Markus Stähli – vocals & guitar
Matthias Stähli – vocals & guitar
Christian Stähli – vocals & guitar
Beni Von Däniken – drums
former drummers; Elias Raschle, Alain Perret Gentil and Olifr
For almost the past 30 years, Roy and the Devil’s Motorcycle have been tenaciously and joyously doing their own thing. The 3 brothers picked up guitars and aimed to set their, and our, little worlds on fire. All this time and attitude have given them a raw power, where reverb, distortion and harmonics swirl and boil, lurch and whip in the melting pot.
Initially, their influences seem obvious: old, dusty blues records, gospel, dirty garage, Spacemen 3, 13th Floor Elevators, the Velvets, Souled American, Gibson bros; but dig deeper and their love of free-running experimentalists like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Red Krayola and Godz becomes disorientatingly clear.
After a few singles on the super-underground Record Junkie label, they unleashed their raging punk-blues FORGOTTEN MILLION SELLERS cult classic l.p. on the Swiss primitive Voodoo Rhythm label in 1998. Some maturing (and only a little mellowing) led to the scorched-earth soundtrack BECAUSE OF WOMEN in 2006. By this time they’d already been regularly touring across the continent, playing with the likes of Acid Mothers Temple, Sonic Boom/Spectrum, Black Lips, Disappears, Strange Boys, Psychic TV, and Martin Rev (SUICIDE).
Continuing to cut their own path at their home studio in rural Switzerland, the band released knife-cut crystalline TELL IT TO THE PEOPLE in 2012. This LP caught the ears of J Spaceman and the band toured across Europe with Spiritulaized later that year. 2013 studio efforts concentrated on the soundtrack to Adrian Winkler’s biopic about the original Swiss Hells’ angel, “Tino, Frozen Angel” (2014). Their fifth studio album named by “Im Reich der Wilden Tiere (No Milk No Sugar)” (Voodoo Rhythm Records) was released in spring 2021.
Roy & the Devil’s Motorcycle – a love letter by Hanspeter «Düsi» Künzler
I had known and loved the band for a long time. Like a distant thunderstorm, their reputation had been flickering over the horizon without ever troubling the hurly-burly of current fashions. It was fitting that their first album, unforgettably entitled “Forgotten Million Sellers”, had come out fourteen years earlier on the Reverend Beat-Man’s Voodoo Rhythm label. “Records to ruin any party” was the company’s brisk advertising slogan. Conformity clearly was not an option here. Tonight, Roy & the Devil’s Motorcycle were playing in London.
If the band would see themselves as a career, it would be their most important gig ever. London. Roundhouse. Jason Pierce, a fan, has personally (and without buy-on!) invited the three Stähli brothers and their drummer, Elias Raschle, to accompany Spiritualized on their latest European tour. Now, the Roys stroll on to the stage, plug in their guitars, and start plucking at them as casually as if they were at home in their living room. The few punters who have managed to tear themselves away from the bar look on in bewilderment. Such nonchalance is unusual and deeply impressive. Besides, there are only three of them on stage so far, Markus, Matthias and Elias. Several minutes pass before Christian, too, beer bottle in hand, deigns to appear. Three guitars, one drum set and one groove. Other ingredients: a spoonful of Hank Williams, a shot of Link Wray, a touch of Jesus and Mary Chain and a hypnotic wanderlust version of John Jacob Niles’s “Look Down That Lonesome Road”. Half an hour later, the full auditorium sways in collective euphoria. The force of nature that is Roy & the Devil’s Motorcycle has once again performed its magic.
Since that memorable night in London – along with Bad Brains, Leonard Cohen, Sunny Ade and a few others, it ranks amongst the greatest gigs I have witnessed – another eight years have passed. If there was one lesson the band has learned from that tour, Markus Stähli explains, it was that the impact of their music was not lessened on a big stage. “The motivation is always the same,” he adds. “It is simply that you do something. Primarily for yourself. Not that it has to be a secret, not at all. Of course, we’re pleased if things happen because of it. But basically, you like doing it.”
The thing about “you like doing it”: When Matthias organises a barbecue party on the village square, everyone likes to take part. When Silvia Bergmann and Paul Mayhew organise their affectionate film portrait “Learning to Lose” (2019), everyone loves to contribute. In the film, the Stähli parents are happy to tell us how their neighbour in Oberdiessbach in the Bernese Oberland gave the young Roys guitar lessons in exchange for their mother looking after the teacher’s babies. A year later, the brothers played their first gig. Standing in the crowd, their parents were proud of their boys, they confess. Other parents would have fled as far away as was humanly possible.
The racket the Stählis and their various early drummers made, could by no stretch of the imagination be described as polite or even pretty. Nor was it aimed at the hit parade. Driven by the enthusiasm of Matthias who spent every free minute sniffing for musical truffles in his favourite record shops in Thun and Berne, the brothers embarked on a joyful expedition into the dense and dark undergrowth of music history. Elvis and a box set of rockers from the 1950s served as an early signpost. Even more important was “Back from the Grave”, a series of albums filled with the dirtiest and most anarchic garage rock ditties from the sixties. “We felt this kind of stuff was within our reach,” says Markus. “It was not impossible for us, this wild sort of power.” As for the lasting taste for feedback: “Maybe not everyone is ticking the same way, but I imagine if you press a guitar into someone’s hand and show them a little bit how it works, they’ll come up with it themselves. It is such a great experience, being able to send out that sound.”
Two events shaped the future of Roy & the Devil’s Motorcycle like no others. Firstly, a delirious performance by Spacemen 3 at a venue called Mokka in Thun. That night, the Stählis realised that it was indeed possible to meld all their musical loves into one single “sound”. Spacemen 3 contained the same Jason Pierce with whom they would share that Roundhouse stage two decades later. Secondly, the Reverend Beat-Man’s gig, also at the Mokka. The three brothers lined up in front of him immediately caught his eye, remembers the Rev. “You could tell they absorbed every note like a sponge, every gesture and every breath.” The example of Beat-Man from Berne showed the Stählis how it was not inconceivable to make a mark even if you lived in the Swiss provinces and had absolutely no intention to hob-nob with any kind of mainstream business. The trick was simple: you just did what you did, and then you did it again. A little later, the debut album of Roy & the Devil’s Motorcycle was released on the Rev’s Voodoo Rhythm label. “We are lone fighters, that’s for sure” says Markus Stähli. “It has to do with the kind of people we are. We were never looking for a scene. Heaven forbid! We would never have wanted to belong to one.”
29 years have passed since the Stähli brothers first walked on a stage with their guitars. Apart from several handful of singles and EPs, they have since released four albums, most recently a film soundtrack, “Tino: Frozen Angel” (2014). Now comes their fifth. It’s called “Im Reich der Wilden Tiere (No Milk No Sugar)” (Voodoo Rhythm Records). I think it’s great.