Debbie Does Decibels

Midway through a bite of tuna roll, Debbie Diamond sums up what separates her crew, the Januaries, from all the other female-fronted bands. ”I’m trying to bring the Hollywood bombshell back, but classy,“ says the half-Danish, half-Sephardic-Jewish lead singer. ”A lot of times when you get dumped by a lover, you want to hear sad songs that reflect your mindset, where you go, ‘Yeah, that’s how I feel, too.‘ But when girls hear my songs, I want them to say, ’Yeah, maybe I have been dumped, but I‘m still great!’“

As heard on the band‘s eponymous album released this past October, the Januaries’ ultracool loungecore pushes the wide-screen buttons in the listener, Diamond‘s airy purr conjuring a Tuesday Weld or Julie Christie figure from ’60s caper flicks. Consisting of guitaristbassistprogrammer Ric Boston, keyboardist John Nau, trumpetflugelhorn player Mitch Maker, bassist Dan Dunlap and drummer Dan Potruch, the band thaws freezer-burned Popsicles from the EZ-listening morgue. Yet a microscopic attention to detail pushes the music up a notch from standard-issue hipster retrobilia. You‘ll hear traces of Nino Ferrer, Stereolab, Astrud Gilberto, Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques DuTrount, short-lived sensations Monsoon, the Bongoes, and whatever was spun by DJ Franco at Vampyros Lesbos when Diamond was hanging out in New York. It’s the kind of glossy whiz-bangery Dmitri From Paris could have a field day with, except Thievery Corporation beat him to the punch with their recent remix of the Januaries‘ ”The Girl’s Insane.“

It‘s not all truffles and champagne on ice in Diamond’s Technicolor fantasy, though. ”Black Transmission“‘s down-’n‘-dirty guitar stomp and the soul-mama scat of ”Angel Eye“ give her bachelorette-pad fluff some rock & roll balls. At times the record could be the theme song to the wretched sitcom That Girl writ large, but then woman-of-Y2K lyrics such as ”You know I touch myself when there’s nobody there“ (”Love Met the Devil“) would make Doris Day blush and Ann-Margret envious.

Superficially at least, the Januaries dig on the Euro swank more than they do Yankee garages, but the vacuous optimism they evoke is distinctly American. In the context of our flush prosperity and monochrome political landscape, bubbly numbers like ”Cinema Girl,“ ”Chocolate and Strawberries“ and ”All Systems A Go Go“ are the perfect backdrop. So why haven‘t heaps of money been thrown at them by an industry always on the make for the next big shtick?

”When has a major label ever gotten it?“ she fumes. ”Let’s face it, a new sound always has to come up from the underground or indies. The music industry just doesn‘t like to take risks. I was flown all over by [major label] people. They all really liked what I was doing, but they were scared, like, ’Oh, I don‘t know . . . this is different.’“ Diamond isn‘t parroting that tiresome indie-purity vs. evil-empire cant -- the band found a third way in the form of Foodchain Records, a minimally staffed, forward-thinking local label backed by some venture-capital types with deep pockets. ”People think indie means poor, but there’s a lot of little labels that have money,“ she says. ”Plus, they really are involved with us, nurturing us.“

Coy may not be the right word, but Diamond‘s baby blues, pouty lips and spacy bearing tend to throw you for a loop. Truth is, she knows how to handle the suits, having been through the whole get-signed-get-dropped bit before with stints in Ugly Beauty and the Nymphs, and lending vocals to a Durutti Column single while her band Magpie (renamed Pink Fuzz) was briefly signed to Medicine (with Giant Records distribution) before intra-industry reshuffling did it in. When that happened, Diamond did what entertainers have always done: She reinvented herself. That didn’t stop a local zine hack from mistaking her for a porn star with the same handle. She responded in kind by taking an entire dispenser of the magazines and hefting them into a dumpster. ”If they‘re going to trash me, I’ll trash them,“ she chuckles. ”I just wish I‘d been more earth-friendly and thrown them in a recycle bin.“

The ultimate irony is that the Januaries’ ear-coddling gems are paid short shrift next to their singer‘s packaging. From the Playmate-style profile in Gear magazine to photo spreads of Diamond that fail to mention her bandmates, the Januaries’ press has shamelessly catered to the male gaze. Diamond knows it‘s a thin line between bombshell and bawd, class and crass, but she refuses to stifle her sensuality lest some see her as the next siliconed bubblehead.

”When I was younger, I was always trying to be a tough girl, downplaying my femininity,“ she says of her days as an orange-haired, hobnail-booted punker chick. ”Now I realize I should play up my femininity, because I really am a woman.“