Since the early '90s, John Reis has been one of the busiest and most influential figures on the San Diego punk/indie rock scene as a founding member of the bands Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes, as well as running the indie label Swami Records and producing albums for the likes of Superchunk, the Swingin' Neckbreakers, and the Selby Tigers. Reis was born in 1969 in the Ocean Beach community of San Diego, and joined his first band when he was 15, a hardcore outfit called Conservative Itch. By 1986, Reis had moved on, joining forces with longtime friend Rick Froberg to form an eclectic post-punk band called Pitchfork. In 1990, Pitchfork broke up, and Reis began playing in not one but two new bands: with Froberg, he formed Drive Like Jehu, an artful but aggressive foursome built around their interwoven guitar work; and using the stage name Speedo, Reis led Rocket from the Crypt, a band that combined punk with first-generation rock & roll, complete with a horn section. Both bands released independent debut albums in 1991, and both earned enthusiastic reviews, while Rocket's over the top live shows made the band a potent live attraction.
In 1992, Interscope Records offered to sign RFTC, and Reis agreed under the condition that Drive Like Jehu also be given a deal. Rocket's second album, Circa: Now!, was reissued by Interscope in 1993, while Drive Like Jehu's sophomore effort, Yank Crime, appeared in 1994. Drive Like Jehu quietly broke up in 1995, but RFTC remained busy through the rest of the decade, cutting two albums for Interscope, one for the indie Vagrant label, and a few small-label EPs.
Reis recorded and performed regularly with Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes, and the Sultans until 2005, when he announced that RFTC and Hot Snakes were breaking up, while in 2007, the Sultans went on hiatus after Reis and drummer Mario Rubalcaba both became fathers and parenthood came to dominate their time commitments. Reis continued to oversee his record label, hosted a radio show, became a semi-regular on the children's TV series Yo Gabba Gabba (as the Swami, one of his many nicknames), and becoming co-owner of Bar Pink in the North Park section of San Diego.
Predictably, Reis couldn't go bandless for long, and in 2008 he formed yet another group, the Night Marchers, and released their debut album, See You in Magic, through Vagrant Records. Hot Snakes reunited for a handful of shows in 2011, and the following year Rocket from the Crypt followed suit; even Drive Like Jehu briefly re-formed in 2014 for a special show at San Diego's Spreckels Organ Pavilion, with house organist Dr. Carol Williams sitting in. In 2015, Reis teamed up with the Minneapolis garage punk combo the Blind Shake to release an album of surf-inspired instrumentals titled Modern Surf Classics, with Reis billed as Swami John Reis. ~ Mark Deming