The Gravity of the Situation

Maids of Gravity frontman Ed Ruscha tries to play the music game his way.

For all that, Maids of Gravity, which hit stores in 1995, doesn't sound at all sketchy. Producer Matt Hyde, who's worked with both Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros, gave the threesome a sound that was equal parts alt-rock tumult and Sixties space pop, a la Spirit. "Only Dreaming," the album's single, and "20th Century Zen" are heavy groovers of an accessible sort, while "Introverted Skies," "A Sad One" and "Your Ground" sport loping tempos, gruff background cooing and random sprinklings of cacophony of which both Neil Young and Sonic Youth would approve.

Upon the completion of the disc, the Maids finally got acquainted with the road, thanks to stints opening for Bush and Matthew Sweet. But the lineup didn't stay firm for long. By the time Ruscha was ready to assemble another platter, Putnam had gone on to other things, so Ruscha invited guitarist Eugene Gorester and bassist Mark Fay to join him and Levitz in the studio under the supervision of producer John Cale. The sessions would be among the last times the quartet would be in this form: The Maids lineup now touring includes drummer Quazar, bassist Dean Opseth and guitarist Matt Londi. Ruscha swears that this latest turnover isn't an indication that he's an egomaniacal taskmaster. "I guess I pick people who have their own musical tastes and directions they want to go in." He laughs. "And after a while, that's what they decide to do."

For Ruscha, the experience of working with Cale, a founding member of the Velvet Underground whose past productions include memorable albums by the Stooges and the Modern Lovers, was both exciting and a bit nerve-racking. "I try to just view people as people and not get too much into the baggage they carry along with them," he says. "But he has an intimidating personality beyond just what he's done. He's...well, he's pretty hard, if you know what I mean."

Fortunately, Cale's firm hand proved beneficial during the whirlwind three-week period in which The First Second was recorded and mixed. "It was pretty funny," Ruscha says. "He would have us come in at noon and go until eight o'clock every day. And that was it--it was like punching a time clock. But in a way, I recommend it. When you go into the studio late, you get some strange ideas and stuff, which is good. It's so much more efficient when you don't stay up too late, though. Then you come in the next day really sharp and ready to go.

"But even though he had the discipline going, he also allowed for all the funky little things that I like to happen, too. He knew the songs, but he was definitely open to whatever feel we were throwing down that particular day. And then he'd coach us along. When he told us that the take was 'carnivorous,' that meant it was good."

Actually, Second is not as carnivorous as that description might lead you to expect. While "Can't Lose," "In the Days" and "No Room" (spiced by the lines "I'm climbing up your tree/'Cause it's all green in your head/And there's a screen in your head/And there's no time to be dead") move along at a bruising pace, most of the other cuts revel in the tunefulness that lies just beneath Ruscha's arty exterior. "Don't You Disagree," "Light You Gave" and "Another One" are near-ballads Ruscha steers like a Buffalo Springfield. In fact, only "Golden Harm," a clamorous 45-second fragment of a song, and "It Don't Have to Be," which concludes in a blast of instrumental frenzy, truly head into the nether regions. While Ruscha may not like to hear it, there are half a dozen songs on Second that would sound perfectly fine on the radio.

But Ruscha has other goals. "I'm into psychedelic music," he declares. "Not like psychedelic slap-funk. I mean real psychedelic music--the whole psychedelic trip. That's one of the reasons I wanted to use a Mati Klarwein on the cover." (Klarwein, whose artwork adorns Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and Santana's Abraxas, painted "Exterminating Angel," which adorns Second, in 1968.) "To tell you the truth, I don't think I've gotten as psychedelic as I want to be. The next batch of stuff, which hopefully I'm going to be producing by myself, should have some really mind-bending effects."

If that doesn't strike you as a recipe for Top 40 supremacy, Ruscha doesn't mind. He's not interested in such matters. "I don't really pay any attention to that whole thing," he says. "I find all the kinds of stuff you're supposed to do to get where you're supposed to want to be kind of annoying--especially right now. Like, you're supposed to want to be in Rolling Stone, but if you compare the quality of an old Rolling Stone to new ones--well, you open up one now to any three random pages and I'll bet they'll be huge fashion ads." Chuckling, he allows, "I don't know anything about fashion. I just want to make music."

Red House Painters, with Maids of Gravity. 8 p.m. Friday, December 13, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $6, 830-2525 or 800-444-

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