!!! on Its Stereolab Cover Band and Hiring Crystal the Monkey

!!! (aka ChkChkChk, if one is trying to do an Internet search) performs today, Monday, December 14, at Larimer Lounge with DJ Trundle and a Stereolab cover band called Stereolad composed entirely of members of !!!. !!! came together in 1996 in Sacramento, California, after two earlier bands, the noisy, experimental rock band The Popesmashers and disco cover band Black Licorice toured together and discovered some common ground beyond being friends from the same city.

“They were kind of like Sonic Youth and The Fall with a groove, dub energy,” singer Nic Offer recalls about The Popesmashers. “So my other band, this disco cover group [Black Licorice], did a tour with them and both bands really complimented each other. Even though the sound was radically different, people really liked those bands. So when we came home we just decided, 'Why don't we try to write our own disco songs and not be afraid of it and cross over into the energy The Popesmashers get into?' We met under those auspices and formed the sound from there.”

At that time the disco punk, dance punk, no wave funk or whatever clumsy genre name might be attached was out of step with what was going on in music. But early on !!! started running into bands on tour that seemed like kindred spirits, like The Rapture, who Offer saw early on, The Faint, Black Dice and Lighting Bolt. Prior to forming !!!, Offer met Sonny Kay in Boulder when Offer's old band The Yah Mos played with Angel Hair in Colorado. Later when !!! had begun, and not long after Kay's legendary synth-punk group The VSS had broken up, !!! was going to release a split 12” through Kay's now defunct Gold Standard Laboratories label, but that split ended up being !!!'s first full-length, released in 1999.

!!! became associated with the post-punk revival of the late '90s and early 2000s along with groups like Interpol, The Strokes, The Liars, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Franz Ferdinand and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Though it would be fair to say that !!! sat on the more experimental end of the spectrum. Because of that it attracted the attention of Warp Records, which has released the band's albums beginning with 2007's Myth Takes.

Because !!! is always trying to push its music further, or at least in a different direction than it has before, for its latest album, 2015's As If, the members of the band explored its interest in the club music aesthetic (especially artists like Seth Troxler, Nina Kraviz, Maceo Plex, Matrix Man and Tiger Stripes), combined that with its own idiosyncratic approach to making music. Offer says that dance music has an inherent quality that makes it consistently interesting.

“Dance music always has this thing where it has to be forward-thinking,” says Offer. “Dance music always sounds old two years after it comes out. We've always been fascinated by the new—punk-funk, post-punk and hip-hop. We like basic pop but we also like what sounds like, 'Where the hell is this from?' Dance music always has this aesthetic that it's moving toward. And it's funky. That matches what we want: It has a groove and it sounds like it's from space.”

The new record certainly bears out that synthesis of ideas: dance music with an appeal to people who like left-field rock. For the album cover, Warp funded hiring the actress Crystal the Monkey, a literal monkey and veteran actress with a respectable IMDB entry including the films The Hangover II, American Pie and the television series Community.

“Her net worth is a lot of money so I can't believe we could afford her,” says Offer.

The album title, As If, may spark a memory of the 1995 teen film Clueless but the meaning is far from a reference.

“It was supposed to be kind of sassy and at the same time 'as if' in the imaginative sense, as in, can you imagine as if this or as if that,” explains Offer. “We play each song as if we're this type of band or as if that type of band. The album is something that we've imagined so it's 'as if.'”

For the band Stereolad, Offer wears a dress to play Stereolab songs. The project began as an excuse to learn more music and generate new ideas, which spawned from a yearly event in Sacramento in which musicians play in various cover bands. Since the experiment went well, !!! decided why not bring that on tour. But why a band like Stereolab?

“If we just did a bunch of disco covers, it would be too similar to us and you'd be tired of the sound by the end of the night. Stereolab [was] one of the few rock bands I liked during the '90s because they were doing something new and they introduced me to the concept of jamming as a rock band and minimalism. I felt both of those things were important to our discoveries in funk with !!!. Minimalism is so important in funk, and so is jamming. Even though it seemed different from our style it was a huge puzzle piece for our sound.”

!!! performs with DJ Trundle and Stereolad on Monday, December 14. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. $20, 16+ event. For more information, please visit the Larimer Lounge website.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.