Like most of the claims made by Neeley, this one isn't exactly a paragon of accuracy: In 1972 the only mayhem he was purveying was in his nursery school. But this deadpan wit is right when he implies that he and his fellow Emirs (drummer Steve Shiramizu, guitarist Aubrey Lavizzo and bassist Chris Kennedy) are veterans of the local scene. The band was formed out of the debris of the punk act El Espectro, and while its predecessor may not have been quite the groundbreaker that Neeley implies ("It was a pretty powerful influence on this town. I think it changed the way a lot of people look at rock music"), it was certainly among the better headliners in the Denver music galaxy.
So why did El Espectro call it quits? Claims Neeley, with characteristic caprice: "We came to a general consensus that we should break up the band while we still sucked."
Whatever the real reason, El Espectro splintered. In the months that followed, lead vocalist John Meggitt devoted his free time to the activities of Blue Lamp, the Denver-based independent label that he co-founded and oversees (Feedback, April 25, 1996), and the other players stepped away from the music scene entirely. But in February of last year, Shiramizu, Kennedy and Neeley decided to give rock and roll another try. They recruited Lavizzo, a childhood chum of Neeley's from their days in an area Catholic school, and encouraged Neeley to give singing a try.
"Coming out of the closet was a difficult process for me," Neeley admits when asked about his vocal debut--but before long, standing front and center felt entirely natural. Better yet, the band's sound quickly came together. Rather than aping El Espectro, the newly christened Emirs developed an approach modeled after Motor City skronkers like the Stooges and the MC5. Whereas Meggitt's crooning exuded a certain Nick Cave quality, Neeley has more melodic instincts, and the other players have followed his lead.
Shiramizu extends much of the credit for helping the group to establish its own identity to Lavizzo, whose guitar adds texture to the Emirs' oeuvre. From the combo's first rehearsal, when Lavizzo arrived armed with a case of Budweiser and a working knowledge of El Espectro tunes such as "Welcome Home," the guitarist and the other Emirs "hit it off personality- and music-wise immediately," says Shiramizu. "It was like the pieces of a puzzle--and you knew this was the right piece."
Thus assembled, the Emirs spent the rest of 1996 gigging--and they now feel they're ready to join the CD wars. The four-piece is presently in the midst of laying down tracks for its first full-length at Audio Park Studios with Park Peters, a producer who came with a recommendation from Dalhart Imperials bassist Kurt Ohlen.
"He's completely blind," Shiramizu says about Peters.
"One of his favorite quotes is, 'Lighting and seeing is for wimps,'" Kennedy interjects.
"But he's also the most amazing person that I've ever worked with as far as recording goes," Shiramizu continues. "At first I thought, 'He's a jazz musician.' I didn't think he would know anything about the style of music we were doing. But he knew exactly what we wanted."
"It's going so good," Kennedy concurs. "It's kind of amazing that we as a band are making a good recording. It's kind of funny, actually."
Among the highlights of the album-in-the-making is "Lil Bit," a tune that originally appeared on an Emirs demo tape. As Kennedy tells it, the song was based on the story of "that midget prostitute who used to hang out at the Lion's Lair"--a woman who was found dead in a Capitol Hill dumpster in 1995. The Emirs' patented two-guitar attack fuels the number, which suggests Sonic Youth caught in a fusillade of banshee wails.
Right now, the other particulars of the Emirs' long-player are a well-kept secret that Neeley is not about to divulge. "For inspiration, I look back to all those early-Eighties, not-quite-New Wave/not-quite-bar bands like Greg Kihn, Scandal, Tommy Tutone," he insists as satirically as possible. "That was a fairly dark period in American rock music, and I think inherent in that movement were a lot of ugly truths that people have shied away from in the Nineties."
Those of you interested in a more trustworthy description of the Emirs' platter will just have to wait until it appears in stores this summer. After that, the musicians are hoping to secure a low-rent recording contract that might allow them to see the world--or at least a part of it.
"We try not to take ourselves too seriously," Shiramizu says, demonstrating a keen grasp of the obvious. "I mean, I would love to go to Japan and tour with Shonen Knife. But gone are the days, at least for me, where I sit around and worry about a major record deal."
"The bottom line," Kennedy concludes, "is just to have fun."
And the Emirs do.
The Emirs, with Boss 302. 9 p.m., Saturday March 22, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $3, 572-0822.