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July 24, 2003

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Late June rarely yields a temperate climate in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, and the heavy air was getting to Paint It Black guitarist Dave Hause.

"It’s a lot like a sauna in here," he remarked to the crowd. "It’s like the Summer Sauna-tarium."

His quip, a reference to this summer's bloated monsters-of-rawk tour, was met with groans. In a semi-mocking tone, Hause taunted, "We don't like Metallica, man. We don't know what you're talking about." Vocalist Dan Yemin, catching his breath after the last screamer, interjected, "Come on, everybody likes Metallica."

Not quite the type of between-song exchange you'd expect from Paint It Black if you spent some time before the show thumbing through the lyrics to CVA, the band's Jade Tree Records debut due out Tuesday. Loaded rants decry the state of public schools in America ("Short Changed") and reject gender roles and stereotypes ("Womb Envy," which Yemin calls his "feminist song from a male perspective"). Fortunately, these hard-line political punks know how to laugh.

It's less sweltering outside the Church, but the band still opts to conduct the interview in bassist Andy Nelson's air-conditioned minivan. Worried about catching cold, drummer Dave Wagenschutz respectfully bows out of the discussion for now.

"He's anti-air conditioning," Yemin chuckles. "It's a capitalist tool." Of the entire group, Yemin arguably has the most to gain from Paint It Black's relaxed demeanor. For the 35-year-old alum of area emo/hardcore outfits Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, it serves as a tension tamer.

He is playfully referred to within the scene as "Dr. Dan," but the handle is for real. Yemin completed his doctorate in psychology at Widener University in 1998 while Kid Dynamite was getting off the ground. When they split in 2000, he focused on his career counseling children and adolescents. Work progressed to overwork and by April 2001 he was clocking 60 hours a week.

That's when he had a stroke.

Or, as his hospital discharge papers described it that spring, a "cerebrovascular accident" -- hence CVA.

"The time in intensive care rearranged my perspective of what's important in my life," Yemin says. "I hadn't done music in a year and a half. I wanted my friends back."

He called up Wagenschutz, who drummed in Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, and Hause, former guitarist for The Curse and a tour buddy of the Kid D crew. By November, they recruited bassist Andy Nelson to solidify the lineup.

Yemin still maintains his psychology career, working in private practice in Ardmore and Paoli, but complements it with punk rock. "He's living his life in perfect balance," says Hause.

One of the most obvious ways the band keeps things simple is song length. In classic hardcore style a la early Bad Religion and Minor Threat, CVA dishes out 17 songs in 18 minutes and 41 seconds.

"You mean these are different songs?" jokes Nelson, adding, "Short and fast is the way to do it when you're talking about punk." The album is expeditious, but far from sloppy. The band takes songcraft quite seriously and sees a challenge in squeezing the complete verse-chorus-bridge format tightly into a minute or less. "Being concise is hard," says Hause. "A lot of bands don't know how to shape their songs. They're flabby."

Shedding the flab allows Paint It Black to get serious (and given the volume and velocity of the vocals, the lyric sheet is a big help). Topics fly across the board, but cycle back to institutional misuse and abuse of power; in "Cannibal," Yemin howls, "I hate the way you live, taking more than you give/ We're gonna pay the price for your appetites."

The band is quick to pin the lyrical outlook solely on Yemin. It's not that they completely disagree with what he talks about, but some cuts caused internal contention.

Take "The Insider." Yemin describes the alienation of being a Jewish man -- a minority who can pass for a member of the majority -- and the disturbing white-male racist, sexist and homophobic banter it makes him privy to. A worthy sentiment, but not everybody in Paint It Black was crazy about the line, "I may be white but I'm a fucking kike."

Wagenschutz pops in to check on the discussion just in time to remark, "Dan and I didn't get together and write the lyrics to that song, that's for sure. We agree on a lot of social topics, but how we approach them and choose to fight the good fight is extremely different."

All concur that disagreements are bound to arise, however, and the group unanimously backs what Yemin has to say regardless of misgivings. "He's pumped about it," says Hause. "He's sincere about it and that is more important to me than nitpicking over what we think or don't think." Asked if the topical choice generates flak from his audiences, Yemin says, "Unfortunately, no. Sometimes I'd like to get more crap for the lyrics." Hause offers a devious smirk and says, "They just provoke the guys in the band."

Paint It Black plays Tue., July 29, 7:30 p.m., $8, all ages, with The Explosion, Cave In and The Faux, First Unitarian Church, 22nd and Chestnut sts., 800-594-TIXX.

The Philadelphia City Paper

John Vettese