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TREBLE MEANS TROUBLE
In a relentless quest to eat bad fast food and sleep on the floors of strangers, the indie punk band the Drogues will climb into their tour van for a stop this Saturday in Fresno.
The San Francisco-based Drogues will play the world-famous Tokyo Garden, bringing their signature staccato sound to a new audience in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The Drogues consist of guitarist Mark Smith, bassist Ray Larsen, and drummer Kevin Crouse. All three share lead-vocal duties from track to track.
Community journalist Jefferson Beavers talks with Mark and Ray about the band's influences and sound, how finding an audience often happens one show at a time, and why the Drogues will never have a front-man like David Lee Roth.
I've read that your band name is some kind of sea-faring reference. For those who may be uninitiated, what's a drogue? Where did your band name come from?
Mark: The word literally can be used to describe an anchor or a parachute used to slow a plane or spacecraft as it descends. When we formed the band back in 2001, we were kind of on a nautical kick, so it appealed to us.
Also, we figured that the letter "D" wasn't getting the love that other letters — "S," for example -- were getting in droves. We seriously thought about hoisting the flag for the letter "Q," but we all saw what happened to Quarterflash. Later we discovered that it means "drugs" in French, so I imagine we'll be banned in France and Belgium. Those poor French kids.
Ray: I guess a drogue can be anything that keeps a person upright and keeps things from spiraling out of control. We're like the chute on the nitro-fueled funny car of state that's headed straight for the bleachers.
On your MySpace page, the band's influences are listed as "what we grew up with, what we like now, and who we are." If you had to describe the way the Drogues sound, it would be a cross between what band and what band?
Mark: That's hard to say, which is why we avoided listing specific references. We've heard a lot of people compare us to the Minutemen, which is a huge compliment. We've had people come up to us at shows and throw around names like Wire, the Talking Heads, Mission of Burma, and Gang of Four. That's all well and good, but ultimately we sound like the Drogues.
On the band's website, your bio says the Drogues have "generally made people uncomfortable when they played live" since 2002. Is this a reference to the band's lyrics, which are often political, or to something else?
Mark: It's our sound, really. We're pretty loud, and my guitar is generally not distorted, so it has what the band calls "super treble attack." The sound tends to be pretty angular.
Ray: Or, it's our manly manfullness.
The Drogues are based in San Francisco, and I've been told more than once that everyone in the Bay Area seems to have a band these days. Does it affect the band's success to compete with so many other musical acts nightly? What are the smallest and the biggest crowds you've ever played for?
Mark: It does feel sometimes like the band-per-resident ratio is almost 1:1 in the Bay Area. It would probably be a cop-out to blame success or lack of it on how many bands are in your city, but San Francisco has a weird scene, if you could call it that. It's certainly not a tight-knit community that way.
For the Drogues, we've played to fairly large audiences here and there -- Gilman in Berkeley, Bottom of the Hill and the Hemlock in San Francisco -- but we've played tons of smaller shows. It's hard to tell when you're going to get a good turnout or hardly anyone. What night of the week is it? Does the club have a pretty good draw on its own? Is Sonic Youth in town for the night?
Your second EP, No Facts That Don't Fit, was recorded in fall 2005 and released this past spring on the band's own imprint, Waxbrain Records. What has it been like to market and promote your music on your own label?
Mark: It's not easy. We're past the point of wanting to starve for our music, so we make the best records we can and promote them through our shows and on the Web. It has never crossed our minds to pitch our record to a label and try to get a deal. This is what we create for ourselves.
For No Facts, you worked with engineer Jay Pellicci, who has recorded with Deerhoof and Erase Errata, at the all-analog Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco, which is home to indie hero John Vanderslice. What was it like to work with Pellicci and why did you pick that particular studio?
Mark: Jay was perfect. We were pretty green when it came to recording, and Jay was patient with us. We loved his work with Erase Errata and Deerhoof, two Bay Area bands we really admire, and we liked the idea of an all-analog studio that served Peet's coffee. That coffee, as well as the burritos from the Mission, fueled the sessions.
I remember seeing the Drogues first play in May 2002 at the Tuva practice space in Berkeley. Most recently, this past August, I saw the band play an in-store at Rasputin Records in Berkeley. How has four years of being a band changed the Drogues' sound?
Mark: We decided to strip things down. Shorter songs, no guitar solos. Ray moved from guitar to bass, Kevin joined the band, and I pretty much threw out everything I knew about guitar playing and started again. Once we decided to go in a new direction, it came together pretty quickly.
I've noticed that from the beginning, the Drogues have had multiple lead vocalists. In the current lineup, all three members share singing duties. Why has the band avoided the stereotypical front-man?
Mark: Because no one in the band can do the splits or pull off wearing spandex pants. We'll leave that to Diamond Dave.
Finally, I've noticed that with the exception of some instrumental flourishes at the beginnings or endings that seven out of the eight songs on No Facts clock in at less than two minutes. What do the Drogues have against songs longer than 120 seconds, anyway?
Mark: We just figure that if we can't say it in two minutes or less, maybe we shouldn't be saying it.
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