Art Brut has spent most of its short career being lauded by the British press as too-cool Johnny Rotten types ripe with delicious sarcasm and satire. The act's first single was the matter-of-factly titled "Formed a Band," in which lead vocalist Eddie Argos squeals, "Formed a band/Look at us, we formed a band!" Critics, however, misunderstood the boyish ramblings of Argos, who, as it turns out, wasn't trying to compose some cocky diatribe on the sterile state of rock music.
"The words were all made up on the spot," Argos explains via phone from London, "because I had to prove to the band that I was worth keeping. People thought I was being ironic and mean, but I was just excited and happy about being in a band. It came across as quite critical; everyone thought it was satire and stuff. But it wasn't satire. It really happened that we formed a band."
Nonetheless, the buildup has worked in favor of these sassy Europeans, particularly with members of the hipster contingent who habitually mainline heroic doses of irony as though it were their job. Even though Argos and his bandmates -- guitarists Ian Catskilkin and Jasper Future, bassist Freddy Feedback and drummer Mikey B. -- weren't attempting to be ironic, the purveyors of cool were drawn in by the group's perceived aloofness and sheer audacity. And the songs, of course.
Named after Frenchman Jean Debuffet's critique of the psychotic artwork of patients in mental institutions, Art Brut has created its own style of pop insanity. Nestling outside the boring popularity of Bloc Party-like assertions and the growing psych-folk/complex-instrumental-drone movements, its music is like an extended recess break. With the attention span of hyperactive schoolchildren, the bandmembers string cute rock melodies with silly emotional truths and wide-eyed disaffection. Argos shouts out of his liver about first crushes and erectile dysfunction while the rest raucously trample punk-rock harmonies with the aesthetics of a bully who's about to get his comeuppance.
In other words, Art Brut is a sonic mess, but pulls it off well. At least well enough to ink a record deal within the first year of its existence (with London's Fierce Panda label). Acclaim has come quickly to the five-piece, which is something that still takes Argos and company by surprise.
"When 'Formed a Band' was released," Argos remembers, "I think we had only been a band about six months or so. Our first single was a demo, and since then, it's like we've been playing catch-up. We just kind of muddle through."
Argos's honesty is like a punch in the face. He talks in the same way that he sings, with a charm that feels as if he's chatting away someone else's dark secrets. Every story he tells rings with a verse, chorus, verse. Or maybe it's just the caffeine and alcohol that loosens his lips and sweetens his words.
"I've been in the studio for about twelve hours now," he reports, "but not doing anything creative. Just hanging around drinking coffee, and I've had about a half a bottle of wine. Everyone else is writing music and playing drums and sound-checking things. I just sat down and started reading the paper."
His nonchalance recalls a shy friend that politely points out obvious things. Argos apologizes when he thinks he's rambling too much and laughs out loud at his own self-professed lack of talent. "I write all the lyrics," he notes. "That's the only reason I'm in the band, because I can't really sing or play an instrument. I shout. And I jump around a bit."
Describing his bandmates very plainly by their musical and personal tastes, Argos seems stuck on rock as an identity. Catskilkin jams Zeppelin; Feedback is into the grunge of Mudhoney and Nirvana; B. listens constantly to Weezer; and the recently added Future (who replaced Chris Chinchilla) doesn't really like music but joined the band because "he likes girls and showing off."
As for Argos's own haunted past, it's more of an adolescent Goosebumps tale than an adult thriller. "I was goth for about six or seven months," he professes. "It was more because I had a girlfriend who was goth, and then I started liking Fields of the Nephilim. I was like, ŒOh she's goth and she's amazing.' So I thought I'd be goth, too. Then I got real happy because I got the girl. It was quite bizarre."
Much like this mundane tale, Art Brut relates true stories of a hackneyed and banal existence. The song "My Little Brother" touts a younger sibling making mixtapes of B-sides and rarities, while "Emily Kane" is the weirdly depressing account of still being in love with, well, the idea of being young and in love. Then there's "Movin' to L.A.," a cut that ingeniously rhymes "Hennessy" with "Morrissey." Art Brut is pure cheese at times, but somehow the band avoids ever getting too stinky or rotten.
Bang, Bang, Rock and Roll, the group's proper 2005 full-length, champions an underdog earnestness and has more than just won over fans; it's created franchises. Art Brut has spawned a worldwide collection of organized sound-alikes, each denoted by an arbitrary number system, that play varied cover versions of Brut songs. AB73 does it a cappella; AB919 is an all-female collective that hails from Raleigh, North Carolina; and AB47 is reportedly Brooklyn's We Are Scientists until they get bored with their own material. There's also purported to be an Israeli Art Brut and a Polish Art Brut.
The original Bruts, meanwhile, don't always have such an easy time putting together their own songs. Having made their mark by observed wit and direct candor, it seems second nature that the members of the band would end up grating each other's nerves from time to time.
"Whenever we write, it's like a bit of a fight," Argos admits with a cackle. "Like, Ian will come in with some big heavy-metal riff, and Mikey will be like, 'You can't play that.' And then he'll stop playing the drums, and then Jasper will be like, 'I'm not going to play that, because I can't show off there.' And it's a bit like that. But eventually we get a song out of it."
"Writing is my favorite thing," he continues. "I'm always writing in my head, walking around, thinking up some ideas. Then I put it in a book when I get home. Then I come to band practices, and I watch them fight. And when they finish the song, I try and put words to it."
The arguing doesn't dissuade Argos -- in fact, he prefers it, like most good optimists who look forward to a rainy day. "Not all good rock bands get along, do they?" says Argos. "I mean, that's like Coldplay, then, isn't it? You need that tension. It's nice. I like it. I mean, we're a family, so we fight like one. We're never really that mean."
Sarcasm at its finest.
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