Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Art Brut - The New York Chronicles, 2009

Performing five sold out shows at the Mercury Lounge in NYC, Art Brut unleashed their brand of Euro rock in the heart of the American underground spotlight. I report from three nights of the New York run in a review bundle that captures the essence of the Art But live experience.

Additionally, I caught up with Eddie Argos, front man of the band for an exclusive one-on-one interview. While supporting their latest album "Art Brut vs. Satan," Argos dives into his Pitchfork tour of DC Comics in NYC, songwriting for the masses, Van Gogh, producer Frank Black formally of the Pixies and battling Satan!

Yours truly meeting Eddie before the June 1, opening night performance.

Art Brut are an English and German indie rock band that has been building an ever-growing cult following for years now. Their name refers to "outsider art", an artform that is raw and defies the boundaries of the mainstream. Perhaps a good fit for Art Brut, who's music has no limitations and certainly won't be heard on popular radio stations. However, the band members themselves don't fit the outcast persona that outsider art embodies. In fact, they are quite the opposite. Art Brut are friendly, a chatty bunch, who certainly don't hold back during their live performance.

The band has just released their third album, Art Brut vs Satan, and are currently touring around the globe in support of their latest musical endeavor. The Waster caught up with ringleader Eddie Argos before the third-of-five consecutive sold out shows at The Mercury Lounge in New York City. It was Q&A time with the literary frontman.

DaveCromwell: How did the album cover art come together? Did you contact comic book artist Jeff Lemire?

EA: He wrote this book called "Essex County" which I really liked. I review comics for an online blog. I reviewed his comic and he read it. He sent me a nice email and said he was a fan of the band, and if you ever need any artwork, to get in touch.

The cover depicts a city facing downward with the name "Satan" upside down, and a little country cottage facing up, with the words "Art Brut" next to it.

A metaphor at the moment is: big bands in the music scene, like Radiohead and The Killers, would be big huge towers and Art Brut is just a little wooden shack in the middle of nowhere.

Did you tell Jeff to draw that specific thing?

No, no. This was his idea. I love what he does, so I told him to do whatever he thinks best.

Was this the only submission?

No, he sent five or six in, and we chose that one. The other pieces ended up on different things, for instance, the "Alcoholics Unanimous" single cover art. Also a DC Comics-style drawing of the band that we turned into a T-Shirt.

Your latest album was produced by Frank Black (formerly Black Francis of The Pixies). Do you have any interesting stories about him?

He was just really cool. I thought I'd be intimidated by him, because he's the dude from The Pixies. But, when we arrived, we met him at the airport. He was such a cool guy that we couldn't be intimidated by him. He gave us a hug and a ride in his car. He kept lending us his car. Mike from our road crew was driving it. He kept trying to lend it to me and I was so tempted, but I've got no license and I can't drive! I'm not usually interested, but the thought of driving Frank Black's car seems amazing to me. I would have crashed it though, and he wouldn't have liked that.

You recorded the record right near where he lives?

He lives in Eugene, Oregon and we recorded it in nearby Salem. It's where he records his albums.

Did he tell you any stories about The Pixies on the road?

A little bit. He wasn't specific, but he kept referring to 'my old band' and we knew what he meant.

Well, they've reunited recently for a tour.

They're playing here, I think.

You mean here at The Mercury Lounge?

Yeah, they're playing 25 nights in a row here - though I might have dreamt that.

Ha, ha. OK. I think Art Brut on five consecutive nights is as big as they can get here. All the shows sold out well in advance and it's been nothing but the most happening scene in town and the place to be. OK, you've stated that Vincent Van Gogh is your favorite artist. Take a look at these Van Gogh paintings (I brought along small images of some of his most famous works) - which one do you like the best?

I've always liked "Starry Night".

What is it about his particular style that you enjoy.

I always loved his work as well as the romantic stories that go with it.

Eddie points as lighting sparks from his eyes.

The fact that he cut off his ear?

But he didn't, did he? Gauguin (Paul Gauguin was a fellow artist and Van Gogh's best friend) did it. They had a fight about whether art should be imaginary things, or real things. So they had an intense sword fight about it. That's how he got cut like that. But, since they were really such good friends, he kept it a secret and took the blame himself.

You also create your own visual art, correct?

Yes, I paint. I like it a lot. It's fun for me.

Another music act you've mentioned you're a fan of is "Half Man Half Biscuit". Did you know that someone set up a Twitter account for the sole purpose of sharing great one-liners from their songs?

Yeah, sure. I follow that page. I love 'em. The latest album is pretty good, but the one before Achtung Bono is my favorite -- very smart music.

On to your music then. Your song "Demons Out!" is a blistering commentary on the current state of music. One lyric goes "we're doing this for you so you better be grateful." You're doing this for the fans? What you actually do? Or exposing the other bands your rail against?

People should appreciate us more (laughter). I hate bands that say 'oh, no man - we're writing these songs for ourselves. We recorded them in our bedrooms and we're just so happy other people like them.' But, why would you write songs for yourself? I mean, I enjoy writing songs and I think it's cathartic, but those 'bedroom bands' piss me off. I think everyone writes songs for other people to hear them.

In your song "Slap Dash For No Cash" you have the great line that goes "cool your warm jets, Brian Eno." The reference is not only to his very first solo album of the same name, but to a loose and unconventional way of recording, correct?

Absolutely. He recorded all of those "No Wave" bands in New York. However, he has also tended to overproduce things sometimes as well.

It's funny because he's also the producer of the band you give the biggest stick to, U2.

That's a weird coincidence that must has snuck into my subconscious. The fact that I mention Brian Eno and U2 in the same song and he produced their latest album.

He's actually produced or co-produced a number of their records. Moving on through your current record, on the song "The Replacements" at the very end you are laughing when you say 'second hand CD's' - what's making you laugh?

It's quite a funny thing to be doing. I actually wanted to get rid of that, but then Frank Black said 'no keep it in, it makes it more human.'

I think it does too. It's not on the first time you say that line, but closer to the end.

It's a funny thought - though I am sincere about it. I'm delighted that second hand CD's are cheaper. But as I was singing it, the ludicrousness of what I was saying sort of got to me. That was probably the first take. I was writing the words right there. The idea had just come to me as I was doing it. So there was probably a bit of me laughing with joy, knowing how to finish the song.

Cool. Ok, another song on the record, "Summer Job", seems destined to be the good time cruising in the car summer song. It's a complete song from start to finish. Do you feel like it has possible single potential?

I thought it might be the next one, but now I think we'll be going with "DC Comics."

Which is another excellent song. Speaking of which, I know you were just given the grand tour of the DC comics offices here in New York. How was all that?

It was amazing. Pitchfork actually filmed it, to put up on their website. So, I kind of hid my fanboy tendencies. If they hadn't been there filming it all, I would have been jumping all around . I love DC comics and it was exciting to see all the rooms where these writers work.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

Dan Jurgens, who invented "Booster Gold". He wrote a lot of Superman as well. Then there's Jeff Katz who wrote "Booster Gold" as well. He also just produced the Wolverine film.

Have you considered writing your own graphic novel?

Well, I would love to write "Booster Gold". I wouldn't want to invent anymore super heroes though. I think it's done. I think there are enough of them. So, if I wrote a comic it would be about something else.

Are there any books you're reading right now?

I'm reading "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991". It's interesting because originally I didn't really like a lot of American underground music when I was growing up. I know loads about Mudhoney now, but I've got no idea what they sound like, which is pretty funny.

But you know about them now.

They're in the book.

What about Sonic Youth?

Yes. They cover about 13 bands. Mission of Burma, Sonic Youth, The Replacements are all prominently featured.

So, it's mostly pre-grunge?

That's the whole point of the book. About how alternative music evolved into the grunge movement. It's really good. The Replacements chapter is hysterical. The Minutemen chapter is really funny too. It reveals that the Minutemen didn't know about tuning strings on the guitar -- they thought it was just a preference things. You know, some like them tight, while others like them a bit looser (laughter).

The show begins.

Eddie Argos

Jasper Future

Ian Catskilkin

Jasper, drummer Mikey Breyer and Eddie

The first night's set list

Hanging out on the streets of New York City with Jasper Future

And in front of the club with Keith TOTP


Two nights later I'm back at the Merc for Art Brut show No. 3 where I conducted the above exclusive one-on-one interview with frontman Eddie Argos.

Chatting with Ian post-interview (Ian showed up just as I was wrapping up with Eddie)

Additionally, spending some time with drummer Mikey Breyer, while the Mercury Lounge dog kept us company.

Read the complete June 3, Art Brut show No. 3 full text review here:


Mikey and Ian

Bassist Freddy Feedback and Jasper


That night's set list.


The final night of Art Brut's unprecedented, 5 consecutive night sellout at The Mercury Lounge.

Read all about it here:

Freddy and Jasper

Jasper directs and the fans obey

Fan, Freddy, Jasper and Eddie

More fans and more band

Freddy looks on as Jasper and Eddie "ooooh"

Yours truly in the audience (left side in black t-shirt) for one of Eddie's nightly forays in the crowd.

Me standing in what I consider the perfect location for maximum sound and vision.

Eddie gets up close and personal with the fans. Cromwell documents.

Its wonderful chaos and I appear to be directly behind the man there.

Sweat drenched, I celebrate with my peers.

Back on stage and a modicum of order somewhat restored.

The final night's set list.


Anonymous said...

great photo's etc etc etc. ;)

Mr Smork said...

ok... those tirades of articles is exhausting... but when i started to read it became interesting. and i read those article and this time i felt boring only in second one (best result so far) my cruel joke...
anyway i really enjoy the interview (as always) even if half of it was about how some other guy cool is. :) and i like it... (weird me) i agree with him about song writing thing - every artist even those mad - ones are creating in purpose anyone else will see it.
and i am interested in a book he's reading, maybe i'll download it latter. :)
as for the artist...: em'... he reminds me of band called "cooper temple close" or something like that. a bit plame music but strong texts.
so this was my thoughts about this feature from you.
feel the free everybody.

DaveCromwell said...

Ha, ha, Mr. Smork. "the articles" are "exhausting". And that was only *reading* them. Imagine having to write them! ;-)
I'm glad you "like" the interview.
Yes, accurate point on why people present music they write to the public. Of course it's for others to notice.
And yes, "strong texts" *is* the heart of Art Brut. But, again, in the live setting, there is a lot of "punky" music going on too.
I always appreciate your candid and typically accurate commentary, friend.

ViewFromSpookysDoghouse said...

Art Brut has some good studio recordings. One day I hope to hear the song they wrote that brings the Palestinians and Israelis together, featuring a melody that is sung. Great job by Dave.

x said...

Great, great stuff. It's cool to see more and more people in the music field who are also great comic book fans. It's fantastic.

I love the review, the photographs make it complete. The band's music is extremely cool. And extremely british, which I love.

Good job, Dave.