Mike Elkerton is a rock-and-roll musician in love with Americana's cliches. So when he's told that his latest band, Electrolux, conjures up images of Fifties-era prison flicks, movies by Roger Corman and Russ Meyer and other cultish faves from cinema's seedier side, it's no surprise that he immediately relates. "I always wanted to do a spaghetti Western," he says. "What's that guy's name--Ennio Morricone? Is that right? The guy that did all those movies with Clint Eastwood? That stuff is what turns me on."
Is Elkerton a pretentious art rocker applying half-understood film-school lectures to his songwriting? Far from it. Instead, he and his Electrolux bandmates--bassist Tyson Murray and drummer Mark D'Agustino--are spirited practitioners of several tried-and-true cultural cliches: surf guitar, rockabilly attitude and punk energy. These elements don't seem used up in their hands, however. The Electroluxers are able to twist their stereotypes of choice into raucous, fast-paced mood music. "This is about emotion, only it's a different kind of emotion," Elkerton claims. "It's angst in a way, but not really that Eighties angst. It's about aggressiveness. It's angst against 'Woe is me.' It's more like, 'Woe is you--woe is everybody.'"
Pugnacity of this sort is something Elkerton and D'Agustino exhibited plenty of in their old band, Babihed. That outfit--a standard-bearer for Denver's early-Nineties punk scene--came to an unceremonious end last year in the wake of personal conflicts. But Elkerton isn't letting those events slow his musical drive. "Babihed was like a dysfunctional family--we had a mascot, a hero, a scapegoat and a martyr," he says. "But I could tell from the start that what was wrong with Babihed is not wrong with this band. Electrolux is kind of a step down, notoriety-wise, but ultimately it's going to be a real step up because it's got stronger talent and a stronger backbone."
Nevertheless, Electrolux has already gone through a major personnel shift involving original skin-pounder Bill Pigati, a recent refugee from Illinois schooled in Eighties thrash and grindcore. Elkerton admits that Pigati's exit came about as a result of the same kind of spat that was endemic in Babihed.
"Tyson and Bill got into this huge argument, and they couldn't work it out," he notes. "And it got to a point where they wanted me to choose between them. They were looking at me like I was their dad. And the bad part of it was, I knew I had to make a choice, because the way they were acting, I was afraid they'd end up getting into a fight on stage. So after I thought about it, I went with Tyson, just because Bill's got a couple of other bands that he's in--Half-Burned Match and Hypnotic Shoeshine--and I figured he'd be busy with them. I still love Bill, but it just seemed like it would work out better that way. And I was used to finding new drummers. It's been the exploding-drummers syndrome for me lately; I've played with eight or nine different drummers in the last ten months.
"Luckily, a couple of days later I heard from Mark," Elkerton continues. "He'd been playing with Fox Force 5, but the band was going to take a hiatus, and he was getting kind of tired of what they were doing. So he was interested in doing something else, and he and I have played together so long that we knew it would work musically. Besides, Mark is such a big guy that there's no way he would put up with any of Tyson's shit. It would look like a chicken-farm scene in a prison movie."
Thanks to D'Agustino's timely appearance, the members of Electrolux should still be able to make a planned stop at a Denver studio this spring. They're also preparing a video in which (Elkerton says) a sadomasochistic gimp "reinventing the Sixties dance craze" will shake it to an as-yet-unnamed surf tune.
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This lighthearted, playing-for-the-sake-of-playing attitude is one of the things that distinguishes Electrolux from most other Denver bands. The threesome delivers unpretentious crowd pleasers such as "Shit Fire," "Switchblade" and "Show Me Your Teets" with simplicity and brio. "Lyrics are generally made for mass consumption, so why not make them as stupid as possible?" Elkerton asks. "It's a mockery of rock and roll itself."
Not that Elkerton is anti-rock. He loves the stuff. "We just try to get the energy out and make the energy happen. Because with me, it's never been up for debate what's happening. Glass breaks, guitars break, things catch fire, but that's just something that happens."
Electrolux, with Jetredball. 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 19, Cricket on the Hill, 1209 East 13th Avenue, $3, 830-9020.