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"Me and Dave have this thing about spanking kids," says vocalist/guitarist Fraska.
"Yeah," adds Paco, Four's bassist. "We pull little kids off the road while we're driving..."
"And just spank them," Fraska interjects. "Everyone just hates us. We leave a scar in every town we play."
"They must be under six," Paco notes, "because over six, they get too whiny."
If the members of Four (including guitarist Matt Tinez and drummer Damien) didn't also insist that they would be appearing on bills with Smashing Pumpkins during their travels, these comments might be a little harder to laugh off. After all, the interior of Four's van, which is plastered with photos of skin-flick stars, makes these claims fairly easy to fathom. But there's more to Four than initially meets the eye. For example, Fraska and Paco subscribe to straight-edge, a punk movement in which adherents do their best to maintain a productive, drug-free lifestyle.
"Straight-edge isn't what everyone thinks it is," Fraska contends. "It's basically just a positive way of being punk."
"It's like controlling your life," Paco reports.
These arguments have not yet swayed Tinez, who jokingly confesses to a drinking problem, or Damien, who grumbles that straight-edge "is like trying to define punk."
"Don't even try to define it," Fraska advises. "And if you don't like me for it, that's fine. It's just another form of punk."
Four first began making its own particular brand of punk rock in 1992--but beyond this date, hard facts about the group are in short supply. Fraska, whose straight-edge beliefs apparently don't extend to straight answers, asserts that the players met "through a dating article."
"Westword Romance," Tinez swears.
According to Damien, "This girl Monica hooked me and Matt up on a date."
An alternate version of Four's birth history holds that Tinez first encountered Fraska at a party in Thornton, where he was captivated by the way the guitarist played a NOFX song. But whatever it was that drew this twenty-something-and-younger foursome together, the band has since gone on to spread the gospel of punk to willing (and unwilling) acolytes everywhere. Their most effective tool in these endeavors has been Four's debut album, appropriately titled Album, which appeared in late 1994 on Fraska's own Red Ear label. Mixing humor with astute social commentary, the infectious punk tunes on the recording go for the jugular even as they provide plenty of punch for the pogo.
"If you list our influences, they probably would be Screeching Weasel and Operation Ivy," Tinez says. "We rip them both off."
"By accident, though," Fraska points out. "They taught us how to play music."
They learned well. Songs of alienation ("Ugly Crowd") and rants against favorite punk targets, such as hippies ("Omar's a Hippie") and authority figures ("Bakin' Nut"), have made Album an area favorite. A similarly positive response has greeted play with everything, a recently issued cassette that features all of Album plus ten new songs. The package was produced and engineered by veteran musician Jerry Jerome at his home studio, Doghouse. "He lent us the money to put it out, and we'll sell the tapes to make it back," Fraska reveals.
"Doesn't he play in the Capitalistic Hillbillies?" Damien asks.
Thanks to Jerome's assistance, the latest batch of material won't disappoint Album fans. The instrumental interplay throughout everything is tight, with Damien's drums pushing the band into overdrive. The bass and guitar, meanwhile, create a maelstrom of energetic noise alternately reminiscent of early Descendents and ska-punk faves the Voodoo Glow Skulls.
Especially noteworthy tracks on the release include "What I Don't Know," a tale of self-examination; the parodic ode "The United Pansies of America"; and a wonderful slap at rodeo stars, "Poop Boots." In explaining the inspiration behind this last ditty, Fraska says, "I'm not down with rodeos. I had some cowboy try to beat me up because I was talking shit about rodeos."
Whether bull-ropers will actually be able to figure out the words on "Poop Boots" is an open question; the vocals on the new numbers are murky, and no lyric sheet is provided to help decipher them. (The band, however, will send a printout of the lyrics to anyone who mails them a request and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.) Fraska explains the reasons behind the tracks' relative incomprehensibility: "I had a cold when we recorded it. And they were smoking in the next room, so the smoke just drifted in, and it messed up my head. I didn't want to say anything at the time about the cigarettes, because anytime I say anything about the smoke, people get mad because I'm straight-edge. They think that's why I say it hurts my throat."
In some quarters, a performer making such an admission wouldn't be considered authentically punk. But given the mass popularity of acts like Rancid and Green Day, even punks don't seem certain what constitutes punk anymore. When style parades over substance, a T-shirt with an anarchy symbol is just another blank commodity.