Alexis Fleisig, drummer in Girls Against Boys, leans across and whispers softly, seriously, “Scott has a lot of weird stuff in his brain.”
Scott McCloud, gravel-vocalled singer/guitarist, sits silently, innocently across the dinner-table, as Eli Janney, baby-faced/sexy bassist/keyboard-player, elaborates. “Last night, Scott and I were sharing a hotel room, and in the middle of the night he woke up midway through a bad dream and karate-kicked the hotel lamp. He thought it was a demon.”
“And do you remember that night he sleepwalked back from the bathroom and got in bed with Tom, our soundguy,” chuckles bassist Johnny Temple, “And when Tom told him to get out Scott started weeping, and saying â€˜Baby, why are you being so mean to me? What did I do wrong?!"
“I’ve been a sleepwalker since I was a little kid,” admits Scott, bashfully. “I’m used to it now, to waking up in the middle of the night in a hotel lobby. I don’t sleep in the buff anymore.”
“Scott’s brain is just so incredibly scrambled when he’s sleepwalking,” laughs Eli. “It’s really funny trying to talk to him, he has this really confused look on his face…”
Thoughtfully, in reply, Scott murmurs: “That’s not true… When dawn breaks, the facade of â€˜reality’ descends once more. But at night, I’m seeing things clearly for the first time. And I’m seeing that you are all the evil ones.”
There’s a moment’s deadpan silence before Scott’s customarily-wicked grin returns. But truth be told, there is a lot of dark, crazy stuff running around Scott McCloud’s brain. It’s been far too long since he shared any of it with the world at large, but after three years in major-label limbo the band are about to return with a blistering, black-hearted new album. It’s called â€˜You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See’, and we’re all gathered at Opal Devine’s, a down-home BBQ shack on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, to chew over its sleek, neon-lit malevolence, and the very real demons which stalk Girls Against Boys’ waking hours.
“They were the dark days of our band, no question. Simply, we couldn’t do what we do: make music, put out records. We didn’t have a purpose.”
Eli sets out what was, until recently, the GvsB experience in stark terms. Signing to Geffen Records after the scuzzy midnight charms of underground classics â€˜Venus Luxure No 1 Baby’, â€˜Cruise Yourself’ and â€˜House Of GvsB’ won them breathless critical acclaim, their muscular (if slightly overpolished) major-label debut â€˜Freak*On*Ica’ hit the shelves in 1998, only moments before the Universal Records reshuffle saw countless great bands get absolutely shafted. Count GvsB among the worthy victims.
“We were halfway through a two and a half month tour with Garbage when we felt the cord get pulled,” remembers Johnny. “Quite literally. The phone just stopped ringing. And then everything fell apart; we changed management, tried to negotiate with a label that no longer existed, with label people who kept changing all the time…”
“Basically, we recorded â€˜Freak*On*Ica’, then everything went to Hell. Fastforward to new album,” grins Eli, but Scott’s not finished with the topic.
“What happened to us wasn’t unusual, it happened to a lot of bands. What was unusual was that the album actually got released.” He looks down at the table and grins to himself. “I figured out, the budget for â€˜Freak*On*Ica’ was thirty times what we spent on the new record. We had less time, money, and so couldn’t over-analyse things, just treated it like a bunch of rock’n’roll songs. We didn’t have time to â€˜Fuck The Flies’, as they say…”
Eli almost spits a mouthful of chicken-fried steak across the table. “’Fuck The Flies??!!’ Who says that? What does that mean?? I’m pretty interested in the etymology of that phrase right there…”
“It’s a French expression,” answers Scott, innocently. “It means â€˜nit-picking’, y’know? Trying to fuck something as tiny as a fly, defeating yourself with negligible things.”
“That’s dark, man,” marvels Eli, unconvinced. “That’s pretty sexy.”
“Well, flies can be pretty sexy,” replies Scott, spying a buzzing gnat circling the table. “Unnhh, c’mere baby!”
Perhaps it was naive to think that a band as subtly menacing and complexly twisted as Girls Against Boys could ever have conquered the American mainstream. After all, their night-riding grooves both revelled in and satirically skewered the bright-light attractions and transient pleasures of modern consumerist society, as you might expect from a buncha DC punks and friends-of-Fugazi who were seduced by the Big rotten Apple.
“You live in New York, you’re familiar with the â€˜Dark Side’,” says Alexis. “We all revel in it, that dark-rhythm-vibe is definitely a group thing.”
“We’ve always been entranced by the selling of a â€˜lifestyle’,” explains Scott. “The heights you’ll go to, to attain that â€˜lifestyle’, the late nights and the crazy shit… That’s the backdrop to everything for me. A lot of the attraction of New York is all the STUFF you can get. You start asking yourself, why am I attracted to all this STUFF? You start to realise all the, uh, â€˜needs’ you have,” he adds, laughing darkly, “The â€˜needs’ just keep piling up.”
“All the billboards and ad-speak you’re exposed to in NYC is insane,” adds Eli. “Every main street and intersection is plastered with propaganda. It seeps into the lyrics, you can hear it there.“
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” continues Scott. “I’m fascinated by it. It’s complex…”
“New York’s losing a lot of it’s character,” says Johnny, sadly. “The world’s getting so commercialised, so sterilised… The seedy, arty side of the city is being pushed to the periphery as this real Disney kinda mindset gets all the more pervasive. There’s Starbucks everywhere, Manhattan’s becoming like some giant shopping mall.”
So where do smart-sleazy degenerates like GvsB fit, in this sandblasted, superclean landscape?
“We’ve always been catering to an elite subset of the population,” laughs Johnny, but the band’s opinion on their own prospects is a little less jaundiced.
“I think noise is making a big comeback in the States,” chirps Eli. “I truly believe that, demographically, all the pop music kids are getting older, they wanna listen to â€˜cool’ music.”
“They want something a little, uh, grittier than the Backstreet Boys,” grins Scott.
“Oh, I don’t know,” chuckles Eli, “The Backstreet Boys are pretty gritty. I mean, they are â€˜Backstreet’, after all.”
He pushes his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. “It’s all about how it’s being sold. Shit like Rob Zombie’s not â€˜pop music’, but it sells millions. What we play is rock’n’roll, even though we mess around with its boundaries. I think all the major labels that wanted to sign us thought, â€˜These guys have got all the elements you need to put together a hit band’. But we demanded full creative freedom, so they couldn’t put the elements together the way they wanted to. That was one of the saving graces in the end, when they told us to write â€˜hits’, we could tell them, â€˜Our agreement was to make the music we wanna fuckin’ make’.”
Which leads us to today and â€˜You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See’, where all the weird stuff in Scott McCloud’s brain runs rampant across a blur of subverted adspeak, lascivuous low-end grit, and neon-flecked, pulverising riffage. The time for sleepwalking and fly-fucking’s over: the artful deviants are facing up to the Disney sterilisation machine for one last tussle. What side you on?