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
“Are you ready, Art Brut? Let’s go!” shouts frontman Eddie Argos, attacking the mic at Spaceland with his heavy southern-English drawl, leading his band through one of their first-ever U.S. gigs, circa 2005. The cheeky Brit pogos through the dense crowd at Spaceland, whipping it as he belts out the lyrics to Art Brut’s best-known tune at the time, “Moving to L.A.” “I’m gonna get myself deported . Hang around with Axl Rose, buy myself some brand-new clothes . I’m drinking Hennessy with Morrissey on a beach out of reach somewhere very far away,” he chants, and the Angelenos go wild.
Flash forward four years, and Argos has taken up part-time residence here. Art Brut have gone from being free agents in the States to having endured a highly publicized signing and subsequent split with a major label, and it’s just released its third full-length album, Art Brut vs. Satan, which the group managed to convince alternative-rock titan Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black) of the Pixies to produce.
“I’ve had a lot of time lying around on my back just thinking, ‘How weird is this?’” Argos says over the phone from Hamburg in the midst of the European leg of the band’s tour, musing on how far they’ve come since that early Spaceland gig. Returning to their humble roots, Art Brut are gearing up for a three-night residency at the intimate Silver Lake club in June. The singer has been taking it fairly easy lately because of a recent back injury that he suffered onstage in Amsterdam, which gave him plenty of time to ponder such matters. “This thing we’re doing at Spaceland — we’re doing it in New York and Chicago too — like, five shows at the Mercury Lounge and five at Schubas. It’s amazing people actually want to see us.”
Argos admits that when the band played those L.A. gigs half a decade ago, they never thought they’d be back on U.S. soil, let alone practically living and recording albums here. “We thought, ‘Oh, America. We’re never gonna come here again.’ So we did all the fun things — stayed at the Hyatt and hung out on the Sunset Strip, all those clichés. Now it turns out we’re in America much more than we’re in Britain,” he laughs.
A few months ago, the band found themselves in a part of America they’d never dreamt they’d visit — the sleepy, misty town of Salem, Oregon, where they recorded with Francis in his home studio for a down-and-dirty 12 days. Here the Pixies man helped them fine-tune their raw punk-pop sound into a powerful 11-song punch of an album that never lulls.
“I get quite bored in the studio,” admits Argos. “I like to sing a song and be done. And that’s how [Francis] records [with his band] the Catholics. The first Catholics album, they did it in one take. So we were thinking, if we’re going to record in this sort of style, who’s the expert in that?” The band unanimously decided on Francis, with whom they’d played a handful of gigs.
“We got in touch with him and said, ‘Could you please produce our album because you’re really good at doing it like that and that’s how we want to do it?’ And he was, like, ‘Yeah!’” Argos gushes. “So we just rocked up with our equipment and played the songs.”
In addition to his quick-take approach, Francis is also known for his unique gift for lyrical rhythm and syncopation, and juxtaposing screeching guitars with quiet, melodic moments, which helped establish the Pixies as one of the most influential alternative-rock forces of the late 1980s and early 1990s (and which Nirvana famously cited as a major influence).
When asked why he agreed to work with the young London quintet, Francis says many things attracted him. “In terms of the vocal presentation of Eddie Argos, it’s really special,” he says from his Oregon home, where his three young children are climbing on his lap. “There aren’t many people that can break down melody into something that’s more about rhythm. I can think of two great examples: Mark E. Smith of The Fall and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. People say Eddie’s just talking his lyrics but that’s an oversimplification of what he does. If he was just talking his words it’d be a lot more boring and it wouldn’t suck you in in a musical way. Not too many people can get away with that.”
In addition to highlighting Argos’ unique vocal style, Francis wanted to emphasize the “voices” of guitarists Jasper Future and Ian Catskilkin. “If you’re gonna produce, one of your jobs is to bring out and not disguise elements. So on occasion I did attempt to separate the guitarists’ voices from the singer’s voice, so there are passages where we hear less guitars and more Eddie, and there are other passages where we let the guitars happen without any voice. Other than that, I was just trying to be another band member by being with them in spirit and trying to make a good record and just listening.”