By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Like their models, Maktwain had lyrics once. An early version of the group appears on a 1999 Café Bleu compilation, from the late L.A. Britpop club of the same name. Their singer was Brian's sister Cynthia, who left to pursue a career in design. Interestingly, the songs that emerged after her departure were not some amorphous sonic Milky Way à la Sigur Ros or Red House Painters, but music that had structure and even a little funk in the trunk, that started as improvisational jams yet wound up as meticulously woven as a Bukhara rug. Indeed, they sounded as if they were composed with a singer in mind who — Godot-like — never showed up for rehearsal.
Without a singer, Maktwain have evolved a rather novel approach to getting a foot in the music-industry turnstile. "We've always been interested in doing music for films," says Brian."Doing instrumental pieces feeds into that. I'm even starting to think of each individual song as a movie." Their songs seem tailor-made for the purpose: "The Allure of Abandoned Houses" rotates with pops and hisses over an Angelo Badalamentilike score; "Number Conspiracy" is a hurtling blast of kozmik space-highway rock; "The Girl's Gone Wild" has spaghetti-Western guitar stippled with electronic oohs and aahs; "Stockholm Syndrome" is a woozy trance of nursery sounds over a creeping guitar line straight out of Country Joe & the Fish's "Sector 43."
The band point to Patlan — the last to join the group — as the "cinematic additive." (His filmmaker friend Robert Oregel designs the surreal video assemblages that accompany Maktwain's live shows.) Patlan's sampled effects favor synthesized feminine voices on "Junior Science" or "Ladies of Flamingo" (dedicated to the dancers of Club Galaxy) that wouldn't be out of place in a John Hughes film. His arsenal of textures — heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten and Tangerine Dream — adds a hopeful, dark-comedy edge that many of those Teutons lacked.
This vision seems to be paying off: When Maktwain were added to last summer's Sunset Junction Street Fair at the last minute, producer Daniel Lanois stopped by their stage and mumbled his props. Last year, before they had even played their first show sans vocalist, KCRW spun their self-released CD almost in its entirety on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Still, there's been criticism. "People tell us we don't keep things moving visually," says Brian. "Once someone said, 'You guys are playing pussy music! You need lyrics or a female voice in there to justify it!'" In response to (or in spite of) comments like these, Maktwain plan to augment their live performances with a female mannequin — speaker hidden in its throat — that would add prerecorded vocals. They even have a "girl" in mind: the lonely, chanteuselike entity they call "Lady Maktwain" that sits at their official downtown hangout, Hank's Bar. "I've been attempting to attain her for the last three months," says Brian. "I asked bartenders if I could rent her, take her out for photos, take her out to dinner . . . you have no idea the intricacies involved in acquiring a mannequin."
Maktwain play at the Silverlake Lounge on Tuesday, March 18, and at Cole's P.E. Saloon, 118 E. Sixth St., downtown, (213) 622-4090, on Saturday, March 22.