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That's the depth of Eddie Argos' rock 'n' roll philosophy.
Described by this very magazine as "somewhat of a Brit-punk version of Minneapolis' The Hold Steady" and "self aware, somewhat satirical, humorous and brutally honest about music itself," Argos' wildly acclaimed "pop" band, Art Brut, have gone from Blender's "best unsigned band in the UK" to appearances in the top 50 of British chart acts. Argos and his cohorts, however, don't fancy themselves satirists or improv actors, just a group that rocks out and loves comics and Jonathan Richman.
Currently touring the United States in support of It's A Bit Complicated, their sophomore album released in June via Mute/Downtown Recordings, the band recently tore through Philadelphia's Theatre of the Living Arts, where I caught up with Argos in the building's laundry room, just before their opening set for the Hold Steady, to talk about, well, rocking out, comics, and Jonathan Richman.
LAS: Art Brut and the Hold Steady stand out in a genre I'm just going to call 'indie rock' for the sake of generalization, because of the unabashed sense of humor in your lyrics. Yet you've avoided the "novelty" tag. Why do you think Art Brut stands out in this sense - is it more than just because you're a really good rock band?
Eddie Argos: Yeah… I mean, it's not really a "novelty" I think, because they're all true stories. So that would make my life, my personal life, a novelty. [laughs] That wouldn't be very nice. I think that should be part of the reason. And yeah, because we rock out, that probably helps a lot, to not seem like such a novelty band.
Would you consider yourself a satirist at all? Some of your lyrics are essentially inversions of norms done up as tongue-in-cheek slogans, like "popular culture no longer applies to me" or "modern art makes me want to rock out."
That's just how I feel. Galleries in Los Angeles just have people sitting around quietly with mochas or whatever, and art galleries in England just piss me off. [laughs] I was getting quite angry about that really. It's a protest song. [laughs]
It's the same thing with "Bad Weekend," actually. It was a Saturday night, I wanted to go out, there were no good clubs to go to, watching the telly, like, Survivor was on, or Big Brother… and for me there was nothing on any of these channels and nowhere for me to go. I was depressed. There was nothing for me, now I'm back at the comics again. [laughs]
What comics do you read?
Mr. Gold comics. Do you know Mr. Gold? No? It's really good, it's my favorite comic. [is this what he's talking about?]
|Eddie Argos, making like an obscure Italian terrorist in an art gallery. (photos by Jennifer Zarichnyj)|
I've always been curious due to your well-reheased "timing" on your songs, do you have any background in standup comedy or acting?
I'm very flattered you think my timing is good. On our first single, "Formed a Band," my timing's terrible… I'm stumbling all over it, it's awful. [laughs] A lot of those words were written as it was recorded, you know. That the song is any good is amazing. It's just almost like, train of consciousness, you know?
But still, I mean, that's improv… that's acting right there. People talk about how Christopher Walken, his rhythm is off-beat, and it does seem like acting.
I love Christopher Walken.
Are you a big Jonathan Richman fan? There's very few precedents for your singing style, and he's one of them.
[nodding] Oh yeah, huge Jonathan Richman fan.
Yeah? Have you heard Jonathan Sings! at all? That's my favorite.
That's… what's on that? "Stop This Car I'm Getting Out," is that on that? "Not Yet Three" is on that.
And "Give Paris One More Chance."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's my favorite, too, I think.
Nice! Now, the first time I saw you guys, I was almost embarrassed at how little attention I'd paid to the rest of the band on record, because you know, you tend to dominate, and I'd sort of pegged it as a one-man show. And on the new album you seem to be more "inside" the band, firmly ingrained with the music rather than out front. Was that a conscious decision?
It just kind of happened. I mean, our first album's quite bare, and I think the music's much better on the second album. It's nice to be inside the record more than on top of it, but when we play live, we're definitely "a band."
Yeah, live is where I noticed… I mean, I never noticed like, just how much the rest of the band really pulls together the sound. And it seems like a lot of journalists just want to talk about the lyrics, the humor and everything, but yeah. The band is really a rock band as a whole.
When you wrote the lyrics for the new album, was there a conscious difference in the writing process or themes you wanted to approach?
A little bit… well, really, they're all pop songs. I can always write something about relationships, because I think they go hand in hand. I think that's what pop songs are mainly about. We always wanted to make a pop album, so I sort of consciously started writing relationship-based songs, as opposed to something about like, obscure Italian terrorists in an art gallery. So I've been trying to write more songs about relationships to avoid slipping back into writing about the old things again. It was kind of nice writing about relationships this time.
Do you think it comes from any sense of responsibility, being a band, to write something universal? Even in "Formed a Band" you express a desire to write the song as universal as "Happy Birthday." Do you think you're actually becoming more universal?
I'd like to be… I mean, I love what we do and everything, but I'd love to write songs that everyone can take as art. I hate these bands that are like, "I want to be loved or hated." I want to be liked! [laughs] But I want to be a pop band, so I do aspire to write universal songs. I can't think of anything better than that.
Have you heard back from the real Emily Kane? Or Morrissey for that matter?
Haha, not from Morrissey. Emily Kane, yeah, she got in touch actually. She had heard the song. We're gonna hang out when we get back, but it's all as friends. She's got a boyfriend, I've got a girlfriend, so yeah. I'm so lucky we got to… it's one of my favorite songs, actually, because it managed to bring her back to me. And that was sort of secretly the plan. [laughs]
Are you guys going to play "I Found This Song in the Road" tonight? I was surprised you left it off the album, it has one of my favorite Art Brut guitar riffs.
That was a b-side, so it got left off for that reason.
Was it left off for any particular reason?
Nah… well, we had to write b-sides, so we wrote that. [laughs] I really like that song too, it's about writing songs, which is what I like about it. But yeah, I really like that song… we really should play that song, but we only play for 45 minutes, so we're not gonna be playing any b-sides.
Last question: where did that "Top of the Pops" chant that you do onstage during "Good Weekend" come from?
We had a song called "Art Brut Top of the Pops" that we kind of lifted it from. And it just kind of got condensed into just being that little bit. It's a good way to show love for the bands we play with… "The Hold Steady, top of the tops." It just became kind of a nice thing to do it each night. SEE ALSO: www.artbrut.org.uk
SEE ALSO: www.mute.com
SEE ALSO: www.downtownrecordings.com
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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