So many cities, so many different scenes. Due to the sheer size of America and the size of large cities, it’s inevitable that many truly great local bands go unheard, while those with a small following are often forgotten about after they split, living in on in the memories of those lucky few who saw them live or bought their records.
Such is the case with New Orleans-based The Limit. A tight power-pop trio built around the creative duo of bassist and lead singer Christian Serpas and guitarist Manny Reyes, The Limit would release all but one ten inch record and one song on a local radio station compilation.
But oh, what a superior record that little four-song ten-inch was! Thanks to the efforts of new reissue label Cheap Rewards, said EP was reissued in 2012, along with the band’s compilation track, a demo and–better still–a short live set. Though they split in 1984, it wasn’t for lack of talent; their recordings echo the greatness of classic-now but contemporary-then groups such as The Cars and The Knack. This reissue is a welcome discovery, and a treasure trove of great power-pop.
We sat down with Christian Serpas to talk about his band, the highlights of the band’s brief existence, and his reflections on it all. As a bonus, you can stream the whole album below. Enjoy!
How did you and Manny get together? Was it a case of long-time friends playing together?
I met Manny when I got a job at Lake Forest Plaza mall in New Orleans, and he was working at the same store. Within minutes of meeting him, he told me he was in a band. I told him I played guitar, so he asked me to join his band – just like that. I didn’t, but within a few months we were best buddies and started the Limit. Then we met Justin and that was that.
Even though it’s known for its jazz and blues, one doesn’t think of New Orleans as having a big underground rock scene. What was the scene like during the Limit’s lifetime?
There was a vibrant scene in New Orleans back then. Rock, punk, new wave, rockabilly – good bands were playing every night to decent crowds. There were lots of clubs to play, plus there were these CYO concerts. They were put on by the Catholic Youth Organizations in school gyms. MTV was just hitting, so you had all of these kids who were hearing/seeing this new music but couldn’t get into clubs, and these CYO concerts gave them a place to gather and see bands. We were able to get in on that scene, and that’s where we really caught on. We sold a lot of Limit buttons, t-shirts and eventually EPs at our CYO shows.
We came in at the end of the local punk heyday. The Normals were over, the Red Rockers already had a record deal, but hadn’t yet hit their MTV period. Hard rockers Zebra were drawing over a thousand kids to their CYO shows. They ended up on MTV also. The Cold were a local new-wavey act that hit the CYOs hard, and drew huge crowds.
“Modern Girl” was your ‘hit’ song. Do you recall where you were when you first heard it on the local radio station?
I was in my bedroom at home trying to take a nap before heading out to rehearsal or a show, and it came on the radio. The instant it ended, my phone rang and it was my buddy Dave jokingly saying that he was going to call the station and complain about the “crap” they’d just played. It was a great moment. I recall hearing it in WRNO “Summer Rock Blocks” with the Who and other bands that we thought were dinosaurs. It was so weird to hear us come on in the middle of those bands, but it was fantastic, and it exposed us to a lot of new people who ended up liking us.
What were the big highlights of The Limit’s brief existence?
These are my personal highlights:
- Hearing “Modern Girl” all over the radio during the summer of 83.
- The first time I saw a Limit t-shirt out in public. I was driving, and I passed a girl on a bike who was wearing one.
- The first time we walked out on a stage and people screamed before we even played.
- The first time I noticed people singing our songs back to us.
- A giant local landmark was Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. It had been there forever, my parents used to go there before they were married, Elvis played there in 1956, and we played a couple of shows out there on their big outdoor stage.
All of those things were very nice … and very weird.
Listening to the reissue, I was surprised that of the five songs you released, there’s only one of those songs in the live recordings. Was The Limit a much more prolific band? Did you ever record any more than the five songs you released?
We had about 30 original songs, but we only recorded 5 of them properly in studios. We recorded in a studio three times. In May 1982 we recorded “Uh Oh” for a local compilation album (that version is on the re-issue). Then in November, 1982 we recorded the 4 song EP (“Call Jane”, “Dream of Love”, “Modern Girl”, and “Uh Oh” again), but “Modern Girl” was picked for the WRNO compilation album and the contract said we couldn’t release it on our own for a year. So we went back into the studio in December 1982 and recorded “Candy Rocks”, which was our newest song, and released the EP with that song in place of “Modern Girl”. We only have demos or live recordings of the rest of our songs. The live songs on the re-issue were recorded by pure chance. We were playing at the St. Bernard Civic Auditorium and right before the show, the sound guy told us that they were set up to make live recordings, and he asked if we wanted them to record our show, so we said yes. It turned out to be our best quality live recording. If we would have said “no” that night, the re-issue would only be the studio songs, because the other live recordings and demos that we have are not the greatest quality. It really was a fluke that we got that show on tape.
You guys were a great, tight live band. After the end of The Limit, did you guys continue to make music? Did you continue to make music with Manny?
The original lineup was Manny Reyes on guitar, Justin Newbury on drums, and me on bass. Justin left about 10 months before the band ended, and Manny left about 4 months before we called it a day. Jeff Oteri replaced Justin on drums in the Limit. Immediately after The Limit ended, Jeff and I began a band called True Faith with James Singletary, who had just left the Red Rockers after their Good as Gold tour, and their big MTV hit “China”. True Faith lasted about 5 years. We moved to Los Angeles, but couldn’t get a record deal and we broke up. I didn’t play again until 1999 when Jeff and I formed Christian Serpas & Ghost Town, a revved-up Americana band. We’ve put out 5 CDs and a DVD and continue to play all over the Gulf South.
Manny started a pop rock band called Third Echo in the early 90s, and they released 3 CDs and played hundreds of shows all over the Gulf South.
Justin didn’t play much at all after the Limit.
We did a Limit reunion show in New Orleans last summer when the re-issue happened (Manny on guitar, me on bass, and Justin and Jeff sharing drum duties), and we also played at a New Orleans Punk / New Wave Reunion at the world famous Jimmy’s Music Club in December of last year.
Looking back on the band’s time together, what stands out? How do you feel about those days?
The farther into the past it fades, the more fond I become of it. Everything was new to us – rehearsing, writing songs, making flyers, playing shows, and we attacked everything with such enthusiasm.
Everything seemed to happen for us in a natural progression. We formed, played shows, people liked it, we put out a record… things always seemed to be on an upward trend until the last couple months of the band. Then I noticed that we were working really hard for things that had just come naturally in the past. It wasn’t fun anymore. Manny had left and I had kinda lost my focus and motivation. We just ran out of gas.
We met a lot of people and made a lot of friends that we know to this day. It was such a short period of time, only about 2 and a half years, but it seems like so much was packed into it. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.
A few years ago, when I first found out that we had fans in Japan and Germany and Australia it was hard to comprehend. Our little 10 inch EP really got around. But once you put something out on vinyl, it’s alive, and who knows where it’ll end up. We had no idea that we’d been on a bunch of power pop compilations, and a Chicago band had covered “Uh Oh”. We were stunned. But I think every band, at some point, realizes that they just want to be remembered, so when we learned of all these things that had been going on regarding The Limit, we were flattered, and I we realized that we must have done something right.
Categories: A Conversation With...