Journalists know that most musicians will gush about their latest projects no matter how tepid they may actually be. So it comes as a pleasant surprise when Wil Masisak, one-third of Boulder's You Bastard, says of the group's just-issued eponymous debut CD, "I think it's a series of really bad drum fills connected by moments of inane melody and really stupid subject matter."
He's not kidding, folks: The You Bastard oeuvre is decidedly twisted. "One-Chord Song," for instance, has a perfectly descriptive name, while the not-yet-recorded "Johnny Can't Surf" is a thirty-second musical hiccup that exists primarily to allow Masisak and the combo's other multi-instrumental Bastards (Eben Grace and Jason Mannell, aka Jason the Aussie) to scream its title in unison at its conclusion. Other numbers not included on the new disc, such as the Mannell-penned "Too Much Patchouli," grab the ear like a Mike Tyson incisor and don't let go until a listener's resistance is down for the count.
Such material would be indefensible were it not funny--and usually, it is. The players have a good sense of humor, and they exude plenty of effort while putting it over. Not that they'd admit it, however. "The nice thing about being in You Bastard is, you don't have to work too hard," Mannell boasts. "Because I think we all realize that you can't polish a turd."
As the owner and operator of Boulder's Broken Records imprint, Masisak has heard a great many lousy groups over the years, and for a brief time, he was a member of a famous one: Wild Cherry, the Ohio-based combo that gave the world "Play That Funky Music" during the decade that fashioned a lifestyle around white polyester and chest hair. Unfortunately for Masisak, he was not in the lineup during Wild Cherry's most popular period; he came aboard in the Eighties. But he still values the experience. "It was pretty cool," he says. "It was interesting to have, like, a really good crew and to actually be almost recording on Epic Records and doing all the other fun stuff that I almost got to do. But I kind of bailed out because the band spent more time doing and sharing drugs than rehearsing. And those of us who were waiting in rehearsal for them to return got real bored."
Masisak was in just such a mood during early 1995 when he happened upon a "Worst Band in America" contest sponsored by Spin magazine. Confident that the scores of horrific releases that he must weed through on a regular basis would prove to be his ace in the hole, he asked longtime collaborator Grace to help him create an act capable of taking home the coveted prize. "And rather than shunning me," Masisak marvels, "he determined that there was potential in it."
By the time Masisak and Grace mustered the necessary demos (some of which appear in what is essentially their original form on You Bastard), the deadline for the competition had passed. But this setback did not dissuade them from making the band a reality. After choosing a moniker inspired by a sarcastic closing penned in a letter to Masisak by Rob Fetters, a musical acquaintance and sometime sideman for Adrian Belew, they recruited Mannell, who also plays guitar for '76 Pinto, to help bring the fledgling project's studio sound to the stage. Their live approach is typically eccentric; they pass guitars and drumsticks back and forth so frequently that their sets have all the pace of a David Letterman monologue on Oscar night. As a result, not everyone gets the You Bastard joke. At a recent Lion's Lair gig, one inebriated patron was overheard in the men's room saying to no one in particular, "Shut if off. They're loud and they're not very good."
In the minds of the Bastards, though, many of today's biggest stars are even worse--or at least deserving of immediate ego deflation. Tops on their list is Michael Stipe, whose self-important posturing on a busy highway during a recent R.E.M. video provided the inspiration for Grace's "You Were Injured." The song contains only two vocal lines ("You were injured in an auto accident/I wasn't there"), which Grace delivers in a smarmy croon that strikes a stylistic balance between a Bill Murray character and the late-night TV advertisements of local attorney Andy Cameron. Also on You Bastard's roster of "rock stars we'd like to punch" are Edie Brickell, Bono and Billy Corgan. To the last performer, Grace delivers the following piece of unsolicited advice: "Stop it--you're rich!"
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"MTV has done for rock and pop music what TV coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial did for justice--which is, now that you can pose for the camera and sell records, I think there's more posing going on than ever," Masisak elaborates. "People will say that you've sold out if you, like, sell your material to somebody so you can eat for the next ten years. But every song on the radio is a commercial, you know?" You Bastard's tunes are no exception. "We're just making little commercials for really sick products," he says.
Customers might be more interested in buying You Bastard's wares with a few alterations. Portions of the act's repertoire sound more like the work of They Might Be Giants than anything that group has put out in years. But the almost-passionate delivery of "Certain Brand" creates the impression that within You Bastard lies a decent mainstream pop act content to settle for the lowest common denominator.
Predictably, the bandmembers don't see it that way. "It's sort of nice having an alter ego," Masisak points out. As for Grace, he feels that performing with You Bastard "beats the hell out of playing in a band that you care about at Cricket on the Hill on a Wednesday night and nobody gives a shit.
"It's not like Wil and I just gave up and are trying to be stupid and cute now," Grace continues. "This is just fun as hell.