drums and vocals.