"We're a scary band," says Gimmicks vocalist Mark Starr with a laugh. "At least that's what people have told us. But I don't really see the Gimmicks that way. I mean, it's not like we're a bunch of ghouls dressing up in capes or anything. We just play what comes from the gut."
And what a squishy, ulcerated gut it is. Using the fuzz-blown psychosis of the Cramps, the ugly blues-shake of the Birthday Party and the grimy, Motor City pulse of Iggy Pop as reference points, Starr and his mates (guitarist David B., bassist Steve Longtooth Renaud and drummer Luke Von Mohr) hammer out a snapping, rabid roar that's half Blue Velvet, half "Blue Hawaii." Their music is scary--in a tied-up-and-gagged-in-the-trunk sort of way.
Still, those looking for the newest Goth-rock freak of the week will be severely disappointed with High Heels, the Gimmicks' new LP on Estrus Records. Despite its overtly dangerous tone, it's a straight-up rock record, completely devoid of the Satanic shlock favored by Marilyn Manson and his ilk. Even "Dark Cave," the band's moody, swirling tribute to alienation and depression, has more in common with the Stooges' oeuvre than it does with Manson's. That's no coincidence: Starr admits that Fun House by the Stooges is "the one record I own that I actually listen to over and over again. I'll put it away for a while, and then when I play it later, I'm amazed all over again. The bass lines, the guitar--everything about that record has so much energy to it."
The singer is equally fond of the Scientists, an influential but obscure noise-punk outfit from Australia. Everyone from the Mono Men to Mudhoney has cited the now-defunt combo as an influence at one time or another, yet none has managed to incorporate the raw dementia produced by the Scientists in quite the way the Gimmicks have. "They were an incredible band," Starr declares. "I loved the way they would take the blues and using two guitars, just twist it into this crazy kind of mayhem. Their stuff just grips me, because they were doing something different. It was rock and roll, but they took it to another pinnacle."
So do the Gimmicks. But if any residents in their hometown of Seattle have noticed, they certainly haven't let on. Once the hotbed for new and interesting musical talents, the city is now headquarters for shriveled-up alterna-pop goofs like Marcy Playground and Harvey Danger--acts that are to the Gimmicks what Savage Garden is to Motsrhead. Consequently, Starr and his mates were scorned all over Seattle during their first year out, prompting Estrus president Dave Crider to take an immediate liking to the band. Almost before he'd learned the players' last names, he booked them to play Garage Shock '97--among the nation's premier garage-rock events--and subsequently teamed them with Parisian punks Splash 4 for an extensive tour. In addition, he arranged for the foursome to go into the studio with garage Svengali Tim Kerr, who has helped develop the sounds of underground powerhouses such as the Motards, Sugar Shack and the Quadrajets, profiled in this space last week ("Quadra-phenia," July 30). Needless to say, Starr was bowled over by Crider's generosity. "Dave has been great," he enthuses. "He really seems to be into what we're doing. Everybody has been telling us that it's rare for Estrus to be this quick about a band. We've been really fortunate."
The singer has kind words for Kerr as well. "Tim was amazing," he gushes. "I've always been a fan of his anyway--all the way back to when he used to play with the Big Boys and Poison 13--so I was kind of dumbstruck by the idea of working with him. But he turned out to be a really great guy. He's not just someone in there laying it down, going, 'Okay, that was good. Let's get on to the next one.' He would listen to us play every one of our songs, and then he would come out and say, 'Okay, that was good, but relax a little more and put a little more swing to it.' He really helped us play off each other and establish a groove. I can't wait to work with him again."
That will have to wait, though, since the Gimmicks are set to embark on yet another tour at the end of the month, this time with fellow Washington-state bands Kent 3 and the Makers. Starr is confident he and his compadres will work up a sufficient sweat along the way. "All of us put so much into our music, there's no way we could just go out there and stand around. I mean, if we're going to do that we might as well sit down and play an acoustic set. We like to get out there and have a presence."
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The effects the Gimmicks achieve aren't especially new, of course, but Starr doesn't mind. "You try to be as original as possible," he says. "But as far as the Gimmicks go, we're not trying to break new ground or anything. We're just playing rock-and-roll music, and if we're lucky, we'll be able to take it to a new plateau in some small way."
And maybe startle a few folks in the process.
The Makers, with Kent 3 and the Gimmicks. 8 p.m. Sunday, August 9, Bluebird Theatre, 3317 East Colfax, $7, 322-2308.