For six years Girls Against Boys (GVSB to its fans) has been laying down reality-noir soundtracks that openly embrace and explore the lusty, dirty, and hidden sides of human nature. But during a performance on the Late Night With Conan O'Brien show this past summer, the Washington, D.C., band displayed its own hidden side: a goofy sense of humor. Explains drummer Alexis Fleisig: "We wanted to get up there and have our soundman dance around on stage naked with 'Soy Bomb' written on his chest. But then we thought that, since it was taped, they were just going to edit it out. So we thought, 'Maybe if we work with them on it, they'll be totally into it, and we can actually pull it off.' [But] they were, like, 'No. No. We don't think so.' They didn't think it was funny."
Moral of the story: Don't tip off the powers that be. "That's the lesson I learned," says Fleisig. "Go around the system."
Aborted attempts at aping Grammy protesters aside, it's not like GVSB hasn't worked the system to its distinct advantage. The group recently landed a honey of a deal with major label DGC. But you can bet the long-time, indie-rock purists -- and allies with die-hard, anti-industry punks Fugazi -- agonized over the signing.
"We've always worked with people that we trust [and who] have a similar ideology about music," Fleisig says. "We're just not sure what to expect [on a major label]. Obviously [the music business] has its history of not being the most gentle place in the world. It just took a long time to decide."
Thankfully, GVSB's leap into the big time hasn't affected the band's creative game plan. On FREAK*ON*ICA, GVSB's sixth release and its DGC debut, the bottom end of Fleisig and bassist Johnny Temple is as unrelenting as ever, the grooves Kryptonite-solid, the guitars brutally succinct. And as usual, vocalist Scott McCloud's smooth-talking-hustler rasp is your creepy escort through the band's sleazy back alleys. Of course it's never hurt that the members are cover-model hunky, though you get the feeling that McCloud could talk girls and boys out of their pants without any visual aids. Producer Nick Launay (Public Image Ltd., Killing Joke) keeps the proceedings from getting too claustrophobic by jacking up the hard rock riffs in spite of the relentless industrial, jungle, and hip-hop beats, and Eli Janney's distorted keyboard washes. Make no mistake, FREAK*ON*ICA is downright apocalyptic.
But the band also likes a little fun with its doomsaying. True to form the members of GVSB sought out the nightlife during the recording of their latest album at Minneapolis' Seedy Underbelly Studios. "You begin to lose your mind after a while," Fleisig says of the cramped studio atmosphere. "We wanted to have a good time while we were there."
Every Tuesday night at a local Minneapolis club, the group spun records and threw "House of GVSB" parties, where the guests included members of Rage Against the Machine, Babes in Toyland, Nine Inch Nails, Soul Asylum, and Wu-Tang Clan. Fleisig explains that the band's after-hours activities actually helped shape the rhythmic direction of FREAK*ON*ICA.
"There's a lot of groove in all the dance and rap stuff that we were playing," says Fleisig. "When you hear Earth, Wind and Fire, the beat is so right-on, so perfect. There [was] something about that that we [could] take back to what we do. I think we have the same sort of repetitive rhythmic thing -- not that we're as good as Earth, Wind and Fire."
Fleisig is just as humble when pressed on the band members' reputations as techno studs. What started as a joke soon developed into a sex-symbol stigma, a rarity in the indie-rock world the band inhabits. But though GVSB may have been spotlighted in Sassy magazine, the quartet is known for exploring more universal sexuality in its music.
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"A lot of Scott's lyrics are ambiguous sexually," Fleisig says. "I think that we do seriously think about that; I think the music has a groove and feeling that is sort of sexy. In some ways it's a little bit deliberate, and, in a lot of ways, we're just doing what we're doing. I don't feel like there's really anything to live up to."
Still, the group has certain other expectations to accommodate -- such as its track record of critically acclaimed albums. On that count FREAK*ON*ICA is no letdown. Lyrically, McCloud is more direct in his thematic targets. Fleisig freely admits that his bandmate is captivated by society's sleaze (pornography, prostitution, hustling) and how it clashes with -- even as it thrives within -- mainstream America.
"Scott is obsessed with pop culture," says Fleisig. "He is always into these sort of weird advertising ideas. Like when you see somebody advertising clothes and their head isn't in the picture, it's a decapitation thing. Or like in the old classic [ad] where you see a naked lady in the ice cube. We're fascinated with capitalist culture and how it is all-consuming. How it promises you happiness, and it's all this whole facade."
Girls Against Boys will open for Garbage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 20, at Sunrise Musical Theatre, 5555 NW 95th Ave., Sunrise. Tickets cost $20. Call 954-523-3309 or 561-966-3309.