TAS In Session: Art Brut
On the band's new album Brilliant! Tragic!, produced by the Pixies' Frank Black, Argos' lyrical verbosity skips from chip shop humiliation to Axl Rose to a funeral song, but aside from acerbic humor, there's real tenderness apparent too. Even more surprising is Black's gentle insistence that Argos sing - rather than shout - some of the tracks on the album, a decision that has given Argos, much to his delight, a more supple vocal range.
Argos and his Art Brut compadres - guitarists Ian Catskilkin and Jasper Future, bassist Freddy Feedback and drummer Mikey Breyer - visited The Alternate Side for a wonderfully silly session and chat, delving into Brilliant! Tragic! tracks like "Lost Weekend" and "Clever Clever Jazz" and rolling out an updated (and longer) version of "Modern Art" from 2005's Bang Bang Rock & Roll. You can listen to the session this Friday, August 26, at 11 a.m. EDT on TAS on 91.5 WNYE and streaming on The Alternate Side.
The band wraps their North American tour this week, August 27, at Satellite in Los Angeles (The Sunset Junction festival, where they were to play, has now been cancelled due to a denial of permits) and then launch a European tour in Frankfurt on September 8. They return to the UK for a road trip beginning in Liverpool on October 5:
Kara Manning: This is the morning after the last night of your US tour and apparently everyone is a little worse for wear. Eddie, you’ve been telling us about your cupboard adventures.
Eddie Argos: I met my record label for the first time last night and they gave us a big bottle of gin. Mike and Jasper went out to buy more beer and I thought I’d hide in the cupboard to surprise them when they came back and I fell asleep in the cupboard. And then they phoned me up and told me they weren’t coming back. And instead of getting out of the cupboard, I just went back to sleep. I just stayed in the cupboard.
Kara: Your new album, Brilliant! Tragic! is still wry, funny and smart but actually more tender in spots than your previous albums. Is that a terrible thing to say?
Eddie: No, I did it on purpose a little bit, in the lyrics, I think. There’s lecture on my lyrics in Berlin and they called me a depressive dandy. I was angry, but it’s quite nice really. I thought I’d embrace it and be a bit more depressive.
Kara: This is the second time you’ve worked with Frank Black of The Pixies and Black Francis. How did that connection happen between Art Brut and Frank?
Eddie: We saw that he liked one of our songs called “Jealous Guy” off of our second album and we’re like, oh, cool. And we just emailed him and asked if he could produce the album, just on a whim, really, thinking he wouldn’t say yes. And he said yes. It was that easy. He has his own studio in Salem, Oregon. So we went and recorded there.
Kara: The weather is very English.
Eddie: In Salem, yeah. It was a little rainy and cold. In fact it was snowing last time we were there. Christmastime.
Kara: So there’s a holiday aspect to this album?
Eddie: There is! We were all eating gingerbread biscuits. Drinking egg nog in the studio.
Kara: “Clever Clever Jazz" is the second single off of Brilliant! Tragic! Since as a lyricist you’re so autobiographical or brutally honest, was this based on a gig you’d gone to?
Eddie: A little bit. My first band, The Art Goblins was a strange band and we ended up playing a fete that we shouldn’t have really been at. And someone started screaming at me, “Stop that! This isn’t music.” (laughs). And I’ve always been a bit of a p***k, so I replied, “It is music, you understand, “It’s clever, clever jazz.” That memory of the band playing our first set had been really important. In my head, first band sets, it’s like a genre of clever, clever jazz. So it’s a reference to that.
Kara: In “Clever Clever Jazz” you say that you’re “working in a genre that you don’t understand.” Do all of you feel that sometimes with Art Brut? People say, how do you define Art Brut? Does that matter at this point?
Eddie: We’ve all got very different tastes in music so I’m not sure. I had to explain to a man at Border Control recently and Tony, our sound guy, was like, "They’re a bit like a punk band with some classic rock thrown in." And I go, "Yeah, that is what we are."
Kara: Your last album with Frank Black was Art Brut vs. Satan, but coming into this record, what were some things that you wanted to change? Were there any tropes you felt that you had as a band lyrically or otherwise that you wanted to discard?
Eddie: We didn’t really think about that. We just sort of get together and write songs, I think. In the back of our mind, I think we were thinking to make it a bit darker or slightly different. When we met up with Frank Black to record it he noticed and he brought out the more sensitive, darker bits of the songs.
Kara: He was more hands on this time, wasn’t he?
Eddie: When we first met him we were all a bit shy of him because he’s Frank Black, you know? (laughs). I think he was treading carefully around us too because we didn’t really know each other. But now it’s been two years and we’re good mates now. He was a lot more inolved this time. He came and hung out with us and stuff.
Kara: Did you come in with songs already thought out and written? You were only in the studio about ten days, right?
Eddie: It was bit more than that, more like three and half weeks this time. Still not very long. Long enough to teach me to sing.
Kara: Explain that! Did you not feel confident enough to sing?
Eddie: I thought I had been singing! And then our manager phoned me up and was like, “I think he’s going to make you try to sing this time, Eddie.” And I said, well he can try. I didn’t think I could sing so it was kind of a surprise for me when he managed. Well, it’s not really singing but I can now use my voice in a different way which is nice. Like “Lost Weekend,” which I sort of sing on, is a song about hangovers and being unlucky in love. You don’t need me shouting that. I think it works better with that kind of singing. And like “Sexy Sometimes,” [Frank] said, “Eddie, can you sing these lyrics to me?” And I’d go, okay, (speaking): “Everybody wants to be sexy sometimes.” And he’d say no, sing it. I’d go okay (speaks again): "Everybody wants to be sexy sometimes." He sang it and I sang it back. We sort of dueted it. It’s sort of a sexy song so it was awkward (laughs). But we sang it together, Jasper on acoustic guitar.
Kara: It’s one thing when you’re in a studio, a cocooned environment, but another thing when you’re on stage. Was that terrifying the first time?
Eddie: We did this thing in which we played the album in order at a fan thing in London. I think that got me over the hump because normally with new songs and you maybe play them again afterwards in case it doesn’t go well. But we couldn’t do that because we played the whole album in its entirety. Doing that made me much more confident because it went really well.
Kara: Because you’ve always been a very personal writer, was it less so this time?
Eddie: I think more so. But I think because it was more personal I’ve kind of hidden it a bit more. I know it’s more personal but I don’t think anyone else would know that listening to it.
Kara: Like “Sealand” is such a romantic song … but you’re not that open on that.
Eddie: Yeah, I wrote that pretty quick and I realized that afterward. Yes. It was a bit more cloaked.
Kara: And “Lost Weekend” takes place in chip shop.
Eddie: And my cash mashine. And a nightclub. Busy night.
Kara: I think the final line of the song describes how the band woke up this morning.
Eddie: I don’t think any of us have been to sleep!
Kara: You recently played Toronto and you actually coaxed the entire crowd to sit on the floor?
Eddie: We have a song called “Modern Art” and when I wrote the words to that song I think I’d only been to two art galleries! But now I’ve been to more and we kind of improvise the end of that song. It gets longer every time and I think next time we play it, it’s going to be forty minutes long. One day our set is just going to be me talking over that riff over and over again. I was was talking about how I went down in a lift in the Van Gogh Museum and I saw a magical painting and I asked everyone to sit down on the floor as I went down in the lift. They all did it! Well, one guy didn’t do it. I had a go at him for being a hipster and then I found out he had a really bad knee and I felt guilty about it!
Kara: What are some of the things you’ve tried in live performances that you’ve thought wouldn’t go over did.
Eddie: There was another thing where I skip with the microphone lead. That goes pretty badly. I should probably stop doing that. Knocking drum kits over and falling off the stage.
Kara: Have you all had a lost weekend that’s legendary in your own minds? There’s a lot of laughing [in the studio].
Eddie: We definitely can’t talk about that. Jasper is in the middle of his lost weekend. (laughs)
Jasper Future: One of many.
Kara: And you’ve ended up in the Bronx.
Jasper: At least it’s not in hospital!
Kara: There’s a song on the album called “Ice Hockey” which Eddie, you say is the song to play at your funeral. Where did this come from?
Eddie: I was at a funeral last year. And they played “Over The Rainbow” which is nice. It’s what that person wanted. But when I die, I don’t want “Over The Rainbow.” I want to go into space. I didn’t want to make it depressing, so I sort of made it a bit jokey. And I don’t want to call it “Funeral Song” so I called it “Ice Hockey.” So if someone says to me, “What do you want played at your funeral?” I can say, “Ice Hockey.” (laughs)
Kara: What is the epitaph that you’d put on a gravestone for Art Brut, the band? (all laugh).
Eddie: Get drunk, stay drunk!
Kara: You’re all so good as a band, but do you, Eddie, come in with an idea of lyrics? Is it built out of what [you’re doing]?
Eddie: It’s a bit of both, really. It depends on the song. It’s almost like an autism; I’m always rhyming things in my head and writing things down. I have a big book of lyrics and things. And then they write the music and I try to make it fit. It doesn’t always fit, so I have to change it. That’s how it works, really, but it’s different all of the time. “Sealand” came together pretty quick. “Is Dog Eared” took a long time to write. It’s pretty intense, isn’t it?
Jasper: It’s pretty long (laughs).
Eddie: It’s like nine minutes long! We write them in real time. So if a song lasts three minutes, it took three minutes to write (laughs). And if it lasts nine minutes, that’s how it works.
Kara: Now you’re all off today to have a tour of Marvel Comics?
Eddie: Yes, we had a song about DC Comics ["DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake'] on the last album and Jamie McKelvie [who designed their album cover] draws for Marvel and he’s slowly making me change sides. I sung “Marvel Comics and Banana Milkshake” in London and next I read, DC Comics Universe has completely reset itself so I must have opened a paradox or something.
Kara: So you’ve heard about the entire saga of the Spider Man musical on Broadway and U2? Don’t you think that Art Brut should do the next Broadway comic book musical?
Eddie: Booster Gold needs his own musical. He’s a DC superhero. We can do it. I’ll do it for half the price U2 charges as well!
Kara: “Unprofessional Wrestling” wasn’t on the record - a reason?
Eddie: It was like a free thing you could have. I thought it was kind of cool not to have it on the record.
Kara: Do you like wrestling?
Eddie: My brother likes wrestling. He’s a teacher. He’s no longer out of control.
Kara: Is there anyone else musical in your family?
Eddie: I’m not even musical! There’s no one musical in my family.