Sunday, July 10, 2011

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Giant Drag interview: “My God, we’re so gay!”

There hasn't been much going on at Bloody Awful Poetry for the last week...but to make up for it, here's a much-larger-than-usual piece of muzak scribbling. It should be up soon at Gigwise aswell.

“Shut up before I come and take a dump down your throats”.
Not the sort of thing you’d want to hear from a girl you’re hoping to introduce to your elderly relatives, but just the sort of sit-up-and-listen shocker you wish more of our play-it-safe rock stars would come out with. Such a proclamation is especially surprising when it comes from a mouth in which it looks like butter wouldn’t melt - that of Giant Drag singer and guitarist Annie Hardy.

Along with the other half of her band, simultaneous drummer and synth-player Micah Calabrese, she makes for a larger-than-life presence on stage. But offstage, in the dressing room of Liverpool’s Carling Academy before the final night of a twelve-date tour with The Cribs, she behaves in a manner much more befitting of her china-doll beauty. Softly spoken, verging on shy, and fiddling nervously with a bottle lid throughout the interview, she still isn’t exactly your typical girl next door though, explaining her onstage persona and excrement-related heckler baiting as “just something that comes out. I don’t want people to, like, fuck with me. You’ve gotta stand up for yourself onstage, especially when you’re a girl. No-one’s going ‘show your tits!’ at The Cribs”.

Based in LA, Giant Drag have been making waves here in the UK since the release of their Lemona EP in 2004. Their debut album Hearts and Unicorns has just received its full UK release, and they’re busy taking their spacey dream-pop songs around the country’s venues. And with just the two of them, they’ve become pretty close, finishing each other’s sentences and mocking each other as only best friends can. “We get separate hotel rooms once in a while, but even then we just end up talking to each other on the phone” says Micah.
Annie: “It’s weird, we’re together all the time. We hang out a lot together at home too. Obviously, we get along very well. Although we do have a lot of space really on tour. We can even find space from each other on the bus.”
Micah: “But we always end up both sitting in the two front seats anyway.”
Annie: “My God, we’re so gay!”

There’s that take-her-home-to-meet-your-mother charm again. And she seems to have a bit of a penchant for that three-letter synonym of “homosexual”, with a recent single being titled ‘Kevin is Gay’. “Kevin is just a guy though,” she says, “the song is nothing to do with him. But this guy, a friend of ours, hacked into our website, so it’s a response to him. We posted up on there, ‘Kevin, stop posting all this stupid crap on our website. Come and see us tomorrow when we’ll be debuting our new song Kevin is Gay’. And the title just stuck.”

Another song of theirs whose title has nothing to do with its lyrical content is the surprisingly radio-friendly ‘You Fuck Like My Dad’. With song names like that, you can’t help but wonder whether Annie’s parents consequently feel a little uncomfortable with their daughter’s chosen career path. “They love it!” she says. “They understand my demented sense of humour, although it was a bit of a shock for them at first. ‘You Fuck Like My Dad’ must be the gnarliest thing I’ve ever said, but they like the song”.

Micah, though, doesn’t care much for such controversy and showboating: “If someone asks me about the band, I’ll normally just start talking about the instrumentation like ‘Oh, Annie plays guitar and sings, I play drums and keyboard’.” From a musical family, he’s been playing the keyboard since the age of four, and now his left hand does all the work of a bass player. He and Annie see their minimalist line-up as a good constraint though, with her commenting “Fucking bastard’s already playing synthesiser and drums at the same time – imagine what would happen if there was more!”

It’s no surprise that Giant Drag’s record label wasn’t keen on titles like ‘My Dick Sux’ and the aforementioned father-love anthem. So, keen to maximise retail opportunities and profit margins, it censored them on the record sleeve in order to stock the US version of the album in über-chains like Walmart. “You’ve gotta choose your battles when dealing with the fucking record label” though, according to Annie. She’s obviously not one for self-censorship, but while many would kick up a fuss at such label intervention, she says “I’m not gonna be like ‘Fuck that! I want that U in the word fuck!’ I don’t think it’s compromising our integrity to asterisk out a word on a piece of paper”.

Looks like she knows how to play the industry game. She’s not keen on it though, describing the band’s recent night out at the NME Awards as “Just a bunch of industry jerk-offs being drunk”. She later refers to the ceremony as “the Shit Awards”, hastily adding “not that I think the NME is shit or anything”. And this keenness not to make enemies doesn’t just extend to the music press - when pushed to name a band he really hates at the moment, Micah remains stubbornly tight-lipped, pretty much summing up the band’s keep-the-peace attitude in general. For all Annie’s controversy-courting, Giant Drag are really just two friends who love their music, and don’t want any trouble. While waiting for a soundcheck, they’re content to amuse themselves with a laptop and an internet connection, and when they get home from touring Annie says she just wants to stay in and watch TV. And what’s her ultimate career ambition? “I’d just like to be remembered as a kind, honest person…that had an awesome rack”. You can’t say fairer than that.

There's a review of the aforementioned final tour date with The Cribs here aswell.

LIVE REVIEW: The Cribs, Giant Drag, The Jeffrey Lewis Band

26th February 2006 @ Carling Academy, Liverpool

One can easily imagine three bands getting pretty close over the course of a twelve-date tour, and consequently tonight’s final gig is a bit of a love-in. But in between giving gushing thanks to everyone from the tour bus driver to headliners The Cribs, Jeffrey Lewis finds time to showcase his acoustic-led beatnik rants. A product of the same New York anti-folk scene that spawned The Moldy Peaches, he introduces standout track ‘The Big Mystery of Communism’ as “a little documentary I’ve been working on for a while”. A spoken word diatribe, accompanied by violins and cartoon Soviet Block projections, it’s far more complex than anything tour mates Giant Drag dare attempt. But with lowbrow song titles like ‘My Dick Sux’, you’d be a fool to expect anything overly sophisticated from the duo anyway.

What the Californians lack in complexity though, they make up for in power. Infamous opener ‘You Fuck Like My Dad’ seems to defy the fact that there are only two of them onstage, with drummer Micah Calabrese hitting notes on a synth with his left hand in between snare hits. There’s off-kilter Soundgarden riffing in places, and floaty ethereal guitars in others, all held together by deceptively simple pop melodies. Despite such great tunes though, singer and guitarist Annie Hardy is the show’s real centrepiece. Her song titles are a window onto her twisted psyche, and talking in a babyish tone all evening while making statements like “I haven’t worn a bra all tour, just for you guys” only serves to increase your view of her as a bit of a nutjob. On the eve of her band’s UK album release, she’s a star in the making.

Already bona fide stars though are the Kaiser Chiefs’ Yorkshire mates The Cribs, as evidenced by the screaming girls and stadium-sized light show that greet their arrival onstage. Following in the grand tradition of pub-rock power trios, their shout along Jam facsimiles aren’t exactly ground breaking, but they get the front row putting their fists in the air nonetheless. While Giant Drag are justly proud of their minimalism, The Cribs cover it up by pulling cliché rock star poses: standing on the drumkit, ripping their shirts off and proudly proclaiming how rock and roll they are by “playing against doctor’s orders” after singer Ryan’s hospitalisation at the NME Awards.

They do have a couple of aces up their sleeves though. ‘Hey Scenesters’ is undeniably great, with added bombast from tonight’s extended drum intro. Last years single ‘Martell’, meanwhile, with its hooky refrain of “someone’s got their eye on you” is probably the most infectious thing the Academy has ever heard. The band crack open a bottle of champagne before the last song to celebrate a successful tour. But really they should be celebrating the fact that an otherwise average group has been saved by a couple of great singles and a lot of posturing.

There's another great live review of Giant Drag (from the Newcastle date of this tour last week) by fellow music blogger Greg Smyth over at Swing Batter Batter.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mclusky - "Mcluskyism"

This makes three good reviews in a row I've written! That's a first...but I do love Mclusky. Although you may remember I gave a slightly lukewarm review to the new band of Mclusky's former bassplayer, Shooting At Unarmed Men.

For many, this album will be a first introduction to the wonderful world of Mclusky. And that’s a real shame, as they’ll have missed three essential albums of puns, guitar breaking and noise making. One of the most underrated bands of recent memory, the Welsh three piece have been sorely missed since their split last year, and now dot the final "i" and cross the final "t" on their all too short and sweet career with this "best of" set.

Just like the band’s music, Mcluskyism is totally utilitarian: stripped down and bullshit free. It charts their progress chronologically from their first single, 2000’s aural brick-through-a-window, ‘Joy’, right up to their final album’s ‘Without MSG I’m Nothing’. As you’d expect of a band whose songs rarely exceeded three minutes, lean is the name of the game here: twelve tracks, half an hour, no messing. But that’s all you need to capture the essence of their scratchy Shellac roar.

‘To Hell With Good Intentions’ was always a Mclusky live favourite, and its chest-shaking bass distortion is as powerful now as it ever was. Like an anthem for all that they stood for, no other band could come out with anti-hipster couplets like "Our band is better than your band/we’ve got more songs than a song convention". Debut album highlight ‘Rice Is Nice’ hurtles past almost faster than you can hear it. And despite hints of – whisper it – a melody on some of the more recent tracks, every song is an Albini-produced breezeblock.

As with most "best of" collections, there’s nothing here for those who are already fans. They’re best off catching the very limited, very un-Mclusky 3 disc B-sides and rarities edition of Mcluskyism. But for anyone who wants to pretend that they were there first time round when Mclusky are revered as cult heroes in twenty years’ time, you won’t find a better education.

ALBUM REVIEW: Sway - "This Is My Demo"

Sway’s very much your typical rags-to-riches hip-hop success story. North London born and bred, MOBO award winning Derek Andrew Safo sits alongside grime contemporaries Dizzee Rascal and Kano as one of the shining lights of the section in Virgin Megastore that’s horribly labelled "urban". This debut album sounds anything but typical though.

Take the lyrics, for one. This Is My Demo’s self-titled opener is a biting statement of intent, part manifesto, part Lord’s Prayer for the disciples of grime. For all the talk of how "real" Mike Skinner’s tales of kebab shop scuffles are, he’s just a stereotype of a Reebok Classic-wearing wideboy. Sway’s stories are real though. From ‘Pretty Ugly Husband’s condemnation of domestic abuse to the self-deprecating skits taking aim at his African heritage, this is life as it’s actually lived by many. Even the album’s most light-hearted track, ‘Download’, is an anti-MP3 argument more eloquent than anything the RIAA has been able to come up with.

But he’s not just a comedian-cum-philosopher. Sway’s DIY production work rivals any of the American big names. The chilled harpsichord vibe of ‘Little Derek’, for example, would perfectly suit a Snoop Dogg poolside-gin-and-juice video. Most of the album’s the complete opposite of that though, with vicious 100MPH spitting and busy hi-hats. ‘Flo Fashion’ has some of the most powerful sub-bass you’ll ever hear – an especially amazing production feat given that This Is My Demo is completely self-financed and released. There’s none of the needless genre cross-pollination that Kano’s Home Sweet Home suffered from. For the most part this is the pure sound of London.

Not completely though. The last four of the fourteen tracks here are in a similar mould to ‘Little Derek’, but rather than being sat by the pool, they’re more stuck on the bottom. But despite these elements of wishy-washy R ‘n’ B, it looks like we’ve finally found a UK rapper who can hold his own across the pond.

SINGLE REVIEW: The Modern – "Industry"

I spotted how great this track was when I first saw (and reviewed) The Modern back in December '04, and only now is it coming out as a single.

Perhaps electroclash is pop music’s equivalent of communism: a great idea in theory that never really caught on. The Modern may well be the genre’s Fidel Castro though. A great example of how such things are done properly, their Human League male/female vocal interplay is tailor made for school disco dance routines. With sheeny synths and retro handclaps, ‘Industry’ is a ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ for the fashionista crowd. But The Modern won’t mind that description. They’re unashamedly glossy pop, and all the better for it.

SINGLE REVIEW: dios (malos) - "I Want It All"

I hate bands with grammatically incorrect names. But at least I got to talk about postmodernism again...

How postmodern! It seems dios (malos) have written a song about writing songs. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from lyrics like "I’m only finding out what it’s all about". The Californians have discovered that where summery West Coast jangliness is concerned, it’s all about hazy lead guitar lines and lazily drawled vocals. They’ve yet to figure out, though, that it’s also about tunes that stay in your head for more than 10 seconds after you’ve heard them. ‘I Want It All’ would be perfect for system-up, top-down cruising on Sunset Strip. Unfortunately though, we can’t all be characters from The OC.