“And, yes, this is my singing voice. It’s not irony, and it’s not rock and roll. We’re just talking to the kids.”
So sang Eddie Argos on the Art Brut‘s debut single, 2004’s “Formed a Band.” Of course, he was only half-serious: it was, in fact, rock and roll, but the rest was a mission statement of sorts. Argos was disinterested in cynical detachment from rock music, and he was going to let you know it, over and over again, in as loud and ungraceful a voice as he could muster.
Heavily salted with a self-deprecating wit, Argos’ songs channel insecurities and idiosyncrasies into self-aware anthems for the misfits, drunks, introverts, and music nerds of the world. His band assembles backing tracks from slightly more conventional parts: chugging rock riffs, straightforward punk, and the occasional stadium-ready bombast. (There’s a reason the band so easily weaves AC/DC and Metallica into “Formed a Band” live.)
The combination of the two goes a long way towards explaining the large tent that Art Brut props. When the band rolls into town tomorrow for another Black Cat show, you can expect an audience of hipsters and frat boys, high schoolers and NPR dads, fanboys and newbies. Art Brut belongs to no one. Art Brut belongs to everyone. And you get the feeling Argos wouldn’t have it any other way.
The band is touring behind the recently released Brilliant! Tragic!, its fourth record, and second produced by Pixies frontman Frank Black (aka Black Francis). The album doesn’t radically alter the Art Brut formula, but it does produce one interesting twist: for the first time, Argos employs a softer delivery on a handful of songs, refuting his claim that the shouting we had grown accustomed to was his actual singing voice after all.
Eddie Argos talked about the process behind the new record when we caught up with him few days ago. He was preparing for a concert in London, but took a break to fill us in on working with Frank Black, his inspirations and alcohol preferences, and whatever happened to Emily Kane. Win tickets to be charmed by Eddie yourself here.
BYT: How’s it going?
Eddie Argos: Good, good. We’re soundchecking right now. Playing in London tonight.
BYT: I saw – playing a university, right?
Eddie: Goldsmiths. We’re playing at Goldsmiths University. Yeah, yeah.
BYT: Have you played there before?
Eddie: Yeah, a long time ago. We just did a five nights residency in London, so this is like the sixth one. [Laughs] Somewhere else. That’s how you get your six nights in London.
BYT: One thing you often do during shows is urge your audience to go out and start bands. When you return to a city, do ever get people who tell you they have?
Eddie: Well, there’s the Klaxons. Heard about the Klaxons? Two of them saw me on a train and told me they started a band because I told them to. I don’t know how much of that is true. [Laughs] They were like, “Oh, hey, it’s Eddie, isn’t it? We’re in a band, playing James’, that we started because you told us to.” And then, like, years later I saw them again and they were like, “Remember us? We’re that band. We’re the Klaxons now.” So that’s pretty good. Then there’s a wrestler called Chris Hero who’s a fan, who’s in the wrestling federation, but he didn’t start that. The Klaxons and Chris Hero – that’s a pretty good record.
BYT: What bands made you want to form your own?
Eddie: Oh, for me? Jonathan Richmond, probably, I’d say. A little bit before then I read a book about the Velvet Underground. I’d always wanted to be in a band, but I couldn’t play anything. I tried to play the guitar and I couldn’t do it. The bass, the clarinet, and stuff – I couldn’t do it. And then I read this book about the Velvet Underground and how they played a blender on stage, full of water. I thought, “Hmm, ok.” So I started a band called the Art Goblins and I played the Hoover in that. We did a “Louie, Louie” kind of thing, so I thought, “I might as well just shout as well.” That’s where it all began, but that was kind of a joke band. Then I heard Jonathan Richmond and I thought, “Oh, well, I can start a proper band now. Be like him”
BYT: When you started Art Brut, did you expect it have the longevity it has?
Eddie: I was sort of surprised at first, because the sort of music I like doesn’t travel well. [Laughs] I like sorts of things like the Owls That Swim [?] and stuff. Strange blokes like that. Yeah, I was surprised.
BYT: Have there been any low points?
Eddie: I don’t know. We’re all pretty happy with what we do, night after night. There aren’t any really low points. We’re chipper people. Pretty happy.
BYT: What’s made you happiest?
Eddie: Calling up Black Francis to do produce our record. I grew up being a big Pixies fan and stuff. We consider him a friend of the band now. That’s a high point. I also never really traveled before I was in the band, and now I get to go everywhere. Traveling, and going everywhere, and meeting people – it’s all a high point, isn’t it? Especially when I love being in a band.
BYT: That’s a positive outlook. You mentioned working with Black Francis. What does he bring to the recording process?
Eddie: Well, he gives me a lot of self-confidence. There’s nothing like him saying, “That’s a really good lyric,” or “That’s a brilliant a brilliant lyric.” Its like, “Ah, cool.” [Laughs] That’s always good. It’s different after the first record. When we first met, it was so intimidating. Like, he’s Black Francis. We were sort of careful around each other. He sort of conducted us. Told us, “Try this out,” and “Try that out.” We tried different things out. One take and we were done. That was the first time. But this time, because he knew us, it was better. He was sort of part of the band, really. He sat down with us and his guitar. We changed of the songs. He also taught me to sing, you know?
BYT: What’s a song that changed along the way?
Eddie: The “Axel Rose” song – which is actually one of my favorite songs on the album – started out fast, like a thrashy punk song. It didn’t even last three minutes. Like, “Yeah! Axel Rose!,” sort of like a Sex Pistols thing. Black Francis was like, “Play it slower. A little bit slower still. Slow it down. Slower. Slower.” We were like, “He’s mental! This is too slow!” And then when we finished it and heard it, it was like, “Oh, it’s more like a Stooges thing now.” I think he likes to edit everything. He doesn’t like us to do any editing. He makes us do lots of additional things, and then picks through the tape of it. He’s like, “Do whatever you want.” Then he says, “Don’t do that. Do that again.”
BYT: There are a lot of slower moments on the record. It’s less “thrashy,” as you called it. Did you come into the studio intending to take that direction or did it progress that way as you recorded?
Eddie: It’s a bit of both, I guess. When were writing the songs, we would sort of try out different things. The last album was pretty punky, so we wanted to do some slow ones. When we got there, [Black Francis] had the same idea as us. Some of the songs got a bit mollified. My original plan was to call the album Wham Bang Pow Let’s Rock Out. I had written a song “Wham Bang Pow Let’s Rock Out”. And as we recorded the album, it turned out to be not that sort of record. It kind of evolved over time really. But we had three weeks to record this time.
BYT: Let’s talk about your new singing style. Was that your idea or Frank Black’s?
Eddie: It totally came from him. Frank called me up and about a week before we left and said, “Oh, Eddie, I think you should sing this time.” And I was like, “Eh, you can try.” [Laughs]. I really didn’t think I could sing, you know? I had never really even tried to sing before. I was a bit worried about it, actually. And then [Black Francis] sent everybody home, apart from me, and we sort of went through it, singing it and singing it and singing it. And when he played it back for me, I thought it was somebody else. I thought he was tricking me. [Laughs] And then I realized, “Oh, it’s me.” I do like that now I can use my voice as an instrument, really. I know it’s not, like, singing-singing, but it’s a bit closer, I think. The thing that was exciting for me was to hear myself a bit differently.
BYT: I’ve read some comparisons of the new singing chops. Jarvis Cocker in particular seems to pop up. How would you describe it, and who do you think a good comparison would be?
Eddie: I think I sound a bit like Luke Haines from the Auteurs. And a bit like the guy from the Psychedelic Furs. What’s his name? Rich or something. You know, he whispers too, doesn’t he? [Laughs]. It’s like a stage whisper, isn’t it, all this singing? [Laughs]. But, yeah, I like it.
BYT: How’s the whisper been going over live? Are people who haven’t heard the record a bit confused?
Eddie: Yeah, a little bit. [Laughs] But I’m singing a little bit louder live. I also think some of the people have heard the record are maybe coming out to see if we can pull it off live. But, yeah, it’s going alright I think.
BYT: You’re coming back to DC soon. How was the city treated you before?
Eddie: Well, I love the Black Cat, especially. It’s awesome. It’s one of my favorite venues in America. By the time I get there, I’m normally feel kind of tired of my band. I want to talk to some other people, you know? You can go downstairs there, and it’s got a good jukebox and you can kind of sit at the bar and meet new people. It’s quite a nice place for that. And DC is very cool.
BYT: I’m sure your jukebox assessment isn’t biased by your inclusion on it.
Eddie: Are we on the jukebox? [Laughs] That’s pretty awesome. They must have put us on after our last visit.
BYT: It’s an exclusive club to be in.
Eddie: Right on.
BYT: There’s a large degree of personal specificity in your songs. You’re not afraid to draw directly from your life’s experiences. Has that caused any problems for you?
Eddie: It’s weird when my parents come see us live, because I keep singing about wanking and stuff. That’s always a bit awkward. On the whole, it’s been pretty good, really. I mean, I sing very personal stuff and then I end up meeting people that like the same things as me. Then, like, Emily Kane heard her song and became my friend again. But, mostly, its things like “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake” – people come up after we play and talk to me about those things. After we play and everyone’s heard all these personal songs, they come up to me and tell me about their life experiences, and it’s like making loads of friends really. So it’s only really been positive things that I can sing about myself. It’s quite selfish, isn’t it? It’s very cathartic for me to go and tell the truth about myself on stage. But then it’s nice to make friends afterwards, so it’s good.
BYT: I heard that Emily Kane had reached out to you. Do you two still keep in touch?
Eddie: Yeah, we’re friends of Facebook. She actually just got married recently, to somebody else, so her name isn’t Emily Kane anymore. I’ve been joking that she did that because people kept pestering her. People saw that we were friends on Facebook and she would get e-mail from people saying, “Are you Emily Kane?!?” I think that annoyed her a little bit. I felt bad, because she’s quite a shy, quiet person. The last thing she needs is a man huffing around, shouting about her all the time. But it’s nice. We’re proper friends now. I didn’t get invited to the wedding. [Laughs] She’s awesome though.
BYT: You sing a lot about getting drunk and being hungover. Would you consider yourself a big drinker?
Eddie: Um, yeah, but I’m trying to not drink at the moment. [Laughs] I don’t really know what to do. I’ve never been not drinking, and it’s quite hard going on stage without that little bit of courage. I think, Art Brut [as a band], we do drink a bit.
BYT: What’s your drink of choice when you are drinking?
Eddie: At the moment, I’m drinking vodka and soda. I usually drink vodka and cranberry juice, but apparently what’s good for your vagina is bad for your teeth. So, yeah, vodka and soda for the moment.
BYT: You dedicated one song to having recently discovered The Replacements. Have there been any bands recently – old or new – that have had a similarly strong impact?
Eddie: The Soft Boys. And I’d always liked the Soft Boys a bit, and Robyn Hitchcock’s other stuff. But I had not really heard Underwater Moonlight. I had only, like, heard it in the background. And then I bought Underwater Moonlight a couple weeks ago, and it’s amazing. I think I’ve already played it about a hundred times, like, this week. It’s on repeat on my iPod. So, yeah, the Soft Boys. Love the Soft Boys.
BYT: One question I’ve always wondered: what’s up with having a stand-up drummer?
Eddie: Uh, I guess he’s a bit of a showoff. He likes to be seen. [Laughs] I don’t know, he’s always been like that. He tried out as a stand-up drummer. I think it’s kind of cool. I like that he stands up. We like a bit of showmanship on stage – that’s a part of it. He even stands up in rehearsals though. I think that’s how he learned to play the drums.
BYT: Speaking of showmanship, one time I saw you at Black Cat, opening for the Hold Steady, I think, and you had a powerpoint to accompany the set. Any tricks for this tour?
Eddie: Maybe we should we bring the powerpoint back. I forgot about the powerpoint. [Laughs] No, we’ll work it out when we get there. We always have a few tricks. We’ve got a big tour. But I don’t want to ruin any surprises.
BYT: Fair enough. Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you at Black Cat.
Eddie: I can’t wait. Do come over and say hello. I’ll see you over there.
WANT MORE? Follow ART BRUT on FACEBOOK/TWITTER (the band + Eddie), try to win tickets to their show tomorrow HERE, and YES, GO TO THAT SHOW.