Rough and ready

October 6, 2006


  • "Formed a band / We formed a band / Look at us / We formed a band!"

    -- Art Brut leader Eddie Argos gleefully proclaims on the opening track of the band's debut album, "Bang Bang Rock & Roll."

    Few bands have ever captured the sheer joy of being in rock band as effectively as Art Brut, which prides itself on substituting raucous enthusiasm for technical prowess. Indeed, it takes its name from the European term for outsider art -- the French phrase literally translates as "raw" or "rough art" -- though after the raves they've garnered in the last year, it's getting harder to accept that Argos, Jasper Future and Ian Catskilkin (guitar), Freddy Feedback (bass) and Mikey B. (drums) are really as inept as they claim.

    "I think maybe without me realizing it, they always could play very well -- it was just me who was amateur!" Argos grants with the self-deprecating laugh that punctuates all his conversations. "But on the new single" -- "Nag, Nag, Nag, Nag," which will be released in England next week -- "I'm very nearly singing! Before that, the closest I came was 'Emily Kane.'"

    Telling the story of the girl who broke his heart at age 15 -- only one of many in the years to come -- "Emily Kane" is only one of 12 extraordinary tracks on "Bang Bang Rock & Roll," which generally finds Art Brut's admittedly paunchy and very un-rock 'n' roll frontman sing-speaking his tales of romantic woe, unbridled ambition and sibling grief ("My Little Brother") over rollicking but tuneful punk backings.

    Recorded only 18 months after the group formed, the album was released in the U.K. in the spring of 2005. Word spread across the ocean and Art Brut developed a cult following that grew after noteworthy performances at the 2006 South by Southwest Music Festival, and the disc finally got its official U.S. release around the time of the band's headlining slot at the Pitchfork Festival last July.

    "It's actually pretty weird, looking back at it at the moment, especially because I'm on painkillers right now; I hurt my tooth, so I'm on painkillers and antibiotics," Argos says, laughing again. "But all these things I've done are mad! I'm in Phoenix now, and I never thought I'd see all these places in America. I didn't really think about whether our music would translate here, because we really did start as just a bit of fun between friends, and there was no real plan. By the time I started worrying about whether people over here would like it, we were already over here and ... people were liking it! [Laughs] On the other hand, I don't see why people wouldn't like it: I think everyone's got little brothers and ex-girlfriends and new girlfriends. I suppose they all can relate!"

    Any worries that the band is a novelty are offset by a new set of material as strong as the tunes on its debut. The group plans to record in December for a second album to be released simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K. next spring, in contrast to the delay last time around. "That was a bit of nightmare," Argos says, "but it was also a good trick, because we've been touring the same album for like two years now!"

    What kind of topics can the group address after a first album largely devoted to forming a band and settling the score with ex-girlfriends?

    "Well, there's always more ex-girlfriends to settle the score with!" Argos jokes. "But if the first one was kind of like a baby, this one is a bit more of an adolescent. It's funny being 26 and still feeling like I did when I was 17: I don't think I've grown up at all, but I think everyone wants to be like that. The first album was so full of adolescent concerns -- worrying about your brother and ex-girlfriends and sexual frustration and stuff -- but ... I'm still like that now!

    "In any event, I have one song about my father's relationship with his ex-girlfriend, though the more I think about it, it's really about my relationship with my ex-girlfriend -- I was sort of projecting. Another is about being lonely, but nobody really likes songs about being lonely, so I tried to hide it as a football chant. And then there's one about when you're younger and you've got a girlfriend and you think it's the most important thing in the world. You're living together and you think, 'This is it!' All your thoughts are about her and you're buying things and trying to get the house together, and then... she just leaves, because you had a completely different thought than she did!"

    Finally, "Nag, Nag, Nag, Nag" is about "having the headphones on when you're younger. Your parents are telling you off, but you're listening to your headphones instead of your parents." And the soundtrack? "Art Brut, needless to say!" But of course.