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Pickup Artists

The whole thing started out as a joke. After toiling throughout the ’90s with bands he was more than ready to leave, Brian Aubert sat down four years ago with Nikki Monninger and an ex-girlfriend named Elvira who was just learning to play the drums — and the Silversun Pickups were born. The result? A total fucking mess.

“Two weeks after we started jamming,” explains guitarist-vocalist Aubert, “[bassist-vocalist] Nikki and Elvira made a tape — and I mean a crappy one, using a ghetto blaster on the floor. We sent it to CMJ as a joke, and got in. So we went out there and pretended to be a band — and we were horrible. And I’m not saying we’re great now, but man . . . I can’t believe the patience of some people who come to see shows.

“We were so lucky.”

And, as it turned out, talented. Although the band — named for the liquor store at the corner of Sunset and Silver Lake — have self-released material in the past, the Pickups are now the proud parents of a powerhouse psych-rawk EP, Pikul, that would make Billy Corgan or My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields wet their Depends. A six-song (seven, if you count the hidden track) sure shot of jagged, emotional songcraft that recalls the downtempo missiles of the Pixies and Sunny Day Real Estate, Pikul frontloads the sort of cathartic mood music that makes the sensitive types flock to the stage. In fact, songs like the churning “Kissing Families” and others have been known to cause audience members to weep openly, even if, at the time, the band was too distracted to notice.

“I’ve literally had that moment,” Aubert confesses. “Once during a song called ‘Lazy Eye,’ I was losing so much patience with my crappy gear that I got completely angry onstage — until about halfway through the song, when I saw someone crying. At which point I was like, ‘I am the stupidest person alive.’ I can remember a time long before I ever played live where I imagined what it would be like to affect someone that way during a show. And when it finally happens, we’re going, ‘Waaah, we didn’t get the beer we wanted! Waaah, how come bands don’t get whiskeys? That sucks!’

“But I love those moments of revelation, though, because they put you exactly where you should be — in your place.”

Right now, Aubert and company — including keyboardist Joe Lester and drummer Christopher Guanlao — are in a happy place, situated as they are between success and the Ship, a loosely organized coterie of Los Angeles artists who call each other both friends and colleagues. Named for Earlimart’s studio hangout, the Ship, through sustained camaraderie, has helped build and support a score of local artists from Pine Marten and Irving to Alaska! and Elliott Smith.

In fact, buddies like Earlimart’s Aaron Espinoza and Pine Marten’s Brian Thornell helped produce the meditative rock on Pikul, as did Rod Cervera (the Rentals guitarist who also pitched in on producing Weezer’s Maladroit). All of which helps Aubert, who in the past was so wracked by nerves he could barely stand near the mike to sing.

“I’m from L.A., and as much as this town can be pretty retarded, it is still amazing. Because there is a serious appreciation for off-the-beaten-path bands like our own here, and bands like that have a tendency to gravitate towards one another. And stick together.”


The Silversun Pickups’ EP-release show will be held at Sea Level Records Tuesday, July 26, 8 p.m.