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Wing Men

The Moths' Jason Cain is a known bullshit artist. Just ask the subscribers to his group's weekly e-mail updates who are treated to regular doses of his bizarre, non-sequitur humor and schizoid rants. There are the top-secret schematics involving pieces of potato bread and bright-red yarn. And the "wee dead birds" that he thinks are trying to tell him something by dropping out of the sky in front of him at the bus stop. Oh, yeah, and who could forget his musings of how resplendent he looks clad in nipple clamps and a graham-cracker crust?

It's no wonder, then, that most people in town thought Cain was joking when he sent an ostensibly solemn note this summer stating that the Moths' bassist, Quentin Chirdon, had sadly left the band -- because he had just been arrested for robbing a bank at gunpoint in Albuquerque.

But for once, Cain wasn't fucking around. Sure, the story sounded like just another gag. After all, the Moths' quirky, laptop-addled pop is about as criminal-minded as Kid 'N Play. But this time, fact trumped fiction. On July 13, Chirdon, described in a police report as "tattooed," "scruffy-looking" and "wearing a Simpsons T-shirt," held up a Duke City Wells Fargo, his fake gun concealed in a rolled-up newspaper. After calmly tailing the suspect and his getaway driver to a Santa Fe gas station, plainclothes officers made the arrest without incident.

It would have made a great prank. But to Cain, his keyboard-punching brother Josh and drummer Dave Kurtz, their ex-comrade's bungled heist is far from funny. "It was a surreal, heart-wrenching experience," Jason recalls. "I had known Quentin for years. He and I were very close. I knew he was going to do something stupid, because he hadn't worked in a long time and was pretty unstable. But I had no idea he would do what he did."

"The ironic thing is, I work in a bank," Josh points out with a rueful laugh. "As I'm trying to further my career in banking or whatever, I'm associated with this person who robbed a bank. I was actually out in Oklahoma for my job when Jason called me up and told me what happened. At first, even I thought he was bullshitting.

"Actually," he adds, "Jason told me the funniest thing when he called to tell me about Quentin. He said, ŒWell, at least we got his bass parts recorded.'"

The recording Josh refers to is the Moths' brand-new, self-titled debut. Chirdon plays on only half the disc; the rest is nimbly picked up by his replacement, Cody Lee Dopps. You might think that shifting gears so abruptly in the midst of producing a record might make it kind of choppy. But as the Moths themselves will tell you, choppiness is part of their tweaked, charmingly lopsided aesthetic.

"We try to make our music different by using textures and sounds that maybe aren't what you'd put in a typical rock song," Jason explains. "We just like to experiment. Some of our songs are as stripped-down and straightforward as you can get, this very familiar, verse-chorus structure, and the experimentation is all in the digital textures and timbres that we use. But sometimes we incorporate the computer and use it to mess with the structures of the songs themselves.

"I can appreciate total noise-music," he continues, "but that's not what we we're going for. We want to do something that's cohesive but still invokes thought or challenges the people who listen to it."

Accordingly, The Moths soothes as much as it slashes. Between all the desultory slabs of tuneful static and crude ambience, its six songs slice through warm beams of guitars, loops, beeps and beats that call up images of Modest Mouse being mutilated by the Postal Service. Dodging all of the dissection are Jason's jerky falsetto and scribbly lyrics, the sound of a precocious kid cooped up with nothing but a pad of paper and a low-on-batteries Speak & Spell to amuse himself with.

In fact, the Cain brothers were still rugrats when they first began making music together -- that is, when they weren't kicking the shit out of each other. As Josh remembers, "Jason used to hold me down and spit on me. He'd drool a loogie down on my face and then suck it back up into his mouth."

"This one Christmas, though, back when we lived in Indiana, Josh got this old Yamaha keyboard," Jason recounts. "We didn't have any understanding of music or anything. We would just pull out a tape recorder and make things up. Josh always had this thing where he liked to fuck up sounds."

Fast-forward to the year 2000. The siblings found themselves living together in an apartment in Capitol Hill after Jason went through a "messy, but not that messy" divorce. He had also just lost a grueling yet lucrative corporate job at a DSL firm. "I hadn't really thought about being in a band as a grown-up person," he confesses. "I had a grown-up life and a grown-up job and a grown-up marriage. Then suddenly it was all gone, and everything became a lot simpler. I feel like my life didn't really start until then."

Inspired by some recording software they had picked up for their home computer, Jason and Josh began writing and taping songs in their small apartment over a year ago. "Our songs back then were like fourteen minutes long," Josh figures. "Fourteen minutes of total crap." Eventually, though, a neighbor named Jeff Rector jumped in on drums and, with the addition of longtime friend Chirdon on bass, the Moths finally broke out of their cocoon. Their first show took place at the Buntport Theater, where they provided the musical backdrop for an experimental fashion show by manipulating such freakish instruments as typewriters, gutted piano strings and the hood of an old Volkswagen.

That's not the only multimedia project the Moths have participated in. Besides writing the score for Through Nevada, Sometimes, a short feature by filmmaker Todd Trudgeon that was accepted into this year's Denver Film Festival, their song "The Skinny Series" was commissioned by local painter Richard Vincent to complement his art show of the same name. Indeed, the group acquired Kurtz -- who also drums in the local jazz trio the Sputter -- after he did a live painting performance alongside Cain and company as part of a Rock the Vote concert at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom last January.

So finally, after years of incubation and a summer full of drama, the Moths have a stable and relatively crime-free lineup. Not that the shock of Chirdon's arrest doesn't still sting. After an animated conversation that covers everything from the pitfalls of retroactivity to Osama bin Laden's impressive guitar-windmilling skills, the band is ready to give the subject of its erstwhile bassist -- still awaiting trial in New Mexico -- a rest.

"I want to get off this topic soon," Jason says, sounding more pained than annoyed. "The main thing is, Quentin was a friend and a very formative influence in the band, and this whole thing was very heartbreaking. It was definitely the weirdest situation I'd ever been in. Lots of people I know do illegal stuff, but I've never known anyone who did anything like this. But Quentin had no capacity to actually hurt anybody. He's not a tough guy. He's a Cure- and Dead Can Dance-listening, goth-type sad guy, and the fact is, his emotions and his mind just weren't working well.

Speaking of wayward bass players, Dopps is conspicuously absent from the interview. When interrogated as to his whereabouts, Jason shrugs and says he's "out in the mountains for the weekend with his girlfriend." HmmŠhopefully not pulling a Bonnie and Clyde routine somewhere over the Continental Divide. Even Jason Cain, the consummate jokester, might have a hard time laughing at that.

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller

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