"People can interpret labels in a specific sort of way," says Andrew Gray, guitarist for England's Wolfgang Press. "Like `gloom and doom'--they might think of raincoats, you know, or very serious people. Or with `dance,' they think of rave music. But there's more depth to what we do."
True, the Press--Gray, lead singer/songwriter Michael "Mick" Allen and keyboardist Mark Cox--has covered a lot of sonic territory during its more than a decade of existence. "We're not what you'd call fine musicians or professionals," Gray concedes, but together the trio has created songs linked by their captivating character and pleasantly dark tone.
The Press was formed in 1983, and its early compositions were much less accessible than its current work: Even 1989's Bird Wood Cage--issued by 4AD, the group's label--is dominated by incredibly raucous, experimental noise. Still, Bird made an impression on the American market with the singles "Raintime" and "Kansas." Queer, released in 1991, solidified this success thanks mainly to its cover of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come." As usual, the disc was distinguished by Allen's deep vocals, which call to mind David Bowie and Bob Geldof, but it also drew from a plethora of influences, including hip hop. "The likes of Public Enemy and De La Soul had a lot to do with us moving to a more danceable music," Gray confirms. "We always had that interest anyway, and it was just a matter of something triggering it."
This year's Funky Little Demons continues the Press's fascination with rhythm, but not without the occasional side trip along the way. The most unexpected track is "New Glass," an instrumental cut written by Cox that ventures into neoteric/ ambient territory. Gray is not especially enthusiastic about the piece; he says the cut made it onto Demons because of "the politics within the group." His objections concerning another number were stronger. "There was one track that never got on the album because I didn't like the lyric content," he reveals. "It seemed too heavy-handed and it had a bad feel for me. Mick's lyrics can be quite heavy, but it was just too negative for me. Mick, he can be a bit moody at times."
These gripes aside, Gray denies that he has any ambition to take over as the threesome's frontman. "I've never had any inclination to sing," he insists. "Quite honestly, I don't think it's in me. When we're in the studio, I tend to let Mick have free reign at that, with either an engineer or a producer. Then I'll come in to make comments, like either `It's good' or `It's shit,' basically."
More often than not, Gray finds himself defending Demons's content, particularly "11 Years," a catchy single that provides an overview of the outfit's musical history. "It's mirroring ourselves and, to a certain extent, laughing at ourselves," he claims. "Mick may sound like he's taking himself too seriously, but we have been in it for a long time, and I think he's looking back on our past and how naive we were in some ways. I'm still very naive in the way I play, but that's probably a good thing, because I'm finding new things all the time. I think our naivete is one of the essences behind what we do and how we make music."
Not that Wolfgang Press's latest ignores the big picture. "Christianity," for instance, takes a very personal look at the majority sect. According to Gray, "Some people obviously need something to focus on in their life. But generally, I think religion can be a bad thing. It can be damaging to certain people if they're not strong enough. Catholicism I find very strange. I have no relationship to it, but for friends I've known, it's tended to fuck them up a little bit. It's scary, really--especially when you can tell that it's actually deep in their subconscious."
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As for Gray, his subconscious is tickled by considerably less devout subject matter. About the new CD's "People Say," which references Charles Manson, he says, "It's a funny one. I listen to that in the morning...I went out to the Sharon Tate house when we were in L.A. because we have connections with Trent Reznor [who recently lived in it]. It felt weird going in, but once you actually got in there, you couldn't believe something like that had happened there. It's so secluded and so serene now, but you do feel cold when you go into the room where it all happened."
The band's murder fetish rears its head again in the video for the new single "Going South," which, like the clip for "Kansas," features an appearance by a figure disguised as John F. Kennedy.
"We were trying to make some sort of connection between the videos, like a film and its sequel," Gray explains. "If you look at the original `Kansas' video, we run out of the barn in the end, and JFK and I go one way while Mick, Jackie O and Lee Harvey Oswald go another way. The running feet at the beginning of `Going South' is meant to be us running the opposite direction out of the barn. Fairly abstract, but there you go."
Wolfgang Press. 7 p.m. Friday, April 21, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $9.45, 447-0095 or 830-