Lost at Scene

After spearheading the post-punk revival, GoGoGo Airheart is still on its own island.

Not to say that Vyas is bitter or jealous about his friends joining the rock elite -- quite the opposite. "Those guys are going to maintain as long as they keep writing good music. In the end, it's the music, not the scene, per se, that's important," he says. "In many ways, I want to cash in, too, and get some dollars to invest in this thing and keep it going, but in reality, this is an underground, independent band."

So independent, in fact, that GoGoGo Airheart's first recorded documents were hand-packaged cassettes put together by Vyas and Michael Vermillion, the group's singer/guitarist and one other constant member throughout many lineup changes over the years. Since those early days, Airheart has released nine singles and full-lengths on half a dozen indie imprints, starting with 1997's Gogogo Airheart. The disc -- recently reissued on the band's current label, GSL, owned by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, of the Mars Volta, and Sonny Kay, formerly of Boulder's own Angel Hair and the legendary VSS -- is a tweaked, kinky tangle of sound. Bass lines thrum convulsively while keyboards wheeze like broken respirators; Vermillion is a particle physicist speaking in tongues and baptizing his guitar in a fiery lake of subatomic static. Shards of pop are thrust into rubbery slabs of dub at random angles. The shit is all over the place. Whereas most of the hipsters taking cues from GoGoGo Airheart fixate on one slim facet of the post-punk spectrum, Vyas is quick to point out just how broad a musical palette his group draws from.

"There's been 25 years of music since Second Edition," he says, citing Public Image Ltd.'s 1979 opus, basically the bible of nü-post-punk. "And there was sixty years of pop music before it. I was just listening to some crazy Benny Goodman stuff, a live show from 1939 at Carnegie Hall with Gene Krupa on the drums. It was fucking insanity. Both Mike and myself, our first love is music. When it comes to music, it's not rock; it's not reggae; it's not pop. It's music. I'm Indian, so I'm into Indian music, and we listen to a lot of African music. We like everything from the Swell Maps to Aphex Twin to the Grateful Dead. The list goes on and on."

Winging it: Ashish Vyas (from left),  Andy Robillard and 
Michael Vermillion are GoGoGo Airheart.
Winging it: Ashish Vyas (from left), Andy Robillard and Michael Vermillion are GoGoGo Airheart.
Winging it: Ashish Vyas (from left),  Andy Robillard and Michael Vermillion are GoGoGo Airheart.
Winging it: Ashish Vyas (from left), Andy Robillard and Michael Vermillion are GoGoGo Airheart.

The Grateful Dead? Sounds like a stretch. And yet, GoGoGo Airheart -- as much as it gets lumped in with all of today's '80s fetishists -- shares a deep spiritual affinity with the decade of acid rock and flower power.

"During that time," Vyas explains, "it seems like the music world and the artistic community was very pivotal on a social level, even a political level. Everything was just being questioned at that time. When you have a bunch of young people in an industrial society who are talking about moving into the woods and starting communes, it's a different, innocent kind of world order that's being talked about. Things kind of changed in the '70s and the '80s. It became more of just a business, you know? The movements behind those styles have all been fads. Everything's been co-opted by business.

"People think the '60s were all this hippie-dippy shit," he adds sagely, "but love is way better than fucking hate."

Speaking of which, love -- along with most of the other ephemera associated with pop music -- is splashed all over the group's last release, 2002's Exitheuxa. With a lineup completed by Jay Hough on drums and onetime Denverite Ben White on guitar (both since departed from the band), the disc is a full-on pop album, complete with fractured love songs and hummably sweet melodies. Of course, this kind of pop is carved with the diamond-sharp, double-edged hooks of early Ultravox and Roxy Music and sports bizarre nods to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Vyas and company's most varied and yet coherent album to date, Exitheuxa was a bit of a breakthrough, with abrupt upheavals in mood and texture that exhilarate instead of jar.

"Yeah, our last record was kind of a quote-unquote pop record," Vyas confirms and then laughs. "But now we're getting back to the underground. As if we ever left."

With a new, streamlined roll call comprising Vyas, Vermillion and original drummer Andy Robillard, GoGoGo Airheart has been working since last summer on its new, as-yet-untitled album, due out this fall. Produced in part by Rocket From the Crypt/Hot Snakes leader John Reis, it's going to be, Vyas claims, "a transition record." A transition into what is anybody's guess -- all the bassist can say is that it'll have "a totally different vibe" and be "short and sweet, like, 35 minutes. When you look at all the classic records from the last half of the '60s, they were all about that long." Rest assured, though, that the new GoGoGo Airheart album will -- like the ones that preceded it -- set the standard against which the rest of the world's post-punk pretenders must be measured.

"There are so many other bands that are rocking that are influenced by the same kind of stuff as we are," he says in defense of the scene his band helped found. "They're making a mark, too. True, the Rapture may be a focal point of what's going on, but where those guys have gone on to the next level, we're still trying to figure our shit out."

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